Banks are closing sex workers’ accounts – but it’ll only push us to take bigger risks

As sex workers are de-banked over misplaced fears of risk exposure, former OnlyFans model Berry Hanna Kraven says it’s little more than old-fashioned discrimination at play

Thursday 18 April 2024 15:47 BST
The UK financial sector is ‘waging war’ on the sex trade by de-banking those working in it
The UK financial sector is ‘waging war’ on the sex trade by de-banking those working in it

In a cashless society, where even the buses require the tap of your card, it’s a nightmare being locked out of your bank account. If you’ve lost your card or been a victim of fraud, you know how complicated it is to suddenly have no access to your money. But at least, in those circumstances, you’ve made the choice to lock your account.

Now imagine how stressful this experience would be if you had no prior warning that your bank account would be frozen.

Sex workers have told the Financial Times that the UK financial sector is effectively “waging war” on the profession by de-banking those whose line of work, it believes, represents a risk exposure to the City institutions. Becky Webster, a former NHS nurse, has had accounts closed or frozen by banks 15 times, and not due to fraudulent activity, but because of her job as a sex worker.

Infuriatingly, this is not a rare event; sex workers often experience restricted access to their bank accounts, or are prevented from opening one in the first place. According to Decrim Now, the campaign group led by sex workers, “more than 80 per cent of SWU [Sex Workers Union] members have experienced some form of financial discrimination”.

It’s a disgusting irony that, despite being required to pay taxes, as HMRC recognises that the exchange of sexual services is legal, sex workers are often locked out of banking services.

When most people think about discrimination against sex workers, they probably think of individuals being judged and called inflammatory names. But this is just one aspect of a web of discrimination against sex workers that can have much more practical impact on our lives than an insult can.

Not only does being locked out of your bank account stop you from paying bills and prevent you from purchasing amenities (and luxuries), it also forces people into precarious situations. By freezing sex worker’s accounts, banks are forcing sex workers to find illegitimate ways to make money fast to keep themselves able to pay bills and feed themselves. Not only is this more dangerous, in a rapidly advancing cashless society it’s also a lot harder to come by.

Those arguing against legitimising sex work have often pointed out the dangers of sex work as the basis of their argument. And yet many fail to recognise that sex workers are constantly denied security and safety in society, more often by the society that refuses to legitimise our existence (and we do exist, and pay bills and rent just like everyone else), than the clients that may cause us physical harm. The more society delegitimises sex workers, the more they are in danger.

What is the alternative road to legitimacy for sex workers? If their accounts are locked or denied when they independently sell their services, other than cash-in-hand work, the only alternative is to use sites like OnlyFans for a legitimate income. Because while banks don’t recognise the sex workers that made OnlyFans’ CEO Leonid Radvinsky his $3billion dollar net worth, they do recognise the site that profits off it.

The existence of OnlyFans, and its huge surge in popularity during the pandemic, has helped legitimise sex work in the eyes of some, and for many (myself included) allowed us a safe platform. However, it’s clear with the measures that banks are placing on UK sex workers, that OnlyFans is tightening its grip on the adult entertainment industry.

The option appears to be to allow the billionaire Radvinsky to take a meaty cut of your profits, or spend your days nervously anticipating a time when you won’t have access to your own money.

Like I’ve said before, buying and selling sex work is legal in this country, but owning brothels and pimping is not; a loophole that (whether affective or not) prevents individuals from profiting off other peoples sexual services. However, if sex workers are forced onto OnlyFans to protect themselves against financial discrimination, isn’t that coercive?

It’s an exhausting hypocrisy that sex workers deal with regularly, that despite production and profit being the goal of capitalist society, this still comes with moralistic stipulations. No matter how much a sex worker earns or is taxed on their earnings, their legitimacy is still called into question through no fault of their own. And in a recession, financial discrimination is a physically dangerous position to be putting people in.

Ultimately, sex workers shouldn’t have to demonstrate their legitimacy to their banks, when they are already tax-paying citizens.

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