Risks and Benefits of Online Sex Work

There are both risks and advantages to online sex work.  Online sex work brings quantifiable harms and risks to sex workers well being and safety. However, online sex work is significantly safer than offline sex work. In addition, some sex workers describe positive and empowering aspects of some forms of sex works. 
Advantages of Online Sex Work
One of the primary advantages of online sex work is that it is generally much safer then offline sex work even though it still has risks.  A study on the “internet-based sex market in the UK” examined the “types of crimes experienced by internet-based sex workers and the strategies of risk management that sex workers adopt” [1]. Interviews data with online sex workers “illustrated that for a section of internet-based sex workers inci-
dents of violence were low (compared to studies for street sex work) and several described not experiencing any crime” [1]. Online sex workers reported lower rates of sexual and physical assault [1]. The “low levels of serious crimes are relevant” as evidence “that working through online methods can be safer” [1]. In another study, researchers “content-analyzed 600 escort advertisements from Backpage.com (http://www.backpage.com) and “found that advertisements contained risk management messages” that “varied by race and gender” [2]. The data showed that “Blacks, women, and transgender women drove the use of risk management messages” with “Black and White transgender women” having “the highest overall use of these phrases” [2]. Black women and Black and White transgender women are “some of the most vulnerable groups working in sex work” [2]. Online platforms allow all sex workers including those most vunerable to violence to use risk managemnet messages to increase safety. 
In addition to online sex work being safer compared to offline sex work, some online sex workers on platforms such as OnlyFans find sex work empowering. Student Adrianne Embry explains that OnlyFans “is not only a way to make money during college, but also a way for her to regain control over her body” [3]. Another student and OnlyFans creator, Greta King, describes her content as “artistic expression” that she is now able to monetize [3]. Another reason some people choice to do sex work is sex work can sometimes "offer more flexibility and control over working hours or a higher rate of pay than other options available to them" [4].
Risks and Harms of Online Sex Work
Sex workers are “one of the world’s most marginalized, vulnerable and stigmatized groups of people” [4]. Although online sex workers face less physical risks than offline sex workers, online sex workers still face marginalization and stigmatization. Online sex workers face many forms of discrimination including banking, housing, and employment discrimination.  “Many banks and companies single out sex workers by forcing them to pay higher fees and interest rates because they consider them “high-risk”, and “public platforms like PayPal and Venmo, which should offer their services to all users without discrimination, continue to boot sex workers and other users off their platforms with little due process” [5]. Online sex workers only face housing discrimination.  For instance, “several adult-film actresses claim they have been screwed by potential buyers and landlords because of their profession” [6]. This form of discrimination is not illegal in the United States because “the 1968 Fair Housing Act protects individuals from discrimination based on seven identified classes” but “occupation is not currently among the list of protected classes” [6].  In addition, online sex workers face employment discrimination.  “A California middle-school teacher” was “fired after students found one of her videos on the Internet” and courts denied her appeal “when she tried to fight her termination” [7]. Similarly, “Kimberly Halsey, a former porn actor, was also let go from her real estate job after a co-worker recognized her” [7].
Furthermore, online sex workers are still vunerable to violence. Escorts, indoor sex worker that advertise online but meet clients in person, are at the highest risk of physical danger of online sex workers. A qualitative study of “19 indoor and outdoor sex workers” found that “outdoor sex workers experienced more frequent severe violence, often lifethreatening, that prompted an exit” while “indoor sex workers feared violence but downplayed its significance” [8]. Nonetheless, “both outdoor and indoor sex workers were concerned about physical and sexual health risks” and “emotional health risks were experienced by both types of sex workers and was a motivation to exit when they were overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and depression” [8]. “Being a arrested is a major risk factor” for both indoor and outdoor sex workers because “prostitution is illegal in most the U.S.” [8]. In addition, there are risks specific to online sex work. Online sex workers face the risk of “crime online through the forms of harassment, stalking, threats to expose and ‘out’ sex workers, other threats to privacy and anonymity and the misuse of information” [1].
1 - Rosie Campbell, Teela Sanders, Jane Scoular, Jane Pitcher, and Stewart Cunningham, “Risking Safety and Rights: Online Sex Work, Crimes and ‘Blended Safety Repertoires’”, British Journal of Sociology 70, no. 4 (September 2019): 1539–60, doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12493.
2 - Jessica D. Moorman, and Kristen Harrison, “Gender, Race, and Risk: Intersectional Risk Management in the Sale of Sex Online”,  The Journal of Sex Research 53, no. 7 (September 1, 2016): 816–24,  https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2015.1065950. 
3 - Harmon Taylor, "Bloomington Student OnlyFans Creators Talk Ethical Porn, Supporting Sex Workers", University Wire, Feb 11, 2021, http://mutex.gmu.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/wire-feeds/bloomington-student-onlyfans-creators-talk/docview/2488347675/se-2?accountid=14541.
4 - “Sex Workers at Risk”, Amnesty International, 2016, https://www.amnesty.be/IMG/pdf/sex_work_png_final.pdf. 
5 - LaLa B Holston-Zannell, “How Mastercard's New Policy Violates Sex Workers' Rights,” American Civil Liberties Union, October 15, 2021, https://www.aclu.org/news/lgbtq-rights/how-mastercards-new-policy-violates-sex-workers-rights/
6 - “Housing Discrimination a Major Problem for Porn Stars,” MFI-Miami, May 14, 2018, https://mfi-miami.com/2018/05/housing-discrimination/.
7 - Mysterious Witt, “It's Time to Stop the Unfair Violation of Porn Performers' Rights,” Medium, April 18, 2020, https://aninjusticemag.com/its-time-to-stop-the-unfair-violation-of-porn-performers-rights-3f9c9b153e87.
8 - Kathleen Preble, Karen Magruder, and Andrea N. Cimino, “‘It’s like Being an Electrician, You’re Gonna Get Shocked’: Differences in the Perceived Risks of Indoor and Outdoor Sex Work and Its Impact on Exiting,” Victims & Offenders 14, no. 5 (July 2019): 625–46, doi:10.1080/15564886.2019.1630043.

Prev Next