From community organizer Kate D’Adamo at the SWOP-NYC website —
In recent weeks, we have seen a marked uptick in the disturbing trend of financial institutions denying services to people in the sex industry. WePay hit the news lately when it shut down the account of a campaign set up by adult performer Eden Alexander to cover the medical bills she incurred from a life-threatening staph infection. Prior to WePay’s action, Chase Bank, that old icon of US morality and shining ethical business practices, shut down hundreds of accounts belonging to adult performers. While the termination letters they sent listed no official reason outside of “compliance issues,” another refusal to process payments for a company selling condoms noted that the reason was the selling of “adult-oriented material.” The results of these actions are not unknown, increasing marginalization and stigmatization, and they point to a disturbing trend of using private institutions, which face less scrutiny and transparency, for criminal justice ends.
Criminalization Beyond Crime
We are used to talking about the traditional – and often obvious – forms of criminalization, but these private companies are now increasingly participating in a de-facto criminalization, often beyond the reach of public scrutiny and disclosure. The result, not surprisingly, is increased marginalization and reinforced stigmatization and shame of those involved in sex work.
When basic services which allow sex workers to take money electronically are withheld, the same workers are forced to exclusively transact with cash, leaving them more vulnerable to counterfeiting, theft and assault, or non-payment. Closing the individual bank accounts of porn performers is a chilling movement towards increased disenfranchisement. Without a bank account, individuals face additional burdens when accessing the same basic things that many people take for granted: leases and housing, insurance, credit, loans, and a myriad of other institutions which many don’t think of as a privilege for participation in something which is not a crime. Whether it is the distribution of basic safety information has being formally criminalized as “promotion of prostitution” and or the denial of the basic tools of every other industry, the impact is the same: increased vulnerability and a frightening level of marginalization, and often being forced to engage in behavior which is more underground and more often criminalized in traditional ways.