Advocates Say New Mastercard Policy Hurts Sex Workers

Mastercard is facing heat from advocates for installing a new policy they say discriminates against sex workers.
REUTERS/Jonathan Bainbridge/Illustration/File Photo

Advocates are voicing criticism in response to a new Mastercard policy that they say unfairly targets sex worker communities by imposing stricter regulations on the purchasing of adult content.

In April, Mastercard announced that banks under their registration program would be required to confirm that websites selling adult content “monitor, block, and remove illegal or unconsented” material from their platforms. While the company claims the program, which went into effect October 15, does not affect legal and consensual adult content creators, activists are decrying the policy as a form of financial discrimination that creates an uneven playing field for sex workers.

Under Mastercard’s new policy, banks are required to verify that platforms record the age and identity of all adult performers and have a process to review content before publication. According to the updated guidelines, adult platforms must have a strategy for addressing illegal, nonconsensual posts and removing content for individuals who no longer want their videos on the site.

“This is bad news for many sex workers, whose safety and livelihoods depend on access to financial services and online platforms,” the ACLU’s Trans Justice campaign manager, LaLa Zannell, said in an op-ed on the ACLU website. “The policy makes it harder for sex workers to do business online and makes sex workers more vulnerable, especially those who are trans women of color.”

Advocates say these stricter protocols are unrealistic and will not help the company’s intended demographic.

“The stated intent of the policy is to prevent child sexual abuse material and other nonconsensual content. But in practice, these requirements are difficult — if not impossible — to comply with,” Zannell wrote in the post.

Cecilia Gentili, a New York City-based advocate fighting for the rights of sex workers, shared Zannell’s post on Twitter, writing, “Everyone deserves access to financial services and everyone should be able to make a living — sex workers included.

AIDS United, a national non-profit organization working to combat HIV/AIDS, stressed that the policy is not helping in the fight against the epidemic.

“Listening to and meaningfully involving sex workers is paramount in any situation, but especially in our goal to end the HIV epidemic,” AIDS United noted in a tweet. “New regulations by large corporations are making sex workers feel exploited and unsafe.”

In response, Mastercard rejected accusations that the policy targets sex workers.

“We welcome dialogue and different perspectives about our policies and programs, but let us be clear — allegations of bias against adult content creators are demonstrably untrue,” a spokesperson for Mastercard said in a written statement. “Our actions and business practices against trafficking and exploitation clearly show this. And, as we have shared in our discussions with groups over the past several months, we are monitoring how the program is implemented so that we can provide further clarification and guidance to the acquiring banks and their customers as needed.”

In the post, the ACLU noted that Mastercard’s policy singles out adult content despite these issues appearing “across all kinds of websites.” The organization also said that this policy would “make it much harder for platforms to host adult content” and “destabilize the websites that sex workers use to make a living.”

As the ACLU demands Mastercard to reverse its policies, the organization is also calling on other financial service companies to include sex workers in their decision-making process. According to activists, these concerns come as an outgrowth of federal legislation such as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which puts more responsibility on platforms for the content on their sites.

“Mastercard must end their policy of unfairly targeting the adult content industry and ensure equitable access to financial services,” Zannell concluded in the post. “In addition to reversing discriminatory policies, Mastercard must sit down with stakeholders to develop solutions that create stability and reduce harm for sex workers.”

Over the summer, the ACLU joined several other sex worker rights advocates to suspend the OnlyFans ban on sexually explicit content, which was slated to go into effect earlier this month.

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