The Happy Trail

The Dark Side of OnlyFans– Here’s What You Need to Know

 Content Warning: This article contains discussion of online sex trafficking which some readers may find upsetting. 

By Sophie Goble

 Technology is constantly shaping our societies in new ways, and it makes sense that it would continue to shape sex work, the oldest profession in the book. OnlyFans, a web-based subscription service primarily used for sex work, made over $1.09 billion in 2022. OnlyFans promotes itself as a site “revolutionizing creator and fan connections,” but it has been scrutinized for its lack of age verification, seldom protection of its creators, and “leaks” of sexually explicit material containing children, originally sourced from the site. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has repeatedly called for action against OnlyFans, stating that it “promotes itself as giving porn performers power, but in reality, it empowers sex traffickers, child exploiters, and revenge-porn posters.” 

  Krystle Haga, a survivor and advocate at Rebuilding Hope, pointed out the immense stigma associated with sex work. Though it’s so immersed within our music, TV shows, and media, “American society looks at sex workers as the bottom of the barrel. There’s always stigmas to us as if we are dirty. As if, you know, we have STDs or we have to be on drugs.” Often, these stigmas lead to discrimination and hostility. Haga says that society “puts us into a box that we have to have some type of major issues if you’re doing it. Like you’re not normal or something.” 

  The stigmas and dangers surrounding the industry haven’t stopped with the internet, but there is generally a different attitude surrounding online sex work. Haga pointed out the differences in the online vs “street” atmosphere, saying, “I think that digital sex work has just made it a little bit more cleaner,” as with online work, “there’s a different clientele base.” Online sex work can be advantageous for some sex workers, as many don’t have to meet up with people or even engage in sexual acts. “They can just sell pictures or do webcams, so it can be all the way safe for them,” she said. Haga explained that without an online paper trail, “ everything’s done in the dark…one can get away with a lot of things.” Working online, evidence can be gathered, which is useful if there is ever an event in which pressing charges is needed. 

  In reading statements from former OnlyFans creators, the work initially thought of as feminist and empowering ended up being demoralizing and scary. According to a report made by the NCOSE, life as a creator has been glamorized as a way to make money fast, but the truth is that the average creator only makes $180 per month. Online privacy and safety has proven to be a huge issue, as there have been multiple reports of home invasions and stalking to creators by their online subscribers. Many OnlyFans creators are calling out the problem with deep-fake pornography being leaked, as subscribers will feed creators content to AI, which will then produce even more content with the creator’s face, body, and sometimes even voice. 

  Age verification measures on the app are uncommon, as users are allowed to sign up through a Twitter or Google account. There is a complicated dynamic of young users, some just shy of underage, acting as paying subscribers and creators on the site. Rapper and online personality Bhad Bhabie joined the site just after her 18th birthday, breaking the record by earning $1 million in the first six hours of her account launch. She later commented on her record-breaking account in an interview with Barstool Sports, saying that she regrets creating the account at such a young age. When asked if those first subscribers “should be in jail?” she responded, “Yeah.” 

  Haga pointed out that there is always the danger of sex trafficking, even if someone is working solely online. “It’s really grimy when it’s on the streets and it’s not as much when it’s on digital platforms, but you can still experience harm.” She explained that “a trafficker is going to take their person that they’re trafficking wherever the money is, so if the money is on OnlyFans, you best believe the traffickers going to make that person make an OnlyFans whether it’s against their will, whether it’s at their will, however it may be forced them into doing it.” One prominent case of sex trafficking on OnlyFans involves high-profile kickboxer and influencer Andrew Tate. According to Business Insider, Tate “forced his victims to perform on OnlyFans pages he controlled… taking half the earnings, and threatened to beat women who did not comply, per the court documents.” The NCOSE additionally pointed toward a 2022 court case in which a couple ran a sex trafficking ring across multiple states, forcing the women “to engage in commercial sex acts and forced one of the women to produce videos on OnlyFans.”

  There are currently a few laws that attempt to provide protection in online sex work: the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). These acts were passed in 2018, directly after the U.S. Department of Justice shut down the notorious online prostitution platform The FOSTA-SESTA laws shut down online content with inappropriate and suggestive language. These laws have since produced an immense backlash, with many saying that they hurt the cause they are fighting for. National organization Decriminalize Sex Work has repeatedly called for the revising of these laws as they “link to an increase in human trafficking and violence against sex workers.” They argue that with the safety net of the internet being taken away, it pushes sex workers “back into the street…forces them into dangerous situations, making them more vulnerable to physical violence from un-screened clients and harassment by law enforcement.” When asked her opinion, Haga said she doesn’t understand why these platforms are being taken away. She raises the question to lawmakers, asking them to consider those being forced into work: “What about the ones that aren’t doing it willingly? Then you’re forcing them to go right back onto the streets, and then you’re also forcing people who are using this as income to go back to the streets as well.” 

  Haga explains that it’s important to continue to destigmatize sex work and understand that “the lifestyle keeps on pulling us in and out of survival.” On the topic of the digital field, she concludes, “The life grows with the times, it’s never ever going to stay the same. But one thing that’s always gonna stay the same is that sex sells, and it’ll always be something that’s going to be in high demand. It’s just how the platforms are going to change. It’s just a revolving door. So it just keeps going around different ways, on different platforms, and I think it will continue to do so.”