Missing the Mark

Missing the Mark

The legendary William Tell rarely missed his mark. Here an artist illustrates Tell shooting the apple from a child’s head using his trusty crossbow.

Two kinds of blindness are easily combined so that those who do not see really appear to see what is not.

— Carthaginian Christian apologist Tertullian

IT’S easy to condemn those involved in the sex trade and pornography, saying that they are simply in a line of business or work that is against the will of God.

But didn’t Lord Jesus himself stopped the angry crowd when they tried to stone Mary Magdalene to death, pointing out to Magdalene’s tormentors that anyone who was clean of sin could first throw the first stone.

Yet, most of us are quick to criticize sex workers.

And this coronavirus pandemic has pushed many of our neighbors in the brink of starvation and poverty—forcing mothers, wives, daughters and even granddaughters into prostitution. Some do it physically by allowing themselves to be abused by lecherous men for the money while others do it electronically through the internet and social media.

Either way, we see it as the oldest profession that most abhor but tolerate because of the pleasures derived from it in material gain, mental prowess and sexual gratification.

But can we put an end to prostitution–and likewise pornography? We should realize that prostitution is blazing bonfire that darkens the soul instead of lighting it up and meanwhile, pornography is the wind that fans the bonfire’s flames to make it even burn hotter and darker.

And we hear about OnlyFans announcing that it is scrapping a plan to ban sexually explicit material from its platform following an outcry from adult-content creators who have helped the site soar in popularity since the start of the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus or nCoV.

Yet before reversing the ban, OnlyFans explained that it was forced into the decision because it was struggling to establish relationships with banks and investors who were wary of going into business with a platform that relies heavily, though not exclusively, on sexual content. The company said the policy change was no longer necessary because it had received assurances from its banking partners that it could support ‘all genres of creators’.

The OnlyFans saga is the most recent example of what has become a familiar pattern–platforms that have capitalized on explicit content to spur growth are beginning to reconsider their policies as they break into the mainstream.

In 2018, the micro blogging platform Tumblr banned pornography and Patreon, a subscription service similar to OnlyFans, cracked down on adult performers a year earlier. More than a decade ago, the blogging platform LiveJournal drew fire from users for its clumsy attempt to purge sex-related discussion groups.

Many of these moves were made in direct response to pressure from business partners amid concerns that the platforms could be featuring illegal content like underage sex or non-consensual sex.

In April, the porn streaming site PornHub, one of the 10 most popular websites in the world, deleted millions of videos and revised its content policies following a New York Times story that accused the site of hosting clips featuring sexual assault and child pornography—which prompted credit card companies to stop processing payments on its platform.

The question of where sexually explicit content does and doesn’t belong online—and who should make that determination—is one of the foundational debates of the internet, and the recent back-and-forth from OnlyFans shows it’s far from resolved.

Sex workers and adult-content creators say these are not neutral content decisions. They argue that what they see as overzealous crackdowns on legal sexual content carry a heavy price by not only undercutting their livelihoods but also by taking away tools they use to protect themselves from violence and exploitation endemic to in-person sex work.

Some experts say the decisions are often made in response to pressure from anti-trafficking groups that use the worthy cause of protecting children as a smokescreen to push a broader anti-sex agenda.

Supporters of stricter guidelines, many of whom say they have no issue with legal pornography, argue that online platforms have a duty to do everything they can to root out illegal content—even if doing so has knock-on effects for legitimate creators. There are some conservatives and religious groups who say porn and sex work, regardless of legality, are harmful and should be banished to the fringes of the internet.

To some, the OnlyFans example shows the worrisome power that banks and payment processing companies have to censor what’s allowed to appear online, an issue they argue poses a threat to free speech.

Content moderation decisions made by social media sites get enormous attention, but these companies have even more power to control free expression because they provide the infrastructure that the modern internet is built upon.

So what’s next?

Stopping sex crimes is a worthy cause, but targeting legal sex work isn’t the solution.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that sites like OnlyFans should be allowed to operate without any restrictions whatsoever. Nor are we saying that payment processors don’t have a responsibility to ensure they’re not facilitating illegal or unethical practices. The point is, increased censorship is rarely the solution to complex problems.

The fact is that the internet has helped improve sex workers’ lives, including by keeping them safer. However, sex workers laboring offline and on the street remain at high risk. Continued criminalization of in-person sex work is even making things worst with law enforcers abusing the law for their benefit and selfish interests.

Actually, misguided crackdowns are a threat to everyone’s freedoms

When financial institutions, tech companies, and conservative politicians conflate legal adult entertainment with abuse, there is a chilling effect on freedom of sexual expression. This means that the labor issues of sex workers have implications for everyone.

And sex industry workers are understandably skeptical when it comes to government regulation of the industry. It’s never clear how the next administration will legislate, and when policymakers have drafted legislation, it often misses the mark—sometimes by a big margin.


Leave a Reply