AC, Baile Átha Cliath
Have you ever wanted to be your own boss? Maybe now’s the time to turn that job loss into an opportunity, give that business idea a go, find a new lease on life! After all, unemployment numbers are being touted as somewhere between 2.5% and 22.5% in the South of Ireland – a gap crawling closer together as those 22.5% on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment find no job to return to – while the North claims 6.1% and a number which has increased almost 100% every month since March.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys announced a “common sense approach” while ensuring those out of work are actively looking for a job elsewhere. Humphreys, her Fine Gael colleagues and their landlord party members must be giddy so, to see the ‘entrepreneurial’ capabilities of young Irish working-class people (primarily women and LGBTQ+) who have turned to sex work to keep up with rent!
“I’ve been paying my own way and I’ve never worked for more than minimum wage,” stated Corkonian model and mother, Alanna Pittorino, who recently opened up about her work with OnlyFans on The 2 Johnnies Podcast. “I’m making a nice bit of money [now]” she said, and that her numbers of subscribers for her pornographic content had quadrupled during the lockdown. “With this, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world around you”.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Pattorino is doing her best to provide for herself and her daughter, who she mentions in the interview, and in a climate of dire job stability and economic collapse, many are turning to X-rated opportunities on Snapchat, OnlyFans, AdmireMe, PornHub or Just For Fans as a source of revenue. In the UK, OnlyFans told the BBC that the number of UK creators increased by 42%, to 95,000, between March and July this year (and a 75% increase in sign-ups globally, according to the company). A 2016 Westminster report on sex work in the UK estimated that there were 72,800 workers in the industry. Is this a 22,200 increase over 4 years, or is it a recent surge?
In another article from Aoibhin Bryant on Extra.ie, one Irish OnlyFans user claimed that the majority who joined the site were students, struggling with fees and high rent. “It can be disheartening to see economic circumstances cause so many to struggle that OnlyFans becomes an attractive option despite all the risks involved”.
They claimed that Gardaí refuse to take any of their harassment concerns seriously and so established a “cross between a trade union and a group chat with your best mates… to have support and advice from people who are genuinely looking out for you”.
For those already in the industry, OnlyFans and the like were heralded as being a liberatory force. 36-year-old model and go-go dancer Matthew Camp told The New York Times last year that through the site, he could make $1,000 on a good night and it gave him the independence to turn down offers for porn – though he has since started working with industry behemoth Pornhub/Men.com. In a growing trend of rollbacks of trans rights across Europe and the US, many Trans people, already facing socioeconomic disadvantage and struggling to find stable employment or funds for healthcare, have turned to OnlyFans for survival – although Trans Men seem to receive far less work than Trans Women. One worker in a Guardian piece claimed the platform takes “some of the power away from porn companies’ hands and placed all the control with the performer” and is “a saving grace” for queer performers of colour, disabled performers, and non-traditional content creators.
These are arguments we’ve heard a few times before regarding different industries shaken up by the growth of the internet. That online shopping would empower independent businesses, allow honest and open competitive spaces, yet Amazon has successfully been absorbing or destroying its competition. Entertainment was forever changed by streaming, when in fact already dominating TV/cinema companies just adapted or consumed streaming services. Social platforms and media companies have just been buying up their competitors for years and now they dominate their markets. I mean, the biggest ‘independent’ online content creators, have been or currently still are, working for Disney (Maker Studios); PewDiePie, Jacksepticeye, Philip DeFranco and Epic Rap Battles of History just to name a few. Any independence is short lived and the formation of monopolies is inevitable.
“This transformation of competition into monopoly is one of the most important—if not the most important—phenomena of modern capitalist economy,”
― Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
As far as financial liberation goes, the main benefactor of the content produced is OnlyFans founder and digital pimp, Timothy Stokely, who’s picking up millions from working-class people during the lockdown, for doing nothing. The London-born 37-year-old banker’s son, Stokely has seen the firm bring in more than £1.2bn in revenue over its 4 years of operation. OnlyFans currently takes 20% of all payments from subscribers (even from tips), but will we see that change over time to benefit the company profit margin over the content creators, like the mainstream ad-friendly assimilation of YouTube’s content or will OnlyFans slowly reach towards Twitch’s 50% subscriber cut?
Since the lockdown, sex workers have found the digital market saturated, possibly resulting in what many had feared; a race to the bottom. Where standards could be held and workers able to care for their own safety, now OnlyFans workers will be pushed towards work they’re uncomfortable with and possibly into danger as a recession continues to reduce paying customers or any possibilities of alternative employment.
The disruption of the sex industry caused by Covid-19, in and of itself, will be disastrous for thousands of women and queer peoples who live in parts of the world which don’t recognise their workplace or provide any safety net when things go wrong. Add in a surge of new workers, made unemployed due to the pandemic, forced into one of the most precarious and dangerous industries, and it’s a perfect storm. Have we entered a new era saturated with sex work, one as easy to enter as it is to set up a Facebook page?
It’s not a new argument. The boogieman of online porn/sex has been prevalent since the 90s and has seen Tumblr, Craigslist and many more destroyed in the ensuing battles. US President Bill Clinton, in 1996, signed the Communications Decency Act into law. “Today,” he said, “with the stroke of a pen, our laws will catch up with the future. If nothing is done now, the pornographers may become the primary beneficiary of the information revolution.”
In a society of increasing unemployment and precarious low paying jobs, was mass migration into the sex industry inevitable? When just about any muscled lad, homeless queer person, struggling migrant or single mother can turn to sex work with a few clicks, the empowerment of workers must be moved up the agenda. An industry in which workers are completely voiceless, is one of the fastest growing of 2020.
Unless our economic system is due to change tomorrow, workers in the sex industry need to be protected and unionised, or their exploitation and abuse will continue to skyrocket through a new decade of capitalist economic collapse. Earlier this year, deputy director of Education at the Law Society of Ireland Dr Geoffrey Shannon released a report on the state of Irish sex work and found the promised government funds from Heather Humphrey’s party for worker resources – surprise, surprise – haven’t materialised. Any that have, went to Ruhama (which means ‘mercy’ in Hebrew) and other organisations under the thumb of the church or conservative forces. They address sex work in a moralist bubble, pushing to criminalise aspects of it and assuming exit options are out there if sex workers just want them hard enough – or if the NGO just has more money. Shannon’s report found that even after 2017 Irish ‘Nordic Model’ legislation criminalised the purchasing of sex, poverty, insecure housing, coercion, lack of education, psychological trauma, isolation and immigration status still keep people in the industry.
“People with little to no option will always be able to use the only thing they do own – their bodies – as a way to survive. Actual feminists refuse to allow these women to be collateral damage”. Kate McGrew of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland told DailyEdge.ie last year, “silencing of [Sex Workers’] voices is part of a larger problem of not acknowledging and addressing the realities of their lives.”
Sources & Further Reading