Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why Anti-Sex Worker/AntiPorn Discrimination Matters: The Eden Alexander/WePay Debacle

[also crossposted over at Red Garter Club]

[Update: Eden Alexander's new fundraising page has now raised over $6,000; you can add your contribution, if you are so inclined, over at her page.] 

There has been plenty of ink spilled recently over how sex workers, porn performers, and adult models are being targeted for discrimination and abuse, but this week has now focused this issue much more intensely through an ongoing situation that could turn potentially tragic.

I have posted previously here on the ongoing saga of JP Morgan Chase, the major financial conglomerate, and its efforts to cancel the accounts of porn performers, citing "reputational risk". For those who have missed it, Chase started mailing cancellation notices to several porn performers (Teagan Presley among others) around mid-April, warning them that their accounts would be pulled by May 11th due to unstated violations of their Terms of Service.....even though they didn't provide any evidence that any of the accounts were used for unsanctioned purposes.

I've also posted on the recent program by the Department of Justice, "Operation ChokePoint", which began as a guide for financial regulators and banking institutions for seeking out and screening potentially suspectible practices and illegal activities through third-party payment processors. The program did list "pornography" as one of many forms of activity warranting added scrutiny, but it did not endorse specifically going after adult transactions for proscecution; it was designed as more of a broad-brush means of regulation. Nevertheless, banking institutions such as Chase has used this program as a justification for their current blacking out of porn performers and other adult transactions; and opponents of regulation have cited what they see as the overreach of Operation ChokePoint into porn accounts as a critique of regulation per se.

But...all of that, for what it's worth, merely pales to the human tragedy now unfolding that exposes the cold heart and the ultimate consequenses of what discrimination against adult sex workers can lead to.

That would be the human tragedy that Eden Alexander is now facing.

Eden Alexander is a cam model, producer, and independent artist whom recently faced a series of medical emergencies that nearly cost her her life and required her to undergo multiple bouts of hospitalization. First, she suffered an allergic reaction to a common prescription drug. When her original doctor refused to offer proper medication and treatment for her condition, effectively citing her profession and hinting of "drug abuse", that condition elevated into a full-flared MRSA/staph infection, which then triggered other reactions that nearly killed her. Due to the delay in getting proper treatment, her infection even further spread to the point where she was further the point where she was (and still is) unable to provide for herself or her family through her work.

Thusly, she and her friends opened up a fundraising drive through in order to solicit funds for her to essentially stay alive until she recovers. (You may know about GiveForward from here earlier, because it was the same fundraiser site that Nina Hartley used nearly four years ago to raise funds for her fibroid surgery recovery.) The fundraiser managed to suceed quite well, with nearly $5,000 raised from friends and performers alike.

And that's when WePay, the payment processor for, decided to intervene in a very bad way.

This morning, Eden Alexander tweeted this to her timeline:
The email, which she attached to her tweet, did not state explicitly how they determined that she was using the fundraising for "pornographic activities"; it simply noted that the account was in violation of their Terms of Service, and abruptly cancelled it without notice.

Shaken enough by her condition, this new shock to her system may have pushed Eden off the cliff. She subsequently tweeted even more disturbing thoughts of ending her life, and then disappeared off the timeline; prompting real concerns of suicide. She has since been hospitalized and is currently in ER treatment.

The adult world has also been shaken to its own core by all this; a new fundraiser for Alexander has been launched through, which has recouped more than the share of funds that the original GiveForward fundraiser did; it is still ongoing as of now.

And, the rage of the adult performer diaspora has been raining down on WePay like the eyewall of Hurricane Katrina over the Louisiana coast. Kitty Stryker, a close friend of Eden and one of the creators of the first fundraiser, let loose a furious retort to WePay and its inconsistencies in its ToS that is must reading. A sample:
What WePay (and therefore GiveForward) is effectively saying is that because Eden is a cam girl by profession, raising money for medical funds is suspicious and banned.

Because we all know sex workers can’t be trusted, and we’ll probably blow our money on porn rather than self care, and we all have robot bodies that never get ill, right?
However, and here’s where I’m really, really fucking angry, here’s some other areas they ban.

Oh yeah, WePay? Like “revealing the evils of the homosexual agenda“? How about going to other countries to spread imperialist Christianity among communities of colour? AWESOME SO GLAD YOU FUND THAT

Yeah cool so you’re totally not helping fund “love donations” for psychic readings. Cause science has totally explained that.

But you’ll totally help people go to fat camp, or get post-weight loss surgeries. Even if it’s someone raising money for their partner because he’s decided she’s too fat.

If they seriously ban everyone who has ever worked retail from using WePay, I’ll eat my hat. Not for selling the products through WePay, but ever selling licensed products ever.
For their part, WePay did attempt a public response to the firestorm of criticism...which only fanned the flames that much more. WePay CEO Bill Clerico tweeted an attempt to defend their actions, stating that Eden Alexander violated their ToS and justified her cancellation by retweeting a post from her supporters offering free porn for donating to her fund. (To which the proper response by anyone with a shred of decency and humanism should be: "So?? Does that justify denying a sick woman funds??")

Then, WePay issued a written press statement "apologizing" to Alexander for all that took place, but still defending their actions due to compliance with "back end processors" such as Visa and MasterCard. (Riiiight, because they don't do business with porn sites, either, as my inability to use my paycard to join porn sites can attest.) Here's WePay's "statement" (via Cyborgology):

One Clerico tweet even went so far as to admit that WePay screens and monitors' their customers for suspicion of "fraud and abuse", but only "because they have to" oblique reference, perhaps to Operation CheckPoint and the DoJ's initiative.

P. J. Rey of The Society Pages' Cyborgology blog cuts through that bullshit most adequately:
WePay’s response, predictably, amounts to the old “don’t blame us, blame the market” strategy of denying responsibility. This is the same pattern we recently witnessed with Paypal and Chase: Rather than working to find ways to conduct business without discrimination, execs shrug their shoulders and point to the markets as supposed justification for what, in this case, is not only unjust, but downright inhumane, treatment. We, the public, are expected to just resign our democratic values when the market deems them inconvenient.
Fuck that. The discriminatory practices of a back-end processor and concerns about fraud do not and will not ever justify denying medical care to a very real human being, regardless of her occupation.
And , Rey adds this depressing thought about how all this feeds into general stigma and slut shaming and sex shaming in general, as well as how even libertarianism isn't enough in defending sex workers/porn performers/adult models:
What is perhaps most shocking about this tragedy is that it illustrates how readily we dehumanize sex workers. Whether it is the doctor (who reportedly dismissed the severity Alexander’s condition, assuming it to be the product of drug abuse) or WePay shutting down her donations page because she is connected to the production pornographic content, institutional policies and practices reduced Alexander (as they do all sex workers) to being nothing more than her work. Unfortunately, this too often how stigma works. From the perspective of this institutionalized stigma, you can’t be a sex worker and a person in need of medical treatment because when you’re a sex worker, you are only a sex worker. A person’s humanity is flattened and they are seen only as their stigma. This is an observation that Kitty Stryker and Melissa Gira Grant both made pointedly:
kitty melissa

What market logic does–when we fail to intervene demanding that humanitarian values be respected–is to reduce humans to mere risks and opportunities. Risk is stigma in market terms. Both flatten a person and mark them for exclusion. When a CEO says “sex workers are a risk,” they always, implicitly, mean “a risk–and nothing more.” The purpose of such language is to depersonalize and dehumanize and, thereby, to remove the moral impediments to exclusion.
What we, collectively, need to do is present new impediments to exclusion–to create conditions where exclusion itself is risky business. I know I, for one, won’t be using WePay any time soon for any of my projects.
I would say that it's not just "whore stigma", but simple sex hate and slut-shaming, combined with the additional stigmatization of keeping their money while denying them their humanity, that drives institutions like WePay, JPMorganChase, PayPal, and all the rest. (It wasn't until the protest tornado hit WePay's pig farm that they finally decided to release the funds from the GiveForward fundraiser over to Eden Alexander, and offer to "help" her restart her original fundraiser. Otherwise, they would have probably even kept those funds in their back pocket, or at least pocketed the commissions and fees from processing it.)

If the funds raised so far end up ultimately funding Eden Alexander's funeral, then WePay, Chase, the Department of Justice, and all the other financial institutions endorsing this gratituous discrimination have blood on their hands. And they need to pay, through their wallets. Slut/whore/sex stigma has got to be opposed and stomped out, by any means necessary.

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