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Kicked Out: Crowdsourcing Shows Its Bias

It seems like everyone has a Kickstarter campaign these days.

Whether it's my cousin's fringe-festival play, or a friend's memoir about sex parties, it seems I can't log on to Facebook to stalk an ex-girlfriend without being hustled for a donation by someone from my past. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the crowdfunding revolution. Crowdfunding campaigns have helped offbeat businesses get off the ground and even paid the hospital bills of cancer patients — it's laughing in the face of the recession and reimagining the way we engage with the online economy.

Indie rock star Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter campaign cashed out at more than $1 million to fund her latest album and tour. In a post-Napster industry, artists have turned to crowdfunding to gain direct access to fans' dollars.

So why am I not flooding the world's Facebook feed with campaigns funding Star Trek porn parodies? Because sex workers aren't invited to the crowdfunding party. Cam girls, strippers, escorts, and porn stars all face exclusion, scrutiny, and sometimes theft from crowdfunding organizations.

Earlier this year, Andre Shakti, a Bay Area sex worker, put together a crowdfunding campaign on Fundly.com, the platform that boasts it's the place to "Raise Money for Anything." Shakti hoped to raise a modest $500 to help with the cost of her plane ticket to the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto next month. Fundly's Terms of Use do not prohibit adult content, and they enthusiastically suggest putting together campaigns to fund things like "Trips and Adventures," so Shakti's project seemed like a perfect fit. She exceeded her fundraising goal, and hurried to buy her plane ticket before the price went up further. When the time came for Shakti to collect on the $545 she had raised, she received an error message from WePay, the credit card processor that Fundly uses. It said that her campaign violated its Terms of Service; they could not process her funds.

"I thought I had maybe filled out the form wrong or checked the wrong box," Shakti says. But when she contacted Fundly, it confirmed that her account was most likely flagged because she is a sex worker.

Though Fundly's Terms of Use do not prohibit adult content, WePay's Terms of Service does. "Fundly cannot claim to be accessible to all while contracting with a credit card processing company that explicitly is not. This practice is opaque, unfair, and harmful to our disparaged community," writes Kristina Dolgin, director of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sex Worker Outreach Project in an open letter to Fundly on March 11. WePay also prohibits a score of other activities including "Magic, enchantment, sorcery or other forms of yet-to-be-explained science." So think again before you try to crowdfund a San Francisco chapter of Hogwarts. WePay reserves the right to seize and freeze any funds it suspects may be associated with its long list of prohibited activities. Luckily, Shakti's contributors were refunded, but Shakti was left scrambling to find a way to fund her trip.

PayPal is also notorious for shutting down the accounts of sex workers and withholding their funds.

In January 2010, San Francisco sex worker and activist Maggie Mayhem was working as the HIV Senior Specialist at Larkin Street Youth Services when she heard about the earthquake in Haiti. When she saw the damage on television, Mayhem started planning a trip to Haiti to do relief work. She accepted donations for her travel expenses via a PayPal "Donate" button on her blog. Her readers began donating.

One month into her fundraising efforts, PayPal shut down her account. Mayhem called customer service to try to rectify the situation — she wasn't doing anything illegal, she told them, she just wanted to volunteer! The person she spoke to claimed that because Mayhem's blog linked to adult content (the sites she modeled for), PayPal could not definitively prove that she was actually raising funds for relief work in Haiti. PayPal froze all the funds she had raised and to this day neither she nor her contributors have received that donated money.

In an increasingly cash-free economy, only a few conservative credit card companies dictate the types of transactions we all make. Amanda Palmer can raise a million dollars to ride around in a tour bus playing the part of rock star, but honest hard-working American sex workers can't raise $500 for a plane ticket without facing scrutiny. In the online marketplace, sex workers are treated as second-class citizens, and that just takes the fun out of crowdfunding.

Go to sfweekly.com/arts to hear Siouxsie's podcast on crowdsourcing.

 
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16 comments
beteljuice
beteljuice

You gotta lose this pic. What's with the clothespin? And the look on u face is rather prissy.


Also you gotta stop getting righteous about working conditions for sex workers.


Consumers don't give a hoot about working conditions for workers in whatever industry produces the product consumers consume.


Look at all the people wearing Nike.


Just write about fucking, kay?

beteljuice
beteljuice

You gotta lose that picture. Whats with the clothespin? Aside from that you look both prissy and shopworn.


Also this column wants to get all righteous about 

beteljuice
beteljuice

You gotta lose that picture. Whats with the clothespin? Aside from that you look both prissy and shopworn.


Also this column wants to get all righteous about working conditions for sex workers.


Consumers don't give a shit about working conditions of workers in whatever industries produce the products consumers consume.


Look at all the people walking around wearing Nike.


Just write about fucking, kay?

philosophiste
philosophiste

"Amanda Palmer can raise a million dollars to ride around in a tour bus playing the part of rock star"

I can only imagine that Amanda and her fans are on the same side as the author on this, so I don't see why the hate.

cbrandolino
cbrandolino

Amanda Palmer can raise a million dollars to ride around in a tour bus playing the part of rock star


Yo I completely agree with the point your article is making but that was totally uncalled for.

keliklindsey
keliklindsey

Crowd funding is not the best way to pay for things. I raised money to try to pay for my rabbit's veterinary bills but was denied the money because I hadn't raised the amount I asked for.

However, if you're a "sex worker" and you're raising money for anything (I really don't give a damn what) on a website that does not allow adult content, you SHOULD NOT BE LINKING TO YOUR WORK. Sex work = adult content. It's your own damned fault, moron.

humblewonderful
humblewonderful

"The person she spoke to claimed that because Mayhem's blog linked to adult content (the sites she modeled for), PayPal could not definitively prove that she was actually raising funds for relief work in Haiti. "

This makes absolutely no sense. Any link to any content doesn't change a persons genuineness in raising money for charity. Basically my online footprint could link only to sudoko and gardening and I could still be a scammer. Paypal has no responsibility to definitely prove whether I am or not. 

I might just shoot Paypal an angry message....

Andrew Dunlop
Andrew Dunlop

She's back! I hope you are paying this girl royalties for the copious use of her image!

SF Weekly
SF Weekly

It's a sex-work column that appears in our paper every week.

Kristy Winn
Kristy Winn

Why is SF weekly obsessed with prostitutes?

aliasetc
aliasetc topcommenter

Crowd funding is a scam with payoff company like good cop bad cop.

johnnylemuria
johnnylemuria

This is an outrage. May I suggest crowdfunding through bitcoin? There are many different options available, and no credit cards or paypal to worry about. 

woebin
woebin

@keliklindsey  Did you not read the bit where Fundly doesn't actually say anything about prohibiting adult content, or what? Maybe work on that reading comprehension of yours (and try not to be such an asshole while you're at it).

cararoxanne
cararoxanne

What's wrong with sharing stories about sex workers?

 
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