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.
“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.
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.