There’s been a bit of a furor among sex workers this past week over having their bank accounts shut down. After some backlash the bank in question decided to reinstate the account of the sex worker, but one has to wonder how much that was simply down to PR to avoid bad press.
Regardless, it’s a symptom of a much larger problem that sex workers face. Namely, access to services that most people in Australia take for granted. Having a bank account seems like such a fundamental right that it never even crosses most people's minds that it’s not. Most financial institutions will have some little clause tucked away in their T&C’s that they can pretty much close your account at any time for any reason.
It’s not just banks, there are many, many examples where sex workers are discriminated against, simply by virtue of being a sex worker. Landlords, for instance, will often refuse to rent to sex workers. Hotels might refuse to let you stay. You might have your accounts banned on social media, or on dating apps. In all of these examples, it’s often irrelevant to the people doing the discriminating whether the product or service they’re offering has any relation to your work or not.
If you're a sex worker wanting to go on a holiday in the US, good luck. Imagine you're working a completely legal job in Australia. You want some time off. You pick America as your travel destination. You're not there to work. You get stopped by immigration who find out you work or have worked in the past ten years as a sex worker. Congratulations, you're facing a day or two in a cell without even basic amenities or any sort of privacy. Demands for logins to absolutely everything: your phone, your social media, your emails. They'll go through it all with a fine tooth comb. At the end, even though you're just there for a holiday, chances are you'll be deported and banned from the country for ten years. You can always appeal the ban if you want. All you have to do is convince them you've not only given up sex work but had a change of heart. Essentially what they're asking for is that you've become a born again Christian and begged for forgiveness from a life of sin. Evidence from your priest or minister is a necessity to ensure you've truly turned from your evil ways.
You want to rent a place and have zero intention of working from home? Doesn’t matter, if a landlord finds out, chances are they won’t want to rent to you. Same with hotels. On social media, being a sex worker can get you banned. Even though simply being a sex worker isn’t generally against most platforms terms of service; solicitation is. Everyone seems to conflate being a sex worker with soliciting for work. After safety, sex worker anonymity is in large part due to simply wanting to access the same basic things open to every other member of society. Having a day job, access to unbiased medical care, having somewhere other than under a mattress to keep your income.
A common complaint from non sex workers about those of us in the industry is that we don’t play by the rules. We get paid in cash, we don’t pay our taxes, we live on the fringe of society. Considering the trouble most sex workers face accessing basic services, it’s no wonder we’re in the position we’re in. Can you blame someone for preferring cash, when asking for a deposit could get their bank account closed down? Or worse, in the case of certain nameless online financial institutions, close your account and confiscate your legally obtained funds without warning?
It seems counterintuitive and unfair to actively punish sex workers trying to follow the rules.
It's also interesting to note that the people who make these rules also make up a large portion of sex worker clientele. The upper crust of society, highly respected pillars of the community (and politicians), lawyers, judges, CEOs, business owners etc. The top rungs of society utilising the services of one of the lowest rungs, while actively influencing a society keeping them there. Hypocrisy at its finest. It's not a case of only the bad eggs among the "elite" seeing sex workers either. It's widespread. I'm not suggesting that these people shouldn't be booking sex workers, far from it. Seeing a sex worker is like masturbation: many do it, few talk about. If a taboo act is so common that it's only the act of talking about it that's rare, is it really taboo at all?