“Shut Up and Take My Money!”: Revenue Chokepoints, Platform Governance, and Sex Workers’ Financial Exclusion


  • Bianca Beebe




Sex work regulation is often debated from the perspective of state control: legalization vs decriminalization, ‘end demand’ vs criminalization. Ultimately, these debates center the State as the most significant arbiter in sex workers’ ability to conduct business. This paper contends that while state legislation has a significant effect on the material lives of sex workers, the terms of service of the US-based, privatized financial industry has a more immediate and widespread affect. Most sex workers make use of online payment applications as well as social media, even though both are highly discriminatory toward sex workers, regardless of the legal status of one’s employment as a sex worker, or even the laws in which the worker conducts their business. Rather than being treated as a luxury or privilege, access to both the worldwide web and the global network of banking are essential rights that enable full participation in contemporary society. Through an analysis of platform governance and revenue chokepoints, this paper argues that payment intermediaries function as an extra-legal regulation of sex work that has a more profound effect on sex workers’ material reality than State legislation, as these intermediaries control how they are able to secure business and be paid for it without having to answer to a voting demographic. Most of the world’s major social media and payment processing applications are based in the United States, which enables it to export the repercussions of the stigmatization and criminalization of sex work even within the boundaries of countries with differing legislation.