Amazon Is Shaming Sex Workers

Sex workers can’t use Chase to do their banking. They can’t use PayPal to process transactions, even ones not at all related to their work. And now they’re kept from having Amazon wish lists, too? Good gravy! What gives?!

The Daily Dot is currently running a piece that delves deep into the Amazon wish list issue; I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s the short version: It tells the story of Tanya Tate, a British adult performer and cosplayer (you might recognize her as Cersei in the Game of Thrones porn parody, Game of Bones), who allegedly found her wish list deleted without warning last summer. When she contact Amazon to ask why, she said, “They told me it was being used for ‘bartering purposes,’ because I’d written in the description, like, ‘Send me gifts and I’ll send you a thank you or pictures of me wearing this dress or lingerie.’” So she put it up again, this time without any text at all; she also made sure it was connected to her SFW cosplaying website instead of her adult page. But then she says Amazon deleted it again — and followed up the move by deleting her entire account, gift card balance and all.

This time Tate says she emailed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; she says she received a reply from a staffer, with the message again saying that she had created the account for “bartering” purposes. She was told that wish lists are only for friends and family, and that Amazon was totally within its rights to take down her account without notice. Said Tate, “In my opinion, they were just refusing to allow me to have a wish list because I’m an adult star. There’s no reason for it other than discrimination.” Nor is Tate the only adult performer who has had this problem. Cam model Emma Ink also says she had her wish list deleted; in this case, it was allegedly because of the items it contained — items which, it should be noted, are all for sale on Amazon itself. Pot, kettle, something about a specific color…?

The Daily Dot’s piece continues the conversation that both the Chase and PayPal stories began — and it’s a conversation we definitely need to be having. With Chase, one of the reasons apparently given to a performer who had her account shut down was simply that, due to her work in the adult industry, she’s too easily recognized. And in PayPal’s case, Kitty Stryker wrote last month on The Frisky that many of the bans are happening not because the site is being used to conduct transactions for adult businesses, but merely because the people using the site happen to be sex workers. Porn performer Maggie Mayhem says she tried to raise money to go to Haiti for relief work — relief work, something which has absolutely nothing to do with the adult industry — only to have PayPal shut down her account. Sex Worker Helpfuls even has a long list of which payment options are safe for sex workers, either for conducting business or for non-work-related things — and out of 13 different options, only two are marked as “sex worker friendly.”

You can rationalize the behavior of these and more companies by saying that they’re just trying to cover their arses; after all, prostitution is still illegal in the U.S. But many of the adult industry employees who have run into trouble are doing work that is perfectly legal (porn, for example). This makes it discrimination, plain and simple; additionally, I’m also of the opinion that it proves just how badly sex work needs to be legalized. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, sex work still has a gigantic, massive stigma attached to it. The women who chose to do it aren’t all “fallen women”; they aren’t all bimbos who can’t make a living doing anything else; and they aren’t all “easy.” As The Gloss’ excellent column “Harlotry” has pointed out time and time again, like any industry, it’s got its ups and downs, and everyone might not be as happy in it as everyone else — but it’s work. It requires smarts, ambition, and know-how, just like any other job; furthermore, the industry is thriving, so clearly it’s something that people both want and need. So why are we still acting like we’re back in the age of the Puritan?

Something’s clearly got to change, though to be honest, I’m not totally sure what needs to happen in order to inspire that change. Maybe we just need to keep talking about it, writing about it, and calling it out. It can’t be ignored forever — and when the world finally starts to listen, then maybe we’ll finally be able to evolve.