Seeing Red

In the three years that I’ve worked within this industry, I have rarely met discrimination. Other than my highschool friends, people for the most part are open, polite and interested about work (at least to my face). This is the way it should be when you work a legal job in Australia, pay your taxes and contribute actively to your society; all of which I do.

It wasn’t until I recently started to set up an online shop, however, that I came to terms with just how little we are accepted. And it has me seeing red.

It quietly whispers in their ear, “you’ll regret this. People will judge you. Don’t fight it.”

This was my spiel to each company: I am setting up an online shop containing products branching from t shirts to adult toys. I am NOT wanting to use any payment gateways for my personal services. I would like to set up a subscription site also if at all possible.

I sent this to at least 15 different payment gateway companies or banks… guess how many have said that they would consider me?

  1. Westpac and NAB. *DONT bank with NAB, see the bottom of this post for an update*.

Most of the companies stated that escorting falls within a high risk division whereby people are more likely to reverse a transaction, and so they are not prepared to take on the risk of having someone reverse a transaction. I understand how it is very hard to “return” a product like provision of sex if someone is not happy with what they receive. It’s funny though, you know the number of times I’ve had a transaction reversed from my bank account in my 3 years as an escort? 0. I challenge these companies to show me proof that our industry is, as they say more high risk than other businesses. I am certain that they will find nothing.

The company that wins the award of Most Discriminatory is Paypal. Paypal is a gateway provider to an endless numbers of online adult stores that sell toys and adult content, not just in the US. The difference between these other stores supported by Paypal and my store? It is that I intend to sell LESS adult content than the other stores do. Paypal even supports the sale of adult movies. In the US, a country where prostitution is illegal, you can be instantly approved if you are selling adult products according to their site (not services or online content), but in Australia where prostitution is for the most part legal – you have to apply for a special permission to sell the same adult content and products. I found this out after speaking with their customer service team, who told me that the only way to know if I could be approved was to apply. Here is the thing that representative didn’t know; the second your site has the word “escort” listed on it, you are guaranteed to be given a lifelong, permanent limitation with no ability to appeal.

As I write this, I can say that I just got off the phone to customer support (so ironic), who proceeded to tell me that she can’t and won’t help because my account is at a dead end, with no ability to appeal. Just a couple of weeks prior another sympathetic staff member had told me that technically no account was permanently limited, and that she would contact the relevant team (which she did). I asked today whether I could place my shop on another URL and link back to my escorting page and not be in breach of Paypal, and she brusquely told me that if I did so, Paypal would register the link and automatically limit the new account. The emails from Paypal have accused me of conducting sales/offers that breach their terms and conditions and that if they deem it appropriate, I will be liable for costs that Paypal incurs for violations; the funny thing is that I have processed literally NO transactions through the account. Paypal has never even been shown on my website. The application was purely set up to see if they would be an option after discussing whether I should apply with their own customer representative; there was no other way to find out if they would support my business than to apply. Paypal’s communications to me have at times been abrupt, non-factual and disgracefully discriminatory. For every customer service representative who was understanding and apologetic, there was another that was rude. There are many other workers with a story regarding Paypal. In a world that touts progressive love of minorities, of all-inclusiveness, of love and support for all of society – I find my situation, and the situation of all sex workers, to be woefully sad and backwards.

I shouldn’t really be surprised… after all, we meet this discrimination across a much wider scale than payment gateways. For example, sex workers struggle to apply for income protection and the reason often provided is that we are at an increased risk of health problems. This is despite the fact that our STI rates are scientifically lower than the general population and that there is no dependence found scientifically between sex work as a whole and drug or alcohol abuse.

Banks are another cesspool of sex worker discrimination; I know of one friend who has managed to apply for and receive a home loan through NAB within 2 days while being honest about their work, which you think should be expected considering she lives in a legalized state. Before NAB approved her however, she applied with Westpac. Westpac made her jump through hoops and approved her only to unapprove it after the fact, the reason cited as a mistake in the paperwork. Another friend who applied for a home loan in a legalized state, with documentation showing their business drew $3million a year, was turned down. When they reapplied with their parents as guarantor, their parents being the owners of a large chain company in Australia, they were still turned down. If millions aren’t enough to guarantee the purchase of a standard priced house, then clearly there is another agenda of the bank than financial stability at play.

Asha is an escort in my home city of Brisbane, a city where sex work is legalized. While living in NZ, a country where sex work is decriminalised, Asha requested a new personal bank account with ANZ. Despite not even being present in the bank for business matters, she was grilled til she mentioned that she worked within the adult industry, upon which moment the bank manager brought three men into the room to stand over her while he closed all of her accounts and froze her superannuation.

The only thing more essential than a bank account these days is a roof over your head, and if we can’t apply for a home loan then surely we can at least rent, right? Wrong. I can’t even count anymore the number of times that I have seen someone post on social media that they have been evicted because their nosy agent discovered their job. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the property is not used for work; sex work seems to be the magic word to say to an agent if you wish for homelessness. Some workers have even reported that their Air BNB accounts have been suspended, leaving literally no housing options free of stigma. What is worse than all of the above? When you find out that in 2012, Queensland anti-discrimination legislation was amended to deliberately permit discrimination against sex workers within provision of accomodation.

To top it all off, we also face discrimination within advertising. Locanto is an advertising platform that charges sex workers more than other businesses for ads. Premium options are mandatory for sex workers in cities where they are not mandatory for other businesses. Where another business can post a free ad, Locanto imposes a minimum $29.95 fee for just one week of advertising and state that this is to prevent spam.

Unfortunately, the stigmatism extends well beyond our sex work life. In 2001, a New Zealand teacher who posed for Australian Penthouse was deregistered in the aftermath of the publication. Look to the murders of Jill Meagher and Tracy Connelly to get a taste of the portrayal of a sex worker even beyond her life itself. Rather than focusing upon the horrific murder of women taken well before their time, the media chose to perseverate on their job as if it was somehow the catalyst that ‘asked’ them to be murdered. Literally no aspect of our life remains untouched by prejudice; not our finances, our future careers or even our deaths.

After hearing the stories of all of the shit that adult industry workers have had to endure, I am just baffled. Our society should be ashamed of the level of discrimination that’s still prevalent. Think about the fact that it has taken strong gay activism 50 years to achieve a postal vote that may or may not result in the legalization of gay marriage in Australia. If our society is still trying to figure out if people can love whoever they want, when will they ever consider whether we can work the oldest job in the world? Does our government even care that there are no scientifically proven reasons as to why we shouldn’t work within this job? How can we look forward to decriminalization one day, when opening a bank account in a decriminalized country is still an issue?

Stigma has a far reaching impact. It is a social blackhole that makes those affected feel like they are less of a person than the general public. It can place workers at risk, providing ammunition for others to blackmail or abuse them. It can be used as a weapon to remove children from custody regardless of parenting ability. It might stop people from attempting to access healthcare related to work. But most importantly, stigma hushes the voices of the people that need more than ever to speak. It quietly whispers in their ear, “you’ll regret this. People will judge you. Don’t fight it.” And so the minority often sit silent, out of fear of consequence.

I have always treated Australia with respect, paid my taxes, given back to society; but it’s hard for any of us to understand why we should continue to work honestly and pay tax when the conditions of our job amount to a lack of equal consideration. So to all of the government officials out there; if you want us all to run an honest and open business, then set into place laws that prevent discrimination against us based upon our job. Start by decriminalizing our job, so that we can work without fear of consequence. Make our life easier by setting a country-wide policy, so that we don’t have to operate within the grey areas of each individual state. Why would this help? It would help because ultimately this discrimination comes down to a lack of education of the general public. Most people are unaware that our job is a legalized or decriminalized profession in almost all states of Australia. All of their experiences regarding prostitution are from the news, who purposefully paints a negative light on the industry. They are blissfully unaware that their neighbour, or their local check out chick, or their day care mum friend, or their personal trainer, is a part of the adult industry.

I am unequivocally aware that it is not always the fault of the company, and that a staff member may pass judgment that does not align with a company’s beliefs or values. Forcing companies to have a clear policy that tells their staff members that this is not OK, however, will ensure that those who do discriminate against us in their personal life cannot actively affect our lives without receiving repercussions. Laws and policies will allow us to open a bank account, process payments, rent a house, get a home loan, and live the suburban working class dream that everyone else takes for granted. So please work for us rather than against us, otherwise all that you amount to is the ugly mother-in-law stopping Cinderella from having her happily ever after. Everyone deserves equality.

ADDIT 08/09/19: NAB are jerks. Don’t listen to that advice, I am pursuing legal advice in relation to their discrimination with my business.

The banks that I have found most helpful are:

-Westpac

-Bank West

-ING (they don’t have business accounts but are totally cool with SW’s for their personal accounts)

-Commonwealth Bank

If you have issues with any of these banks, CONTACT THEM. They are all supposed to have company policies on treating sex workers appropriately, and it might be that you managed to get one bad egg in the office. If they don’t help; take it further. You have every right to.

2 thoughts on “Seeing Red”

  1. Very enlightening, Charlie. Thanks for sharing. I always knew it was a stigmatised industry but did not realise the extent to the discrimination. Like you, these examples of rental and banking discrimination, in particular, leave me incredibly angry, saddened and frustrated for all the same reasons — esp. because we like to pride ourselves on being egalitarian. I wholeheartedly agree that things must change, but I fear Australia’s pace of social change is far far too slow. (This marriage equality postal vote is stupid in the extreme, but a political reality when you have ignorant Conservatives holding sway over all policy — on both sides: Gillard should’ve done the right thing when she was PM but didn’t, so Turnbull not doing it is unfortunately understandable, but no less inexcusable.) As a client of the industry’s services, I am extremely glad to learn more about these types of issues. I am not sure what I can do personally to help, but I happy to be guided: write to my MP? sign a petition? attend a rally? I also know absolutely that I am more likely (because of the courtesy/openness/trust/goodwill) shown to me by the escorts I know to treat anybody in the industry with the same respect all people deserve. Actually, more.

  2. The best thing to do really is live by example, and when the opportunity arises to have this conversation with people you try to open their eyes. It all comes down to education.

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