Corporate Discrimination Against Sex Workers Threatens Everyone’s Freedom

"Sex Workers Rights Protest" by Eliya.

“Sex Workers Rights Protest” by Eliya.

Some headlines:

Chase Bank Is Shutting Down Porn Actors' Bank Accounts
Porn stars battle stigma with sex awareness amid bank account closures
Amazon is deleting sex workers' wish lists without warning
The Soapbox: How PayPal & WePay Discriminate Against The Adult Industry

Although Chase Bank is dominating the news in this area lately, it’s clear that other major brick-and-mortar banks, including City Bank and Wells Fargo, also discriminate against sex workers.

This is wrong and unfair to sex workers. But it should also terrify the rest of us, because major corporations in effect form a second government in the USA, a government that can lock people out of access to essential services without any appeal or accountability. It’s hard to live if no bank will do business with you or cash your checks. And if private banks have the right to act this way, why not other private corporations – utilities, say, or internet service providers? If sex workers, why not other unpopular groups – say, polyamorists, or trans people, or socialists?

The more free corporations are to arbitrarily make decisions that constrain our lives, the less free ordinary people become. Gigantic corporations that in effect rule major aspects of our society should not be legally allowed to engage in this sort of behavior. Viewpoint neutrality should be legally required of any bank or utility serving the general public.

PJ Rey writes:

Particularly, it’s interesting that this outright discrimination against legal sex work is coming from Wall Street and Silicon Valley—both recognized hubs of libertarian ideology. Typically, leaders from both sectors staunchly defend unfettered economic activity as fundamental to an open society. In fact, they often go so far as to equate economic activity with expressions of free speech, deserving of maximum protection and minimal interference.[...]

But what libertarians too often fail to acknowledge is that discrimination is frequently expressed through and encoded into markets themselves (housing being perhaps the most notoriously discriminatory market). When one’s commitment to markets takes precedence over one’s commitment to challenging discrimination, it’s almost inevitable that fair treatment for marginalized groups falls by the wayside. It seems that sex workers have found themselves victims of a contradiction within libertarian ideology: markets, though themselves supposedly conditional on freedom and fairness, create conditions of unfreedom and unfairness.

In PJ’s comments, Iamcuriousblue (who has occasionally commented on “Alas,” although not lately, alas) pushes back a little, writing:

I think you ignore the governmental role that factors into this as well. It’s been noted that Operation Choke Point, a behind-the-scene DOJ policing initiative toward the financial industry, has guidelines that specifically list things like “escort agencies” and “pornography” business activity on the part of account holders as things that should raise red flags. (I’ll note that Mother Jones is very dismissive of concerns about OCP – I’m not so convinced of its wholly benign nature.) Combine this with the recent history of overzealous “antitrafficking” initiatives coming straight from the federal government, and you’ve really got state/private sector partnership fueling this kind of discrimination. Which would hardly be the first time we’ve seen something like this – one need only look at unjust drug laws and drug testing in the workplace for a well established example.

This entry posted in Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Economics and the like, Pornography. Bookmark the permalink. 

13 Responses to Corporate Discrimination Against Sex Workers Threatens Everyone’s Freedom

  1. 1
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    It seems that sex workers have found themselves victims of a contradiction within libertarian ideology: markets, though themselves supposedly conditional on freedom and fairness, create conditions of unfreedom and unfairness.

    This is a stupid semantic argument to make. The way that this author is using “freedom” and “fairness” are not the way that his opponents are using “freedom” and “fairness,” and it’s hard to believe that the author doesn’t know that.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    Here and here are more on Operation Choke Point.

    But it should also terrify the rest of us, because major corporations in effect form a second government in the USA, a government that can lock people out of access to essential services without any appeal or accountability.

    They’re not part of a second government, folks – they’re part of our first government. And not always willingly.

    Come one, you’ve read about this plenty of times before. Ask Google and Microsoft about having to provide information to the government about searches that people do – and about being legally enjoined from telling people about it. Do corporations have excessive influence on the government? Sure. I agree! Especially in regulatory issues where regulations can be used by large corporations to choke out competition by smaller ones. But do you really think that only works one way? Do you think that government doesn’t use it’s influence in corporations in malign ways?

    I’m not saying that the case is proven here that it’s is all The Eeeevil Gubbmint’s Fault, but the headline presents the presumption that it’s all The Eeeevil Corporation’s Fault. Let’s at least be open to the concept that corporations who are generally pretty happy to take money from everyone might be operating under outside influences in this case. And it doesn’t have to point back at the White House, either, it could just be a couple of high-level blue noses at the DoJ.

  3. 3
    JutGory says:

    RonF,
    And, let’s not forget that it was the Government that required banks to require that anyone opening a bank account must provide a Photo I.D. I think Amp wrote something about a similar topic recently. :)
    -Jut

  4. 4
    Lee1 says:

    RonF,

    I think Amp recognizes that point in the OP, acknowledging it by citing the comment by Iamcuriousblue (who he implies was an insightful commenter, and whose comment he doesn’t dispute).

    I wouldn’t say corporations are part of a first or second government, because I think private corporations and government institutions are often – painting with an admittedly broad brush here – unaccountable in fairly different ways (although often in comparably harmful ways).

  5. 5
    Ben David says:

    This is outrageous!
    Major corporations should treat everyone equally – except for executives like Brendan Eich and other knuckle-draggers who oppose gay marriage.

  6. 6
    Ben Lehman says:

    This is horrifying. It’s particularly horrifying to see, like, massive abuse of power on a social scale and apparently no one gives a shit except to say “well it happens to be the government not corporations so why should I care? Whee!”

    Ben David: Did you literally read nothing Barry wrote about Eich? Here? On this blog?

    yrs–
    –Ben

  7. 7
    nobody.really says:

    Yes, no entity should discriminate in a manner that violates civil rights laws.

    Yes, entities that assume the status of common carriers should not discriminate among customers on pretty much any basis except the ability to pay.

    But otherwise…? Generally the rule is private parties get to discriminate. If a banker chooses not to do business with the Nazis or the Klan for no other reason than that he dislikes the Nazis or the Klan, the law permits that. And this practice hasn’t caused me to lose much sleep.

    Now maybe in the era of Too Big To Fail banks, where private actors have demonstrated that they’re prone to inflict major harm on innocent 3d parties, we really need to rein in their discretion. And maybe that would involve, among other things, imposing a kind of common carrier obligation on them. And in that case, big banks might be precluded from discriminating against people in the sex trade. Or Nazis. Or Klansmen.

    And maybe that would be progress. Or maybe not.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    If a banker chooses not to do business with the Nazis or the Klan for no other reason than that he dislikes the Nazis or the Klan, the law permits that.

    What about if he or she chooses not to permit a gay rights activist group or an illegal aliens’ activist group to open an account? Would that be O.K.? Or a gay couple?

    Are these people being discriminated against because of who they are, or what they do, or what they advocate? Are these useful distinctions?

  9. 9
    nobody.really says:

    If a banker chooses not to do business with the Nazis or the Klan for no other reason than that he dislikes the Nazis or the Klan, the law permits that.

    What about if he or she chooses not to permit a gay rights activist group or an illegal aliens’ activist group to open an account? Would that be O.K.? Or a gay couple?

    Are these people being discriminated against because of who they are, or what they do, or what they advocate? Are these useful distinctions?

    There are myriad questions about the nature and scope of civil rights laws, mostly beyond the scope of this thread. For purposes of this discussion it suffices to note that sex workers are not generally a protected class.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    But otherwise…? Generally the rule is private parties get to discriminate. If a banker chooses not to do business with the Nazis or the Klan for no other reason than that he dislikes the Nazis or the Klan, the law permits that. And this practice hasn’t caused me to lose much sleep.

    I’m completely fine with forcing banks to accept legal business from Nazis and the KKK. Banks shouldn’t be in the business of selecting which political ideologies are and aren’t appropriate for their customers to hold, and a country where banks and major corporations take it on themselves to punish people for their political views is not a free country.

  11. 11
    Abbe Faria says:

    Doesn’t the whole question revolve around money laundering and the gray legal status of sex work? Rey says ‘legal sex work’, but as far as I’m aware there’s Californian case law protecting producers, but that’s it, the rest is just a blind eye.

    I’m not sure it is about morals or political views. Fundamentally, banks should follow the law. I want to see drugs legalised, but while they’re not I don’t think it’s okay for banks to launder for the cartels.

  12. 12
    Ben Lehman says:

    I’m not sure how one goes from “basic banking” to “money laundering services.” Legal banks keep records of deposits and withdrawals: these records can be subpoenaed during a criminal investigation. A bank can falsify these records, which is money laundering, but that is illegal and no bank should do that. “Criminal falsification of records” isn’t part of standard banking services.

  13. 13
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Doesn’t the whole question revolve around money laundering and the gray legal status of sex work?

    No Sex work, legally speaking, is sort of like working as a caterer under the table: technically illegal but far from “illegal enough” to put the burden on a bank for catching it.

    I’d actually agree that banks happen to be one of the very limited exceptions where the benefits really mean that we have to try to enforce viewpoint neutrality: not only is banking access rapidly becoming a nearly-fundamental part of living in the US, but the banks are already heavily tied in to the government finances (i.e. the Fed) and are already heavily regulated, so this doesn’t seem like much of an imposition.

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