OnlyFans, a subscription-based platform known for pornography, has been placed on NCOSE’S Dirty Dozen List for the past two years due to the egregious sexual exploitation that lies at the foundation of its business model. NCOSE—along with numerous survivors, whistleblowers, police, and investigative journalists—has been sounding the alarm on the criminal activity that hides behind OnlyFans’ paywall which includes child sexual abuse material and recorded sex trafficking. NCOSE is also deeply concerned about the extent to which OnlyFans has normalized and glamorized the commercial sex industry, enticing both children and adults with deceptive promises of fast cash and fame.
What is OnlyFans?
OnlyFans is a platform where “fans,” or subscribers, pay a monthly membership fee to “unlock” images, videos, and livestreams made by “creators.” Although OnlyFans brands itself as a social media website that can be used to sell any type of content, the truth is that the site is primarily used and known for pornographic and sexual content.
As such, OnlyFans has become the latest iteration of the commercial sex industry – and a very prominent and influential iteration at that. The site has skyrocketed to notoriety since being launched in 2016. In particular, OnlyFans experienced astronomical growth during the Covid-19 pandemic as their revenue increased by 553% within less than a year of lockdown. The platform gained new creators as many struggled to find solutions to financial insecurity and loss of work and the site gained traffic as the world spent more time online. Today, OnlyFans is a household name and so mainstream that children are bombarded with OnlyFans promotions on their social media feeds.
Yet as OnlyFans has grown in notoriety, so too has recognition that the platform is being used for exploitation and criminal activity.
Criminal Activity Continues on OnlyFans Despite Policy Changes from Mastercard
Over the past few years, evidence has mounted of criminal activity on OnlyFans such as sex trafficking and child sexual abuse material (CSAM, the more apt term for “child pornography”). Some mistakenly assume that this evidence is dated and that OnlyFans cleaned up its act after Mastercard introduced new policies in April 2021 aimed at combating criminal content on pornography sites. Mastercard’s new policies stated that banks “will need to certify that the seller of adult content has effective controls in place to monitor, block and, where necessary, take down all illegal content.” Mastercard also required the pornography websites to document the age and identity of anyone depicted in or uploading the content.
However, despite the fact that OnlyFans allows payments to be made through Mastercard, new evidence confirms that criminal activity still flourishes on the site, even after Mastercard’s policy changes.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative (ATII), in consultation with veteran law enforcement officials, recently published a report which revealed strong indicators of child sexual abuse material and sex trafficking on OnlyFans. The data for this report was collected from November 2021 to March 2022, a date range that occurred entirely after Mastercard’s policy changes came into effect.
ATII stated that within 1.5 hours, their researchers “found a high volume of OnlyFans.com profiles possessing commonly understood indicators of CSAM and/or sex trafficking.” Examples of what they found include pictures of girls whose appearance and body types suggest they are underage; accounts advertising with terms and descriptions that commonly denote CSAM; conversations between potential sex traffickers discussing how they like to use OnlyFans to monetize their victims; and “creators” sporting signs of abuse and coercion, such as bruising, tattoos known to be used for sex trafficking, expressions of pain, blank gazes and signs of being under the influence, and much more.
“Given the tremendous amount of troubling material found using these simple methodologies, it appears there are not effective measures in place to verify age and/or consent by OnlyFans.com or the Trust & Safety teams obligated to do so at companies doing business with the platform.”
OnlyFans’ Paywall Makes It Difficult to Investigate Criminal Activity
ATII’s analysis depended solely on open source material and not the paywalled material that makes up the vast majority of OnlyFans’ content. There are likely even more crimes to be discovered behind OnlyFans’ paywall. In their report, ATII echoed concerns previously raised by human trafficking investigators that OnlyFans’ paywall hinders law enforcement investigations and protects criminals: “While it is relatively easy to identify significant ‘red flags’ indicating the likelihood of criminal activity occurring on OnlyFans.com through open source investigations, the paywall enables traffickers, rapists, and other criminal elements to better evade detection.” It is extremely time consuming and expensive for law enforcement to investigate suspected criminal activity, as they must repeatedly submit requests for funding and wait for these requests to be approved each time they wish to seek information behind an account’s paywall. For this reason, although evidence suggests that criminal activity is rampant on OnlyFans, the crimes are left largely unaddressed.
The Latest Evidence of Criminal Activity on OnlyFans is Consistent with Earlier Findings
ATII noted that the findings of their report are consistent with previous analyses and investigations which also uncovered evidence of CSAM and sex trafficking on OnlyFans. As such, while it is helpful to look to the latest evidence for confirmation that this criminal activity continues, evidence that was collected prior to Mastercard’s policy changes remains relevant.
For example, a similar analysis conducted by veteran law enforcement researchers at the University of New Haven and the anti-human trafficking non-profit Awareness is Prevention (AIP) also found that indicators of CSAM and sex trafficking are common on OnlyFans. Additionally, a research collaboration project between Human Trafficking Detective Joseph Scaramucci and The Avery Center for Research and Services analyzed a sample of 97 public Instagram accounts of OnlyFans “creators” for indicators of trafficking. Thirty-six percent of these accounts were classified as “likely third-party controlled.” This research project also included a survey of former or current “creators” on OnlyFans. Of these creators, 11% said they had been solicited by suspected traffickers, 6% disclosed that traffickers had had a hand in creating and marketing their content, and 11% said they were aware of minors who had accounts on OnlyFans. The BBC also published an investigative series which exposed OnlyFans for failing to prevent and appropriately respond to the child sexual abuse material and other illegal content on their platform. (See the Dirty Dozen List webpage for further evidence of criminal activity and exploitation on OnlyFans.)
The Cultural Normalization of Online Pimping
Sadly, much of the exploitation that happens on OnlyFans may not even be recognized as exploitation, but rather normalized and white-washed as a “simple business venture.” OnlyFans has been disturbingly successful in normalizing and glamorizing the commercial sex industry—perhaps more so than any other platform to date—and with this comes the normalization of pimping.
A recent New York Times piece describes how OnlyFans has led to the flourishing of online pimping. The tone of the piece is chillingly casual and uncritical, essentially describing this phenomenon as the new frontier of business. Jayson Rosero, a pimp who was interviewed for the piece, stated: “OnlyFans is a true opportunity for not just sexy girls, but also guys as well. What I’m proposing here is ‘e-pimping.’”
The New York Times speaks to how these pimping “businesses” take tremendously steep cuts from OnlyFans creators’ earnings – as much as 70%. As OnlyFans itself takes a 20% cut from all creators’ earnings, this would leave a pimped individual to survive on as little as 10% of her/his income.
OnlyFans’ Glamorization of the Commercial Sex Industry Harms Children
As a result of OnlyFans’ normalization and glamorization of the commercial sex industry, not only adults but also children have turned to OnlyFans hoping to make easy money or achieve popularity and social influence. This means that children are self-generating child sexual abuse material through their OnlyFans accounts. OnlyFans fuels this trend through their attempts to blur the lines between mainstream social media and commercial sex, their deceptive marketing, and their “pyramid scheme.”
OnlyFans has deliberately blurred the lines between mainstream social media and their platform which is a part of the commercial sex industry. Creators typically advertise their OnlyFans profiles on mainstream social media accounts like Instagram in order to gain subscribers. OnlyFans themselves states on their website, “As far as we’re concerned, if you use social media and produce your own content, you should be using OnlyFans.”
The result of this is that children are constantly bombarded on their social media feeds with content that promotes and glorifies OnlyFans. Researchers at NCOSE created fake Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok accounts posing as minors, and were served this type of content even without looking for it or searching anything related (view our webpages for those three platforms to view samples of proof). In many cases, one only needed to click once or twice to reach the OnlyFans site. Instagram has given OnlyFans the coveted “blue check” of a verified account –an account available to minors where they can easily see advertisements for sexually explicit content.
OnlyFans mimics a “pyramid scheme” structure, where creators are incentivized to recruit other creators, since they then profit up to 5% of the new creator’s earnings. This means that OnlyFans creators have a vested interest in making the life seem more glamorous than it is and to flood social media with these messages.
OnlyFans’ marketing language adds to these false ideas of glamour, promising fast cash and fame. On their website, they state that earnings could be between $1,499 and $7,495 per month. The truth is that the average content creator makes only $151 per month. OnlyFans has also taken pains to brand itself as an “influencer” platform, which means that many children have absorbed the harmful idea that OnlyFans offers them a path to become famous or popular. One 13-year-old said about OnlyFans: “Some of the girls have thousands of followers on Instagram and they must be raking it in—I wanna be just like them.”
What We Can Do to Stop OnlyFans
Time is up for OnlyFans’ normalization and propagation of exploitation and abuse. According to federal law (FOSTA-SESTA) it is illegal for websites to knowingly facilitate prostitution or sex trafficking. Call on the Department of Justice to investigate OnlyFans and demand that financial institutions to sever ties with a site proven to be hosting CSAM and sex trafficking.