OnlyFans makes money off of vulnerable people’s bodies – especially the bodies of women and minors. Exploiting financial insecurities deepened by the COVID-19 crisis, OnlyFans promises fast cash, empowerment, and even fame. While “Fans” may pay fees for nude images, videos, and livestreams, it is the “creators” who pay the high price of psychological, emotional, and physical harm that the sex industry imparts. As a self-branded “influencer” platform, OnlyFans also normalizes prostitution among young persons.
The site has quickly risen in public consciousness since being launched in 2016, so that as of December 2020 it was ranked the 92nd most visited site in the United States and the 170th most visited site in the world. It has been heralded by some as an empowering and safe way to sell sex—but the reality is that OnlyFans facilitates sexual exploitation, harms minors, and emboldens men to objectify and degrade women.
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OnlyFans has a subscription-based business model, where a viewer pays a monthly membership fee and tips to see a “content creator’s” photos and videos. The owner, Leonid Radvinsky, reportedly has “a history of lawsuits and allegations of spam, theft, fraud, and drug dealing.” He owns other large pornography webcamming websites, and so clearly it seems that the platform’s intention is to facilitate commercial sex acts online.
The site entices new performers by claiming “You could earn between $1,499 and $7,495 per month.” Further, OnlyFans encourages grooming and pimping through its referral system which allows individuals to profit 5% of anyone’s earnings who signs up via their referral link for the first year of their account. It is no surprise that unaffiliated online pimps actively recruit new girls and women to join. One survivor of OnlyFans stated, “They usually approach the model on Twitter and groom her so that she will agree to let them help “manage” her online presence in exchange for a cut. People are desperate naive and they fall for it. This naturally creates a perfect opportunity for blackmail and other types of emotional manipulation. It happens all. the. time. And it isn’t talked about nearly enough…”
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation: OnlyFans Does Not Adequately Verify Age or Consent
OnlyFans has insufficient verification measures for age or consent—meaning it is highly likely that child sexual abuse materials and sex trafficked persons are being exploited on the platform. In August 2020, Forensic News conducted an investigation, reporting: “To test the privacy concerns regarding OnlyFans, Forensic News signed up for an account with OnlyFans using a throwaway email account with ProtonMail and made a post on the platform. Not once were we asked to show any identification proving that the account belonged to someone over the age of 18.” This is in line with previous reports such as by Internet Matters which stated: “In May 2019, OnlyFans introduced a new account verification process that a Creator now must provide a ‘selfie’ along with their ID in the image to prove their identity. Yet, from our research and that of the BBC’s, underage users have used other people’s ID’s and have created an account without a problem.”
It is an accepted fact, supported by survivors of sex trafficking and child abuse, that pornographic pictures and videos are used to advertise for both sex trafficking and prostitution victims (including minors.) Further, law enforcement is finding that many sex trafficking victims, and child sexual abuse imagery (i.e. child pornography) victims, are coerced into creating livestream or webcam pornography as well. OnlyFans is therefore an obvious marketplace for exploiters to promote and sell sexual abuses.
Parents are speaking out about adults buying child sexual abuse images of young girls on OnlyFans. For example, on a UK online forum one mother wrote: “My [daughter] says they’re all on it at school and making a fortune. Very popular with Y11- 13 [approximate ages 15-17]. It’s normal apparently, and kids throughout the country are doing it. She said, they tell parents they are having a bath, or just use their bedrooms.” Another mother responded to this post saying she’d discussed the issue with her own high school aged daughter and noted, “Mine says she isn’t doing it, but has close friends who are.”
Tragically, cases of people being sex trafficked for the purpose of pornographic content on OnlyFans have begun to surface as well. In Miami, a couple was arrested for human trafficking after they posted sexually explicit images of a 16-year-old on social media, promoting the images for sale as “New Content” with a link to their OnlyFans page.
Online Prostitution and Pornography: Inherent Harms
While some claim OnlyFans is safe because it doesn’t require physical contact with sex buyers, it actually leaves people vulnerable to sextortion, non-consensually shared pornography, and escalation into more extreme acts.
Former OnlyFans performer, Claudia, stated, “Each subscriber paid me $10 a week and after the cut from OF [OnlyFans] I was left with £8. I needed to get as many subscribers as possible so I could pay my rent, which means posting new images all day every day, and agreeing to more and more explicit stuff. In the end I felt exhausted and degraded and cancelled my membership.”
On a UK forum, another woman wrote: “I personally know of a friend who went down that route, made a decent amount in the first few months, only to be pushed to show her face and do more and more extreme acts to retain her subscribers who all ended up leaving anyway. She has now quit but her videos are stuck on free porn sites and reposted on forums from time to time. Her case isn’t a rare one.”
Further, recently it was reported that a 21-year-old woman in Australia who posted pornography on OnlyFans was followed and harassed by a man who went on to leak her personal information online.
OnlyFans promotes itself as a safe platform, but in reality it pedals psychological trauma, blackmail, “leaked” information and videos, and a competitive marketplace that drives performers to do increasingly violent or degrading acts.
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WARNING: Any pornographic images have been blurred, but are still suggestive. There may also be graphic text descriptions shown in these sections.
OnlyFans and Prostitution - How It Harms
It is an accepted fact, supported by survivor testimony, that pornographic pictures and videos are used to advertise for both sex trafficking and prostitution victims. (Law enforcement is finding that many sex trafficking victims and child sexual abuse imagery (i.e. child pornography) victims are coerced into creating live stream or webcam pornography as well.)
So it is not surprising that some individuals use OnlyFans to promote in-person prostitution.
Prostitution is a system of commercial sexual exploitation that causes psychological and physical trauma, which cannot be regulated away.
Overwhelmingly, the persons purchased for sex are women (but also include male and female children, transgendered males, and prostituting men), and those doing the purchasing are men. Without question, the vast majority of physical and sexual violence inflicted on those in the sex trade is perpetrated by those purchasing persons for sex—the sex buyers.
In interviews with women in prostitution in Canada, more than 50% of the women reported experiencing violence from sexual buyers, including being: stabbed or cut, raped, gang-raped, raped at gunpoint, forced to engage in degrading sexual acts, choked/strangled, beaten, kidnapped, stalked, held with a gun to head, tied up, tortured, beaten with objects (e.g. baseball bat, crowbar), and run over. (1)
A study in San Francisco interviewed 130 prostituting persons (women, men, and transgender men, aged 14-61) regarding violence in their lives and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Types and amounts of violence experienced while in prostitution included: 82% were physically assaulted; 55% of physical assaults were perpetrated by sex buyers. (2)
A study of street-based prostitution in inner-city Washington, D.C., found high incidents of violence. Since entering prostitution, 61% reported being physically assaulted, with the majority being perpetrated by sexual buyers (75%). And 76.2% wanted to exit prostitution but didn't feel like it was viable. (3)
(1) Nixon, K., Tutty, L., Downe, P., Gorkoff, K., & Ursel, J. (2002, September). The everyday occurrence: Violence in the lives of girls exploited through prostitution. Violence Against Women, 8(9), 1016-1043.
(2) Farley, M. and Barkan, H. (1998). Prostitution, violence against women, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Women & Health, 27(3), 37-49.
(3) Valera, R., Sawyer, R. & Schiraldi, G. (2001). Perceived health needs of inner-city street prostitutes: A preliminary study American Journal Health Behavior, 25(1), 50-59.
Left with Little Money, Pushed to Degrading Acts, Exposed to Risks
“Content Creators” Left with Little Money, Pushed to Perform Degrading Acts, and Exposed to Threats and Stalking
Many of the “content creators” on OnlyFans are those struggling to make ends meet, worrying about paying bills and being able to feed their families. This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic with millions of people out of work and without income. To make matters worse, the majority of those creating content for OnlyFans have trouble making anywhere near enough money to survive, despite putting in hours of work every day. Additionally, OnlyFans takes a 20% cut of “creator” earnings, and creators must make $200 before they’re able to withdraw any of the money. Despite all of this effort put in and minimal return, “creators” are repeatedly put at risk.
Jobless, Selling Nudes Online and Still Struggling (New York Times: January 13, 2021)
The pandemic has taken a particularly devastating toll on women and mothers, wiping out parts of the economy where women dominate: retail businesses, restaurants and health care.
“A lot of people are migrating to OnlyFans out of desperation,” said Angela Jones, an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Farmingdale. “These are people who are worried about eating, they’re worried about keeping the lights on, they’re worried about not being evicted.”
The most successful content creators are often models, porn stars and celebrities who already have large social media followings.
Elle Morocco of West Palm Beach, Fla., was laid off from her job as an office manager in July. Her unemployment checks don’t cover her $1,600 monthly rent, utility bills and food costs, so she joined OnlyFans in November.
She has made just $250 on the platform so far, despite sometimes spending upward of eight hours a day creating, posting and promoting her content.
Creators can also be subject to “capping,” a practice in which users take unauthorized screenshots or recordings and then share them elsewhere on the internet. OnlyFans creators have also received death and rape threats on social media.
Hialeah Couple Hit With Human Trafficking Charges (CBSMiami.com, January 29, 2021)
A couple from Hialeah is facing human trafficking charges after posting and selling a video of a topless underage teen on a social media website known for selling pornography.
Roberto Cuesta, 27, and Julietta Vado, 23, have been charged with human trafficking for commercial purposes, possession of a sexual performance by a child, and promoting the sexual performance by a child.
According to police, a friend of the 16-year-old recognized her from a video that was posted on the couple’s page on the website and contacted the state’s Department of Children and Families.
Police say Cuesta and Vado are live-in boyfriend and girlfriend who sell their self-produced pornography on their OnlyFans page.
Vado reportedly posted the video of the teen on her social media site and promoted it for sale with the caption ” New Content” with a link to their OnlyFans page.
When the DCF notified them that the teen was a minor, they failed to remove the video and continued to promote it for sale, according to the arrest report.
. . .an analysis by Forensic News has revealed that OnlyFans is owned by a Ukrainian-American porn entrepreneur named Leonid Radvinsky with a history of lawsuits and allegations of spam, theft, fraud, and drug dealing.
Other concerns include the uber-popular OnlyFans’ seemingly lax safeguards against possible child exploitation.
One recurring complaint that Forensic News documented by talking to various users and content creators of both [Radvinsky owned] MyFreeCams and OnlyFans was the arbitrary freezing of accounts, which left many without thousands of dollars.
“One day I had enough [of bad customer support] and told my fans not to tip for a day. Many models were going to join me. Then my account was banned in minutes,” the model who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
There’s nothing ‘empowering’ about the sex work on OnlyFans (The Spectator, April 2020)
‘Each subscriber paid me $10 a week and after the cut from OF I was left with £8. I needed to get as many subscribers as possible so I could pay my rent, which means posting new images all day every day,’ says Claudia, ‘and agreeing to more and more explicit stuff. In the end I felt exhausted and degraded and cancelled my membership.’
Then there is the girlfriend experience. OF offers men the opportunity to pay providers for a day, or however long, to behave as if they are a real date, and via messages and voice notes send instructions as to what he requires of his ‘girlfriend’.
It’s not surprising that this leads to reports of subscribers becoming obsessed with and going on to stalk the women they follow on OF. Last month it was reported that a 21-year-old woman in Australia who posted explicit content on OF was followed and harassed by a man who went on to leak her personal information online.
I heard from another woman about being sexually harassed by a subscriber after she rejected his pleas to meet up in real life. ‘He ended up tracking down my real name and mobile number,’ she told me, ‘and put up a fake advert… on a porn site.’ The young woman was soon deluged with dozens of calls and messages from men before she was forced to change her number.
How OnlyFans became the industry’s great lockdown winner – and at what cost (New Statesman: November 4, 2020)
Every now and again, a tweet by a previously unknown OnlyFans creator will go viral, as she (always she) shares photos of the house she has been able to buy “thanks to OnlyFans”. But as the blogger Thomas Hollands has found in his detailed analysis of the OnlyFans model, such rags-to-riches cases are unusual. According to Hollands’s interpretation of the data, most of the women on the platform probably make a loss, given the amount of time they spend creating content and engaging with users. The median creator attracts only 30 subscribers, but she carries just as much risk of public exposure and harassment as her more successful counterparts. The same amount of effort goes in, but a very different level of reward comes out.
The distribution of income on OnlyFans is highly unequal, with the top 1 per cent of creators making 33 per cent of the money. Using the Gini index – a standard measure of economic inequality – Hollands finds OnlyFans to be more unequal than South Africa, the most unequal country in the world. The tiny minority of creators who do well on the platform are mostly celebrities already, meaning the women who post “thanks to OnlyFans” success stories on social media are not representative of ordinary creators, but are rather more like those rare punters who walk out of a casino as millionaires, having put it all on red.
‘Everyone and their mum is on it’: OnlyFans booms in popularity during the pandemic (The Guardian, December 2020)
This time last year Jah Bella* was doing it tough. She had fled an abusive relationship, was looking after her newborn daughter and was struggling to find work in far north Queensland.
“Every single regular job that I had, I was getting sexually harassed in some way,” she says. “I would either get fired or I’d have to leave once I reported it.”
When the pandemic hit all remaining gigs dried up.
“I was like, ‘OK. Why not make money out of this [OnlyFans] and have control over my body?’”
Dr Zahra Stardust, a socio-legal researcher from the University of New South Wales and OnlyFans content creator, says the site recently reduced the minimum amount of earnings it will pay from $500 to $200 because many users struggled to reach the threshold.
Stardust says users who fail to establish a wide fanbase may work for many months, or even years, without receiving significant payment.
“In reality, it is often small amounts that trickle in over time, many of which become diluted through commissions and international transfer fees,” she says.
According to content creator Brooklyn Rose it took months of working almost for free before she began making real money.
“It was about a year before I really started seeing any type of income and even then it’s not like a steady income or anything,” she says. “I can have some days where [I] only make maybe $10, and then [I] can have weeks where [I’ve] actually cashed in about $500.
Examples of Sex Trafficking, Pimps, and Children on OnlyFans
A survivor of OnlyFans has publicly noted: "There are tons of "promoters" and "managers" (online pimps) who actively prey upon new girls (the younger the better). They usually approach the model on Twitter and groom her so that she will agree to let them help "manage" her online presence in exchange for a cut. People are desperate naive and they fall for it. This naturally creates a perfect opportunity for blackmail and other types of emotional manipulation. It happens all. the. time...As seems to be the case across the adult industry, OnlyFans creators by-and-large claim to love what they do. I have no doubt that this is true in many cases. But I also have no doubt that many creators are just saying that because they have to in order to retain their subscribers. "
Recently. it was reported that a 21-year-old woman in Australia who posted pornography on OnlyFans was followed and harassed by a man who went on to leak her personal information online.
Posts on an online forum for mothers noting underage teenagers using OnlyFans:
Promotional Posts Showing OnlyFans Sells Pornography
Posts on Twitter advertising OnlyFans pornography accounts.
Found January 28, 2021.