Elle: How The New UK Porn Block Could Put Independent Sex Workers At Risk

Next month the government will enforce age verification laws for online pornography — rendering the UK the first country to introduce age checks. The measures, however, pose a tangible threat to sex workers’ income and safety.

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Eve Adler is a webcam model — also known as a cam girl — and her job is about to get much harder.

‘I’m quite honestly terrified,’ Eve tells me. ‘I have multiple chronic illnesses that make it impossible for me to work a standard job, and sex work is my sole income.’

Eve is one of thousands of UK sex workers for whom a potentially dangerous future is looming on the horizon. Why? On 15 July, the government is planning to enforce robust age verification laws for online pornography — rendering the UK the first country in the world to introduce age checks. This may involve uploading a passport or driving licence to prove your age, or buying a ‘porn pass’ from a newsagent.

The law is designed to prevent children from accessing adult content. So far, so responsible. When the average age of a kid’s first exposure to porn is 11-years-old, restricting access seems like a necessary thing to do. Yet ignoring the fact that teenagers will pretty easily circumnavigate said restrictions, there’s more at stake here.

For self-employed workers in the sex industry, the measures could pose a tangible threat to their income and safety. And the magnitude of this threat won’t be fully realised until the law comes into force.

The new law — known informally as the ‘porn ban’ — will apply to the major porn providers like YouPorn etc. It will also affect small scale sex workers, who use specialist sites or their own personal websites to advertise their work.

In other words, this law won’t just affect porn makers, it could impact on private sex workers, escorts, webcam models, fetish models, and dominatrixes. A 2015 study estimated there’s around 72,816 sex workers in the UK — 88 percent of whom are women — but it’s difficult to assess just how many will be impacted by the new law.

‘My biggest worry is income,’ says Eve. ‘I have absolutely no clue how it’s going to affect the clip and cam sites I’m on. There’s no way to predict it.’

This uncertainty means cam girls like Eve have no idea whether their business will be severely impacted, which could cause a significant drop in earnings. Eve’s focus for now is on working hard to create a financial safety net.

A 2015 STUDY ESTIMATED THERE’S AROUND 72,816 SEX WORKERS IN THE UK — 88 % OF WHOM ARE WOMEN

‘I try not to think too much about it because it’s really easy to spiral down into thinking about the implications of statewide censorship,’ she adds.

Elysia Downings, who also works as a cam girl, says the porn ban is likely to affect her ability to attract clients. She posts content to several sites including OnlyFans and Adultwork, and many of her clients find her through her website and social media.

‘As any business owner knows, generating traffic can be difficult enough as it is, so the extra step needed for verification due to the porn ban will make it even more difficult,’ says Elysia.

‘We are incredibly impatient as a society and we want everything available to us immediately, so if a user has to scan in their ID documents, they may find the process too time consuming.’


From a work perspective, Elysia is concerned about her business, but as a parent, she does think the ‘porn ban’ is positive.

These age verification checks won’t just be a box-ticking exercise or simply typing in your date of birth to confirm you’re over 18. Per the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the checks will range from buying a card over the counter in a shop where face-to-face verification takes place, to other online ID options like scanning your passport or inputting credit card details. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will have the power to block access to sites that don’t put checks in place.

‘I got into the industry due to being a single parent in debt, and my work is solely online – I don’t ever meet my clients,’ says Elysia. ‘I initially found it empowering and I was grateful to be able to afford my bills as I was facing homelessness.’

Elysia’s not alone — a Home Office report found that 74 percent of off-street sex workers cited supporting children and household expenses as the ‘prime motivating factor’ for their work.

While online sex work has brought financial security to Elysia, others in the sex industry rely on their own websites or sites like Adultwork for personal safety and protection. Working as a prostitute in private is legal in England, Wales, and Scotland, but soliciting in public places and running brothels are illegal.

Operating via a website allows escorts and private prostitutes to screen clients, which is crucial in ensuring their safety. But if this layer of protection is removed due to the ‘porn ban,’ sex workers may be pushed into unsafe working environments.

‘If sex workers feel that they need to be on the street, the risks are much higher. There is no “proof,”‘ says Elysia. ‘I do think the porn ban could potentially result in higher rates of violence.’

Elysia says she fears for the safety of her friends who escort and do ‘meets’.

‘I DO THINK THE PORN BAN COULD POTENTIALLY RESULT IN HIGHER RATES OF VIOLENCE.’

‘There is added security when arranging meetings with online clients,’ she explains. ‘If anything negative happened, there would be ways to identify the client through internet history and data.’

But the porn ban isn’t the only obstacle that could jeopardise sex workers’ safety. MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade are pushing to criminalise and ban the online advertising of sex work — meaning sites like Adultwork could be blocked completely.

The English Collective of Prostitutes has spoken out against this move, arguing that banning online ads and sites will force prostitutes to take their work to the streets, which is dangerous. ‘Or, we will be pushed into the hands of exploitative brothel bosses, who would know we have little or no alternative to accept whatever conditions of work they impose on us,’ the collective says.


Abigail Williams, who’s a fetish model and porn maker, shares these concerns about sites which host escorts’ erotic content and she’s worried about the impact the law will have on porn makers.

‘We don’t know how it will affect our customer bases for those who make porn, and whether it’ll remain viable for us to keep doing this work — particularly for those who do it full-time,’ says Abigail, who’s writing her PhD on how the age verification laws will affect BDSM porn producers in the UK.

‘I am scared for the livelihoods of my friends and colleagues. I am worried about what could happen to our resources, our safety, and our ability to earn a living,’ Abigail tells me.

In a statement, a DCMS spokesperson said ‘adult content is currently too easy to access on the internet, we’re making sure the protections that exist for children offline are provided online too.’

‘I AM WORRIED ABOUT WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO OUR RESOURCES, OUR SAFETY, AND OUR ABILITY TO EARN A LIVING’

This move is laudable in protecting children from accessing adult content. But at the same time, it will likely hugely affect the livelihoods of people whose sole income comes from sex work. Not only that, there’s also a worry that these age verification measures could reinforce stigma surrounding porn, pleasure, and masturbation.

‘I am ashamed to live in a society where the two options are to either defend sexual freedom or to “think of the children,” because it’s perfectly possible to do both,’ says Abigail.

We as a society have a moral responsibility to ensure we don’t endanger the personal safety and livelihoods of those working in the sex industry — an industry that many of us participate in when we watch porn.

It’s a fine balance to strike — protecting children from pornography, while ensuring we don’t censor sexuality as a society. But, the government has a duty to try to achieve both.

https://www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/a27416553/uk-block-sex-workers-risk/