Recent reports have highlighted the fact that “camming” – the performance of sex acts via webcam for viewers who watch online – for sites such as OnlyFans and the video uploads of “verified models” on sites such as Pornhub have increased in recent weeks, in line with the global Coronavirus lockdown. While sites such as Pornhub have capitalised on this fact by removing financial barriers to accessing the content – which they have publicised as being an act of benevolence on their part in an effort to improve their public image – the glossy façade pushed by these global corporations’ publicity departments hides a dark truth. 

Many women are forced to take up camming as a result of poverty and lack of other income options. This is a far cry from the picture painted by these sites, with OnlyFans having a dedicated “OnlyFans Creators” blog section where they discuss how the site has “empowered” its users. While it is true that some uploaders make enormous amounts of money, this is by no means a universal experience, and in any case, is one that is predicated on exploiting usually-vulnerable women by coercing them with the promise of higher payment figures to engage in increasingly degrading sex acts. 

As Claudia, a woman who previously uploaded content to OnlyFans, explains to journalist Julie Bindel: ‘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.’

This is typical of the wider sex-trade, where women are used and abused until they no longer fulfil a purpose for the viewer, pimp, or punter, or as in Claudia’s case, the women find ways to escape these industries before they’re kicked to the curb. Many women who appear in the porn industry in non-camming contexts have similar experiences, where the reality what they’re made to do in front of the camera eventually takes its toll, often leaving the women with emotional and physical scarring

Similarly, while some try to sanitise this aspect of the porn industry, with claims that it is “safe” or that the people appearing in these videos “can choose how and when they do it”, this conveniently glosses over the reports of “fans” stalking women who appear in the videos, and sometimes even revealing their private information such as their name, address, and phone number.  

Covid-19 has dragged many already-vulnerable individuals into further poverty, and with the pressure of bills, mortgages, and ensuring families don’t go hungry, the idea of webcam porn is presented as a viable, exploitation-free option by these websites. But this is a lie. 

CEASE UK roundly condemns this attempt to profit off the economic vulnerability of people who have little to no other options. It is nothing more than sexual and economic exploitation, where the profits of these ruthless companies grow, and the women they commodify are discarded in favour of a new “product” once they become undesirable. Covid-19 has brought with it tremendous uncertainty and looming disaster for millions of people, but the Government cannot just leave these people prey to exploitative pimps and commercial sex ventures. CEASE UK is calling on the Government to ensure that the measures they roll out to protect the economy also protect the most vulnerable in our society.