Business Insider Edition

Sex workers are fundraising for Australia bushfire relief by selling nude photos online. They've raised hundreds of thousands, but not without consequences.

Paige Leskin , Business Insider US
 Jan 08, 2020, 06:01 PM
Firefighters struggle against the strong wind in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales, December 31, 2019.
  • Australia is currently suffering through unprecedented deadly bushfires, and people from around the world have harnessed creative means to raise money toward the relief efforts.
  • Sex workers have been selling their nudes in exchange for donations to relief funds, including Kaylen Ward, whose cause has went viral and has netted more than $1 million (R14 million) in donations.
  • Even with the success of her campaign, Ward has seen her Instagram account deactivaed and her nudes passed around for free online.
  • Dozens of sex workers have since launched similar campaigns, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many told Business Insider that throughout their careers, they work in constant fear their accounts could be taken down due to the stigma around their professions.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A sex worker has created one of the most viral fundraising campaigns for Australia's devastating bushfires, and she claims to have raised more than $1 million (R14 million) by selling off her nude photos in exchange for donations.

Since announcing her fundraiser on Twitter less than a week ago, Kaylen Ward - self-dubbed "The Naked Philanthropist" - has gone viral. Her initial tweet has garnered hundreds of thousands of reactions, and her efforts have been reported on by major news outlets. She hired two assistants just to get through all the messages she was getting from people showing receipts of donations and asking for nudes in return. Someone even started a petition on Change.org to award Ward the Nobel Peace Price for her humanitarian contributions (it has nearly 1,500 signatures).

However, Ward's newfound fame has not come without consequences. Although her campaign was launched on Twitter, Instagram deactivated her account for violating its policies over soliciting nude images. Fake Instagram accounts have popped up in its place, and people have leaked her nudes for free on the internet. She said her family "disowned" her after her finding out about her sex work. Users have dug up past content and accused her of being racist. That's not to mention all the harassment and criticism she's faced on social media, from people slut-shaming her to accusing her of pocketing donations.

Dozens of sex workers on Twitter have adopted the same nudes-for-donation fundraising model, and told Business Insider they've raised thousands of dollars in just a few days. Ward's approach isn't necessarily new: it's existed as a way sex workers have raised money for past causes, such as the Amazon rainforest fires.

Twitter

But sex workers who spoke with Business Insider say the negative reactions Ward faced are somewhat typical of their industry. They shared stories of their faces showing up on dating apps, their identities getting leaked to family members and employers, and their nude photos shared freely without consent. Many referred to the stigma that their industry faces from those who don't see sex work as a real job, and make it a point to slut-shame them across the internet.

"[My nude photos] wind up everywhere," sex worker Skyla Rayne told Business Insider. "Unfortunately it is out of my control, and I choose to just believe that those people who share our nude bodies without our consent are incredibly broken. I can't personally stop it from happening."

"You'd be amazed the tips and tricks you have to learn not to get shadowbanned or deleted"

Ensuring their accounts across social platforms are in compliance with murky and oft-changing policies is even trickier, several sex workers told Business Insider. They have to be prepared for their accounts to disappear without notice.

Their presence online was thrown into even more uncertainty as a result of the controversial sex-trafficking law FOSTA/SESTA, which passed in 2018 and put internet platforms on the hook for what users create and publish on their platforms. Instead of cracking down on illegal sex trafficking as intended, entire communities where sex work has thrived were shuttered.

Because of these complications, sex workers have had to quickly learn which social platforms are more friendly toward them than others. Many workers told Business Insider that Instagram - along with its parent company, Facebook - has been one of the harshest platforms toward the sex worker community. Rayne said her Instagram account has been deleted three different times and tens of thousands of followers lost, completely eliminating one of her revenue streams and putting her livelihood in jeopardy.

Business Insider asked Instagram to further explain its policies on adult nudity and sexual activity, but the platform only provided the same canned statement regarding Ward's account: "This account was disabled for violating our policies. Offering nude images is not allowed on Instagram."

US sex worker Charlotte Mae pointed out the hypocrisy in Instagram's policies as it applies to both sex workers and celebrities. Mae told Business Insider that while Instagram will remove sex workers' explicit (yet censored photos), more graphic content from people like Kim Kardashian is allowed to stay up.

Meanwhile, Twitter was described to Business Insider as one of the most sex worker-friendly platforms - especially in the wake of Tumblr's porn ban in 2018. It's why Ward, and dozens of other sex workers, launched their nudes-for-donations campaigns there. Twitter's policies currently allow for adult content and nudity on its site, as along as it's consensually produced and published.

"You'd be amazed the tips and tricks you have to learn not to get shadowbanned or deleted. Almost all of us depend on social media for our livelihood," California-based sex worker Dominatrix Rin told Business Insider. "If they take it down after years of building up a following, the financial effects are very real. They are unceremonious about it, and will delete you without warning."

Despite the challenges facing them online, sex workers told Business Insider that the virtual community they've created is incredibly valuable, where fellow sex workers consistently provide each other with support, advice, and positivity they may not see elsewhere online.

"I have never seen a closer knit community than [sex work] Twitter. There are girls on here that I trust implicitly and love dearly," Texas-based sex worker Alison B told Business Insider. "Sex work is a valid job, whether you do it online or in real life, part time or full time."

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