Love & Sex

Chase Bank’s Anti-Porn Policy Isn’t New, But It Is Scary

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To anyone in the know, it was really just another example of business as usual.

Last week, Chase Bank made the news for shuttering numerous porn-related bank accounts, including the personal accounts of several porn performers (both active and retired). They posted about the closures on social media and received support from fans, but no new financial institution was willing to house their money. To many, this announcement came as a shock – but to anyone in the know, it was really just another example of business as usual.

I've known for several years now that banks can – and do – refuse to work with clients for what are best described as moral reasons. In 2008, Citibank refused to open a business account for porn director, sex blogger, and sex worker rights advocate Audacia Ray, who ended up taking her business to Washington Mutual (which, ironically, is now Chase Bank). In 2011, Chase opted to close the bank account for Fleshbot LLC's, the company I owned that ran the porn blog of the same name, forcing me to scramble to find a new bank that would look more kindly on how I made a living. In the days following the notice from Chase, I put in calls to numerous friends across Porn Valley, trying to find out which banks were most likely to be comfortable dealing with the adult industry. No one had a good solution: at best, they suggested banks that had been okay with their business so far.

Switching bank accounts is enough of a headache when you're doing it by choice. When it's something you've been forced to do by a bank that doesn't like your business, it's all the more painful. When I was running Fleshbot, I lived in fear that TD Bank (the outlet we ultimately switched to) would change their tune and send us packing. To this day, I feel a surge of panic whenever a bank employee asks me what, exactly, it is that I do for a living. Seemingly benign questions feel like preludes to an eviction – one I'm always half braced for, unwilling to be caught by surprise.

I'm not alone in my paranoia. Queer porn performer Kitty Stryker told me that she worries "about Bank of America in particular, as whenever I deposit a large amount of money, particularly if it's a check from an adult company, there is that risk that they'll shut down my account." Her fears aren't out of nowhere: in the past, she's had her account flagged and been questioned by the bank when she's deposited large amounts of money to her account. "Because I look alternative… the idea that I would be depositing $3,000 at a time was suspicious, I guess?"

The panic isn't limited to the traditional banking system, either. Due to additional fees that Visa and MasterCard charge for porn site payment processing, services like PayPal generally refuse to work with anything that can be considered adult content – which has, in some cases, led to the closure of porn performers' personal PayPal accounts, even when the accounts have only been used for, say, buying cat toys on Etsy. Though I've never had problems with my own PayPal account, I still make sure to withdraw money from it as soon as its received: stories of friends who've forfeited hundreds of dollars when PayPal abruptly closed an account without warning have been more than enough to put the fear of god (or overzealous regulators) in me.

At present, these problems may primarily be the domain of porn stars and sex workers. But in a system where private banks are simultaneously given a tremendous amount of control over individuals' lives and a tremendous amount of discretion as to whom they choose to work with, we are all ultimately living our lives according to the whims of Chase Bank and its peers. After all, as Kitty Stryker told me, "All it takes is someone Googling the right keywords.”

Image via Eric Norris