During the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation online summit, a panel of guest speakers detailed how OnlyFans, a popular subscription service platform frequently used for pornographic content, fosters abuse and sex trafficking.
Detective Joseph Scaramucci from McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, who specializes in investigating human trafficking, spoke about how OnlyFans shows evidence of sex trafficking activity and the signs that investigators look from when working to find evidence of sex trafficking.
“The beauty of OnlyFans is that many of them are hiding behind that paywall,” Scaramucci explained. “[They] are shooting video with their victims, and they are using that video to elevate themselves because that’s what [pimps] do … which is what drives me crazy about them.”
OnlyFans biggest difference from sites similar to it is the paywall. The platform can be difficult for law enforcement to monitor the website because of the expensive paywall and the content is not easily searchable due to very few search mechanisms.
“Targeting trafficking is going through and looking at the photographic visual indicators, being able to show the travel, and being able to get very strong indicators, whether it be financial transactions coupled with money movement,” he continued. “And people in certain cities at certain times, [those] advertisements just happen to be posted at and then coupling that with are they advertising for OnlyFans as well.”
During his talk, Scaramucci referenced several instances where he had taken videos from OnlyFans content and used screenshots to build criminal cases against many traffickers.
During the panel, guests speakers spoke about a few of the major issues with OnlyFans, such as the platform is by nature “generally exploitative.”
“What it’s doing is grooming and finding our young, vulnerable children in the general social media, and convincing them to come on over … and then grooming them to do more and more sexually explicit, exploitive activity under a lie that they will make millions,” said Tim Palmbach, the director of the University of New Haven Center For Forensic Investigations of Trafficking in Persons.
Another potentially dangerous factor about OnlyFans is its connection to other social media platforms through promotions, including Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram.
“Not only are [the platforms] promoting OnlyFans, but they have recruiters actively recruiting folks to come make their millions, citing the few examples of folks who have made a lot of money, and encouraging a lot of folks, particularly young folks who are on a lot of those websites, to come on over to OnlyFans and have a similar experience,” said Ron Eritano, representing the Normandy Group on behalf of Awareness is Prevention.
OnlyFans saw major growth during the pandemic. Last year, it announced it reached more than 30 million registered users and more than 450,000 creators. Since its launch in 2016, OnlyFans has become a major hub for online pornographic material.
Earlier this year, OnlyFans announced it would ban pornographic content, stating they were concerned about pressure from banks and payment processors, which many anti-trafficking experts were hoping would help curb the amount of sex trafficking on the app. However, OnlyFans reversed the decision within a week after online backlash from users. For now, there is little security in place of victims on trafficking for the app, but nonprofit organizations and leaders are committed to helping victims in any way they can.
“This platform is unquestionably facilitating child sex abuse material and human trafficking of adults and minors alike, … enabling sexual abuse and exploitation,” said Linda Nealon, the director for corporate and strategic initiatives for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “It’s critical that law enforcement, policymakers, service providers, parents and caregivers understand how this platform works and the many associated risks.”