A detective and a panel of guest speakers at the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation's online summit detailed Wednesday how the popular content subscription service platform OnlyFans, frequently used for pornographic purposes, fosters abuse and sex trafficking.
Detective Joseph Scaramucci from McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, known as one of the country’s most elite human trafficking investigators, shared with viewers how OnlyFans shows evidence of sex trafficking activity. He spoke about the signs that investigators look for when working to find evidence of sex trafficking.
Scaramucci has been involved in both state and federal investigative work since 2004. He has participated in arresting over 460 sex buyers and has aided in the arrests of 149 individuals for human trafficking and related offenses, which led to the identification of 260 trafficking victims.
“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 detailed. “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."
“... The beauty of OnlyFans is that many of them are hiding behind that paywall. … [They] are shooting video with their victims [on OnlyFans], and they are using that video to elevate themselves because that's what [pimps] do … which is what drives me crazy about them.”
In several instances, Scaramucci said he has taken videos from OnlyFans and screen captures faces throughout the videos to build criminal cases against many.
During the pandemic, OnlyFans has seen exponential growth. Last year, it claimed to have more than 30 million registered users and more than 450,000 creators.
OnlyFans, headquartered in London, was launched in 2016 by British tech entrepreneur and investor Timothy Stokely, who has a background in the online adult world.
Since the launch, OnlyFans has become a haven for online pornographic material.
“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 of 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.”
In October 2018, Ukrainian-American entrepreneur Leonid Radvinsky bought the majority stake in OnlyFans parent company, Fenix International Ltd. Radvinsky also has a history in the adult online world. He started a porn website called MyFreeCams through his holding company, Mfcxy, Inc. Radvinsky has other smaller pornography sites that he promotes.
“As you can imagine, given both these gentlemen’s backgrounds, a large percentage of the content of OnlyFans is pornographic in nature, … at least 90% to our best estimate,” said Ron Eritano, representing the Normandy Group on behalf of Awareness is Prevention. “... The interesting thing about OnlyFans is it portrays itself as a much more mainstream website and platform due to connections with a number of celebrities, from Floyd Mayweather Jr., the boxer; to Cardi B, the entertainer. But make no mistake about it, OnlyFans is predominately and heavily an adult online pornographic website.”
The OnlyFans layout, Eritano said, is much like that of Instagram and Facebook, with a homepage, options to grow subscribers or followers and a messaging feature.
When using the platform as a subscriber, users must check off a box verifying they are over 18 and submit a credit card payment. However, the only method for creators to monitor age verification is when they request payment for video content they post. They must provide a selfie photo, which shows themselves in the picture and a government identification card.
OnlyFans has partnered with at least three different organizations, which use an AI platform to work to verify whether or not users are the same person in their photo IDs, he said.
The platform allows users to have an option to be a creator, a subscriber or both. When using OnlyFans, Eritano said, there is some free content made available. However, much content requires a fee to access, typically how hardcore pornography is made available.
OnlyFans differs from its predecessors in the online space because of its paywall, which can often create trouble for law enforcement and those trying to monitor what is happening on the platform.
The price structure is constantly shifting because the prices per creator are changing based on demand.
Eritano said it is difficult for law enforcement to monitor the website because the paywall is expensive and not easily searchable due to very few search mechanisms.
Greater responsibility is placed on the payment providers because they can police or influence OnlyFans and its interactions with its creators and the content they are posting.
One of the most common features of OnlyFans is the use of third parties in most videos and content posted. There is no age verification process in place for third parties. Age verification only takes place for the account in which the creator is sitting.
“This creates a huge loophole that continues to be utilized by many folks on OnlyFans today,” Eritano explained.
The other potentially dangerous factor about OnlyFans is its inner connectivity to other social media platforms through promotions. Those sites include Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram.
“Not only are they 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,” Eritano added.
“As you can imagine, that becomes pretty dangerous pretty quickly. Not only do they pay the recruiters on OnlyFans, the creators themselves are incentivized to add folks by getting a small payment in conjunction with anyone they add to the platform. OnlyFans continues to drive its membership based on those payment structures.”
OnlyFans receives a 20% cut of any content purchased on the site, and 80% of the money made from content purchased on the site stays with the creators.
“Early on, some of these big celebrities jumped in, like Bella Thorn. And when they jumped in, she went a little towards the racy side and showed pictures that are maybe not allowed in some of the other sites. And all of a sudden, her subscribers would follow her and pay very substantial amounts of money,” added Tim Palmbach, the director of the University of New Haven Center For Forensic Investigations of Trafficking in Persons.
“One of the problems with OnlyFans is not only is it just generally exploitative in nature, … there is layers of exploitation. … 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.”
Palmbach said some of the ways to stop the potential threat of OnlyFans is through banking, financing, working with law enforcement by reporting things that are witnessed and searching for potential dangers in other social media platforms.