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Your trusted source for the latest news and insights on Markets, Economy, Companies, Money, and Personal Finance.

Banks Refuse to Serve Sex Workers, Even When Their Profession Is Legal

Bella Cummins has owned Bella’s Hacienda Ranch, a Nevada brothel, for nearly forty years. Throughout this time, she has faced rejection from much of the banking industry. She has been refused a mortgage and several other loans, and many of her employees have had to wait up to two weeks for their paychecks to clear.

Despite the legality of her establishment, Ms. Cummins, 74, stated that there is still a stigma attached to the work in the only state where prostitution is legal in certain counties. She mentioned, “There is no bank in Nevada that will lend money to a brothel. So, unlike other businesses, we actually have to make the money to spend the money.”

Workers in sex-related industries, whether in a brothel, a strip club, or selling sexually explicit videos online, often face safety risks and encounter social and employment discrimination. Additionally, they experience difficulty in maintaining basic bank accounts and other financial relationships.

Banks have been closing an increasing number of customer accounts, often with little explanation, impacting the lives of their customers. The closures have affected small-business owners who regularly deposit cash, individuals making larger-than-usual withdrawals, and those who unknowingly transact with suspected fraudsters.

Financial institutions are responsible for monitoring the country’s cash flow for potential criminal activities, including human trafficking and money laundering. However, this role has made them quasi-law enforcement, leading to decisions on who can maintain banking services based on their perception of risk.

Many workers and small-business owners in sex-related industries have faced financial disruption, with nearly two-thirds of people working in the adult industry losing access to a bank account or service like Venmo or PayPal, according to a May report by the Free Speech Coalition.

Over her 30-year career in sex work, Sinnamon Love, 49, of Brooklyn has had her accounts closed at most of the major banks — Chase, Wells Fargo and Citi — as well as with PayPal, Square and Venmo.

“I feel like I have one mobile payment app left, and I guard it with my life,” said Ms. Love, using a professional name. These challenges have extended to her life as an entrepreneur.

Trish Wexler, a spokeswoman for Chase, said the closures were unrelated to the initiative, but instead due to a pattern of transactions between the small group of individuals whose accounts were shut down. “We do not prohibit people in this industry from having personal bank accounts with us,” she added.

One of the risks associated with sex work is money laundering and human trafficking, where victims, mostly women, are forced or coerced to engage in commercial sex acts. Many banks and other financial platforms avoid doing business with these industries altogether.

The stigma can extend to other areas of their lives, too. Ms. Cummins, the brothel owner, mentioned her struggles in obtaining pandemic relief through the federal Paycheck Protection Program for her businesses.

Ms. Cummins eventually secured assistance from a credit union, highlighting her determination in overcoming these challenges.

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