A married couple was arrested in Manhattan last month for allegedly using violence to force women into prostitution, then selling the sexually exploitive content on OnlyFans.
Jonathan Ruiz, 29, and Charline Santiago, 27, were charged with 15 combined felony counts of sex trafficking, labor trafficking, conspiracy, and promoting prostitution, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The couple allegedly trafficked multiple women across New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts between 2020 and 2021.
According to the allegations, Ruiz posted online advertisements for sex work and drove the women to hotels across the Northeast while Santiago waited outside the establishments to collect money.
Prosecutors painted a chilling picture of the abuse, describing how Ruiz would allegedly beat the women, deprive them of food, and force them to take cocaine to stay awake if they refused to work, if they didn’t earn enough money, or if they attempted to keep any cash for themselves.
Officials say Ruiz also threatened the victims with a gun and forced one of the women to create sex videos on an amateur porn website, keeping and laundering all the profits. They also allegedly took the women’s IDs and used them to “fraudulently obtain government benefits and loans” for themselves.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg released the following statement:
“These horrific allegations detail an abhorrent sex trafficking scheme that preyed on vulnerable people so the ringleaders could turn a profit…The Internet gives traffickers new ways to exploit people through economic, emotional, physical, and psychological coercion.”
OnlyFans—not as safe as it seems
Unfortunately, traffickers using OnlyFans to recruit and exploit victims is all too common, and this isn’t the only way the platform allegedly facilitates exploitation.
OnlyFans has emerged just in the past couple of years as a subscription-based social media platform that permits users to sell and purchase original content, with over 170 million subscribers and 2 million creators and counting.
Commercial sex industry professionals have basically taken over the platform, especially during the financial uncertainty of the pandemic. Pro porn advocates claim OnlyFans is a “safe space” and solution for the nonconsensual, underage, and abusive content on many mainstream porn sites.
But clearly, OnlyFans isn’t exempt from these issues, and is not as safe as it seems.
According to a recent report, a growing number of content creators reportedly receive private messages from suspected traffickers trying to recruit them, and some have stopped creating content on the platform due to concerns for their safety. Many also report feeling pressured to create content and receive threats from OnlyFans to take their account down if they don’t post more.
The report also revealed minors who allegedly sell content of themselves on the platform, with some saying traffickers helped them “create and market their OnlyFans content.”
And that’s just the beginning of the countless horror stories from OnlyFans creators that have come to light over the last couple of years.
Many report being stalked by subscribers, and some have even been kidnapped or received threats to post explicit content. One creator later discovered that her own uncle had been viewing her OnlyFans, and another woman found a video of herself getting a bikini wax on OnlyFans that the waxer recorded and uploaded without her knowledge.
And the exploitation doesn’t seem to stop there.
Some creators pay management companies to help with the workload of managing their account, and there have been reports these companies have also forced creators to post more explicit content than they’re comfortable with. These companies have allegedly also recorded and uploaded the content themselves without the creator’s knowledge or consent.
A recent BBC investigation of OnlyFans allegedly revealed that the site is laxed when it comes to reviewing uploaded content’s legality, and monitoring for underage content.
The investigation also noticed OnlyFans reportedly shows considerable leniency in the face of illegal content, including cases involving human trafficking—especially for higher-paying accounts. OnlyFans takes 20% of the revenue its content creators’ generate, and appears to put profit over ethics in its practices and responses to reported exploitation on the platform.
Exploitation in plain sight
Many people claim that those in the industry wouldn’t participate if they didn’t want to, and argue that porn sites like OnlyFans provide a platform for consenting adults to make a living by choice.
But that clearly isn’t the case for 100% of performers, or for 100% of videos found on every porn site—and OnlyFans is no exception.
Not all performers are in porn by choice, and not all pornographic content is created and uploaded with consent. Far too many are trafficked into the industry by force, fraud, or coercion. And just because a victim likely won’t announce on camera that they’re being trafficked doesn’t mean they’re there consensually.
Those who consent and those who don’t are virtually impossible to distinguish because producers can edit content any way they choose, and rape and abuse-themed porn have become so mainstream that the look of distress on a performer has become the norm—whether that distress is scripted or genuine.
It’s an undeniable fact that the porn industry—including OnlyFans—and the sex trafficking industry are not only connected, but inseparable.
Is it justifiable to write off alleged exploitation on a social media platform like OnlyFans simply because the content appears to be self-generated or consensual and the performers appear to be of legal age?
There’s often so much more happening behind the scenes, and consent or that performers are 18+ in every case can never be assumed.
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