‘Trafficking and porn are different’: Meet the world’s most sex-positive accountant

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cendrine chappius

The second Sex Work Survival Guide Summit is set to take place on May 1, 2022. Thousands of sex workers are expected to attend the online event, discussing tips to stay safe in their work and avoid pitfalls those new to the industry can fall into.

Dr Cendrine Chappuis, also known as Ash Dark, is secretary of the organization and has helped curate a series of discussions about staying on top of sex worker safety issues. This is not just about creating ‘empowering’ social media campaigns – the very basics of sex worker survival, such as finding medical and mental health advice, will be addressed.

Dr Chappuis is also CEO of DiTa, a tax firm marketed towards sex workers. A sex-positive accountancy firm might sound like a niche too esoteric to succeed, but with many sex workers finding it tough to get accounting services due to stigmas and prejudices, it’s very much needed.

We caught up with Dr Chappius to hear about some issues facing sex workers.

SEXTECHGUIDE: Why is there a need for a sex worker-focused tax company?

Cendrine Chappuis, aka Ash Dark: “Many accountants and tax people, like many others, unfortunately, are super-judgmental. And they don’t want to work with sex workers. Even some CPAs [Certified Public Accountants] run a very comfy ‘vanilla’ firm on one side, and they hide in secret, using a nickname or having another firm to help sex workers through. Why do they hide it? You go for it, or you don’t…”

Is that really common?

“Yes: it’s the shame that some accountants have, because they don’t want to be associated with sex workers. Many accounting firms hide behind, ‘Well, what they’re doing is illegal’, which is not the case.

What comes under the sex worker remit, in terms of the people you work with?

“The majority of clients we have are working in the porn industry: porn actors and some small porn production [companies]. But we have more and more clients doing online, like OnlyFans and other platforms, who we consider models. Even if it’s ‘nude model’ or ‘explicit’ or whatever, they are models, because they don’t do what we call ‘full services sex worker’.”

Sex Work Survival Guide Summit artwork

And people in these roles struggle to get tax advice?

“Many of them [accountancy firms], they don’t feel comfortable… and if you want someone to take care of your tax strategy, if they cannot be comfortable about your situation it doesn’t work. We have also heard about people complaining of situations where a person took advantage of them. It’s like, ‘Oh, you don’t pay me, we can take another arrangement’. This is something I’ve seen and heard about a lot in the industry.”

It feels like a service that couldn’t have existed, say, ten years ago.

“I’m from Europe originally but I’m living in the US, and a part of me has the feeling that here, slowly, things are becoming more open… but that’s still not [completely] true. It really depends on where you are living, either in which country or where in the US. I’m based in a super-conservative state: Texas. People ask me, ‘Oh, what do you do?’ When I say I run a tax firm for sex workers people say, ‘They pay tax!?’ Yeah, of course they do. They get loans. They buy a house. They have family. They are living, just like everybody else.”

There’s so much legal scrutiny of porn in the US right now. Have your clients noticed a change in pressure?

“I’m working with people who had their firm get completely locked [out of] a bank account. We have heard stories about people who didn’t get a mortgage or loan for their house renewal because the bank discovered that they were in the porn industry, even after 10 years of them paying off a loan every month. It is difficult to get a bank account, even just for a sex toy shop.”

Some of the financial organizations toughening rules related to porn say they’re doing it to protect people from sex trafficking. Do you think those claims are genuine?

“Sex trafficking and working in the porn industry are two different things. A lot of people – the majority of people – working in the adult industry [do it] by choice, not because there has been sex trafficking. Going against the adult industry in general is not going to solve sex trafficking.”

“Going against the adult industry in general is not going to solve sex trafficking”

Dr Cendrine Chappuis

You also suggested that most sex workers are in their industry through choice – do you really think that’s the case?

“Yeah, based on having discussions with many sex worker associations… many, many sex workers confirmed the fact that it’s a choice. It’s a life choice. Absolutely.”

Sure, but there’s a whole other side of sex work involving people forced into the industry, who won’t be showing up in statistics and through some associations…

“Yes, definitely… unfortunately, most of the time they are in a position where they cannot seek help. They are in a situation where someone holds their passport or whatever, and they really lost freedom. It’s not only sex trafficking, it’s human trafficking.”

Do you think there’s a risk that the ‘Instagram’ version of sex work, being all about empowerment and enterprise, ignores a lot of the reality of the lives of people forced into it?

“I can understand that some people like are gonna say, ‘I’m doing sex work because I need to put food on my table’… so in this situation can we really talk about choice? It’s a long debate that we can have… for me, even if you are in a very difficult financial situation, you are still making this step to go there. I know some people are going to say, ‘Hold on, no, it’s not true. It’s really not my choice. I had no other choice’.”

What kind of survival are you talking about, at the Sex Worker Survival Summit?

“It’s not survival, like, marketing for your OnlyFans. It’s more giving access to basic knowledge. What kind of self-defence can you learn? What do you need, to be careful when you go somewhere? What should you check? ‘I need a doctor or therapist’ – we can help. Or, ‘I need a lawyer, but I need a sex worker-friendly lawyer’.”

What’s a good example of a safety tip you’ll discuss?

“For people webcamming, we explain basic things like being careful with your surroundings, because people can stalk you by, for example, seeing if you have a window behind you, what we can see through the window – we could find where you are. People sometimes forget about that.”

What’s another good tip?

“In the US there is this thing in the law: if you are in your backyard and you do a porn scene there, even if it’s your own backyard of your own house, if you neighbour might think that objectively [objecting to the filming], it’s not OK, and it’s gonna be a legal issue for you.”

A lot of people might quite like that going on in their neighbour’s yard.

“In the US there is an issue with the definition of obscenity: what is obscene and what is not.”

Finally, what trends are you noticing among your camming clients?

“There are many people using multiple platforms. I always say, from a business point of view you need to be careful, because if something goes wrong and you are only on one platform, this is your only source of income. If it stopped tomorrow, what do you do? I’m suggesting to people that they should be on multiple platforms. All the models, they don’t use it [power] enough: they are the one making the rules, not the platform.”

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