Sex workers claim that dating app Tinder is discriminating against them by banning them from using the service.
In both Europe and North America, sex workers reported finding their accounts shut down, with Tinder offering no explanation other than that they had breached the app’s terms of service.
Tinder bans soliciting on its platform, but the women who BuzzFeed News spoke to said they were using the account purely for non-commercial dating purposes.
They said they had mentioned in their profiles that they were sex workers – but only because they wanted to be up front with people who they matched with.
Clementine, a 30-year-old sex worker based in Vancouver, said she recently had her account shut down after updating her bio to include her job as an escort.
“I’ve had Tinder for about four or five years on-and-off,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I’ve been escorting as my full time job, my main source of income anyway, for about eight or nine months. I changed my bio to put that was my job because I want to weed out people who wouldn’t want to date me because of my job – a lot of insecure men feel like they can’t date an escort.”
On her profile, Clementine made clear that she was not looking for clients on the app but her account was still shut down.
Clementine read the terms and conditions, which said soliciting was banned, but she said: “I clearly wasn’t soliciting.”
After she contacted Tinder she received an email back which said she had violated the website’s terms – but despite going back to the company for further clarification, she received only stock responses, which said she would not be able to open another Tinder account.
Clementine said she thinks Tinder may be shutting down sex worker profiles to avoid falling foul of Trump’s SESTA/FOSTA legislation.
In April, President Donald Trump signed a bill made from a combination of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, known as FOSTA, which gave law enforcement officials sweeping new powers to go after internet platforms used by traffickers, including making those platforms liable for the content that users publish – with sex workers reporting devastating consequences.
“They’re an American company and they can be prosecuted because of the anti-trafficking law – clearly I’m [not] being trafficked,” Clementine said. “It’s bullshit.”
“Maybe Tinder is just scared,” she added, “but it’s applied that to my whole profession. If I was a yoga teacher saying I wasn’t looking for yoga clients they would have let me say that.”
Tinder declined to answer BuzzFeed News’ questions on these users’ account and whether they had been kicked off the app due to this legislation. Instead the company pointed to its community guidelines, which prohibit “promoting or advocating for commercial sexual services, human trafficking or other non-consensual sexual acts”.
Clementine told BuzzFeed News that she is a “very privileged” sex worker, and so wanted to speak up on behalf of those sex workers who regularly experience discrimination and who did not feel able to fight the ban.
“I’m used to getting what I want in my life,” she said. “They’re used to it, but because of my demographic I’m more entitled, so instead of feeling defeated, I’m angry. That’s why I’m fighting.
“I’ve started to feel like I can make a difference, and I’m willing to deal with the consequences.”
“Sex workers should be able to have a normal dating life like everyone else does,” she added. “The idea that sex with a client is in any way similar to sex with someone you’re in a relationship with is false. This is my job, I put on a show, but it’s my job.
“You put your body in danger in the military or if you’re a miner – why is there a stigma around the idea of sex? People think that they own their partner’s body and that needs to end.”
Several other sex workers in Twitter complained they had too seen their Tinder accounts shut down.
Fez Endalaust a UK-based student and sex worker, also claims she had her Tinder profile shut down after mentioning her job in her bio.
“I’d been using it for maybe three years,” she told BuzzFeed News, “and pretty much from the beginning I had ‘sex worker’ in my profile, alongside a list of other things; my course, my age, hobbies.
“I did go a few months without doing that but found it very hard to have to have the talk with every single person, and the reactions from people, getting angry, it was awful. And I did worry if we got to the date stage, meeting in person [before telling them], it could put my safety at risk.”
Endalaust said that she was an “out” sex worker, so was able to be up front from the start – whereas others may want to keep their job hidden. She said she had the label in her bio for about two years, but wasn’t working from the ap.
“If you’re a sex worker [working from the app] you’re not going to put your age limit at 27,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I had my real uni on there, my real name, and my name is not common.”
Endalaust said that in July 2017 she tried to log onto Tinder and found that her account had been shut down. When she contact the app, she was told that her profile had been taken down because it had violated Tinder’s terms and conditions.
“I’m not the only one,” she said. “I’ve got a few sex worker friends in the UK who have had it happen to them – and none of them were working from it.”
“It actually made me feel really awful,” she added. “I put up a sad Facebook post, I felt awful. It’s obviously not the biggest problem that faces us [sex workers], but the fact that it’s such an innocuous thing, and we’re this marginalised community that are not allowed to have that, excluded from this part of life that’s normal in so many other people’s lives.
“I can’t join in, it’s one of those things that’s very subtle, but obviously to us, we’re singled out – you’re not part of our world, you’re not human.”
Kiki Lover, a sex worker from Reno, Nevada, said she was banned from Tinder after speaking about her job in her direct messages on the app. Again, she said she only mentioned sex work in the interest of being up front with men she matched with.
“I signed up for tinder to meet someone to date couple weeks ago,” she told BuzzFeed News. “As I was swiping I matched with this guy and we started messaging back and forth just regular getting to know each other questions so he asked me what I did as a job and I told him I was a sex worker he said that was interesting and kept asking me about it like if I enjoy the work etc. We talked about it for a little bit and that was that.”
The day after, she says she was locked out of the her account. She told BuzzFeed News: “Next day I go on the app and I’m logged out I tried to go back in and it said I wasn’t able to sign in, and then I received an email saying my account was banned.
“The only reason that they shut down my account was because of my job. They are discriminating against me because I was honest and wanted the guy to know what I do up front to make sure his okay with it before we go any further.
“It made me feel very sad and disappointed that they are not open-minded to sex workers wanting relationships as well. I was not soliciting the guy I matched with. I just told him what I do for work just like he told me he was a bartender. It’s just a job.”