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Why Rep. Burgess Owens wants feds to investigate OnlyFans — the ‘paywall of porn’ social media platform

More than 100 House Republicans and Democrats urge Justice Department to look into alleged child exploitation

Rep. Burgess Owens addresses delegates attending the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention in West Valley City.
Rep. Burgess Owens addresses delegates attending the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention Saturday, May 1, 2021, in West Valley City. More than 100 House Republicans and Democrats, including Owens, urged the Department of Justice to investigate a social media platform dubbed the “paywall of porn” for allegedly facilitating child sexual exploitation.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

More than 100 House Republicans and Democrats, including GOP Utah Rep. Burgess Owens, urged the Department of Justice to investigate a social media platform dubbed the “paywall of porn” for allegedly facilitating child sexual exploitation.

The lawmakers called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to look into the the prevalence of child sexual abuse material on the website OnlyFans.com and the specific steps it takes to ensure minors are protected from exploitation. They say the network has become a “major marketplace” for buying and selling child pornography.

“We write today to call your attention to potentially illegal activity, including child sexual exploitation, that this website is facilitating,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., wrote in an Aug. 10 letter to Garland. “With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing our kids to spend more time isolated and online, it is our responsibility to ensure children are protected from bad actors operating via the internet.”

OnlyFans is a social media network, like Instagram and YouTube. But unlike YouTube, which forbids “explicit content meant to be sexually gratifying,” and Instagram, which allows “nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures,” OnlyFans allows everything.

The content subscription service based in London allows content creators to be paid directly from their “fans” on a monthly basis as well as one-time tips and a pay-per-view feature. The platform is mainly used by amateur and professional pornographic models but also has a market with chefs, fitness enthusiasts and musicians seeking to monetize their professions and connect with fans.

Some celebrities have OnlyFans accounts, including rapper and actress Cardi B and actress, model and singer Bella Thorne, who made more than $1 million on her first day on the site.

Launched in 2016, the company claims more than 100 million users who annually pay out $3 billion to at least 1 million content creators, according to its website.

In the letter, lawmakers say the presence of sexually explicit images of children is “undeniable” and it appears OnlyFans does not have adequate safeguards or protocols in place to report such material to authorities.

Over the past two years, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has seen an increasing amount of child exploitation on OnlyFans. In 2019, it indicated it was aware of 10 cases involving missing children associated with content sold on the site. The center identified at least 80 cases in which missing children were linked with the website’s content this year, according to the letter.

Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said OnlyFans preys and profits from abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people.

“With the rise in child sexual abuse material online, the U.S. Department of Justice should investigate the growing number of reports by law enforcement and child safety organizations that minors are being sold on OnlyFans,” she said in a statement. “Instances of sex trafficking and image-based abuse through OnlyFans are also coming to light.”

Earlier this year, police in Florida’s Miami-Dade County arrested two adults for human trafficking, possession of a sexual performance by a child, and promoting the sexual performance by a child, lawmakers wrote in the letter. According to police reports, the arrests were made after a friend of the underage girl saw videos of her on OnlyFans and notified authorities.