Sex workers say incel campaign to report them to IRS won’t work

Men’s rights advocates are threatening to report sex workers to the IRS. But is it just a new form of harassment?

Published November 29, 2018 5:30PM (EST)


This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

A few angry men on the internet have launched a campaign encouraging others to report sex workers to the IRS for failing to report income they make online, claiming they’ll get a cut of any back taxes collected as a reward for being “whistleblowers.” The campaign, dubbed the “Thot Audit,” is circulating around misogynist “men’s rights” and incel (involuntary celibate) circles on Twitter and Reddit along with a lot of anti-women, anti-sex worker rhetoric. Sure, it’s cruel — but does it pose a real threat?

“I’m not concerned about being reported,” says Rachel, who works as a financial dominatrix. “The IRS is not only heavily overburdened, I’d be shocked to find someone had even one-sixteenth of the necessary information to file form 3949-A [the form used to report another person for non-payment].”

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“The presence of any kind of real threat here seems to be mitigated by people who are more interested in being granted some kind of permission to harass sex workers,” she says. “Boredom will inevitably set in, and the ‘thot audit’ campaign will be put to bed soon.”

Christopher Kirk, a tax attorney who works with sex workers and other alternative communities, agrees that this is likely an empty threat.

“I don’t think that cam girls and other online sex workers are at a very high risk of being audited as a result of this harassment campaign,” he says. “The IRS requires rather detailed information from whistleblowers, including, at the very least, the taxpayer’s legal name and location. While some cam girls and other online sex workers may operate under their legal name, I doubt many do.”

“Moreover,” Kirk says, “the Service wants actionable information about significant tax issues, not guesses, and the program is not a forum for people with an ax to grind. Because the incel trolls engaging in the #thotaudit campaign likely have no idea whether their targets file taxes or report the income from their online work, I don’t think it likely that such reporting will actually trigger an audit.”

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He says the best way for sex workers to protect themselves is to file their taxes, reporting their income as accurately as possible, and keeping receipts for any business expenses so they have a paper trail if they ever do get audited.

“Usually, we actually pay more than our fair share, since we’re quite conservative about writing off business expenses even in legal branches of sex work,” says an escort who goes by Eloise Earhart. “But the men who are participating in this mob know that the IRS isn’t really coming after us. I believe their true intent is simply to intimidate women.”

A sex worker named Faith echoed these sentiments, saying she uses an LLC to claim all of her income, and pays quarterly taxes to stay up-to-date. “I likely pay more in taxes than the individuals threatening to report those of us in this industry, that’s what I find so funny about this,” she says.

“The entire campaign is nothing more than another thorn in my side,” she says. “I don’t feel threatened at all by it, but it begs the question if this is just another attack on women.”

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Earheart thinks it is, pointing out that even if this campaign isn’t likely to get people audited, it still doesn’t bode well for the overall treatment of sex workers.

“Sex workers are a stigmatized group. Violence against us is often brushed off by law enforcement,” says Earhart. “What I’m really afraid of is that this is the prelude towards an increase in targeted violence against sex workers by the far right. We are already seen as an ‘acceptable’ target of violence under the best of circumstances, and for a certain section of people on the right, FOSTA/SESTA was interpreted as a call for open season on sex workers.”

“Basically,” she says, “the ‘audit’ is fake, but the harassment is very real.”

By Lilly Dancyger

Lilly Dancyger is the author of Negative Space, a reported and illustrated memoir selected by Carmen Maria Machado as a winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards; and the editor of Burn It Down, an anthology of essays on women’s anger. Find her on Twitter at @lillydancyger.

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