Campaign by right-wing trolls to report sex workers to the IRS raises safety concerns

Men's rights-themed online crusade attracts some of the internet's most toxic misogynists and white nationalists

A “men’s rights” crusade to report sex workers to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the U.S., dubbed the Thot Audit, has been trending on Facebook and Twitter.

The effort has roused considerable fervour with the help of some of the internet’s most toxic misogynists and white nationalists, including blogger Daryush (Roosh) Valizadeh and far-right political commentator James Allsup. And raised safety concerns among sex workers rights advocates. 

Reddit banned Thot Audit’s official subreddit from its website “due violations of Reddit’s content policy surrounding harassment.”

“The thots are afraid,” writes Valizadeh in a recent tweet, backing himself up by asserting the campaign just forced one sex worker to lock her Twitter account out of fear, claiming she has “received over $50,000 this year from online beta males,” and is now afraid of being reported to the IRS.

“Online thots are finding out that the income generated from their breasts and vagina is taxable,” he adds.

It all started when Facebook user David Wu posted a poll asking his followers if they consider sex work “real work.” Replying to Wu’s post, Facebook user Kuba Zucc’d says he uses similar polls to find “self-admitted” sex workers so that he can report them to the IRS and local law enforcement.

The following day, a Twitter user tweeted that her “premium Snapchat,” which she uses to share custom pornography with paying customers, had been reported to the IRS and that she was being audited.

This post was widely shared, particularly among the notoriously bigoted, mostly male users of the imageboard 4chan, attracting even more to the Thot Audit mission. Wu now has more than 14,000 Facebook followers. His page includes a disturbing animated video depicting himself as Friday The 13th character Jason Voorhees dismembering a “sex worker.” His video is entitled Finish Her. His bio says simply, “Please report ‘sex workers’ to the IRS or the local law-enforcement, thank you!”

Bounty hunting

Valizadeh further stoked the Thot Audit base’s manic energy by indicating that if the IRS managed to collect taxes on someone they reported, they would be entitled to 30 per cent of the recouped amount, adding that “there is actual financial incentive to defeating thottery.”     

Ryerson associate professor Jonathan Farrar says that the IRS does pay for whistle-blowing claims, “but that’s contingent on a fraud conviction, which can take years,” and has a success rate of 15 to 30 per cent. Also, the IRS will only pay a whistle-blower if the amount recovered is greater than $2 million, or if the delinquent taxpayer’s income is $200,000, otherwise the reward is capped at 15 per cent.    

For those here entertaining similar thoughts of reporting sex workers to Canadians authorities, Farrar adds that the Canada Revenue Agency only offers rewards in cases of international tax fraud exceeding $100,000, and that’s only for 5 to 15 per cent of the recovered taxes.

Farrar says he doesn’t know how common those audits are. “The CRA is recalcitrant in terms of providing information on its whistle-blowers, but they have said they receive 1,000 calls a month, which, in a country of 36 million, is substantial.” 

Monica Forrester, program coordinator at Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and a former sex worker, says many sex workers in the industry do in fact claim all their earnings. However, like any business, there are some who don’t operate with full transparency. But with sex workers this is largely because of circumstances and stigma – and personal safety.

“Some people are doing precarious sex work to get off the street or feed themselves,” she says. “They often face discrimination due to being racialized, trans or homeless and are using this form of work to survive for the moment.

“We also have to remember that sex work is criminalized, and that puts people at risk of persecution in many areas of their lives, which doesn’t allow them to be open about the work they do,” she adds.

While some of the Thot Audit participants claim to be championing fairness and holding sex workers to the same standards as other taxpayers, both Farrar and Forrester confirm the inherent danger for sex workers reporting their earnings, noting that tax agencies would be obligated to report income derived from illegal activity to police.

“These people want to audit and make sex workers pay taxes, but they don’t want to validate sex work as real work,” says Forrester

“Sex workers would like to contribute to pensions and benefits and pay taxes but the government wants to keep their work criminalized,” she adds. “This puts sex workers in places of violence and in unsafe work environments.”

She says that “decriminalizing some of the laws in sex work would allow sex workers to work safely, have employment rights and labour laws like any other work and give sex workers voices and rights like any other person in society who works.”

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