Online Sex Work: The Dark Side of OnlyFans 

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and X, formerly known as “Twitter” – the various social media platforms have long since become an integral part of our lives. We spend hours sharing our lives online, connecting with our friends and families and following the latest trends and news. However, platforms such as OnlyFans have also become increasingly popular in recent years. Although the online platform has often been – justifiably – criticized in the past, the team of journalists from STRG_F and the Y-Kollektiv have been able to bring further abuses to light in recent months through their research: Women are said to be systematically exploited on OnlyFans time and time again and it is obviously a lucrative business.

Basically, OnlyFans is similar to other social networks such as Facebook or Instagram: This makes the way OnlyFans works quite simple. Content creators, who are referred to as “creators”, create an account on the platform and can then offer paid access to their content. Content creators must be at least 18 years old to upload content. To ensure that minors cannot share content on the platform, OnlyFans requires a selfie with a valid ID and a close-up of the document for verification. However, it should not go unmentioned that this measure can easily be circumvented in practice, as there are numerous ways to create and upload fake proof of identity. In addition, there are third-party providers who specialize in providing fake identity documents, which makes it difficult to ensure the authenticity of the documents presented. It must therefore be assumed that minors could also be found on the platform.

The users, who are referred to as “fans”, usually pay a monthly fee to access the exclusive content. Creators have the option to set the price for their content and also offer special content for fans, which can be unlocked for additional fees.

The platform was founded back in 2016 and has since become a popular platform for people who want to create and share digital content. Although OnlyFans was originally intended for all types of content creators, the platform has gained notoriety primarily because of the explicit and pornographic content that is shared there. However, there are also creators who offer content on other topics, such as fitness, cooking, music and more – but these are clearly in the minority.

Some time ago, the research team from STRG_F and the Y collective was made aware of the exclusive network “ChampLife” through various emails: The brothers Nino and Elias Haralambidis, the founders of “ChampLife”, generate income by selling video courses in which they give detailed instructions to their members on how to become successful in business and with women. They proudly show off their success on social media and cite the controversial influencer Andrew Tate as a source of inspiration, despite the fact that he is the subject of controversy due to charges relating to human trafficking and rape.

In the shocking reports “Emotional manipulation: Are women exploited on OnlyFans?” in the ARD media library and “Inside ‘ChampLife’: This is how they push women onto OnlyFans” and “Inside Champ-Life: Are women exploited on Only-Fans?” on YouTube, several women describe how they are said to have been systematically exploited by “ChampLife” members and pushed into creating OnlyFans accounts, producing explicit content through emotional manipulation. The majority of the revenue is said to have subsequently flowed into the pockets of the men. The women themselves only received a small percentage of the profits at best.

This is a newer form of the so-called “lover boy method”. Normally, the “lover boys” pretend to be in a love relationship with girls and women – some of whom are underage – and gradually drive them into emotional dependency in order to force them into prostitution. Recently, however, more and more victims have also been forced to produce pornographic content on OnlyFans and similar platforms.

Here’s how the “Lover boy” scam usually works:

  1. Approach: The perpetrator, often a young man, approaches his potential victim in a friendly and charming manner. He may pose as a lover and try to establish a romantic relationship. This often happens via social media, in clubs, schools or other places where young people hang out.
  2. Earning trust: The perpetrator invests a lot of time and attention at the beginning to gain the victim’s trust. He listens, is empathetic and offers emotional support.
  3. Manipulation: As soon as the perpetrator has gained the victim’s trust, he begins the manipulation. He persuades the victim to perform sexual acts for money in order to solve alleged financial problems. He often promises to share the money or pay off debts.
  4. Isolation from family and friends: The perpetrator isolates the victim from their family and friends. He convinces the victim to break off contact with them in order to increase their dependency.
  5. Coercion and control: Once the victim is involved in prostitution, the perpetrator uses physical and psychological violence, threats or drugs to further control the victim. The victim is usually forced into prostitution and has to hand over the money earned to the perpetrator and only receives a small part of the money earned, if at all.

To prevent such situations, it is important to look out for the signs of manipulation and exploitation and to seek legal help and support if you suspect it. Organizations and institutions that deal with victim protection and human trafficking can offer help and advice.

In order to recognize possible victims of a lover boy, the international youth organization lightup” lists various signs that could indicate that your girlfriend, classmate or someone in your environment may be affected by the lover boy tactic:

  • She meets an older man, be it on the internet, at a party, in a club or even near school.
  • She spends less time with her family and friends and more time with her new acquaintance.
  • At first, she still raves about him, but this enthusiasm fades.
  • She changes her appearance by wearing more make-up and dressing differently than before.
  • Her performance at school deteriorates over time and she often plays truant.
  • She is hard to reach and rarely responds to text messages.
  • She has many commitments and appointments, but no one knows exactly what she is doing during this time.
  • She has several cell phones and is constantly on her phone.
  • She avoids questions about herself and her boyfriend and gives no information about how she spends her time.
  • She seems absent, introverted, tired, nervous and depressed.
  • She has visible injuries or bruises that she tries to hide.
  • She showers very often and for a long time.
  • She refuses offers of help.

Translated by Emily Schiffer

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