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Private escort earning $10k a week reveals bank 'hostility': 'Funds frozen and loan denied'

The Melbourne woman said she's constantly faced with a 'hostile financial framework'

Estelle Lucas is a 33-year-old private escort who can make up to $10,000 in a single week.

But for her 15-year career, she’s faced an “increasingly hostile financial framework” and systemic barriers that have led to a “cycle of economic disempowerment” in which many banks won’t lend to sex workers — despite sex work, in varying forms, being legal in most parts of Australia.

“When you start, and everyone always starts because of some form of financial insecurity, you soon realise that you won’t get access to the same financial products, services, treatment, resources, you name it,” the Melbourne-based sex worker from escort directory Ivy Société, told Yahoo Finance.

A brunette woman smiling and an inset of her taking a photograph in a mirror with her phone.
Estelle Lucas said she has struggled with financial institutions in her role as a sex worker. (Source: Supplied) (Belinda Grant-Geary)

“Which leads to further financial insecurity which then can lead to further precarious working conditions [in which sex workers find themselves in increasingly riskier situations] which can lead to this vicious cycle.”

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From the beginning, she explained, “the odds are really stacked against you”.

The first thing, Lucas said, was that banks aren’t on their side, with sex workers constantly faced with “policy and legal changes that ignore the nuances of our industry”.

“I remember I wanted credit card facilities to take payments from clients and I did get that under my industry name,” she said. “And then I had a client say, ‘Oh, the receipt came out as escort services on my bank statement’.

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“I went to the bank and I was like, ‘Um, can you please be a bit more discreet, please?’, and they were like, ‘Oh, the thing is, if they do a chargeback and you’ve put in a fake job instead and you can’t prove that you did the service, then they will approve the charge back to the client’.

This left her with the decision to either "out" her clients, or risk her fee.

"Those are my two options. That's what you've left me with. So I took away the credit card facilities and that was annoying because it meant that income was taken away from me, which increases the financial insecurity and means I might need to take more risks at work to make ends meet.”

While Lucas isn’t alone. Blaire Hunter, the owner Ivy Société, said “banks’ discrimination to accept sex workers as legitimate customers remains a prevalent issue”.

A close up of Lucas (left) and a selfie in the mirror (right).
The 33-year-old said she's been faced with decisions to either out her customers or risk her revenue stream. (Source: Supplied) (Instagram)

“Many sex workers have had their legitimate business bank accounts abruptly shut down without notice, with funds frozen, under the assumption that our profession is inherently high-risk,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“It is very common for online payment processors and platforms to suspend or terminate accounts belonging to sex workers without warning or justification.

Lucas, who runs a peer education platform for sex workers, called Bigger Sister Channel, with programs on financial literacy and economic empowerment, went on to describe how hard it was for her to obtain a home loan.

“I'm placed in a higher risk category because I have less evidence of consistent income because my industry is mostly cash transactions, not digital, making it harder to demonstrate the capacity to service a home loan,” she explained.

“Many sole traders face similar difficulties, it's not just sex workers, but being in a higher risk category means we can be faced with higher interest rates or we need a bigger deposit to secure a home loan.”

Do you have a story to tell? Contact yahoo.finance.au@yahooinc.com

Lucas
Sex workers, like many sole traders, are considered "high-risk" by financial institutions. (Source: Supplied)

Lucas did get a loan eventually, but says it was only because she trusted a broker “with the truth”.

“The combination of financial professionals knowing how much money we make, knowing that we can't tell anyone about it, and knowing that we don't know any better, can render us in a vulnerable position where anyone can ride you out, while you're none the wiser,” she said.

Moving into a cashless society is tricky for sex workers with cash often a preferred mode of payment in the sex work industry, according to Hunter.

“While some prefer bank transfers or digital payment methods, others opt for cash transactions due to concerns about privacy and the lack of a dedicated business account,” she said.

While Lucas stressed the “implications” for workers hoping to conceal their identity while “trying to adapt to this new way of being”, she also added that it was getting tricker to deal with cash.

“Some places won't even accept cash anymore and that doesn’t just hurt sex workers, it hurts people that are homeless for example,” explained the 33-year old.

Estelle Lucas in a pool (left) and in lingerie (right).
Estelle Lucas has been a private escort since she was 18. Source: Instagram (Instagram)

But as for bank prejudice, marketing expert and professor in business management, Roberta Crouch, said Lucas “probably faces the same sorts of issues that any self-employed, sole trader faces”.

“You need to be able to demonstrate to banks that you can really make your payments and that you've got steady income, that's always the bottom line,” she explained. “Their primary concern, and quite rightfully, is that if you borrow money from them, especially if it's unsecured, that they’re gonna get their money back.”

She went on to add banks are more likely to be assessing sex workers based on their income, “more than judging what they do”.

“If they judge her, they might judge her in terms of how likely it is that this woman will continue to generate the income that she says she's generating,” Professor Crouch said. “So whilst I'm sure she suffers some prejudice, I would suggest it would be more about sole trader risk, risk profile, and not being able to measure the market.”

While a spokesperson for the Australian Banking Association said "banks don’t make credit decisions in response to industries".

"They make them on a case-by-case basis in response to individuals and businesses," they told Yahoo Finance. "There are no blanket exclusions in the banking sector on the sex industry."

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