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Camgirls: the myth of an independent pornography and real technological dystopia

According to the media, the activity of ‘camgirls’ has surged since the beginning of the lockdownrelated toCovid-19. What is it like behind the scenes for the women and girls who are mostly affected by this activity?  >>> READ

article Fondation Scelles Camgirls avril 2020


On 24th October 2015, 19-year-old student Kendra Sunderland discreetly begins a video chat in the library. Enrolled both at university and on a 'camgirl' site, Kendra lets viewers catch a glimpse of her naked breasts, caresses herself in front of the camera while taking care not to be caught by fellow students passing by a few metres away. On the other side of the screen, thousands of viewers are asking her to undress a little more in exchangefor 'tokens', the virtual currency used to pay women in a private or collective show. That would have been the end of the matter if Kendra's video had not been recorded without her knowledgeand then posted on a pornography website in 'p streaming' - and gone viral within a few days, forcing the woman to undergo questioning by the police and to pay a $600 fine for exhibitionism, before being expelledfrom university. The 'camgirl' phenomenon was in the spotlight and was no longer perceived as marginal.


The word 'camgirl' refers to women who,in exchange for a financial reward, open up accounts on camming platforms and strip online via a webcam in their online connexion space, which is called a 'showroom'. Their male counterparts are called 'camboys'. Their number is estimated at200,000 worldwide, with a higher prevalence in countries like Romania (40,000) or Colombia.


>>> To Know more about it

The ‘camming’ actors


While we’re primarily interested with ‘camgirls’, it should be noted that they are only at the very bottom rung of the ladder of a highly lucrative business,of which hosting websites are placed at the top. The latter are varied, numerous and with more or less explicit names. The leading platform in the camming market boastsaround 25 million users and a turnover of 400 million euros. The company is based in Luxembourg, employs around 200 people and is made up of departments such as R&D, legal, financial, and human resources. As its CEOputs it: ‘we could be a bank’. Thehost organisation is thus tasked with creating a website where ‘camgirls’ are able to create an account and perform their certain acts. The website administrators never meet the women, but that does not stop them from collecting 60 to 70% of all their earningsjustfor providing the platform.


The other main actor is the customer. There is little information or evidence about the customers thatsign uptoa camming site and buy a number of tokens with real currency in order to request the women to perform given acts behind the camera. A French documentary, first aired in 2016, gives an idea of the typical clientele of ‘camgirls’: a young anonymous thirty-something, an engineer in the Lyon region living alone in a bedsit and who goes on a camming site every night in order to, as he puts it, ‘fill a sentimental void’ while assertingthat he would never have recourse to prostitution because for him ‘recourse to prostitution and recourse to the services of a camgirl are two different things…’.


article camgirls : le client


The payments can be made in the following ways:

- With TIPS: access to the ‘showroom’ is free and unlimited and clients must pay a number of tokens to get the ‘camgirl’ to perform certain acts or to remotely take control of a sextoy for a pre-defined number of seconds. Each time the user enters the showroom, the tariffs for each act or the length of control of the sextoy are clearly indicated.

- By the hour : entry into the showroom is based on a fixed hourly fee. In this case, it is a private show where the client is alone with the ‘camgirl’ for a predetermined time during which she will have to perform a number of acts.

Through the creation of a ‘fanbase’: a personal website is created with a monthly subscription to accessvarious contents and camming sessions. This payment type avoids significant loss of income through the fees claimed by the host site, but it does requirea degree of prior ‘success’.

It is this last form of payment in particular that creates the myth of the ‘free, independent, unexploited camgirl’.


The dream of pornography which is modern, independent and secure

article Fondation Scelles Camgirls avril 2020

In order to incite women to become ‘camgirls’, it is necessary to sell a dream. One camming site claims ‘you’ll be able to buy everything you want and live the life of a celebrity’. To be credible, the dream has to refer to ‘real stars’such as ‘Little Red Bunny’, dubbed ‘number 1 camgirl’, and who seems to symbolise the myth of the ‘camgirl’free to work from home as she pleases,earning a good income safely and independently while choosing the sexual acts she’ll performfor personally selected customers.The industry around this business goes even further by organizing Cammy Awards every year to reward famous ‘camgirls’ in more than twenty categories. Following those ceremonies is a series of lectures teaching ‘camgirls’ how to be more attractive behind the camera, but also explaining to them which status to choose to make the most of the fiscal advantages. The same explanations are found on a number of websites free from any sexual references, and also on apparently traditional employment websites which offer possibilities of working from home as a ‘webcam presenter’. The normalisation process goes even further since the activity of a‘camgirl’ is mentioned as being a ‘phenomenon’ and the activity is described in terms of being a ‘naughty Instagram’ or ‘remunerated exhibitionism’. The incitement takes even a cultural turn with the creation of theweb series ‘Camgirls’ directed by David Slack, where three ‘Desperate Housewives’ style women start that activity in order to satisfy their unassuaged desires.


Everything is done in order to present camming as a way to gain independence, wealth and sexual liberation, and to get a girl or a  woman involved in an activity whose reality is much grimmer.


The reality: a modern form of prostitution

First of all the money: just a quick browsethrough camming websites is enough to understand that the ideal offered in terms of revenue is only accessible to a small number of ‘camgirls’. Indeed, all camming sites are filled with entire pages of showrooms with ‘camgirls’ but only a handful of clients, which does not stop these women from keeping up their smile or trying to attract clients into their showrooms. The idea is thus summarised by Adrianna, a‘camgirl’ in Romania: ‘It takes time to be a famous ‘camgirl’. You have to spend hours online…to be patient,to talk to all customers and most importantly…to keep that smile on your face’. On their long way to stardom, many women finish the day without any revenue. Working en-hour ‘shifts’, mostly during the night so that European ‘camgirls’ align with the time difference with the USA, the country with the largest pool of customers, all for an income which is far from the one sold by the dream.


What about the ‘sexual liberation’? Even setting aside the question of money in exchange of sexual acts, it is difficult to perceive any form of sexual liberation whatsoever through camming. Firstly, this is because, of the two adults separated by the screen, one undresses while the other, or rather the others, watch without openly engaging in any sexual activity. Secondly, if we are told that the ‘camgirl’ only performs the acts which she consents to and that she too can explore her ‘unassuaged desires’, the reality is far from it since  hyper-competition forces a ‘camgirl’ to conform to the desires of her visitors, or to anticipate them. What are these desires? Unsurprisingly, once the eroticism of the stripping is over, there follows a phallocentric phase wherein the ‘camgirl’ is pushed to perform oral, vaginal and anal penetration with increasingly bigger objects. Another example of the lie sold about camming as sexual liberation is the remote control of the sex toy. Indeed, in exchange of tokens, the visitor(s) can take control of a sextoy that the ‘camgirl’ will use while making it vibrate at his or their desired rhythm. In which case, the ‘camgirl’ must reach ultimate satisfaction (or rather pretend to) in order to satisfy the ego of the one(s) who took control of the sextoy. Using phallic objects in order to simulate an orgasm induced by men standing behind a screen is a long way from the promised sexual liberation,


Finally, there is the so-called independence. That would be to forget a fourth essential and often present actor of the ‘camgirl’’s business: studios or Livecam mansions where most if not all camming activity takes place. The ‘mansions’ are buildings to which women have to travel, and where all necessary materials (room with appropriate atmosphere, cameras, clothes and sextoys) are provided. On top of that, those studios create and control the accounts for the women by having access to their passwords. The women have to perform forat least eight hours a day. At this point, there is a transition from the status of an entrepreneur to employee. Furthermore, studios take their share on the revenues earned by the ‘camgirl’ on top of the deductions taken by the camming platform. They also constantly control what the women do in the room in order to ‘motivate’ them and they publish an internal ranking of the most ‘productive’ ‘camgirls’. From a traditional employer, we are thus moving towards a much more invasive management technique. Finally, ‘studio managers’ define a policy of sexual practices to perform, inciting the women to perform and selling the ‘camgirls’’ profiles to camming sites without the women being able to object to that and without them receiving any money from the sale of their profiles. In other words, behind the dream of independence lies the reality of sexual slavery.


One thing is clear: camming creates the opportunity for a client to pay a person to perform a sexual act. This person accepts only because of what is offered, namely financial remuneration, and not for the free and personal pleasure it could provide. It is therefore a form of prostitution, and moreover one contained within a system consisting of multiple camming platforms and studios that take a significantshare of their income, compelling them to perform sexual acts which they did not consent to.


Towards the inclusion of camming in the criminal code…

How is it possible to freely create a personal account and solicit the ‘services’ of a ‘camgirl’ when the solicitation of prostitution has been forbidden in France since 13th April 2016? The difficulty firstly stems from the fact that the criminal code does not define prostitution, and that the only definition provided is the one provided in the jurisprudence the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal (Cour de Cassation)  according to which prostitution consists of  ‘allowing physical contact of any nature, in exchange for a payment, in order to satisfy the sexual desires of another’ (Crim. 27 march 1996). The second difficulty resides in the fact that the definition precludes the possibility of prostitution without physical contact, confirming the contemporary thinking that considers camming a new form of pornography, and not a form of prostitution. Without a real legal definition, and without popular support, it is quite difficult for the judicial system to deploy the arms at its disposal to suppress this activity.


However, there seems to be some movementdue to the fact that recent media attention on the prostitution of minors has prompted some members of parliament to produce a draft law against the prostitution of underage personswhich includes in its first article the following definition to be inserted in the criminal code: ‘prostitution is the act of using one’s body  in sexual  relations in exchange for remuneration of any kind’. That definition would make it possible to include camming in a definition of prostitution, thus criminalising clients for soliciting prostitution and the camming studios and platforms for pimping.


ML (For International Observatory on Sexual Exploitation)


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