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Open-Source Research Shows Online Child Sex Trafficking and Other Criminal Activity Found on

A study conducted by the University of New Haven's Center for Forensic Investigations of Trafficking in Persons and the Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative indicates that the structure of makes it difficult to pursue cases in instances of content that may depict rape or criminal assault.

April 27, 2022

Researchers and former law enforcement officials with the University's Center for Forensic Investigations of Trafficking in Persons and the Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative examined content on OnlyFans.comfeaturing possible victims of sex trafficking and discussed the challenges of investigating such crimes.

A recent study of open-source information conducted by the Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative (ATII) and former law enforcement officials with the University of New Haven’s Center for Forensic Investigations of Trafficking in Persons (CFITP) indicates that possible sex crimes, including those involving the sexual exploitation of minors and trafficked adults, are hosted on the social media site

“In addition to potential child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and videos and images featuring possible victims of sex trafficking, disturbing content discovered on appears consistent with an understanding of law enforcement’s observations relating to violent sex acts, including images and videos that may depict rape and criminal assault,” said Matt Richardson of ATII. “ facilitates crimes by providing sex predators and traffickers with the technological means to identify and recruit victims and exploit them,” he continued. has transformed the pornography industry by instituting a subscription-based business model, which requires users to subscribe to individual creator accounts where most content is concealed behind a paywall. Although not inherently illegal, an unintended consequence of this model is that it affords sex predators, rapists, sex traffickers, and other criminal elements the technological means to profit from their crimes while remaining less visible to law enforcement.

“’s structure has made it more difficult for law enforcement to pursue cases leading to arrests on any significant scale without specialized investigator training designed to address the complexity of such cases involving content hidden behind a paywall,” said Tim Palmbach, executive director of CFITP. “To investigate and pursue these criminals at scale is extremely cumbersome for law enforcement, both in terms of direct financial commitment incurred by the paywall as well as the additional time required to investigate each paywall-enabled case of suspected criminal activity,” he continued.

Open-source material identified through ATII’s research in consultation with federal law enforcement was generated by simple methodologies, including common search engines (e.g. Google) and routine search techniques, showing that is more than just a passive hub for sexually explicit images and videos; rather, the platform is actively utilized by sex traffickers and other criminals to monetize what appear to be large scale, in-person criminal sexual encounters.

Despite the disturbing evidence of possible exploitation found on the platform, the website continues to be hosted by Amazon Web Services, and payments to access the offending content are transacted and cleared through major credit card networks, including Visa and MasterCard, and other payment processors, as well as large U.S. banks. Given the troubling and potentially illegal material found through research, and OnlyFans ineffective measures to verify age and consent of the people appearing in their hosted content, the financial institutions currently providing a gateway to the offending material should re-examine their business relationships with the OnlyFans platform.

"It is clear that OnlyFans has much to do around their trust & safety efforts to protect children and those that are most vulnerable from the dangers that the streaming platform appears to facilitate,” said Aaron Kahler, Founder & CEO of ATII. “The Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative works to assist commercial organizations in building true environmental social governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards and capabilities to prevent human trafficking & child exploitation from being facilitated through their business operations."