Sexual abuse in the porn industry is rife, but no one wants to talk about it

Oct 17 | 3.7K sharesJoe Terzeon

The Harvey Weinstein allegations have highlighted just how pervasive a problem sexual abuse is in Hollywood. In a world of manicures, Maybachs and million-dollar paycheques, there exists a seedy underworld in which rich men are allowed to exploit, abuse and even rape young women.

However, this sounds all too familiar to the women of the porn industry. It’s a career which many turn to out of financial need and subsequently can’t leave. A male-dominated environment, it allows female performers to fall prey to the worst kinds of abuse.

woman in underwear on screen Credit: Getty

“It was torture for seven years,” stated former adult performer Brittni Ruiz. “I was miserable, I was lonely, I eventually turned to drugs and alcohol and attempted suicide.” Like many, Ruiz felt trapped by the industry but maintained the smiles and the optimism: “I knew I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out.”

The spectrum of abuse is mind-boggling. Psychological control and coercion, non-consensual unprotected sex, forced sodomy and “facial abuse” are just a handful of examples. “It was a really, really, really rough scene,” states Miriam Weeks on the subject of her first foray into porn. “I wasn’t prepared for how rough it was.”

“It’s not that bad,” she was told when she initially said no to the scene. “They’ll be very nice to you.” Weeks was then recorded on camera getting “ass-kicked”. Beaten and choked, it made for an apt introduction to an industry which is centred on male domination and female compliance.

Previously concrete terms turn to mush the minute the cameras start rolling. Furthermore, details one might consider essential aren’t disclosed until the last minute. By the time Weeks was informed that she would be working with a 50-year-old man, she felt it was too late. Knowing she would be fined and never hired again, she went through with it in the name of professionalism. However, when “professionalism” and “exploitation” mean the same thing, questions need to be asked.

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“People in the porn industry are numb to real life and are like zombies walking around,” states Jessica Jewel. “Everybody is on drugs,” she continues. “I became horribly addicted to heroin and crack. I overdosed at least three times, had tricks pull knives on me, have been beaten half to death…”

The experiences recounted here are nothing short of horrifying. That 40 per cent of porn depicts violence against women goes some way to explain the normalisation of male aggression and physical abuse. However, what about softcore pornography? Surely the experiences of these women must be more positive?

women in underwear Credit: Getty

In Holly Madison’s New York Times bestseller Down the Rabbit Hole, she explains what life was like as a Playboy bunny - living a life of sex, surveillance and subservience. “Many people assume Playboy was my blessing,” she states “but most don’t know it was also my curse.”

Broke and with nowhere to live, she accepted the offer to move into the Playboy mansion. Like many women starting out as playmates, she never thought that she would actually be expected to engage in sexual relations with Hefner or anyone else she didn’t want to.

Holly Madison Credit: Getty

Instead, she found herself a part of a strange rota of women who would perform porn-like acts while Hefner would watch porn, go from girl to girl, and eventually pleasure himself to climax. Madison was also subject to a curfew, monitored and followed by Hefner’s men when she had a rare night on her own. She was was even coerced into sexual relations while too drunk to know what was happening.

Madison’s time as a playmate wasn’t the glamorous life that many would imagine. But where’s the trap? Why can’t these girls simply leave when it gets too much? “Being attached to Playboy can make people not want to have anything to do with you, even in quirky, crazy Hollywood,” she explains. “There were many times the hateful backlash made me wish I stayed the broke, awkward, 21-year-old waitress I’d been before Hef came into my life.”

Holly Madison and Hugh Hefner Credit: Getty

While rarely part of a long term plan, many girls soon find that they would rather leave porn as soon as possible. However, conditioned into compliance and with no other options, many girls choose to stay despite being unhappy.

They are then spat out by the industry when they’re considered too old, too alcoholic or too addicted. “There’s an influx of girls who want to do porn,” states a male porn star in the behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted. “A lot of them know it’s a trap, but the money’s right there in their face. They take it and just hope for the best.”

woman being filmed on bed Credit: Getty

There are some steps being taken to protect women, however. Following the implementation of a 2012 county measure, California voted on Proposition 60 - which would require condoms to be used in porn films produced in the state and impose tighter measures on STD testing for performers.

That said, since 2012, there has been a 95 per cent drop in porn permits in California, the industry having moved to Nevada as a result. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the knock-on effect of making condoms mandatory and when California voted on Proposition 60, 54 per cent voted against it.

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Unfortunately, pornography remains an unregulated industry in which abuse and exploitation are allowed to thrive. This culminates in the harrowing story of Jessica Stoyadinovich (aka Stoya). In November 2015 she tweeted: “That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks.” She followed up the initial tweet with: “James Deen held me down and f**ked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”

Her ex boyfriend James Deen was a fellow high-profile performer. Outwardly, he was a kind-natured man of progressive politics and he has since denied the claims. However, within the industry, many were more wary - and Stoyadinovich had even been advised to put him on her “no” list.

Needless to say, these are the experiences of some - not all - women in porn. But their testimonies paint a bleak picture of what life is like in the industry. That said, there’s nothing cool about moral outrage. It’s all too easy to take the modern, tolerant view that porn is OK. But this is exactly what its producers and executives want you to believe: that the permanent smiles and perennial happiness aren’t an act - that these girls are being empowered, not abused.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article please contact Samaritans on 1 800 273 8255 (US) or 116 123 (Europe). For help and information, visit The Survivors Trust.