The French pornography industry systematically uses violence against women, according to a report presented Wednesday by four French Senators, after six months of auditions following several high-profile arrests of producers and directors.
The Senators want the issue to be taken seriously by the public, and for the government to make the fight against the “commodification of bodies” a political priority.
The aim of the report, which the authors titled ‘Porno: hell behind the scenes’, is to “alert the government and public opinion about violence perpetuated and spread by and in the pornography industry, as well as on the sexist, racist, homophobic and unequal representations that it generates.”
The four Senators, from four different political parties, started their mission in February after several porn actors, directors and producers linked to the video platform French Bukkake were arrested as part of a larger investigation opened in October 2020 into human trafficking, gang rape and pimping.
Three other men were arrested in Paris on Tuesday in connection with the probe.
Violence ‘not faked’ on screen
The Senators – Annick Billon, with the UDI centrist party, part of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling coalition; Socialist Laurence Rossignol; Alexandra Borchio-Fontimp with the centre-right Les Republicains; and Communist Laurence Cohen – found that online pornography has become increasingly violent, and it is being seen by younger and younger people.
“Sexual, physical and verbal violence are massively widespread in porn,” write the authors, who say it is systemic. The violence is “not faked, but very real for the women being filmed.”
The report says the line between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ pornography producers has been blurred with the advent of new platforms that allow people to upload their own videos.
The result, they say, is a free-for-all for producers, who often recruit economically and psychologically vulnerable young women to coerce them into doing acts on camera they might not otherwise agree to.
Some producers will force women to sign contacts ceding their image rights in perpetuity, forcing them to pay “between 3,000 and 5,000 euros, or ten times what they obtained to film the scene” in order to take them down.
And even then, once the images are out on other streaming platforms, they are “almost impossible to remove, preventing these women who were filmed to excersie their ‘right to be forgotten’”.
Of the report’s 23 recommendations, one is to impose on platforms the obligation to respond directly to removal requests from the people filmed, and not just from the owners of the videos.
Scepticism of ‘ethical’ pornography
The two major French pornography platforms, Dorcel and Jacquie et Michel, said in November 2020, after the first revelations of the investigations into the French Bukkakhe case, that they were willing to put in place ethics codes.
Others in the industry have talked about contracts detailing what sexual practices particapants are willing to do or not do.
But the Senators dismissed such proposals as window-dressing for a deeper problem of violence that needs to be addressed more systemically.
“Faced with the systemic extent of pornographic violence, and given the nature of sexual consent that can be reversed at any time, these ‘marketing’ measures do not convince the authors,” they write, adding that productions with more respectful practices are rare in the consumption of pornography today.
Beyond violence on sets and onscreen, the Senators also focused on who is watching pornography and how it “normalises sexual violence of women”.
According to the report, two thirds of children 15-years-old and under, and one third of those under the age of 12 have been exposed to pornographic images, voluntarily or involuntarily, and each month, nearly a third of boys under the age of 15 visit a pornographic website.
Often the first introduction to sexuality for children, pornography “builds an eroticisation of violence and domination relations, which become norms,” the authors write, adding that it “multiplies and encourages sexist, racist and homophobic stereotypes”.
A large number of recommendations focus on the issue of age verification for pornographic websites, which has proven to be legally tricky, even as several French associations have filed lawsuits against the major platforms.
A law passed in July 2020 requires pornographic websites to put in place age controls, but the Arcom media watchdog in charge of enforcing it has been ignored by the major sites, including Pornhub, Tukif, Xhamster, Xvideos and Xnxx.
The Senators would like to see Arcom given more power to register infractions and impose “dissuasive” sanctions.
Currently, agents must first get a legal ruling to be able to order Internet service providers to block sites in France that do not put in place age limits.
Another focus for children should be better sex education in schools to address issues of pornography.
Since 2001, primary, middle and high schools are required to provide at least three sessions a year on relationships and sexuality, but the report highlights the fact that the law “is absolutely not applied.
Students often receive just a few science classes dedicated to teaching reproduction” at the end of middle school.
Parents have pushed back and schools have not put in place adequate programmes, but the Senators say it is important to teach about sex and relationships instead of letting children learn it from pornography.
Early on in the audition process for the report, the Senators met with members of feminist organisations that fight against pornography and prostitution.
France has generally had a rather abolitionist approach to prostitution, making pimping and solicitation illegal, but not banning it outright.
Throughout the audition process, the Senators drew links between prostitution and pornography, but do not go so far as calling for banning pornography.
However, they write: “wishing to open everyone’s eyes on the global system of violence against women, the authors question the existence itself of the pornography industry”.
And yet, with some 19 million people visiting French pornography sites each month, the public and political debate will not be so much on banning, but creating a framework in which productions come under more scrutiny, and distribution platforms take more responsibility for who sees what.
French prosecutors have indicated that they want 17 men to stand trial over allegations of rape and other crimes committed in the production of online pornography.
Accusations against the men include rape, gang rape, organised human trafficking and aggravated pimping, committed during video production for the French Bukkake platform, according to prosecution documents.
The prosecutors’ call for a trial comes almost a year after French police made several arrests as part of a wider investigation into violence and human trafficking in France’s pornography industry.
The accused include the top manager of the platform, his associate, a talent recruiter and around 10 porn actors, the source said.
It is now up to two judges in charge of the investigation to decide whether the trial goes ahead.
Prosecutors believe the recruiter lured young, economically vulnerable women into participating in the filming of the videos in the full knowledge that they would be subjected to “aggravated rape”, according to the document.
Investigators believe the women were told the videos would only be accessible on private Canadian websites.
In fact, the films were viewable in France and the producers demanded large sums of cash from the women to remove them – only for the images to continue to circulate online.
Prosecutors said alcohol and drugs were commonplace during the shoots.
Female actors told prosecutors that they had not been warned before going on set of the type of sexual acts expected of them.
“Sexual acts were performed on them without warning, without them being able to comprehend them, and therefore without being able to give their consent,” the document said.
This Wednesday, March 1st, the Senate voted a resolution calling for the fight against pornographic violence to be made a public policy priority. We welcome this awareness and this salutary vote and invite the government to finally act.
On September 28, 2022, the Delegation of Women’s Rights of the Senate published a report entitled: “Porn, the hell of the decor”. After months of hearings, the findings are clear. The pornographic industry is a pimp industry in the most total illegality, which commits sexist and sexual violence on an industrial scale.
Multiple lawsuits, all over the world, are multiplying. In France, the producers are under investigation for rape, aggravated pimping, human trafficking, or acts of torture and barbarism. Dozens of women are speaking out to demand justice. Pornhub is accused in the USA of knowingly distributing child pornography.
The pornographic industry, which represents 27% of online videos, broadcasts millions of sexist, racist, pedocriminal and homophobic videos. Women are humiliated, violated and tortured.
Following this report, Senators Annick BILLON, Alexandra BORCHIO FONTIMP, Laurence COHEN, and Laurence ROSSIGNOL have decided to propose an ambitious resolution asking the government to make the fight against pornographic violence a public policy priority.
The resolution states:
“that the exploitation and commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality have become an industry on an international scale that generates several billion euros in profits each year” ;
“that pornographic contents are today accessible to all and to all, without any control of the proof of majority of the Internet users, in violation of the penal code;
“that these contents convey sexist, racist and homophobic representations, constituting criminal offences”;
“that the broadcasters, platforms and social networks, knowingly ignore their responsibilities;
“that pornography is a place of learning about sexuality by default, which generates a distorted and violent vision of sexuality, traumas, early sexualization and the development of risky behaviors”;
“that the numerous illicit contents published are never completely removed, even after they have been reported”.
This resolution calls for a collective awareness and asks the government to act, starting with an interministerial plan to fight against pornographic violence, and in particular by reinforcing the means at the penal level.
This text was presented by more than 250 signatories, including 7 group presidents, gathering a record number of co-signatures in the Senate under the Fifth Republic, thus showing a strong transparent consensus on this central issue.
We welcome the Senate resolution, voted unanimously yesterday. We demand that the government, as well as the institutions that are supposed to regulate the digital world, finally become aware of the absolute priority of the fight against pornographic violence. Pornography is the school and the legitimization of sexist and sexual violence. We firmly denounce the reluctance and refusal to act of ARCOM, the CNIL and PHAROS. Their responsibility is great in the persistence of the impunity of the pornocriminal industry.
According to information from the Parisian, Guillaume F., better known as an actor and producer in the world of porn under the name Rick Angel, was placed in police custody in the “French Bukkake” case. Passed by Sciences-Po Grenoble, he had also worked as an adviser to the Ministry of the Interior.
The “French Bukkake” affair continues to gain momentum. Since 2020, French justice has been investigating cases of rape in the pornography world for aggravated human trafficking, gang rape or even aggravated pimping. Since the start of the investigations, sixteen men have been indicted, including the producer “Pascal Op”, but also various actors or directors. This Tuesday, November 15, a new personality was arrested by the police.
According to information from our colleagues from Parisian , actor and producer Rick Angel has been taken into custody. While living for several months in South America, Guillaume F. of his real name gave himself up to the authorities. He is accused by several women of ” having imposed on them unplanned violent sexual practices during the shooting of his films “. Another element reproached to Rick Angel: he would have made the alleged victims believe that they were filming sequences which would only be broadcast abroad, when they were actually broadcast in France. Questioned by Le Parisien , a producer is particularly critical of Guillaume F. “I hate him, like Pascal Op, he lacks respect for women, full of gossip, pans. I never wanted to work with him. I don’t want to see it up close or from afar ,” he said.
Guillaume F. had played a role in French politics. Trained in particular at Sciences-Po Grenoble, he had landed a post as adviser to the Ministry of the Interior, while Michèle Alliot-Marie (UMP) was in place. He had to leave his post after colleagues discovered his activities in the pornographic world.
Control, rape and violence: we are far from the bonhomie claimed by the amateur porn site Jacquie et Michel. In the sights of justice, the boss is faced with sordid stories by several women revealed in “Le Parisien” and in “Le Monde”. A name also surfaces, that of Rick Angel, porn actor, formerly ministerial adviser…
Presented as a human-sized business of amateur porn under the sign of good humour, another face of Jacquie and Michel is revealed in this month of June. The details of the charges revealed by Le Parisien paint a very bleak picture of Michel Piron’s success story . In Le Monde , the stories are also shocking. Some plaintiffs have delivered their experience, far from consented debauchery. Corinne’s story is one of them and involves a former UMP adviser who was under the tutelage of Michèle Alliot-Marie, known as Rick Angel…
Recently divorced, Corinne, mother of two children, was manipulated ten years ago by a “lover boy” named Bastien, a recruiter who seduces emotionally fragile women to train them in prostitution or pornographic filming like ” proof of love”. His romantic date turns into a nightmare, reports Le Monde : ” On the platform of Montparnasse station, Michel Piron is waiting for him with Rick Angel, former technical adviser to the Ministry of the Interior at the time of Michèle Alliot-Marie, become a porn producer. As soon as she gets off the train, they film her, make her show her underwear in front of everyone. Arrived at the hotel, Corinne asks to contact Bastien, she wants to wait for him. Michel Piron reassures her,
The situation degenerates in the room, Corinne asks to leave but Michel would have caught up with her. ” Michel’s wife intervenes to tell him that Corinne is in pain” , specifies Le Monde. She stays alone at night, terrified. Then the video is put online without her having been paid, her professional entourage recognizes her in it and she loses permanent custody of her children. “ My brother called Michel Piron to tell him that I had lost everything because of him, that I had suicidal thoughts ,” she says daily.
Who is this Rick Angel? It is the stage name of a former ministerial adviser under Nicolas Sarkozy , a graduate of Sciences-Po Grenoble in 1996, adhering to the RPR. Very careerist, he rose through the ranks until he received a call from Alain Marleix’s chief of staff in 2008 who ” announced to him that they had discovered [his] porn films and that this posed a problem for Michèle Alliot -Marie, [his] supervisory minister [Minister of the Interior from 2007 to 2009]”, we read in The Obs . Which led to his dismissal three days later and the end of all political activity since, to devote himself to porn as an actor and producer.
A report by the French Senate emphasizes that “sexual, physical and verbal abuses are widespread in porn, making them systemic. They are not simulated but very real for the women who are being filmed.”
Trigger warning: The following article contains descriptions of abuse and exploitation that may be disturbing to some. Reader discretion advised.
The porn industry in France is being called out for massively exploitative and abusive business practices—here are the details.
The 150-page report shines a spotlight on the horrific conditions some porn performers are subjected to, the volume of pornographic content accessible to all, as well as the sexual violence perpetrated and conveyed by the mainstream porn industry—particularly its normalization of abuse against women. The senators say the porn industry is “predatory” and linked to “modern slavery.”
The report also calls for action by public authorities, making several recommendations to address the issue (more on that later).
Systemic violence against women
Interviews and testimonies from performers, sociologists, organizations, and numerous others in the report make it clear that since the emergence of widely accessible, mainstream porn sites like Pornhub in the mid-2000s, the vast distribution of porn has “contributed to an upsurge in increasingly violent content, without any control or consideration for the conditions in which this content is produced.”
The report paints a bleak picture, but one that’s important to be more widely known by the public. It calls out a system that “generates systemic violence against women, both those who find themselves in these productions and those who suffer from the sexuality modelled on the norms of violence conveyed by porn.”
As the report describes, there are “absolutely no rules or checks, not even regarding the use of condoms” and mainstream porn sites offer categories that include rape, with unambiguous keywords like “anal surprise,” “unintended facial,” “torture,” and “kidnapping.”
Clair Charles, a spokesperson for Les Effronté.es, says that these categories, and particularly those related to “confinement” aren’t pretend. Referring to videos available online, she said, “When the woman cries, she really cries.”
The report authors emphasize, “Sexual, physical and verbal abuses are widespread in porn, making them systemic. They are not simulated but very real for the women who are being filmed.”
In other words, there are very real rape videos and real videos of abuse on porn sites everywhere.
Ongoing investigations of the The French “amateur” porn industry
This is the first time that porn performers in France have been charged with rape. Several investigations are ongoing—specifically targeting the “amateur” porn site “Jacquie et Michel” and also the platform “French Bukkake.”
Just last month three actors and a director were taken into custody for aggravated human trafficking, gang rape, and aggravated pimping in the “French Bukkake” investigation which began in October 2022. Authorities have allegedly uncovered evidence of extensive abuse of vulnerable women subject to sexual violence and coerced into performing sex acts on and off camera by actors, directors and producers—in large part, an effort to satisfy consumer demand for an endless supply of new actresses and graphic video content.
A group of gender equality associations in support of the Senate’s report commented on the “French Bukkake” trial, saying, “These legal proceedings reveal the barbarity, violence, sexist and racist hatred of the French pornographic industry.”
He continues, “Some girls have said they were illegally confined, others say they were fed dog food. [The perpetrators] did everything they could to make the girls even more vulnerable and to wield power over them.”
In the “Jacquie et Michel” investigation, four men, including the site owner Michel Piron, are being accused of pimping, organized human trafficking, rape and accessory to rape, and rape-involving torture.
The young victims, many of whom were aspiring actresses, were interviewed by the senators for the French Report. They described being “ideal prey” in a calculated recruitment system by means of false Facebook or Instagram profiles.
One young woman explained, “We are spoken to every day. The person presents herself as an escort, she tells me that it’s wonderful, that it’s magic, that she has money… Behind this false profile of a girl, there was a man.”
“They knew I had money problems. I was the ideal prey for them, that’s how you get in there… I needed the money right away. I had to pay my bills and rent or I’d lose my flat.”
Investigators say the women were lured into participating under false pretences—like being told the videos would only be accessible on private Canadian websites, then later discovering they were viewable in France. Producers demanded large sums of cash (between €3,000 and €5,000) when the women requested the videos be taken down. And for those who did pay, their images continued to circulate online.
One woman described being forced into sex acts that left her in pain, another was allegedly coerced and forced to engage in a sexual act with a man who was not wearing a condom—the man lied about testing negative for sexually transmitted diseases and actually had herpes, the woman said.
The report urges 23 recommendations for public authorities, including ways to help prevent minors from accessing porn like age verification requirements on devices and imposing fines on porn sites accessible to minors, strengthening legal means to better protect performers, and the facilitation of deleting online videos.
The Senate’s report found that out of an average 19.3 million individual visitors to adult sites per month in France, 12% are minors.
Professor Neil Thurman from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany says, “The technology [to keep minors from accessing porn sites] is reasonably well advanced. It’s just that porn sites don’t want to reduce their numbers by putting on a block on visitors if they don’t absolutely have to.”
Report authors said they aim to alert the government and the broader public to the massive scale of this issue, and the “massive, ordinary and toxic” viewing of porn by children despite French law requiring viewers to be at least 18 years old.
Annick Billon, a co-author of the report and president of the senate’s delegation, said, “We must stop having an old, distorted, watered-down view of porn. Porn today includes violent, degrading, humiliating contents… Scenes in which a man, most often several men, up to 50, are inflicting physical and sexual abuse to women have become standard.”
Be part of the solution
Questions arise about how effective attempts to block access to porn sites by minors could be. It can be pretty simple to circumvent restrictions. Plus, 30% of French 15 to 17-year-olds find pornographic content through social media, which would not be restricted.
What’s happening in France is a reality check that while performers—particularly women—have long been portrayed and assumed as consenting to all of the content they’re in, that this simply isn’t the case.
Sexual exploitation can have many forms, and when you become familiar with the actual definition of sex trafficking by the TVPA— “a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age”—it opens your eyes to just how predatory the porn industry really is.
Presumably consenting performers are too often anything but. Consent can never be assumed. In fact, sex trafficking most commonly happens when performers are coerced, forced, and manipulated to endure more for a scene than they were initially informed about or agreed to. And, as the investigations in France are revealing, performers are even blatantly abused, dehumanized, and degraded to the level of commodities to be consumed.
The fact is, exploitation happens in every country, in every corner of the world—France isn’t the only place where the porn industry needs to be under investigation. This is a global issue that can negatively affect performers, viewers of all ages, society as a whole, and impacts how we as humans interact with one another in various relationships.
Each area of the world is part of the problem, and can also be part of the solution. A great place to start is at the core of the issue: holding the industry accountable. When it comes to sharing the facts and giving a voice to those who have been victimized by the industry, we’re here for it—are you?
For more than 3 years, gendarmerie and police services have been investigating the practices of several companies in the pornographic industry in France. Three investigating judges are carrying out sprawling investigations, and have already indicted around twenty people, for “aggravated pimping”, “money laundering”, “rape in meetings”, “aggravated trafficking in human beings” or “concealed work”. The file, which targets the “French Bukkake” site and the “Jacquie et Michel” site, is also closely followed by Le Monde and Le Parisien, who have published numerous testimonials. A Senate report, presented on September 28, 2022, relays some of this gigantic work to alert people to this industry. Please note that the following testimonials are likely to offend the sensibilities of some readers.
“Burn” girls for money
The various journalistic investigations and the Senate report highlight the financial windfall generated by Internet pornography via advertising and subscriptions. An industry that represents a third of global online traffic. The essential starting point for this lucrative business: finding young women to shoot videos. And some production companies would have developed real systems of predation, attacking young adults who are vulnerable and in a situation of great financial precariousness. “It is a question of exploiting them to the maximum, before they are, according to the term of one of the producers, “burned””, writes Le Monde, which has published several long formats on the subject. “Disguised rape under the pretext of videos. Actors and producers had all the freedoms”, attests to the newspaper a man who would have participated in filming of “French Bukkake”.
Acts without consent and humiliation
This is the common denominator of most of the testimonies collected by the courts and by journalists, on the Jacquie et Michel and French Bukkake cases: the cases of unwanted penetration, of violent and humiliating situations, imposed, are described by the victims presumed. The world relays the testimony of Jessica (her name has been changed), who would have been forced into scenes “in which sodomy and the number of partners are forced”. She says she was conditioned to be an active member of the Jacquie et Michel network, for promotional events in nightclubs. “When we went to these establishments, we were objects. I received 300 euros per evening and, each evening, the owner of the establishment had the right to his fellatio, it was included in the price, it was humiliating “, she says.
Tales of rape and assault by the dozens
The testimonies are legion in the investigation reports and in the investigative work of Le Monde. That of Jessica led justice to indict and remand a director. This one, called “Dorian”, who collaborated with the site “Jacquie and Michel”, would have led the young woman to carry out scenes of “submission” promising her that they were “only fake”. However, Jessica claims to have been tied to a tree, whipped, and very savagely abused. “There, eight men arrived, all hooded. Me, I was in pain and I was trying to push back my attackers and I thought I was going to live my last hour,” she reportedly told the police. And to add: “I even tried to kill myself by hanging, but the cable gave way. I felt dirty and submissive, I no longer wanted to live,” she told journalists from Le Monde.
Recruitment “by trickery” and psychological demolition
The testimonies collected would make it possible to identify operating methods, aimed at conditioning the victims to the sufferings they will endure. One of them tells Le Monde the story of a banal encounter with a lingerie photographer, Jack Wood, before he took her to pornographic shoots: “He threw me on the bed, undressed me by force and penetrated me (…) I was stuck, I was afraid of physical violence, I let myself be done”, indicates the young woman. Jack Wood would have actually worked for Jacquie and Michel. He is now on trial. “The first rape plays a very specific function, that of breaking the defences and resistance of women, it is a psychic explosion for the victims, therefore an acquired submission for pimps”, explains au Monde Me Lorraine Questiaux, lawyer for several plaintiffs.
Shame, amazement and drugs
The main indicted in the case is Pascal Ollitrault, 60, creator of the “French Bukkake” site. A site specializing in videos showing single women, facing many partners, sometimes 8, sometimes 15 or 50. Some actors are actually “subscribers” who paid 29 euros to access content. “Pascal OP” is presented as one of the figures of extreme excesses implanted without industry; He denied any act of rape and replied to the investigators, faced with the statements of around fifty victims, that they never left the filming. But one element is taken into consideration by the judges: fear and amazement. “There is this pressure from (…) all these men in a room, we are the only girl”, indicates a complainant to Le Monde. Young women have also indicated that they have regularly taken narcotics and alcohol to endure the violence, under the orders of the producers.
“More and more trashy and violent”
It is undoubtedly this state of affairs which conditions all the new pornographic practices. In its report on the subject , entitled “Porn: the hell of the décor”, presented on September 28, 2022, the Senate points to a notable evolution of pornography: “The appearance of increasingly “trashy” and violent content” , “the uploading of often pirated videos, without any control or consideration for the conditions under which this content is produced”. Beyond the testimonies of the victims, the parliamentarians point to a global phenomenon that goes beyond the cases observed by recent judicial inquiries. The senators denounce a “new economic and commercial model in which systemic violence against women have become the norm”.
“When the woman cries, she really cries”
The Senate report takes up elements raised by the investigators of the French Bukkake file, but also testimonies from victims. The document also provoked comments from associations familiar with the case and the recurring accusations against the industry. Claire Charlès, spokesperson for the association Les Effronté.es, insists in particular, with BFMTV, on the poorly perceived suffering of victims of “hardcore” filming: “On pornographic sites, you will find videos by category: the rape category, with unambiguous keywords: anal surprise, taken by surprise, unwanted facial … These are incitements to commit crimes. […] There are also categories of kidnapping or forcible confinement […] It’s not fake. When the woman cries, she really cries,” she said.
“Acts of torture and barbarism”
The Senate report also mentions “imposed sexual practices to which the victims had not consented, physical and sexual violence, a quasi process of ‘dehumanization'”. A young woman told the rapporteurs: “No one can suffer this kind of violence. I say it with a lot of hindsight, what I experienced was of the order of torture, I protected myself by putting myself in robot mode”. Scenes of mutilating sexual violence are notably described. “I am held and another person enters me. (…) This scene ends, I go to the toilet and I bleed, it was not in the scenario. A second scene begins, on the floor. I did not know what was going to happen. From the moment the guy takes off his pants, it’s no longer cinema, I’m afraid he’ll come and take me by surprise. The next morning, I undergo another scene”.
“From the start, they tried to dehumanize me”
A harrowing testimony was collected by the senators in the French Bukkake affair. A young woman recounted having had to “eat the same food given to the producer’s dogs, a chicken carcass as the only meal for several days”: “From the start, they tried to dehumanize me, to treat me like an object. Yet I did, I ate the dog’s food. I had no self-esteem anymore,” said the young woman. Another insists: “No one, apart from women who have experienced similar things, knows what is really going on on these shoots, in this environment. […] We are in pain, we are powerless, we are being insulted, the goal is for us to obey. We are in a form of total submission. And we tell ourselves that we have agreed to be there. Then there was a shooting with another man, another rape, forced sodomy, yet this person was aware of everything that I refused”.
“Specifications” on “abominable” practices
In the “Jacquie et Michel” file, which the police are investigating, the testimonies of victims converge on one element: if the producers and managers of the site would have developed a whole imagination around the “ordinary woman” consenting to “wild” libertinism, the stories reported show real constraints. “The videos must meet certain specifications (…), we are imposed these abominable practices, comparable to torture, mockery, insults”, indicates an alleged victim to World. “I wanted to cry, but I had to pretend that everything was fine.” As the Senate report points out, most porn sites feature violent content. On Jacquie and Michel, the “wild sex category” offers videos where “the pain is intensely proportional to the orgasm they reach at the end. The harder it is, the more they love it”.
Fortunes to remove the videos
Another compensation mechanism has emerged as highly developed in the porn industry: people exploiting actresses would demand huge sums of money to remove videos that young women no longer want to see online. “The amount is much higher than the low compensation they received on the set, completing the financial and psychological ruin”, indicate in particular the journalists of Le Monde. The Senate report even indicates that “the victims informed the rapporteurs of the delegation of their virtual impossibility of obtaining, thereafter, the withdrawal of the videos of the scenes shot”. The Senate adds that in exchange for such a withdrawal, “one of the victims was offered to ‘become his sex slave for life’ or to practice in brothels in Brussels for a lifetime annuity”.
Videos broadcast everywhere and blackmail
The operators of the videos know, moreover, the power of nuisance represented by a potential general distribution of the films shot by the actresses. Actresses have clearly mentioned threats of blackmail in the event of requests for the removal of said videos. To stop these requests, operators would have indicated that it was possible for them to send extracts – often degrading and violent – to relatives, colleagues, children’s teachers, parents or family members. A threat taken seriously, especially since the virality of this content is already creating very serious problems. A victim in particular mentioned a video which “was everywhere, on social networks, on Facebook, on Twitter, on sites accessible from France and abroad”: “It went around the world, until in New York and Montreal. I was harassed at the bottom of my house, I received threatening letters“.
Actresses “sold” to other productions
This is an element that is mentioned by the investigative journalists of Le Monde: some young exploited women would have been “sold to other productions, for a commission”. As the media indicates, if this fact is legally established, then these practices could be requalified as “pimping”, “a legal turning point feared by the pornography sector”. Le Monde notably publishes an exchange of SMS between Pascal OP (quoted above) and a collaborator: “Who are we selling it to? Answer: “Celian [another director] will take it on the bank com [commission]. (…). Big tit obliged”. Then comes this confirmation: “G sent big black to Celian we will ask him 100/150 €”. The alleged facts, despite numerous examples are vigorously contested by the defendants’ lawyers.
A “respectful” pornography, but little distributed
The Senate report is very alarming, it specifies that there are several genres of pornography. Sonny Perseil, doctor HDR in political science, questioned by the parliamentarians, estimates for example that one “can speak of plural pornography or pornographies. They are extremely diversified”. And to add: “There are productions without any violence, with only consenting adults who know very well what they are doing, who master the framework of their activity. They refuse or accept roles according to their own choice and negotiate certain benefits or reject them. The situations are multiple.” However, studies show that 90% of the pornography consumed is “hardcore” and violent. “There is ‘ethical’ porn, but it represents 0,001% of the market, it is not what consumers are looking for”, regrets Senator Laurence Rossignol with the world.
Children exposed very early
The Senate report points to the extreme excesses of certain productions, but also insists on a societal phenomenon: pornographic images and videos – even the most violent – have become very easily accessible by the youngest. “Two thirds of children under 15 and a third of those under 12 have already been exposed to pornographic images, voluntarily or involuntarily. Nearly a third of boys under 15 visit a porn site at least once a month”, can we read in the document, which specifies that “certain contents are undoubtedly illicit and their diffusion is reprehensible.” Figures transmitted by the association Dare feminism! in the Senate indicates Pornhub, global online porn giant, lists 71,608 videos praising the incest and pedocrime, as well as 2,462 videos with the keyword “torture”.
Where are the legal proceedings?
What you must remember:
In France, two judicial inquiries are underway concerning pornographic productions:
The one concerning Pascal OP and his French Bukkake site. In this case, 16 people are indicted – actors, directors – producers – and most are in pre-trial detention.
The one concerning the Jacquie et Michel site, the largest French pornography site. In this case, the owner of the site, Michel Piron, is indicted for complicity in rape and trafficking in human beings in an organized gang.
An investigation for “rape” and “pimping” was opened against the pornographic site Jacquie et Michel and the owner of the site was placed in police custody on Tuesday, June 14. Since then, the testimonies have been linked.
After Nikita Bellucci, it’s Liza Del Sierra’s turn to break the silence. Michel Piron, the owner of the famous pornographic site Jacquie et Michel and four other people were placed in police custody on Tuesday June 14 in an investigation opened in Paris for rape and pimpingin July 2020, indicates BFM TV. Since then, the testimonies of pornographic actresses have emerged to denounce the abuses of the environment.
Of course there is a problem. Under the guise of an amateur, we allow ourselves to do anything while there is profit. And if there’s profit, we’re no longer an amateur
This Wednesday, June 15 on BFM TV, Liza Del Sierra, director, producer and former actress of pornographic films, returned to these abuses. She denounces in particular the absence of rules: “When an actress or a young woman decides to act amateur, inevitably, I think that she is more vulnerable. I sincerely think so because there is no rules”.
If the actresses advise each other, they are also confronted with a sometimes precarious economic reality, details the young woman.
She concludes her interview with our colleagues by saying that she hopes that this case will not harm the “fight led for the recognition of the profession”.
This Tuesday, Nikita Bellucci, actress, producer and activist for “ethical porn” demanded an “apology” from Jacquie and Michel: “The work of justice is going to be very long, but it has to stop,” she warned.
“(Asked about his stance on pornography, in response to perceived endorsement of Hustler, who had tricked Chomsky into giving an interview for the magazine.)
Pornography is humiliation and degradation of women. It’s a disgraceful activity. I don’t want to be associated with it. Just take a look at the pictures. I mean, women are degraded as vulgar sex objects. That’s not what human beings are. I don’t even see anything to discuss.
(Interviewer: But didn’t performers choose to do the job and get paid?)
The fact that people agree to it and are paid, is about as convincing as the fact that we should be in favour of sweatshops in China, where women are locked into a factory and work fifteen hours a day, and then the factory burns down and they all die. Yeah, they were paid and they consented, but it doesn’t make me in favour of it, so that argument we can’t even talk about.
As for the fact that it’s some people’s erotica, well you know that’s their problem, doesn’t mean I have to contribute to it. If they get enjoyment out of humiliation of women, they have a problem, but it’s nothing I want to contribute to.
(Interviewer: How should we improve the production conditions of pornography?)
By eliminating degradation of women, that would improve it. Just like child abuse, you don’t want to make it better child abuse, you want to stop child abuse.
Suppose there’s a starving child in the slums, and you say “well, I’ll give you food if you’ll let me abuse you.” Suppose—well, there happen to be laws against child abuse, fortunately—but suppose someone were to give you an argument. Well, you know, after all a child’s starving otherwise, so you’re taking away their chance to get some food if you ban abuse. I mean, is that an argument?
The answer to that is stop the conditions in which the child is starving, and the same is true here. Eliminate the conditions in which women can’t get decent jobs, not permit abusive and destructive behaviour.”
Holly Madison, Rashida Jones’ Hot Girls Wanted, and Miriam Weeks (aka Belle Knox) shed light on a misunderstood phenomenon.
“Who has seen Rashida Jones’ new documentary Hot Girls Wanted?” Holly Madison asked her followers on Twitter earlier this month. “I think every girl should have to see it before she turns 18.”
Five years ago, Madison might not have been the kind of public voice encouraging people to view a documentary on the dangers and exploitation of girls in amateur porn. In fact, it’s more likely that you knew Madison from a little reality TV show called The Girls Next Door, which chronicled life in the Playboy mansion—where Madison lived as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend.
Madison’s book Down the Rabbit Hole, which tells of her years at Playboy, has spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list since its release June 23. It’s a page-turning story of caution and regret. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities I’ve read in stories of women who were exploited in the sex industry.
“Exploited?” A friend gaped when I brought this up in conversation recently. “Holly Madison was living large at the Playboy mansion. She got whatever she wanted and threw huge parties where everyone was at her beck and call. She became a Las Vegas star after that. Who could say that she was exploited? She certainly gained a lot from that arrangement.”
But ask Holly Madison. Ask Tressa, a subject in Rashida Jones’ new documentary Hot Girls Wanted. Ask Miriam Weeks, whose story of trying to pay her Duke tuition bill by moonlighting as porn star Belle Knox went viral last year. Say what you will about these women being willing participants in their sex-based careers. What’s clear from the stories surfacing is that this is an industry with a lot of manipulation and very little regulation.
How do you convince a woman with dreams of a better life that this isn’t a road worth traveling down?
That’s exactly what Madison’s book is trying to do. Sure, Madison became famous from her connections to Playboy. But did you know that she wasn’t paid for the entire first season of TheGirls Next Door? That once the show was renewed, they pretty much forced her to sign a contract that she couldn’t leave her relationship with Hefner? That she was deceived by Playboy residents into believing that Hefner’s girlfriends were just arm candy for the old man before being pushed into unwanted sexual relations when she was incoherently drunk? That she was offered Quaaludes? Once she was sucked into the “Playboy vortex,” as she calls it, her movements were constantly monitored. She was subject to a strict curfew, had limited access to the outside world, and was literally followed by Hefner’s men when she had a rare night on her own. As Madison puts it, “Many people assume Playboy was my blessing, but most don’t know it was also my curse.”
These examples from Madison’s book are just a few of the similarities her story shares with countless other women who have been involved in the sex industry—unjust distribution of income, tight leashes, deceit and manipulation, and unwanted sexual relations, among others. As it turns out, Playboy, which can seem high-end and almost family-friendly on the spectrum of adult offerings (I mean, Marilyn Monroe appeared in it, right?), is in fact not immune to the same risks and abuses prevalent in other seedier corners of the industry.
Bait and Switch
Watching Hot Girls Wanted, released earlier this year and now viewable on Netflix, is like watching Spring Breakers, except instead of being about girls on spring break, it’s about girls in porn, and the film doesn’t end with the girls having a triumphant shooting rampage (oh, and it is well done and worth seeing). OK, actually it is nothing like Spring Breakers. Except that they’re both dark and depressing.
Hot Girls Wanted shows the behind-the-scenes life of young women doing amateur porn in Miami, Florida. Most of the women have just turned 18 and found the gig by answering online job listings. One of the women interviewed for the documentary, Tressa, says she found the ad “on Craiglist under TV and radio jobs.” According to a male porn actor interviewed in the film, “There’s an influx of girls who wanna do porn. 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.”
There’s also the story of Miriam Weeks. Known in the porn world as Belle Knox, or the “Duke University porn star,” Weeks was unexpectedly outed by classmates and has since shared her story in the web series Becoming Belle Knox. Weeks explains, “I thought this would be a part-time job, but I was so naive to think I could do that . . . you can’t just do a part-time job, you have to constantly be your porn alter ego.”
All these stories share, to varying degrees, common elements that should disturb us. These were women in dire financial need who felt they had limited options. Once they were “in it,” their options became even more limited. In many cases the women say they were given a much different picture than reality. They felt pressured to go along with sexual encounters even when they felt uncomfortable; under the control of skilled manipulators, things often happened faster than they could process in time to say no.
Madison was broke and had just been kicked out of her apartment when she was offered the option of staying at the Playboy mansion. The girls in Hot Girls Wanted were 18 years old with little to no other job history. Weeks felt the financial pinch to provide for her college expenses. Do we see a theme? When it comes to women joining the sex industry, most are approached by predators who aim for women who are young, naive, and in financial straits. In Becoming Belle Knox, Weeks reveals her bleak perspective that led to her porn career: “Life is debts, and life is bills, and life is making adult decisions.”
Unfortunately for many women, despite their entering the industry out of financial need, they don’t make as much as they imagined. “There [are] a lot of expenses with doing porn,” Weeks said after counting her earnings from a promotional display at a porn convention and mentally calculating her total income after expenses. “Being a porn star was very expensive,” Tressa echoes in Hot Girls Wanted. “Rent, nails, makeup, food, flights, and then 10 percent for Riley. I only made $25,000 in four months. And after I got out I had $2,000 in my bank account.”
That’s mind-boggling when you consider just how much money is in the business of porn. According to research conducted by Debby Herbenick and Bryant Paul of The Kinsey Institute for Hot Girls Wanted, “More people visit porn sites each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. More and more of what people watch is ‘pro-am’ porn—videos featuring paid amateurs. . . . A vast amount of online pornography can be seen for free, but many pro-am websites featuring brand new girls charge subscription fees. The top three are worth an estimated $50 million.” The porn industry overall makes more than $13 billion in profit every year. For context, that’s more than Hollywood, which makes around $8 billion. That’s also more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix combined.
Despite women being the main commodity, a male ringleader usually makes the most bank by controlling the women. In Hot Girls Wanted it was Riley, a combo landlord and booking agent who recruited the girls on Craigslist. “I drive my girls to and from shoots, and I make . . . good money,” he says in the film. In the case of Madison and the other girls at the Playboy mansion, the ringleader was the famous Hugh Hefner. Weeks was more of a free agent. She says in Becoming Belle Knox that she’s “so used to being always on the lookout for scammers or people who are going to try to pimp [her] out or traffic [her].” Comments like this are a testament to just how at-large pimping and trafficking are in the sex industry. And how skilled manipulation is often used to lure women into it.
While Madison made enemies in the Playboy mansion for her refusal to participate in prostitution for outside escort services, she found out that many women associated with Playboy were lured in. “Girls were routinely convinced that these men were willing to pay a premium for simply the pleasure of their company and not necessarily for sex—but from what I understand, that was almost never the case,” she writes in Down the Rabbit Hole.
In addition to drawing in those in financial need and taking a cut from their earnings, working in the sex industry offers neither good job security (generally their job lasts only as long as their youthful looks) nor options for employment after they leave. As Madison found out, “Being attached to Playboy can make people not want to have anything to do with you, even in quirky, crazy Hollywood. 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.”
Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Another glaring issue brought to light by these women’s stories is the prevalence of abuse and rape in the sex industry.
Rough. That’s the word that seems to come to mind first when girls in amateur porn describe a scene they didn’t like. “It was a really, really, really rough scene,” Weeks said about her first dip into porn. “I wasn’t prepared for how rough it was.”
Weeks is referring to her first porn set, where she was physically beaten and choked as the cameras rolled. It’s an experience that amateur porn actresses face on a regular basis—signing on for one thing (a porn scene as it was described to you, for a certain amount of money), but then being forced to do something else while the cameras roll. It’s not uncommon for women to get physically beaten or forced to do a sexual act they weren’t informed of beforehand. Before Weeks’ scene where she is recorded on camera getting “ass-kicked,” Weeks had been told, “It’s not that bad; they’ll be very nice to you.” Despite her initial no, she ultimately agreed; $1200 was “fast, easy money” after all—or, at least, it was fast.
It turns out that formerly agreed-upon terms change very frequently on porn sets—once the actresses have already flown to the location, are in compromised positions, and feel they don’t have the option to decline.
That wasn’t the only scene in which Weeks had an unwanted sexual encounter. As she further describes in Becoming Belle Knox, her agent intentionally didn’t give her details about a porn shoot until she had committed to it. By the time she was informed the man was 50 years old, she felt her hands were tied, and she couldn’t say no. She would get fined and never hired from the company again. She went through with it “for professionalism,” she says. Despite feeling “like crying during the entire scene” and afterward feeling “really upset,” Weeks concluded that “even if your boundaries are disrespected, you should do the scene anyway.”
Employing “force, fraud, or coercion” in commercial sex acts is what is known as the crime of sex trafficking. Weeks may not have a sole person pimping her, but what she’s subjected to is dangerously close to sex trafficking, if not definitively so.
Weeks’ experience mirrored some of those recorded in the Hot Girls Wanted documentary. “Today was just so horrible,” Tressa said after doing a bondage scene. “That last part I hated so much,” a woman named Rachel says after a scene that was particularly painful. For Rachel’s scene, the director told the actors, “You kinda never get that yes,” suggesting that the forbidden nature of the sex act would make it more titillating for viewers. Turns out, in many cases, what’s true for the porn-fantasy script is true in reality. You kinda never get that yes.
At least 40 percent of porn depicts violence against women, according to Hot Girls Wanted. Among such trends are forced blow jobs to the point of making girls vomit (called “facial abuse” in porn lingo). “I was scared,” Rachel told a roommate after a rough scene. “I didn’t know that I could tell him no, or the fact that we had already recorded fifteen minutes that I could f***ing leave . . . then what? Then I understand that that’s how rape victims feel.”
“It’s really not that hard to take advantage of an 18-year-old [who’s] f***ing on camera,” Tressa says, reflecting on her time in porn. “I mean, most girls when I was in the industry would say yes to anything; if it had a dollar sign, sign me up.”
According to Herbenick and Paul’s research for Hot Girls Wanted, “In 2014, abuse porn websites averaged over 60 million combined hits per month—more hits than nfl.com, nba.com, hotwire.com, cbs.com, fortune.com, disney.com, and nbcnews.com.” Other researchers found that 88.2 percent of top-rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts; in 70 percent of occurrences, a man is the aggressor, and 94 percent of the time the violence is directed toward a woman.
As it happens, the forced smiles of women in the sex industry are just a fantasy. Far from enjoying the sexcapades, women are often just trying to grin and bear it. “It wasn’t even arousing . . . a lot of porn is like that,” Rachel says after one of her rougher scenes. “It’s all about the guy getting off.”
Although there was less violence, the same was true in the Playboy mansion. “I have never had a more disconnected experience,” Madison says of her first sexual encounter in the mansion. “There was zero intimacy involved.” That was the first of what became a routine experience twice a week. According to Madison’s book, the girlfriends would be expected to have a night out and then partake in Hefner’s bedroom schedule, which included the girls mimicking porn-like behavior with porn in the background, Hefner going from girl to girl without asking consent, and then climaxing by himself, again watching porn. Madison says that first time “weighed heavily” on her and was just the first on a long list of mistreatments she experienced at the mansion.
The Long Way Around
It may confuse some readers to understand why women don’t run kicking and screaming from scenarios like these. To be fair, many do. But still many others, once they experience something like this, experience a mess of emotions that includes a fear of facing their violation and a desire to feel in control—to own it, in other words. Mix this with a heavy dose of psychological manipulation from someone who’s likely an experienced predator, and you’ve got a girl who might not have an easy exit strategy.
“While I had come into the mansion looking for a temporary safe harbor and a possible stepping-stone to a Hollywood career,” Madison says, “I had fallen down a rabbit hole of nasty girls, a degrading love life, eroded self-esteem, and total fear of judgment from the outside world. . . . I just couldn’t admit to myself that I had made a terrible choice moving into the mansion in the first place. It was cognitive dissonance at its finest.”
Madison further explained, “It took years for me to realize just how manipulated and used I had been. I could never admit that to myself at the time because to do so would have been to acknowledge how dark and scary a situation I was in . . . and how very little in control I was.”
After reading Madison’s book, one can’t help but cringe to hear Weeks say, as she does in Becoming Belle Knox with a nervous laugh,“I have my identity, I know what I need, and I know what I want, sometimes . . . with porn everything is on my terms, I can say no whenever I want to, I am in control.” Viewers hear this moments before she promotes herself at a convention booth. “This movie is coming out; I get gangbanged; they put a collar and a leash on me; it’s really hot. I like rough stuff.” Rough, indeed.
A Line in the Sand
Are Holly and Tressa and Rachel and Miriam total victims though?
Well, yes and no.
Did they know what they were getting into? Yes, to the extent that they knew this was racy; this was risky. They may have even gone to a lot of effort to make themselves look desirable for the industry. But the no is a big no. No, because they didn’t know the extent to which they’d be abused, whether verbally or physically. No, because in many ways they were deceived and conned along the way. No, because they didn’t have full knowledge of the costs.
Did they make bad choices? Sure. (As Madison puts it, “I hope that sharing my mistakes can prevent someone else from making similar ones or give someone the courage to leave a bad situation.”) Can they bounce back? Sure, some are incredibly resilient. But was what happened wrong? Yes. It is wrong for others to gain profit and pleasure off the profound mistreatment of women.
We already have a national crisis of sexual assault and abuse not being reported; it’s only worse for women who’ve signed up for it and feel they don’t have any recourse. Women who are abused in the sex industry and do seek legal help are often slandered or discredited; they have few advocates in the public square besides a small community of other women who have also left the industry.
All the same, the public view of the sex industry, whether porn or Playboy, is that it is something the women freely choose and get justly compensated for. The myth that there’s such a thing as a high-end, no-abuse zone within the sex industry endures. Madison thought that was the Playboy Mansion. Weeks thought that was the California shoot she flew to on a three-day weekend. The young women in Jones’ documentary thought it was the gig in Miami. Turns out that what they had expected was very different from reality; all they had been exposed to was the media’s portrayal as it’s marketed to the public. Which is, of course, just fantasy.
But it’s a tempting fantasy, even for those in it. Many try to suggest, even if just a little bit, that sex work isn’t always bad. There are some humane cases of sex industry work; there are even feminist ways you can portray porn. No one wants to say all porn is bad, lest they sound like a moral extremist or a prude. Even Rashida Jones, who produced Hot Girls Wanted,has said, “I have no problem with porn. . . . I think it’s great that we have the freedom to explore our sexual fantasies and that there are tools to do that. The problem [for] me is that there’s no regulation in the industry.”
But what if these trends we see, from Belle Knox to Playboy to Miami, all point to something—that the sex industry, which exploits large swaths of women, is innately harmful? That it has always relied on the same thing to make money—dehumanizing vulnerable women for profit. To deny this is to endanger future girls. Perpetuating the fake story line for one more girl to buy in to—to think that, yet again, their brush with the sex industry will be different—is something very dangerous.
Toward the end of Hot Girls Wanted, one of the more seasoned porn actresses hears about Duke’s new amateur star, Belle Knox, including her abusive scene for a porn site she, too, knows well. “Facial abuse is, like, extra degrading,” she exclaims. “Not everybody can come back from that. I can tell by the way that she talks about it. . . . I mean, she doesn’t talk about it. She was one of those girls who didn’t know what she was getting herself into.”
The more we perpetuate the myth of healthy, happy porn careers, the more we make believe that it’s possible to have Marilyn Monroe’s highs without her lows. And, sadly, the more women will wander down the rabbit hole, thinking they’re the exception, not the rule.