I had never strayed far from a “vanilla” sex life until my ex-boyfriend slapped me in the face during a kiss. This was very early on in the relationship. I did not see it for the bright red flag it was. I balked, mouth agape and asked him, “What the hell was that?!” He simply told me “I thought you’d like it,” as if it was something so common it didn’t even cross his mind to ask.
Even though the slap was an unwelcome and unexpected intrusion, I brushed it off. The friend who introduced me to him told me he was into some kinky stuff, describing him as reminiscent of the man from 50 Shades of Grey. I ignored the violation. Maybe he was used to women who did that sort of stuff. We continued seeing each other, and he didn’t slap me again. At least, not until after he’d systematically groomed me into accepting it.
Now I understand the initial boundary violation for what it was: a test. He wanted to know what he could get away with. At first I had a strong reaction to physical abuse. However, he slowly broke down my boundaries, becoming increasingly violent and verbally abusive during sex.
Throughout the relationship he subtly emotionally abused me outside the bedroom, and outright physically assaulted me—but “only” during sex. It took me nearly two years to extricate myself from an extremely abusive relationship. I wholeheartedly believe I would have been able to clearly see the abuse, if not for the normalization of many of his behaviors by pornography.
I began to be disturbed by the things he said during sex. He called me a stupid sl*t, worthless, a slave. There was genuine hatred in his eyes when he strangled and hit me. If I brought up my discomfort with the things he said during sex, he casually brushed it off, saying it was “just sex, it doesn’t mean anything.” His excuse that he didn’t mean anything during sex seems to be fairly common among men.
It was as though he had two distinct personalities.
Immediately after sex he became a caring and loving partner. He would get me water, hold me, and act as though he hadn’t strangled me and told me he wanted to kill me. Within the BDSM community, this is known as “aftercare,” but I believe it is a form of trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is a psychological term for a deep connection with one’s abuser, especially when the abuse occurs as a cycle: periods of abuse and periods of regret or “fixed” behavior.
Outside the bedroom, we had a “normal” relationship. We went on romantic dates, hiking trips, adventured, made plans to go skydiving, and had regular board game nights with friends. When I got sick he took care of me. We were outwardly a happy couple. My family liked him, and my uncle even told me I should marry the guy. Nobody knew I’d tried leaving him twice, and he’d followed me in his car while I tried to find somewhere to hide. Nobody knew he’d held me down in our shared home and wouldn’t let me out the door until I threatened to scream. Nobody knew the police had been called by a good Samaritan after he wouldn’t stop following me. He ended up taking my dog so I’d have to go back to his place. I couldn’t leave. There was no way out, nowhere to go where I’d be safe. I couldn’t tell anyone. I stayed.
I remember the look on his face after he anally raped me. I was bleeding. Wide eyed, he profusely apologized. He claimed he didn’t think it hurt me—even though I had repeatedly cried “Stop!”
He hadn’t stopped. He promised me he wouldn’t do it again (he lied). There were tears in his eyes. I forgave him. I knew it was no accident but I couldn’t bring myself to face the fact that my partner raped me. It was easier to ignore the truth. He got carried away. It was an accident.
He loves me, he’s sorry.
The sexual and emotional abuse took a toll. I became depressed and withdrawn. When I mentioned I’d like to go back to university to finish my degree, he asked me, “Are you sure you can do it? I think it’ll just be a waste of money.” Maybe I really was too stupid. Worthless. I didn’t apply.
I made friends with a woman I worked with. My abuser didn’t like her, and would have panic attacks when I’d make plans to see her. He went out of town one weekend and I took the opportunity to meet up with my friend. After a few drinks I started crying. I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
I told her everything. He showed up at her house that night, stood outside her window and listened to us talk. I don’t know how long he watched us, but when we spotted him outside a jolt of fear ran down my spine. My friend’s male roommate forced him to leave. The woman I’d only known tangentially opened her home to me. She let me stay until I was able to move as far as possible from my abuser. I owe her my life and freedom.
After I left him I wrote about the harassment, emotional abuse, and coercive control I’d survived. He was calling me at least 30 times a day, texting incessantly. He called my own mother multiple times to tell her how “crazy” I was for leaving him after I blocked him. He got new numbers and continued to harass me. One of my close friends (ironically the woman who introduced us) refused to believe me because “he’s a great guy, you’re blowing this all out of proportion.” Public shame didn’t deter him from attempting to contact me. He claimed repeatedly he was moving across the country to be with me. Only after I threatened him with a restraining order did he stop contacting me. He was terrified of law enforcement, and cleverly hid his abuse within acceptable confines to escape legal consequences.
BDSM acts as a magnet for abusers. It’s an easy out, when your partner “consents” to being harmed. Even those who aren’t abusive may become desensitized to extremely abusive acts common in porn. Children are being exposed to porn, and internalizing what they see. Younger and younger girls are expected to accept violence during sex. Teen Vogue has written articles grooming young girls to accept BDSM, strangulation, and anal sex—so long as it’s “consensual.” Can one truly consent to an act that is expected as part of “normal” sex?
Many people within the BDSM community claim strangulation is “safe,” and there is a correct way to safely cut blood flow to the brain. Women’s Health Magazine wrote an article describing “choking” (choking is a misnomer; strangulation is the proper term) as a thrilling and exciting way to spice up one’s sex life. Strangulation is posed as harmless fun.
But the truth is, there is no way to safely strangle someone.
Dr Helen Bichard of North Wales Brain Injury Service and The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust says of strangulation (also known as erotic asphyxiation): “I am extremely concerned by the cultural normalization of strangulation. Erotic asphyxiation should be as much of an oxymoron as erotic brain damage, because brain damage is the potential result. Much of the online advice is misguided; some of it is fatally wrong. When you compress the carotid artery you cut off oxygenated blood flow to the brain, and the brain therefore cannot function properly. Consciousness can be lost in as little as four seconds—a sign that the brain is being compromised. Any pressure to the artery can lead to dissection, in which blood clots can form and cause stroke, sometimes delayed by weeks.”
I’m sure there are those who will claim my ex wasn’t actually into BDSM, since he didn’t seem to care about consent. I may even be called a “kink shamer” for critiquing BDSM and its ability to disguise abuse. I’m not interested in shaming anyone.
I’d like to understand why “kink” is something that cannot be criticized or questioned, especially when the BDSM community is rife with abusers and women with stories like mine.
Why must we unquestioningly accept the hordes of men chomping at the bit to physically and sexually abuse women under the guise of “kink”? Obviously consent is an important issue but we can’t overlook the fact that the abuse of women is considered sexually rewarding to men. Can abuse truly be consented to, so long as it is relegated to the bedroom, or are we as a society playing with fire by normalizing the brutalization of women during sex?
It’s been years since I left him. I still have nightmares of being trapped in that house, that relationship. Now, I’m in a healthy relationship with a man who has never even raised his voice at me. Even so, I still have flashbacks to the terrorizing vulnerability I felt. The echoes of sexual abuse haunt me when my current partner tenderly caresses my neck in intimate moments. A flash of terror courses through me, despite the loveliness of the moment.
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?
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.
Belle Knox, the infamous Duke University porn star, is in a documentary where she discusses the realities of her life in porn and her true self, Miriam Weeks, who chose this as her profession to pay her way through college.
It’s a story from last August yet it’s still relevant because the underlying truth of the industry is still the same.
As her alter-ego, Belle Knox, Miriam has spent her first year in the porn industry touting her beliefs that porn is “empowering,” “freeing” and “the way the world should be.” She also portrays her choice in finding a way to fund her tuition and graduate free of debt as something akin to noble in the documentary.
However, the realities of Miriam’s life choice clearly weigh heavy on her.
Weeks did a series of interviews for an upcoming documentary. In them, she paints a much different picture than the freeing, empowering, sex-fueled fantasy world her fans and porn supporters claim she inhabits.
“The sex industry has a way of making you very cynical and very bitter,” a tired-looking Weeks tells an off-camera interviewer, “In a way I’ve started to become kind of a bit bitter and a bit cynical.”
“It teaches you to be street smart and not to trust people…I’m so used to being on the lookout for scammers, people who are going to try pimp me out or traffic me. I think my experiences have aged me. I don’t have the mind of an eighteen-year-old. I have the emotional baggage of someone much, much older than me.”
There is a deeper, darker reason that Miriam entered into the world of porn. She was raped and victims of rape have serious issues with control.
In many interviews, Weeks talks obsessively about how porn gives her control over her own sexual destiny: “In porn, everything is on my terms. I can say no whenever I want to. I am in control.” Later on, we discover why this is so important to her: Weeks reveals that she had been raped. “What porn has done for me,” she says firmly, “is it has given me back my agency.”
Miriam’s thinking is erroneous. She has sold herself into a perverted industry wrought with danger and humiliation for the sake of “control.”
Miriam herself admits that her first scene, shot for a company she refers to as “Facial Abuse,” was “a really, really rough scene. I wasn’t prepared for how rough it was. It was weird having some random photographer watch me have my a** kicked on camera.” She talks about getting literally torn up during porn shoots. She admits that porn shoots in which she was physically beaten up until she sobbed were probably shoots she should have refused. Yet she didn’t.
The truth is the industry controls her. In many cases, if she wants to work, she often must agree to a shoot without knowing the scene and who is in it. Once she agrees she is fined for walking out and the penalty is steep, the risk of not working again.
For one shoot, Miriam recalls almost tearfully, her agent wouldn’t tell her who she had to “work with.” When she arrived at the set, she realized he was fifty years old. She wanted to leave, but then she’d have to pay a 300 dollar “kill fee,” the director would have been furious, and, she says, she could never have worked for that company again. So she did it.
The reality of her choice weighs heavy on her and the consequences are great.
“I felt like crying during the entire scene and afterwards I was really, really upset,” Miriam says tearfully to the camera, looking like nothing more than the hurting 18-year-old girl she is. “I just thought of my mom, who was always there for me and always protected me…I think about my mom a lot when I do porn scenes. Just how sad she would be that her little daughter was doing this.”
Miriam is a lost soul who has been a victim of sexual assault resulting in choices where shame has become her partner leaving scars of self loathing, literally.
One day looking in the mirror, she became so overcome with self-hatred that she smashed the mirror and cut herself, slicing the jagged letters “FAT” into the flesh of her thigh.
While Miriam has her dark moments that hint at unhappiness and regret, she continues down this tragic path.
What is sickening is that there is even a demand in our society that has turned into multi-billion dollar industry that preys on the Miriam’s of the world. As I contemplate Miriam crying wondering what her mom thinks of her doing porn, I wonder what the dad’s of our culture would think of their 18-year-old daughter doing porn.
This is an edited transcript of the second part of Suzzan Blac’s talk at the ‘An evening with Suzzan Blac’ webinar we held in July 2021 and the subsequent discussion with Ygerne Price-Davies. The transcript of the first part of the talk, which was about her extraordinary paintings, is in a separate article. You can watch the recording of the whole talk on YouTube.
Of all the harms done to girls and women, pornography is the most damaging and far-reaching, affecting not just the victims within the porn industry, but also women and girls outside of it.
I first saw pornography when I was six years old. It was shown to me by one of my mother’s boyfriends as he sexually abused me. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, every older boy and man who sexually abused and raped me had pornography. And that’s not forgetting the sex traffickers who forced me into pornography. [Editor: Suzzan talks about this in the first part of her talk.]
So, I knew that there was a connection between sex offending and pornography. Over the years, and in my obsession with perpetrators and why and how they could so easily abuse and hurt girls and women, I researched sex offending, rapes, kidnapping, torture and sexually motivated murders and noticed that high pornography use was a significant and prime factor in their offending. I began writing about this in my blog, The Violence of Pornography, in 2016, documenting such cases.
I also read about research on the aggression in pornography. Whenever I posted about this on social media, however, I would be attacked by men. Some would laugh and say ‘You’ve never seen any pornography’. Well, yes that was true, I hadn’t seen any pornography – at least not since I was trafficked into it in 1977. I knew I would be traumatised if I accidently came across any.
So, in 2017 I decided that I had to watch it. How could I speak out against porn if I had never seen any recently? I chose Pornhub, because it was the most popular mainstream porn-site, having 115 million hits a day. I watched and took screen-shots of hundreds of videos on it.
Like many women who don’t watch porn, I had no idea about it’s true content. You just assume that much of it is ‘adults having consensual sex’ with maybe a bit of hair pulling and slapping going on. How wrong I was!
Crime scene videos
I could not believe what I was seeing, I thought that these things could only be seen on the dark web. I watched women being sexually and violently abused, humiliated, degraded, raped and tortured.
These were not sex videos. They were crime-scene videos.
There were women being raped when they used their safe words in ‘kink’ videos and when they were sleeping or passed out from alcohol or high on drugs. There were drug addicted prostitutes unaware that they were being filmed. Women being suffocated with plastic bags, water-boarded, strangled manually or with ligatures. Women being really hanged with ropes.
Many are ‘professional videos’, but a significant amount of user-generated content is uploaded onto Pornhub, often with no consent from the women appearing in it.
I watched one man film a woman standing on a chair with her neck in a noose. He would kick the chair, let her hang for a few seconds, then pick her up, place her back on the chair and do it again. And again. And again.
I watched a tied-up naked female being shot continuously for fifteen minutes by a man with an automatic BB rifle. I watched women’s breasts being tortured with needles, cigarettes being stubbed out on their nipples, and breasts already heavily bruised being punched or stood on by men in heavy boots. I watched women having their genitalia whipped with nettles or being sharp whipped, causing deep lacerations, some were ‘live streamed’ with requests from paying males.
Many of these videos have millions of views and endless derogatory comments along the lines of, ‘Loving the torture and seeing women suffer’.
There were tons of ‘domestic violence’ videos, mostly home-made by men who abuse their wives and girlfriends, filmed on their mobiles.
I frequently came across child sexual abuse imagery, some of real children and also CGI child abuse. I only saw these as thumbnails. I never clicked on the videos. Obviously, I couldn’t research this. I reported it to the Internet Watch Foundation, but never heard back.
There is also a lot of extremely disturbing and realistic CGI bestiality videos.
There were a significant number of men sexually offending outside the home, filming their offences with mobile phones and uploading them onto Pornhub. Offences ranged from up-skirting, secret toilet filming, indecent exposure, to masturbating and ejaculating onto unsuspecting females.
There is an incredible amount of criminal activity on Pornhub and I have evidenced much of it in my blog in the form of screen-shots for all to see.
Pornhub is completely unregulated and violates its own uploading terms. I am happy to say at least they are now being held accountable and have many lawsuits against them.
And, there are so many views. You can’t actually ascertain how many views a video has, because one video might have two million views and is then uploaded with a different title that has 600,000 views, and then another, and so on.
Strangulation (aka ‘breath play’)
I’d also like to talk about how common strangulation is on Pornhub. The kink community have changed the language, so it’s no longer called strangulation. They now call it ‘breath play’, which can mean suffocation or strangulation or hanging or choking. Quite often they call it choking when it’s not actually choking.
Choking is the act of having something stuck in the oesophagus. Strangulation is completely different. It can be done manually or with ligatures or with their arms or legs. It’s extremely dangerous because even for a few seconds it can cause a lot of health issues including brain damage – and that is if it’s non-fatal. It really is extremely dangerous. There are thousands of videos of men strangling women until they lose consciousness, either suffocating them, putting things in their mouth, suffocating them with plastic bags and strangling them or hanging, and I mean really hanging, them.
Rape, donkey punch, incest…
There are other disturbing videos like of rape but they don’t call it rape anymore. You can’t type in the word rape. Pornhub removed that term, but other words that mean the same thing are there – for example, unwilling sex or surprise anal.
There’s hate fuck, and donkey punch where men kick and hurt women and then punch them in the back of the head as hard as they can. I’ve seen women’s vaginas being stapled shut. Electric torture, punch fisting. Women being pissed on, either in their mouths or in their vaginas or anuses and they have women licking toilet bowls. Or, their heads being flushed down the toilet while they’re being pummelled from behind.
The most humiliating and degrading stuff.
There are also tons of incest videos with titles such as ‘No Daddy Stop’ or ‘I’m Not Mommy’. They dress 18-year-old girls to make them look like little girls and put them in child-themed rooms with much older men or sometimes elderly men, like it’s a granddad abusing his granddaughter. There’s a lot of incest, an awful lot of incest, brothers and sisters and so forth.
There are also horrible channels called sexually broken where they destroy women in every way possible.
Normalising and eroticising sexual violence against women and girls
I have documented all these types of videos on my website, The Violence Pornography. I have blurred the genitalia and it is very distressing to see, but I put it out there because I think people, especially women, need to see what it’s like without having to watch it themselves.
My research makes it absolutely clear that pornography normalises and eroticises sexual violence against women and reinforces rape myths. It is common for the girls and women who are being abused in these ways to be portrayed as if they are loving it. As if they’re not really saying no. It is made to look as if they say yes because they’re worthless whores and they love it.
This is extremely dangerous – especially knowing that young boys are watching this kind of content.
I believe that pornography should be deemed hate speech and that it is a violation of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act: the right not to be tortured in an inhumane or degrading way.
I could talk a lot more about pornography but most of it, as I said, is on my website.
Gay men’s porn
Ygerne: I just wanted to say thank you so much, Suzzan, for such a powerful and moving talk. And now if it’s OK with you, I’d like to ask about gay men’s porn. Did you research that and what did you find?
Suzzan: Every time you speak out on social media there are people who love to derail you and that’s one of the many things that was said to me. Gay porn! And I realised that I hadn’t actually watched any gay porn. So it was clear I was going to have to. Believe me, I didn’t want to do it, I really didn’t want to, but it was the only way to get answers.
So, one night I sat down with a big glass of wine and I went to Pornhub’s gay porn channels and typed in the same search words that I had for the women – such as rough sex, unwilling sex, torture, strangulation, everything. And I prepared myself…
At first I was confused because when I started watching the videos, they were lovely, absolutely lovely. The men were kissing. I had never seen any kissing on the straight porn channels.
They were also hugging and caressing each other. They were talking to each other; they were wearing condoms; they were respectful.
I thought I’d probably get to the other stuff later. So, I kept watching. I kept typing in the same search terms. There was one that came up under “rough sex”, and it was this huge hairy guy in leather. He was with another guy, a young guy, who was strapped to a cross and I thought, here we go. So, he gets a whip – but it’s a cat-o’-nine tails that has thick, wide pieces of soft leather – and he flogs him very gently so he doesn’t hardly even turn pink. And then he kisses him.
And I’m like, what? So, I type in torture and most of what I see is being tortured with feathers and tickling. Tickling torture! And it was like that in so many videos.
And I realised that this is the polar opposite of how the women are treated in pornography. There was no hate. There was no degradation; no humiliation; no cruelty; no sadism; no pain; nothing.
So then I did the same thing with trans porn. And again, I watched hundreds of videos and took screenshots and it was like the gay porn: caressing, kissing, and respect.
I looked at casting couch porn. You’ve probably heard of that. In the straight porn, it’s nasty: right from the beginning they start calling her names, humiliating and degrading her, and then some guy comes in and literally throws her about the room and pummels her. In the gay men’s porn, he’s asked some questions and then they start kissing and have normal sex.
The difference was astounding, really astounding and I thought that just proves the misogyny on that platform. It is virulent, it is horrific, and I’m glad I’ve documented it because now a lot of it has been taken down, as you know.
Pornhub has a lot of lawsuits against it as we speak and it took down millions of videos. Eighty percent of its unverified videos were taken down. So, that is some good news. We’ll see what happens next.
Ygerne: I saw that the house of Pornhub’s owner was attacked by an arsonist and burned down.
Suzzan: Yes, I saw that too. In the research I did years ago, I found him. I found that MindGeek owns Pornhub and so many other sites. I found a photo of him and put it on Twitter. Of course, nobody took much notice at the time. It wasn’t until, and I’m glad to say this, a male reporter at The New York Times took this story up, that anything actually happened and then Visa and Mastercard and other companies stopped dealing with Pornhub. So, I’m glad of it.
Ygerne: That’s why the work you are doing documenting it is so important.
Suzzan: I think it is important. Without seeing the images, it’s hard to believe. Images are really important to me – as you can see in my paintings. It’s not that people don’t believe exactly, it’s just that if you’re reading text, you’re detached from the reality. But, when you see images… It’s like, no one believed that the holocaust could happen – no one – until they saw the images and videos of what was going on over there.
It’s the same with everything. That’s the reason I took screenshots because I didn’t believe it. I’d read about it, but I didn’t understand the extent of it and how it’s worse than awful. The misogyny is truly horrifying.
As I said, it’s not about adults having consensual sex – as many people claim. They say that it’s consensual and if a woman likes a bit of rough, it’s her choice. But that’s not what it’s actually like.
And of course, a lot of the videos out there are not professionally made. There are millions of mobile phone videos – taken by men – boyfriends, husbands. I documented that too. It is domestic abuse – but it’s not only that because you’ve got men who are abusers, who are not just filming their wives and girlfriends and putting it on Pornhub, they’re also doing live cams and making money from it.
They’re actually making money out of their wives and girlfriends who are not consenting. And that says a lot about consent in pornography. No one can really tell if the person in pornography is consenting or not. Because you can’t tell if they’re a trafficking victim; you can’t tell if they’re a domestic abuse victim; whether it’s secret filming; whether it’s a minor. Simply no one can tell.
Facebook and YouTube have something like 20,000 to 30,000 moderators working on their sites to get rid of illegal content. Do you know how many Pornhub have? And we’re talking millions and millions of videos, I can’t remember the exact number, but millions. They had 20 or 30 moderators!
That’s a joke, isn’t it? I think they said a moderator can look through about 150 videos an hour. They literally fast forward through them. But they aren’t all in English. There’re a lot of foreign videos there, from all over the world. So, often they wouldn’t even know what the title said or what anybody said.
But, 150 videos an hour, how can anyone moderate that? It’s impossible. But, you know, it’s coming to a head now and people are finally understanding what Pornhub’s about and it’s about time.
Ygerne: The comparison you made with YouTube… It’s like when it comes to porn, the attitude is it’s just a bit of fun, and any criticism of it is deemed to be prudish.
Suzzan: Well, it’s free speech, isn’t it? [Laughs.] It’s free speech, but not for the women who are performing in these videos, or not performing, or don’t even know they’re in the videos.
And as I said, there is so much violence on there. It’s not sex! I’ve been called all sorts of names as you can imagine.
You know, we all like sex. But most pornography is not about sex anymore. It’s now about the humiliation, degradation and suffering of women. They love to punish women and there are millions of these videos, with millions of views, and men who are enjoying them.
What is that doing? What is that doing to young boys? What is that doing to their minds when they see that and they’re looking at it everywhere, including in school?
It’s awful and I think they should ban mobile phones in schools because even my own daughter, years ago when she was a teenager, was traumatised. She didn’t tell me at the time, but she was traumatised by boys showing her violent pornography. And it’s still going on and they’re getting younger and younger; we’re talking 10, 11, 12.
We must put the onus on the perpetrators
Ygerne: I remember getting shown porn when I was in primary school.
So now a question from the audience. What would you advise us to use in terms of language in the sense of putting the onus on the perpetrators? Would you use the word prostitutor to define this person?
Suzzan: Yeah, the problem has always been seen in terms of the victim and the perpetrators are hardly mentioned and that needs to change. The onus really needs to be on the perpetrators. We need to ask why they are doing this and make them accountable. Definitely more needs to be done about that.
Even with victims of murder, women who were murdered, the emphasis is always on her: she was drunk, what she was doing? Why was she out on her own? Why was she wearing headphones, why this, why that? But, not the perpetrator. And why is that?
It has to do with misogyny and, and victim blaming. Because it is women too who are doing this. Women can also be misogynistic. I’ve known that first-hand. Yes, it needs to be changed and we all need to collectively keep fighting for these things.
Ygerne: Misogyny is so engrained in all of us, isn’t it.
Suzzan: Yes. And with domestic abusers, it’s always been why doesn’t she do this, why doesn’t she do that. I’ve experienced it. My sister and my mother have experienced it.
Even though you’re married to that person or live with them, they can still terrorise you and no one understands that, unless they’ve been in that situation. Just because you live with that man, it doesn’t mean it will calm down and be okay.
I have been in that situation and my sister has too. The worst time is when you leave them. That’s when he would threaten. He’s broken her bones. He’s kicked her when she was pregnant.
When I was young and this was going on, she was only 17, 18, I was so used to violence it didn’t affect me, it was normal. In the end, when she would threaten to leave, he would say he was going to kill her and the children. When finally she did leave, he followed her and beat her up in a spa shop, and kicked the hell out of her. Nobody, not one person, said anything. Nobody did anything. They just watched or walked out.
When she fled to a women’s refuge, he came and found her and was swearing and throwing stones at the windows. Then they put her in a caravan with her four children. The terror that she went through hasn’t left her. She’s still not right from it now.
This is what people don’t understand. This is why we must concentrate and focus on these perpetrators.
Impact of watching porn
Ygerne: Thank you so much. We’ve got loads of positive comments coming in from the audience. Gratitude to you for your honesty and resilience.
Suzzan: Thank you. You’re so kind. I appreciate that. It’s worth the hard work.
It has been traumatising work, especially the pornography. For a year I’ve had to take a break because just watching it traumatised me and I was having other effects. For example, I would go to the shops or the post office and I would see different women, I would look at different women, young women, elderly women, all kinds of women and think about what genre they would be in. Every time.
If it’s done that to me, and, believe me I’m not masturbating to this material, I’m analysing crime scenes, because that’s what they are, what is it doing to young men in particular, who are masturbating to this kind of material? And then they’re out in the real world looking at women in the real world, what is it doing to them?
Ygerne: It’s terrifying.
Suzzan: It is and there’s so much to talk about.
I’ve researched serial killers and sexually motivated murders because most serial killers kill women. You can see the rise in serial killers, especially in America, since the early 70s, 80s, and 90s which coincided with the increase in violent pornography. You can see, it’s almost like an exact match.
And their prime motivation is fantasy. Sex offenders say that it’s all about the fantasy. Whatever they do, whether they look through a woman’s bedroom window or expose themselves or want to kidnap and rape and murder a woman, it’s all about the fantasy and this escalation.
What happens is, they start watching what they like to call vanilla porn, although there’s not much of that around anymore, I can tell you, except in gay porn. If you don’t want to see violence then watch gay porn.
They start with the vanilla and go on to harder and harder stuff, and then bestiality. And once they’ve covered everything, they can no longer become aroused and that is when they cross the line into real offending. And might actually film it and import it onto Pornhub.
I can’t tell you how dangerous it is and how many rapes there are a year and sexual assaults – but I bet you money they are rising and have been rising since pornography became so available on the internet.
Ygerne: We’ve run out of time now – so I just want to say, if anyone wants to find out more about Suzzan’s research, you can find it on her website, The Violence Pornography. If there are any parents that have been affected by topics we’ve talked about, we provide some links to some good resources below. Thank you for participating and all your questions.
And thank you, Suzzan, for passing on your wisdom. Good night, everyone, and thank you.
This is an edited transcript of the first part of Suzzan Blac’s talk at the ‘An evening with Suzzan Blac’ webinar we held in July 2021 and the related discussion with Ygerne Price-Davies. The transcript of the second part of the talk, which was about her research into pornography, is in a separate article. You can watch the recording of the whole talk on YouTube.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, sexual assaults, numerous rapes and sex trafficking.
This had been my life. My normal. So normal, that I didn’t even realise that I had been abused and been a victim for the majority of my childhood. I only began to acknowledge and understand this in my mid-twenties. I finally sought counselling when I was thirty-three years old.
Recovery was extremely traumatic and it took me more than twenty years to overcome the worst of it. One of the reasons it took so long to recover, was the victim blaming that many people inflicted upon me. In my experience, victim blaming is as painful and distressing as the abuse itself.
Between 2000 and 2004, in order to try and help myself, I decided to paint my story of abuse to help me process my pain, anger and trauma. I began by drawing subconscious doodles whilst watching TV, as I knew that these drawings had to come from deep inside of me and not my thoughts. I then turned the drawings into realistic paintings that depicted ‘me the victim’ and ‘the perpetrators’.
I was sometimes shocked by what I had painted, but I knew that they were my true feelings. I painted forty images over four years and I hid them away for over a decade, because they were for me alone, and not meant for anyone to see, especially knowing that I would be condemned if I showed them.
In 2011, I decided to put them online. I had other works out there, but I knew that ‘silence impairs the victims and empowers the perpetrators’. So I had to speak out by using my art, and although I had many people make hurtful comments, I had hundreds of survivors thanking me for giving them a voice.
I have also been training police and social workers in child sexual abuse (CSA), child sexual exploitation (CSE) and victim blaming since 2014.
I also paint about sexual objectification, sexual conditioning, pornography, prostitution and misogyny.
I am motivated by my pain, anger, injustice and indignation surrounding violence against women and girls (VAWG) and victim blaming.
I’m now going to show you twenty-four of my works with a very brief description of each one.
1. The trusted uncle
This painting depicts my mother’s brother, who sexually abused me as a baby. I painted it like a ‘Happy family portrait’ to convey the lies and cover-ups of family members who knew that it was happening. It also conveys the horrific fact that babies are sexually abused and raped, especially since the invention of the internet and mobile phone cameras. I was actually told that ‘I was sick’ for painting this image.
2. One of mother’s boyfriends
This painting depicts one of my mother’s boyfriends who sexually abused me from when I six to when I was eight years old. He was also extremely violent, and in this image I watched in horror as he beat my mother to a pulp. No child should ever have to witness such violence.
3. You’re such a good girl
This was the first time that anyone had ever called me a ‘good girl’. He also told me that it was all my fault, because I was so ‘pretty’. Here, I am trying to express what sexual abuse was doing to me internally, whilst I remained frozen and detached throughout the abuse.
4. She likes it
This image depicts the first-time my mother’s boyfriend sexually abused me in front of my mother, whilst she was at her dressing table. She turned around and asked why he was doing that, to which he replied, ‘Because she likes it’.
He laughed and said, ‘What’s the matter love, you jealous? There’s plenty to go around’.
I searched her face for a reaction, but all she did was ‘tut’ and resumed putting on her make-up. I knew then that it was not going to stop, that it was okay and was to become my ‘normal’.
This image depicts my childhood – although at the time, I didn’t feel like a child. I felt like an ‘Entity’ that existed, merely to survive every day, every hour, every minute. He destroyed my childhood and he destroyed my innocence. Still to this day, I get very emotional when I watch small children innocently play, because he took that from me and put me in the darkest of places.
After many years of sexual abuse from others, including those I had trusted, even a teacher, I became a teenager on a path of self-destruction. These next paintings depict the devastating consequences of my years of abuse.
6. Embracing death
By the age of fourteen, I was regularly drinking, taking drugs, partying, being highly promiscuous and self-harming. I was called a slag, slut and a whore, and yes, I was.
One night, as I lay on the piss-flooded floor of a night club toilet, I felt like I was home. I was disgusting, vile and filthy and this is where I belonged. I was so intoxicated, that I thought I was going to die, and I embraced the thought, because I hated my life, I hated humans, and I hated myself.
7. Demonic whispers
This painting depicts the time that I was sex trafficked when I was sixteen years old. This is a portrait of the man who threatened, hurt and (alongside others) repeatedly raped me. I had been taken to London under the pretence of ‘modelling’.
Locked inside a once former Victorian hotel with many other girls and women, we were forced into pornography and prostitution. This was a whole new level of abuse, terror and trauma, one that will always stay with me.
8. Tell me you love it
On the first night that this man abducted me, he led me to a room, told me to take off my clothes and viciously raped me. Whilst raping me, he forced me to repeatedly tell him that ‘I loved it’.
9. I’ve killed bitches before
After raping me, he told me to get dressed, and as I did so – he grabbed me by my throat, shoved me against a wall and as he stuck a large knife underneath my rib-cage, he seethed into my ear, ‘I’ve killed bitches that misbehave before, so you need to think about that.’
My only thoughts were, ‘I’m only 16 and this is how I die’.
While I was still shaking in absolute terror, he withdrew the knife and laughed at me, saying, ‘You should see your face.’
This was pure sadism. I could never speak about how this affected me.
There are no words, and that’s why I had to express myself through my paintings.
10. Pornographic meat
On the second day, along with other girls, I was forced into making pornography in a large room full of men. I had to completely detach; I became a ‘dead actress’, a ‘fleshed robot’ that obeyed their every command in absolute fear.
The other girls and I did not speak or even make eye contact. We were first made to watch films of the worst kind of pornography, including bestiality, sadism and child abuse. One man joked that he was going to get the popcorn.
When they began filming me, one of the men asked for ‘Butcher shots’ and I immediately turned inside out. I cried for me and I cried for the other girls, because we were no longer human beings, we were pieces of meat inside an abattoir.
11. Shut up and take it
This image depicts one of the traffickers taking me back home. In a train toilet, he violently raped me – three times between London and Birmingham. As I whimpered, he shushed me, covered my mouth and told me, ‘This was part of the deal, so shut up and take it’.
He drove me back to my flat, asking many questions about my boyfriend and family. He then told me that I would be seeing him again soon.
12. The end of everything
After I got home, I never told a soul about what had happened to me. I was still traumatised and knew that it was all my fault. I also was being terrorised by one of the traffickers. So I had to internalise all of that pain and fear.
After a while I deteriorated both mentally and physically. I cut all of my hair off, because I didn’t want to be pretty anymore. My weight dropped to six stone, I developed intestinal worms, severe cystitis, boils, chancres and weeping eczema that turned septic.
One night, I sat naked in the shower tray, and poured a bottle of red food colouring all over me. Rocking and crying that ‘I needed to die’.
13. The epitome of sorrow is to die alone
This painting depicts one of my suicide attempts. I had taken all of my clothes off and laid down on my 9th floor balcony, one winters evening, after failing to jump off. I was hoping to die of hypothermia. As my face stuck to the icy concrete floor, hot tears ran down my freezing face as I thought how awfully sad it was to have to die alone.
I woke up at dawn. I slowly walked into my lounge which was like walking into a furnace and saw my reflection in a mirror. It was surreal, I looked like a wax model covered in blue and green veins. I just curled up into my bed, so sad that I wasn’t dead.
14. No one asked me why
This image depicts the time I had my stomach pumped in a hospital after taking an overdose. After hostile staff discharged me, and as I walked away from the hospital, I began to cry – because not one person in there had asked me why I had done this to myself.
It was then I knew that even doctors and nurses never gave a shit about me, they didn’t care if I died, they just did their job.
15. I am a piece of shit
This painting depicts how others made me feel, whenever I disclosed what had happened to me. I was condemned, isolated, abandoned and judged. Not believed, made to feel guilty, ashamed and that much of it was my own fault.
This is how many people make victims and survivors of sexual abuse feel. If someone says that they were robbed, mugged or beat-up, there is sympathy and empathy, but not if you are a victim of sexual abuse, you are literally treated like a piece of shit.
16. I’m fine thank you
I painted this self-portrait to show how it felt, to constantly hide myself by wearing a mask for self-protection and social acceptance. People made me feel like an ‘outcast’. If I spoke out about the crimes committed against me as a child, I would be met with a wall of silence, made to feel uncomfortable, defective and dysfunctional.
No survivor of sexual abuse should have to hide their pain, anxiety and distress, in the fear of being re-victimised. No human being should ever have to feel what I have painted here.
Now I want to show you some of my other works, ones that I painted years after my story of abuse.
17. Your suffering is real
I painted this image of myself to express and convey how severe, continuous sexual traumas impact your mental health, your body and your very soul.
Sexual violence is unlike any other kind of violence. It’s blackness creeps inside your every vein and permeates every organ until you emotionally shut down and are no longer the human being that you once were. Unable to speak of the horrors, you outwardly smile – whilst hiding the truth that you are internally destroyed.
18. The prostitutor
This image represents the men who prey on vulnerable girls and women. They are the pimps and pornographers who target ‘bent but not broken girls’ in order to profit from their bodies. They are men on the streets, men online, sex traffickers, husbands, boyfriends and fathers.
The majority of these girls and women are victims of previous sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence, who have mental health issues and are often alcohol and drug dependant.
19. Let me entertain you
This image depicts the sexual and physical violence now commonplace in mainstream pornography. Women are being humiliated, degraded, hog-tied, raped, punched, kicked, suffocated with plastic bags, strangled, tortured and even hanged.
This isn’t about sex; these are crimes committed against women. These videos are the stuff of serial killer fantasies. In fact, the only thing that they don’t do to women in mainstream pornography is kill them.
20. What women want
Which brings me to this painting, which depicts a young boy watching this kind of sexual violence on his mobile phone.
For the first time in history, boys are viewing this horrific and hateful misogyny and violence against women, which has become so normalised that boys are completely desensitised. Many use pornography on their phones to sexually harass, intimidate and exert power over girls. Pornography alters and influences sexual behaviours and reinforces misogyny in young, malleable minds. This is why the government needs to implement age-verification now.
21. Blue Hair
This painting is one of a set of six images, named Abasement of dolls that depict issues that affect women and girls, such as sexual conditioning, sexual objectification and sexual exploitation.
Right from birth, baby girls are objectified and conditioned with bows, ribbons, lace and frilly nappy pants. Toddlers wear sassy clothes, jewellery, heels and painted nails. Many little girls are only given ‘girly toys’: housework sets, make-up and hairstyle sets, etc. Girls are taught that only being attractive and pretty are valued, and this often stays with them.
Many teenage girls and women resort to extreme diets, Botox and cosmetic surgeries, because they don’t match up to the high standards of beauty.
22. Blonde girls
Again, this is about the sexual objectification of little girls, in the media, film, dance studios and even by their own parents – for example, entering them into horrific ‘beauty pageants’ such as ‘toddlers and tiaras’ or buying Playboy merchandise for them. Incidentally, Playboy merchandise was sold to girls as young as eight in the high street.
23. Black Hair
This painting depicts the young women who enter the porn industry, many because of mental health issues, oppressed religious backgrounds, suitcase pimps and coercive boyfriends. These are eighteen-year-olds – they are still kids! – who enter a world of grown adult men who love ‘fresh meat’.
Many pornographers make them appear even younger and then have them ‘punished’ and ‘destroyed’.
Many of these young women leave after a short period of time after being so traumatised, a trauma that continues, because their videos remain online indefinitely for all to see.
24. The life giver
This painting represents sexism and misogyny. I portray a history of derogatory and sexist terms used to silence, erase, hurt, subordinate, humiliate, degrade, hate and punish women.
My point is that no one is morally or legally allowed to make racist, homophobic or transphobic slurs as they are deemed ‘hate crimes’ but you can call women anything you want, because misogyny is not deemed a hate crime.
Ygerne: I just wanted to say thank you so much to Suzzan for such a powerful and moving talk. I personally find your work really significant. It’s very hard hitting and often can be quite disturbing, but I think that the depiction of such extreme experience and psychological trauma is pivotal because speaking with a lot of women who have experienced sexualized violence and sexism more widely that sharing stories especially in creative ways enables us to overcome misogyny together. So thank you for sharing your story with us.
Suzzan: You’re welcome.
Ygerne: In the past I’ve heard you say that understanding complex PTSD helped your recovery. Would you like to talk a bit more about that and how it’s helped you?
Suzzan: Absolutely. Recovery can take so long and it wasn’t until literally about five years ago that someone explained to me the concept of complex PTSD. I’m now 61 and I wish that someone had told me earlier in my life. That’s why it’s so important to talk about this.
Going through my teenage years and adult life, no matter how many times counsellors and therapists would say to me, it wasn’t your fault… I don’t mean just as a child, I mean as a teenager and a young woman because a couple of years after I was sex trafficked, I actually went back into pornography and prostitution. No matter how many times they said it wasn’t my fault, I still knew it was my fault. So I still had the shame, self-blame, the guilt, everything was still there, it remained.
And you can’t ever recover whilst you have those intense feelings inside of you. Then a few years ago I learned about complex PTSD which is different from ordinary PTSD. Ordinary PTSD occurs after a one-time event, say being held up at gunpoint. That actually happened to a friend of mine in Birmingham. Or like a serious car crash or something like that and afterwards you develop PTSD.
But, with complex PTSD you are traumatised over a long period of time, especially from childhood and the teenage years as in my case, as in many other women’s cases. You are constantly, repeatedly traumatised over years. For me it was every day or every other day for all those years.
Each time that you are traumatised you internalise that trauma and become detached – especially in sexual violence. Each time someone abuses you, you become detached and as in my case, completely detached, all through those years.
And so, you never really feel what’s happening to you, you never really feel that pain. All through my teenage and early adult years I was self-abusing because what you don’t ever want to do is feel that pain. So, you keep abusing yourself, in whatever way, drink, drugs, putting yourself in certain situations, like I did.
I would put myself into dangerous situations because I wanted to keep being abused or abusing myself so I would never have to feel it because it was too enormous. The enormity of it was too much – unlike someone who is suffering from PTSD from a one-time event – they can talk about it. If you were mugged or robbed or attacked physically, you can tell people. But, with sexual violence, you can’t. So that compounds it and you have all these extra symptoms because you cannot talk about it.
Once I understood that, I could understand that it was not my fault. In the end I understood completely why I carried on abusing myself. I wanted to relay that to other people because it took so long for me to understand it.
Ygerne: You mentioned victim blaming and how that made it so much harder for you.
Suzzan: Exactly! You don’t get victim blamed if you are mugged. They don’t say, you shouldn’t have worn that jewellery or you shouldn’t have carried money with you. Nobody says that.
But, if you are raped, especially young girls, around 14 and upwards, it’s what was she wearing? How much was she drinking? And they don’t ask such questions to elderly ladies who are raped.
There’s so much victim blaming of young women and it compounds the recovery. That’s another reason you don’t want to talk about it because people are really cruel. In my book I talk about the many times that I suffered victim blaming. This is something we need to address; we need to address this because it is only young girls and women who are targeted, nobody else.
Ygerne: It’s re-traumatising all over again and it comes from this hatred for women, doesn’t it?
Suzzan: Absolutely. Misogyny plays a large part in all of this.
Ygerne: OK, so we’ve had a question that came through from the audience. She says: are you married to a man and if so, how were you able to trust him or anyone? How were you able to move past the hatred of people?
Suzzan: I never wanted to have a relationship when I was a young woman. I never trusted anybody. How could I? So, I would just go out with someone and you know, whatever. I never wanted to get close to anybody or have anyone close to me.
And I never wanted children, either. I’ve been asked quite a few times by people whether it was because I was worried I would abuse them. And I would say no it wasn’t that. It was because I didn’t want to bring them into this evil world.
But I met my children’s father and I found myself getting close to him and I didn’t want to. I don’t think I’ve ever really trusted him and I had good reason not to. We ended up going through hell.
I even went to the women’s hospital because, like I said before, I thought I was mentally ill. At that time I didn’t know that I had been abused. People find that hard to believe, but I thought I was just a looney. That’s what I thought. That I was a looney who took drugs, drank, and had a good time and hated the world. I thought I was mental. We went through quite a difficult period.
I was on the pill from when I was 13 years old, and I went to the doctor because I had severe migraines. He told me to come off the pill and as soon as I did, I got pregnant, which was a big shock. And that’s a whole other story – of how an abused person feels when they have a child.
We did divorce years later. And I’ve only had one relationship since then. I haven’t had one now since 2017. I’d rather just not.
It not just relationships that I find hard, it’s friendships, it’s work colleagues. Because, being abused affects every aspect of your life. Say something comes up in a work situation – for example, Mother’s Day and you’re asked about your mother. I would often say that she’s dead. She’s not, but I would say she was. I couldn’t talk about her because I stopped seeing her when I was in my early 30’s and I’ve never seen her since and I don’t want to see her.
So, it’s things like that, things that come up all the time. It’s very difficult. So, I would rather be alone, I’d rather just write and go for walks and just be by myself these days, with my cat, I love my cat. And, of course, I’ve got my two beautiful grownup children and a granddaughter. And I’m happy with that, but it’s been very difficult to trust. It’s hard to trust people.
Ygerne: That’s understandable.
Suzzan: It is, because I’ve even been abused by doctors – when I was in my early 20s. I went to a place for help to get into work. One of the lecturers started abusing me there and I went to the on-site doctor and he closed the blinds and started abusing me too. So, all my life, up to a certain point – after having children and counselling, everything changed. But, before I had children, I was constantly, constantly abused.
And as I said, you just detach.
I didn’t know I had an inkling about being abused when I was in my mid to late 20s. Having my daughter was the catalyst to my recovery because I understood at that moment when she was born what it should be… How the protection and love that you have for a child, for a baby, for your baby, was so intense and everything kind of changed from that moment.
Ygerne: That’s a moment of hope.
Suzzan: Oh, absolutely. But it was so hard because even when I had children I had so many difficult times and even when I was in therapy. When I was 33, I’d had my second child, my son and suddenly social workers got involved because they knew I was in therapy for my own abuse and I had a lot of abuse from them. It just went on and on. It was absolutely awful, never ending.
Ygerne: It was the blaming again, wasn’t it?
Suzzan: Instant victim blaming, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I know things have improved, but they’re not good enough, especially when it comes to young women.
Ygerne: There’s definitely a long way to go. We have to keep fighting.
Suzzan: We do, absolutely. And all of us can impart the knowledge and understanding to younger women that I didn’t get, and that’s why I do what I do.
Ygerne: Thank you Suzzan. Thank you so much, it’s been amazing to have you.
Suzzan: You’re welcome. And thank you to everybody who watched. I wouldn’t say it’s been fun, but this stuff needs to be out there and women, especially younger women, need to understand more from us older ones.
If you want to see more of Suzzan’s paintings, you can go onto her art website.
She has also written a book about her life called ‘The Rebirth of Suzzan Blac’ which is available on Amazon.
The second part of Suzzan’s talk, which is about her research into pornography, is available here.
In a ten-week long campaign RadicalGirlsss will go through the myths surrounding pornography, trying to uncover the reality behind the glamour. We’ll be hosting a series of webinars, post reality-checks and foster discussion to understand the operation of this multi-million dollar industry.
Have you ever wondered what really goes on in the world of extreme abuse porn?
Meet Theodosia, an ex-porn performer who spent years doing bondage, domination, submission and masochism (BDSM) porn. After surviving childhood abuse, the trauma she endured fed into violent and abusive romantic relationships, and eventually to a boyfriend introducing her to the world of violent pornography. She came to learn that the women who could endure a lot of pain on camera were valued in the BDSM porn world, and she was taught that her primary talent was suffering well.
One day, after years of being abused on camera, Theodosia realized she could no longer stomach the world she was thrown into. See how Theodosia got her start in BDSM porn, and why she eventually left the industry on her own terms.
Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
To learn more about how pornography impacts individuals, relationships, and society, visit http://ftnd.org/. This video was made possible by Fighter Club. To help us create more content like this, consider joining Fighter Club at http://ftnd.org/fc.