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'Girls Do Porn' Goes to Trial Over Allegations Women Were Tricked Into Videos

Twenty-two women are suing the adult film company for fraud, coercion, and misrepresentation.

by Samantha Cole
Jun 28 2019, 7:46pm

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Twenty-two women are suing the adult video production company Girls Do Porn for fraud, coercion, and misrepresentation, after the company spread and sold the videos online—even after it promised the films would likely never reach a wide audience.

According to NBC 7 in San Diego, the lawsuit alleges that Girls Do Porn owners Michael Pratt and Matthew Wolfe, as well as actor and recruiter Andre Garcia, convinced the women—all ages 18 to 22—to agree to be filmed having sex on camera, but without them realizing the videos would be widely distributed and sold on the internet.

According to the lawsuit, Girls Do Porn posted ads to Craigslist that appeared to be for modelling gigs, but when the women responded with interest, the company revealed that the job was actually to shoot porn. They were assured that the videos would only be sold on DVDs to “private collectors” in Australia and New Zealand, according to the plaintiffs, and that no one they knew would ever come across the films.

That wasn't the case. Not only did Girls Do Porn post the videos to its website, the videos were ripped off and spread on free clip sites like Pornhub and YouPorn, where friends and family apparently noticed them in some cases. Girls Do Porn also has an official channel on Pornhub, where it posts clips from the videos. Those videos have gained 672 million views over the eight years the channel has been up.

“[Girls Do Porn] told me multiple times, 'What are the odds someone you know is going to walk into that one DVD store in Australia and choose that one DVD that you're on,'” one woman told NBC 7.

The opening statements for the trial are set to begin on July 1, but the case has been ongoing for three years. It was put on hold on January 29 when Pratt attempted, but ultimately failed, to delay the trial by filing for bankruptcy. Text messages attached to that bankruptcy filing, obtained by NBC 7, show a conversation between Pratt and another person, discussing how the filing could help them stall the trial. The texts also show Pratt saying that he laid off workers for the company and that his ads had been banned on Craigslist.

The "casting couch" fantasy come to life

The Girls Do Porn website, which is still online, features videos of young women—listing their ages as 18 to 20 years old—perched on beds, being interviewed about their first time on camera. The video descriptions emphasize that they're new to porn, that this is their first time making an adult video, and even their hesitation to be there in the first place:

"This girl was so fucking nervous to do her very first adult video, it took months of convincing to get her to finally agree to do this."

"She was a little nervous to start her first porn but once she got this guys big dick..."

"She told me she had asked a couple friends if they would still talk to her if she did porn."

This is part of a fantasy that plays on coercion, and a real-life version of the "casting couch" porn trope, which blurs the line between reality and fiction. The viewer is meant to believe that the actors aren't aware they're being watched, or are so desperate for cash (many of the descriptions mention women needing money for student loans or rent) that they'll do anything.

Today, there's plenty of consensual, legal porn that falls into this genre, but the current iteration of the "casting couch" trope is largely based on an early-2000s series called “Backroom Casting Couch” by Arizona-based pornographer Eric Whitaker. Like the Girls Do Porn founders, Whitaker also allegedly lied to performers about how their videos would be used, promising them that the content they made would only appear on a portion of the site when it fact, it spread everywhere—and got multiple performers into trouble with their colleges, when they were outed as appearing in porn.

Even if Girls Do Porn planned to keep its promise of only distributing the films as DVDs, the content would never have stayed neatly in Australian and New Zealand. Theft of digital content, especially porn, is rampant online, and it's incredibly difficult for performers to regain control of the videos they appear in once they're online. Independent performers, especially, can spend significant portions of their time filing copyright claims to have stolen content removed from "free" tube sites, but the videos will continue to crop up as other people reupload them.

The consequences of what the Girls Do Porn founders have done are serious. Some of the women NBC 7 spoke to told the new outlet that they experienced thoughts of suicide, humiliation, and isolation as a result of being lied to and then outed.

“It was a devastating feeling”

According to NBC 7, some of the women said the sex was painful, and if they asked to stop, "the men would tell them they wouldn’t be paid."

“I was in a room with two men and they both kind of teamed up on me and I didn't feel safe and like, I could leave on my own will,” one of the plaintiffs told NBC 7.

“It was a devastating feeling,” said another woman. “I felt like I was lied to. I felt like I was definitely taken advantage of. I felt stupid even though I know it wasn't my fault for falling for something that was so well put together.”

As harrowing as these details are, it's important to note that most producers and porn sets aren't like this. Many legitimate adult businesses have consent rules and enforce professional behavior on set, as well as guidelines around labor rights and care for the performers and crew. This trial is just one example of how an industry that many people enter for a wide variety of reasons—rarely under coercion or lies—can be predatory.

"Porn is a legitimate industry, but as a vice industry, it can attract people who just want to be part of the fantasy lifestyle of partying and sex," Courtney Trouble, a performer and artist, and founder of indie adult film studio Trouble Films, told Motherboard.

"The best we can do is decriminalize sex work so that sex workers who get robbed or raped—or bamboozled—can speak out immediately and not get re-traumatized by litigation further down the line," Trouble added. "Stigma against porn and sex work is what makes men like this think they can get away with exploiting struggling women or established professionals."

Performers should never feel pressured on-set, and producers who coerce performers should be held accountable, Alison Boden, CEO of Kink and board member of the nonprofit adult industry rights group Free Speech Coalition, told Motherboard. "We know that as technology and distribution has changed, it's opened the door to unethical producers disconnected from the legitimate industry," she said. Earlier this month, Kink.com launched new, global consent protocols for its film shoots.

"Performers need to know what to expect on set, they need to know their rights, and they need to be able to compare what they're told by a producer to a common standard. Without it, performers—especially new performers—are going to remain vulnerable to scams and exploitation."