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Girls Do Porn Was a Crime Ring, Not a Porn Site, Industry Experts Say

In light of Girls Do Porn being charged with federal counts of sex trafficking, Motherboard spoke with adult industry directors, performers and activists on how this case is far from the norm.

by Samantha Cole
Oct 16 2019, 4:31pm

Image via Getty Images / Composition by Jason Koebler

Last week, the owners and key employees of adult film production company Girls Do Porn were charged with federal counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion.

Separately, 22 women who appeared in the films took the company to civil court in San Diego, and say they were lied to about the nature of the films, how much they would be paid, and how the videos would be distributed. That trial has been going on for months. When the films were uploaded to huge porn websites, people identified the women to their communities and families. Many say the trauma ruined their lives.

Girls Do Porn is, allegedly, a criminal operation masterminded by a group of people willing to exploit young women for the sake of financial gain. Owner Michael Pratt is a wanted fugitive, and one cameraman has testified to lying to the women who came to shoot what they thought was a quick-cash modeling gig. The women’s lawyers have talked to more than 100 people who have had similar experiences with the company, and more come forward to Motherboard every time we publish new coverage on the case. The scope of what they're accused of is overwhelming.

"None of us were 'porn stars,' we were all just young girls that needed money."

What Girls Do Porn is not, however, is representative of how the porn industry works, according to a wide variety of people I’ve spoken to over the course of years of reporting about sex work. But anti-porn groups, sex worker-exclusionary feminists, and misogynists would like the rest of the world to believe otherwise. Many people who read about this case say that the women involved should have known better, or that they should feel shame for filming to begin with.

"No legitimate porn company operates the way that GirlsDoPorn allegedly did. This isn't an outlier in porn industry operating procedure, it's a series of despicable crimes that were filmed and exploited for profit," Alison Boden, CEO of Kink.com, told Motherboard, highlighting that GDP isn’t a porn company, it’s a criminal operation. "I think the GirlsDoPorn case says a lot more about our society than it does about the porn industry."

The plaintiffs were victimized twice, Boden noted: first by the owners of Girls Do Porn and then by their own communities and strangers on the internet who stalked, harassed, and doxxed them.

As more and more women come forward to say that through the coverage of this case, they've realized they're not alone—and people within the adult industry continue to speak out about how this is not normal.

I spoke with directors, performers, and harm reductionist activists about how this case, and the indictment of sex trafficking, is reverberating across the industry.

"Porn isn't the problem, its exploitation"

"I’m glad so many girls are coming forward with this," one woman, who appeared in Girls Do Porn videos, told me anonymously. After the videos were spread online and she was identified, she became suicidal and depressed, and ended up moving across the country to a place where no one knew her.

"I felt so alone, and in a sort of messed up way none of us are [alone] anymore," she said. "It was a traumatizing event. None of us were 'porn stars,' we were all just young girls that needed money. None of us thought we were going to be exploited and none of us thought of this as a career."

Chilly, an independent porn performer, told Motherboard that she believes cases like what happened at Girls Do Porn are not unheard-of in the adult industry, but they're not openly discussed—mostly because of the shame and stigma society still places on sex work.

"[Companies like GDP] target this demographic because it is more vulnerable and generally unfamiliar with specific rights and industry standards," she said. Those standards include things like regular STD testing, a focus on and respect for consent, and clear expectations of how the content will be used.

"While you have less control in regards to things like editing and co-casting as a model working in mainstream porn, you always have the right to informed consent," Chilly said, noting that performers should know where their videos are going to be posted and what will happen on set. "Reputable companies will make sure that performers are aware of this from the get go."

In Girls Do Porn’s case, performers in the United States were allegedly told that the videos were going to be sold to private collectors in Australia. Instead, they were uploaded to some of the biggest porn sites on the internet, including Pornhub, where many of them were viewed millions of times. (Pornhub has since taken down the Girls Do Porn channel, following the criminal charges.)

After Girls Do Porn went to trial in August, the National Center for Exploitation—a group that's supported harmful legislation and lobbies against the rights of sex workers—released a statement commending the case.

“It’s standard practice for pornography website owners and operators to profit from the destruction of young women," Benjamin Bull, general counsel for NCOSE, said. “Only by aggressively engaging in litigation against the out-of-control porn industry manage to prevent the extensive and lifelong harm it causes.”

Bull is wrong—this is not standard practice. And organization like NCOSE ignore the lived experiences of actual sex workers, as well as trafficking survivors, in favor of their own agendas.

"To pretend that this is what the entire porn industry is like denigrates exactly the people that they claim to be speaking for," Kaytlin Bailey, communications director for advocacy group Decriminalize Sex Work said. "[The women suing Girls Do Porn] are not speaking for porn actors, they are speaking for those of us who feel trapped in the gig economy... Porn isn't the problem, its exploitation, with which this entire economy is rife."

Are you someone who was involved with Girls Do Porn, as a model or an employee? We'd love to hear from you. Contact Samantha Cole securely on Signal at +6469261726, direct message on Twitter, or by email. Correspondence will be kept anonymous unless agreed otherwise.

To try to cope with capitalism's exploitative grip on all labor, more and more performers choose to work independent of any studio or agency, as Chilly has, and instead set up cam sites or sell clips.

Gavin Lloyd, CEO of Offworld Media Group and founder of indie adult content marketplace APclips.com, told Motherboard that the old ways of mainstream porn and work-for-hire through studios especially, leaves an opening for people like the Girls Do Porn crew to exploit performers.

"While certainly not typical or prevalent, theses occurrences are perhaps far more commonplace than many in our industry would like to openly admit or discuss," Lloyd said. "In [the independent] business model, sex workers are in complete control. There is nobody even conceivably in need of 'rescue' in this scenario, and no boogeymen for them to be 'rescued' from."

"I felt like my life was stripped from me"

Sex trafficking panic serves as a political lever to push legislators into supporting bills that harm consensual sex workers. It's an age-old tactic: save the women and children, especially the white women, from erotic media, consensual sex work, and sexual predators.

At a LGBTQ+ issues-focused town hall for Democratic presidential candidates last week, activist Ryan Basham asked Senator Amy Klobuchar—who has spent her career using trafficking to further legislation that harms sex workers—about her plans for addressing sex work. In her answer, she immediately conflated sex work with sex trafficking and needing rescue.

Supporters of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which passed last year and has since inflicted untold amounts of financial, physical and mental harm to people working in the sex trade, used human trafficking rhetoric to pass the bill through Congress nearly unanimously.

Officials also used a human trafficking narrative to take down Backpage.com, a website that helped sex workers vet clients and stay safe. Kamala Harris, another Democratic presidential candidate, spearheaded this.

The cry for "women and children" appears in the Department of Justice announcement of Backpage owner's guilty pleas: First Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Strange said that Backpage was “placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices.”

But everyone involved in this takedown ignored the lived experiences of sex workers and actual trafficking victims, who said that this would only endanger them more.

Trafficking rhetoric is perhaps most dangerously used against sex workers who band together to keep themselves safe, or are trying to escape or avoid being actually trafficked. When sex workers live together, support each other financially or materially, or even drive each other to work, they're at risk for state violence and can be charged with pandering.

"I think that groups who are anti-sex work are going to use [Girls Do Porn's indictment], but they'll use anything to discredit and undermine sex workers," Kate D'Adamo, a sex worker activist and harm reductionist at Reframe Health and Justice, said. "These groups aren't interested in finding the elements of truth in the story—they're invested in how they can exploit the lives and narratives of sex workers to further their own goals."

Several of the people I spoke with said that a more open discussion is needed, both within the industry and with people outside of it. Talking more openly about abuses when they happen changes lives.

"I felt like my life was stripped from me, until now," the woman who appeared in Girls Do Porn films told me. Now she knows there are others out there who experienced the same abuses she did. "Now I feel like there’s hope."

"Creating space for more open and unbiased dialogue is the only way to make sure that more people know their rights and feel safe calling out predatory practices," Chilly said. "Because of the amount of stigmatization still attached to the sex industry it can be difficult to speak up when something goes wrong. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up in the way that these women did."

Tagged:
Trafficking
Sex Trafficking
anti-porn
ncose