​A Woman Won $1.5 Million in Damages After a Brain Injury Supposedly Made Her Become a Dominatrix

Alissa Afornina was in a car accident that caused brain injuries that her lawyers argued caused her to become a dominatrix.

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Feb 2 2015, 5:00am

Photo via WikiMedia Commons

On August 9, 2008, Canadian Alissa Afonina was in a car with her brother Alexei, her mother Alla, and Alla's ex-boyfriend Peter Jansson when the Toyota Tacoma hit a wet patch at a curve and ran off the road. No other vehicle was involved, but the SUV, which witnesses said had been speeding, wound up on its side. The two women suffered various injuries.

Court documents say that "it is not disputed that Alissa has suffered a brain injury as a result of the accident," for which she was awarded a judgment of over $1.5 million (an additional $943,000 was awarded to her mother). What is disputed is whether the accident, and the brain damages she suffered, caused her to undergo a personality change that led to her becoming a sex worker.

Beginning in the 2008–09 school year, just after the car accident, Afonina started acting differently. One teacher testified to her lack of impulse control, outbursts in class, a scattered memory, and general social isolation. Prior to the accident, those who knew her she had been a bright student, a high-achieving "goth girl" with "artiste presentation.'"

A school psychiatrist presented a different version of pre-accident Afonina, diagnosing her with borderline personality disorder, but the judge dismissed this, believing that she faked it as an attention-getting technique. Either way, Afonina wasn't the same student after the accident. She dropped out of school to finish her 12th grade coursework at home, and attended college only briefly. Further psychiatric evaluation concluded that her health all but ruled out stable long-term employment.

And then, at some point before late 2013, Alissa Afornina became a dominatrix. It was a career choice her attorneys argued showed "unnecessary risk assumption" and proved that she had cognitive impairment from the brain injury. The judge, while noting that her profession "shows an ability to organize one's self to meet a deadline, to keep an appointment, [and] to apparently collect remuneration," found that she had "no residual earning capacity and no ability to work as a result of the brain injury."

I asked San Francisco dominatrix Eve Minax what she made of the case, and she lamented the fact that the sex workers who receive the most attention from the legal system are often people who dabble in the profession for one reason or another and aren't really thinking about it seriously. "There's a handful of us taking it seriously, who really value the meaning of our work," she said.

Minax expressed sympathy for Afornina, but added, "However her case goes, I hope that deciding to work professionally in the realm of sado-masochism does not have to be an argument on someone's lack of judgment."

When I spoke to her, Afornina agreed with Minax's underlying point and seemed somewhat aggravated about the attention her story was getting. "I think my former occupation was used to sensationalize this story," she said. "There are many people who win brain injury cases each year, but they don't end up on the cover of a paper."

Follow Peter Lawrence Kane on Twitter.

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