Let’s start with the fact that I’m too young to know. However, I hope writing this gives me motivation to learn. The adult industry has existed far longer than most people can logically comprehend. I’ve only been on this planet about 30 years. Sex workers have been around for thousands. The most recognized versions of our time include adult performers (aka porn stars), dancers, escorts, cam models, and, yes, prostitutes. I’ve recently been made aware of yet another scandal involving porn stars. This time, I wanted to explore what happens when social norms, laws, and the sex industry collide.
Scandals Shape the Adult Industry
Scandals and the adult industry seem to go hand in hand. But why is that? Most people would assume it’s due to the nature of the business. In reality, it’s the nature of society to stigmatize and intensify the sensitivity of the business. A quick web search of “scandals in the porn industry” shows a baffling list of horrible circumstances. Let’s take a deeper dive into just a few of those scandals to see if we can see how they become a scandal.
HIV in the workplace
The earliest scandal I can remember was the HIV outbreak in the early 2000’s. I’ve had to research the details because I truly only remember young friends repeating jokes their parents told about news stories. It was Darren James, a prominent Black performer at the time. James tested positive for HIV in April of 2004, which led to a 30-day shutdown of the porn industry. Through testing, it was was discovered that 3 additional actresses who had worked with James had also been infected. The Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation is the organization that ran the testing and search for the source beyond Darren. The best educated guess was that the source of the infection came from an unprotected anal scene filmed with Brazilian actress Bianca Biaggi outside of the U.S.
In my digging, I learned that HIV and the porn industry has a fatal past. The 1980s saw an outbreak that killed 27 porn stars. Some of those performers had made the conscious choice to not disclose their HIV-positive status to their producers or co-stars. As the revelations came to light, the formation of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation was necessary to oversee the testing and accountability of adult performers.
Recently, I watched James discuss his career and what he’s done to overcome his darkest days in the series After Porn Ends 2. He’s become an advocate of condom usage on set. The standards for condom use in porn only exists in LA county. The condom law didn’t come around until 2012, nearly a decade after Darren’s experience. There were several other HIV scares during the same time period. One of the main arguments against the Condom Law is that it doesn’t have any impact on porn filmed beyond the LA county lines or sexual contact off-set. This still places the majority of the burden on testing. The requirement for testing is every 30 days to be an eligible performer in the adult industry. When the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation closed its operation in 2011. , it created a need for a new accountability organization in the adult industry. The Free Speech Coalition stepped up and now runs an organization called PASS (Performer Availability Screening Servicees) that maintains a database of STI testing results of adult performers.
So, in looking back over the past 35 years, the porn industry seems to have developed somewhat of a handle on testing and accountability. There still remains the threat of performers who don’t practice safe sex when not on set, but there are also performers who hold themselves to a higher standard and get tested every two weeks. It’s difficult to say what further regulation would make the industry safer. The laws that make it a requirement to inform partners about Sexually Transmitted Diseases vary widely between states. Many of the laws make a distinction between knowingly and unknowingly transmitting STDs due to the prevalence of the non-adult industry citizens not getting tested regularly.
What about Sexual Violence?
There’s no shortage of violence in American culture. It’s just as much part of our society as nationalistic pride and the love of pizza. But how our society views sexual violence and consent is morbidly fascinating. En mass, people will cheer for a man who violently saves his family from any sort of violent attack. But when it comes to the adult industry there is typically a deafening silence to standing up to violence aimed at adult industry professionals. In many cases, the victim-blaming mantras of “If she had chosen a better profession…” or “What did she expect?” will be the responses of seemingly uncompassionate people.
*Sexual Assault Trigger Warning*
An example of sexual violence that has long been seen but not addressed is the treatment of porn stars and ordinary citizens by adult entertainment legend Ron Jeremy. Decades of his off camera antics are catching up with him. Jeremy’s website describes his professional background here:
“A porn industry icon, Jeremy’s audience has always identified with him because of his average looks and humble personality. Jeremy has starred in over 1700 films, directed 250 and become porn’s biggest ambassador to the mainstream over the last 20 years. He has appeared in 60 mainstream films, was a consultant on Boogie Nights and 9 1/2 Weeks, has appeared in 14 music videos, VH1′s Surreal Life and starred in the critically acclaimed Pornstar: The Legend of Ron Jeremy and Being Ron Jeremy.”
But Jeremy has a budding problem, right now, on twitter. That line about his humble personality likely won’t save him. Several cam models, porn actresses, and non-adult industry women are voicing their experiences with Ron. One such cam model, Ginger Banks (@gingerbanks1), has Ron Jeremy and Jeffrey Handy, the director of Exxxotica Expo, in her sights. She is exposing the overwhelming volume of evidence that shows Jeremy has been allowed to sexually assault/rape women for years because of his industry popularity. And other industry people, like Jeffrey Handy, condone and encourage the behavior. That thread of evidence/first hand accounts with Jeremy is HERE and a couple sexual assault allegations HERE and HERE And, Jeffrey Handy had a few examples of condoning inappropriate behavior, but he’s quickly trying to edit/walk back his words. (Example HERE) From the example, it’s pretty clear that there is a lack of initial effort to create clarity when it comes to respecting boundaries and emphasizing consent.
We (Nikki & I) met Ginger Banks at the last Exxxotica Expo before the City of Dallas banned it’s return. We share a mutual bond of despising the religious protesters that carry signs reading “You Deserve Rape” and other despicable messages. We also had the displeasure of witnessing Ron Jeremy’s antics from across the room. There wasn’t anything we felt we should intervene happening at the time, but looking back with clarity, we would have encouraged everyone we met that day to steer clear of “The Hedgehog”.
The consequences of his actions are yet to be determined, but we hope that, whatever the outcome, there are no more victims and the current victims obtain the justice they seek. Ron Jeremy is just the latest in high-profile performers abusing their sexual position. James Deen shares a similar story, but his signature style is violent porn. We’ll save that for another blog post.
The War Machine
*Domestic Violence Trigger Warning*
In 2014, a Mixed Martial Artist by the legally changed name of War Machine (formerly Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver) assaulted both his then girlfriend Christine Mackinday, aka the porn star Christy Mack, and her friend, Corey Thomas. The attack was brutal, including fractured bones, dislocated shoulders, missing teeth, and a lacerated liver. There were also details of sexual assault that I am choosing to omit, because that’s the standard I choose to set for my blog. The relationship between Koppenhaver and Mackinday was tumultuous, violent, and everything a healthy relationship should not be.
But here’s the thing: Yes, the man is professionally aggressive and violent. But, NO, Christy Mack, should not have been violently beaten and sexually assaulted. NO, she should not have expected this behavior just because of Koppenhaver’s chosen profession or her own.
Despite the obvious, our society was torn on their response to this event. An article from The Daily Dot captured twitter’s response to the meager details they assumed were true. Everything from the accusation that Christy was cheating on Koppenhaver with Thomas, to justifying the beat down using that information, or the fact that she was an adult performer as supporting evidence of her presumed adultery. There were plenty of people that came to her defense, but just as many that sided with Koppenhaver. The twist happened when people came to Christy’s defense but made it clear that it was despite her chosen profession.
This is not alright, even though she’s a porn star! http://t.co/2m4JH9JABT
— He-Man99 (@GQman24) August 12, 2014
It’s almost as if being a porn star was an excuse for terrible things to happen, but this particular event was an exception. This is not okay. Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver was sentenced on March 29th, 2017 to life in prison, and will be eligible for parole when he is 71 years old.
Change takes Effort
The stigmas, shame, social consequences of becoming a sex worker are just as strong today as they have ever been. This is largely due to the apathy society shows the sex industry. When violence happens in sex, society condemns the victim for putting themselves in a vulnerable place. When sexually transmitted diseases wreak havoc on an industry, society pretends it could only happen in that industry. The adult industry may never have the respect it deserves, but there will forever be advocates. Organizations like the Free Speech Coalition and The Sex Workers Project are doing what they can to change the condition for sex workers. The need for allies who consistently RE-humanize adult performers has never been more profound.
Ultimately, it will take effort on the part of society to change their perspective on sex workers. Younger generations are already working hard to hold public figures accountable, regardless of the industry they are in. Society will benefit from shining spotlights into the dark areas. Nikki and I straddle both sides of the line. While we’ve been in reality based porn, we don’t quite meet the criteria of being performers. That means we have to do our part to bridge the gap. We recognize our obligation to help. Hopefully we will have an impact somewhere.
We’ll try to put together a list of additional organizations, charities, and outreach programs that we can maintain on the Nikki & Daniel website.