Porn performer August Ames died by suicide in December of 2017, but late last week, her Twitter account, which is now run by her husband Kevin Moore, sent out a message. Using her birth name, rather than stage name, it read, “Mercedes [sic] own words on her experience working with Markus Dupree.” Attached were screenshots of text messages Ames had reportedly sent to a friend several weeks before her death, along with two photos of extensive bruises on her body.
“The guy was way too rough with me,” read one of the texts, in reference to a shoot Ames had done with a male performer the day before. “He was dragging me around and choked me with my panties, slamming my head down on the table and was just WAY too rough and the scene didn’t even call for it. I was so enraged that when he pulled me down to kiss him I just spat in his face.” Her texts went on to allege that her scene partner was male performer Markus Dupree and that she “was literally in panic mode so I froze and didn’t say no or stop,” and that she “just wanted it to be over.” The shoot, wrote Ames, “was totally unprofessional and I wanted to die.” (Jezebel reached out to Dupree for comment but has not yet received a response. We’ll update this post if we hear back.)
The revelation of Ames’s texts—first reported in British journalist Jon Ronson’s new podcast The Last Days of August—follows several earlier, and in some cases eerily similar, allegations of on-set abuse within the adult industry, and it raises now-familiar questions about protecting porn performers’ rights. In 2015, several allegations of on-set abuse were made against popular porn performer James Deen. Then, in 2016, performer Nikki Benz alleged abuse during a shoot for the porn production company Brazzers. Early last year, performers Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon published a YouTube video detailing allegations of abuse during two different porn shoots. (In all cases, the accused denied the allegations.) Just recently, performer Lily Adams accused director Stills by Alan of sexual assault.
This tweet from Ames’s account was posted on January 4, the same day that Ronson’s podcast premiered. It’s a seven-part series looking into Ames’s death, and it was initially sparked by the frequently suggested possibility that her suicide was tied to online bullying, one of Ronson’s favored beats. Shortly before her death, Ames was embroiled in a Twitter controversy after tweeting that she had decided against doing a scene with a male performer who did both straight and gay porn. The implication seemed to be that, as a so-called “crossover” performer, he posed a higher STI transmission risk—a suggestion that many on social media criticized as homophobic.
Following Ames’s death, Moore pointed the finger at social media in general, and performers Jessica Drake and Jaxton Wheeler in particular. Without mentioning Ames, Drake had tweeted amid the Twitter controversy, “performers, by all means, fuck who you want to fuck… but if you’re eliminating folks based on the fact they may have done gay or crossover work, your logic is seriously flawed.” Wheeler wrote in a tweet apparently directed at Ames, “The world is awaiting your apology or for you to swallow a cyanide pill,” although as Ronson reveals, the message was sent after she was already dead.
Last Days of August is a deeply researched, but also needlessly meandering and at times remarkably speculative, three-and-a-half-hour series that attempts to examine the cause of Ames’s death. It explores everything from her mental health struggles to unsupported industry gossip that she might have been murdered. The series casts an especially critical eye toward Moore, investigating allegations that he was controlling and emotionally abusive, which he denied, and even tracking down a hard-to-find ex-wife who did not have the best things to say about him.
But the most powerful revelation from the series—which ultimately does not arrive at much of a conclusion about the cause of Ames’s death, aside from the likelihood that multiple factors were at play—is the same one revealed in this most recent tweet from Ames’s Twitter account. Several weeks before her death, Ames expressed to others that a shoot with Dupree had gone too far.
The texts said that during the Las Vegas-based shoot she “was looking at the sound guy with ‘help me’ eyes and he was looking back at me with ‘I’m sorry eyes.’” She added, “It felt like rape but I was in a ‘fuck it’ mood and I was just pissed and wanted to get paid for the bullshit I went through.” If she had walked off set, she said in a text, “I wouldn’t have been paid.” She alleged that she went along with an exit interview—a standard industry practice in which a performer typically says on-camera that everything that happened in the shoot was consensual before receiving their paycheck. “I said that everything went fine and I had a good time,” she said in a text. “But I was holding back tears because you don’t get paid if you say you were uncomfortable.”
Last Days of August speaks with sources who were on set that day and allege that Ames was not as bothered by the experience as these texts might suggest. One anonymous source close to the shoot alleged, “There was nothing there that would indicate that there was a problem on her end.” Another source, a photographer who took stills before the scene was shot, told Ronson, “The entire day was kind of played off to me by her as ‘this guy’s annoying,” he said. “That’s a far cry from ‘this guy is violating me.’” That said, the photographer was out of the room for 30-40 minutes, according to Ronson, and could have missed something.
In the end, an anonymous source showed the footage of the shoot in question to Last Days of August producer Lina Misitzis. “The sex looks violent,” she said of what she was shown. “[Dupree] pulls her hair hard, so hard that you can see her scalp.” Misitzis is unable to confirm that Ames looked at a crew member with “‘help me’ eyes” during filming, and she notes that Ames only spit in Dupree’s face after he asks her to. But Misitzis corroborates much of the physical details of Ames’s allegation, including that Ames was pushed onto a table. “I’ve seen dozens of other male performers pull similar moves,” said Misitzis, “but they all seem to have a sense of affection and intuition that Markus lacked that day.”
The timing of the tweet from Ames’s account—which, again, is managed by Moore, Ames’s husband—is interesting, given that Last Days of August pointedly questions Moore about why he didn’t sooner bring to light Ames’s allegations against Dupree. Why did he instead focus the blame on social media? Moore’s responses are fairly unsatisfactory—and the tweet, particularly given the alarming photos accompanying it, might seem a ploy to take the attention off of a podcast that does not make him look very good at all.
Regardless, the allegations deserve their overdue attention. They are also remarkably reminiscent of past allegations of on-set abuse—and, for that reason, they seem to heavily underscore the need to examine industry shooting practices.
For one, Ames described seizing up during the shoot and “just [wanting] it to be over.” Similarly, Leigh Raven alleged, “I just said to myself, ‘Let’s just get this over with.’” She alleged that she was afraid to speak up because she was surrounded by an all-male crew. (For these reasons, some have suggested that the industry should adopt a policy of having a performer advocate on sets.) Riley Nixon alleged that she didn’t say anything about what she described as excessive roughness because she didn’t “want to make people angry and I need to pay rent.”
In all three cases, the performers alleged that a scene exceeded their boundaries but, for various reasons—whether it was shock, fear, or the need for a paycheck—they did not end the scene.
Following Nikki Benz’s allegation, The Adult Performers Actors Guild released The Benz List, a voluntary checklist that performers can bring to set to detail their boundaries. The Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the adult industry’s trade association, has been working on a similar checklist, as well as a list of industry best practices. But, as Siouxsie Q, secretary of The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, a non-profit centered around protecting performers’ rights, notes, “there is currently no standardized method of accountability to enforce these self regulated standards.” In addition, she says that “adult performers continue to face barriers when collaborating with law enforcement, and other government and regulatory bodies.”
Eric Paul Leue, executive director of the FSC, says that, beyond checklists and best practices, there are broad changes that need to be made. “We need to move the adult industry to a model that not only embraces affirmative consent, but also breaks and check-ins, and that performers feel safe asking for changes,” he told Jezebel. “Some companies and directors are very invested in the practice, and many directors, especially former performers, know that a smile or a ‘yes’ on set might not be the full story.” This means “education, and shifting cultural norms, just as we see outside the industry,” Leue said. “Unfortunately, that takes more time,” he added.
As for the bruising documented in Ames’s photographs, Leue says, “A performer should not return from a scene bruised unless that’s something that is specifically been expected or negotiated, for example in an advanced BDSM scene.” He added, “If a performer is being listened to by their scene partners and their directors, and the scene isn’t a fetish scene, we shouldn’t be talking about bruising at all.”
Ames’s description of doing a positive exit interview as a way to get her paycheck is now especially familiar. Nixon also alleged that she went ahead with the exit interview for that reason. In Benz’s case, she specifically alleged that she was made to film a positive exit interview and told that she wouldn’t receive a paycheck unless she did. In fact, Ames mentioned Benz’s story in her text messages to her friend. “Idk if you heard about the Nikki Benz news a few months back about how she was basically raped on a brazzers set too and when she spoke out about it, whenever I was on set all the directors would talk shit about her but now I understand and I’m like…no…you let that shit happen and everyone in the room aside from the male talent knew it was wrong.”
Of course, “directors...talk[ing] shit” is another disincentive to speak up—either in the moment or after the fact.
Jezebel reached out to The California Department of Industrial Relations, which has the stated mission of improving working conditions, to ask if porn producers and directors can simply refuse to give a performer their paycheck if they decline a positive exit interview. A spokesperson responded in an email that paychecks “cannot be withheld in the manner you described,” but did not comment further. Of course, that doesn’t mean that paychecks are not withheld in that manner. As performer Tasha Reign said, “Will the company pay you? They have to. You did your job. But you might have to get a lawyer.”
Leue says this is something the industry needs to address. “We’ve seen repeated issues in the past few years as non-BDSM companies move into rougher scenes,” he said. “While some companies guarantee payment regardless of the exit interview, or even pro-rate scenes so performers can stop if they’re uncomfortable, we’ve heard reports of others where payment is dependent on finishing.”
It’s clear from Last Days of August that there are no easy answers around what led to Ames’ death. But it’s possible that, in examining her death, the podcast came upon some answers to questions it hadn’t actually asked—namely, about improving working conditions for the industry’s performers. “She’s staring straight into the camera, holding up her check for the day’s work,” says Misitzis, the podcast producer, in describing the footage of Ames’s exit interview. “She looks resigned and emotional and hollow, all at once.” Misitzis adds that Ames “seems like she’s verging on tears.”