A behind-the-scenes still of Rico Strong signing paperwork.
Image: Just Dave

On Wednesday, Just Dave, the director of a porn scene at the center of recent on-set abuse allegations made by performer Leigh Raven, sent Jezebel nearly three hours of footage in an attempt to publicly exonerate himself and his staff. The footage was taken on a mounted camera, which he says was filming nearly non-stop during the shoot in question, including during breaks, save for a few cuts for battery changes.

“You watch the video, you make up your own mind,” Just Dave told me during a phone call shortly before he sent over the footage. “You’re going to be shocked.” He added, “This is the truth.”

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Jezebel cannot verify whether Just Dave’s footage is unedited beyond the cuts for battery changes, but the intention in sending the tape was to discredit Raven’s claims of abuse, violence, and boundary violation on set. However, the footage doesn’t add any significant new information with regard to the abuse allegations. While it shows Raven’s co-star asking her several times if she’s OK—and her answering in the affirmative—that does not contradict Raven’s initial allegation, in which she said she was afraid to speak up because of the dynamics of the shoot and feared consequences.

But the footage sent to cast doubt on Raven’s claims raises new questions about the work environment during the shoot. In the video, during breaks between scenes, Just Dave is shown using the word “tranny” and the phrase “man thing” to refer to a transgender woman, Raven’s co-star uses the term “shim”—a combination of “she” and “him”—and jokes about beating up a transgender woman, and staff repeatedly refer disparagingly to “gay shit.” (Raven is married to a woman.) Additionally, in moments in between scenes, Raven’s co-star kids around about “whoop[ing]” her ass and, in another moment, softly smacks her in a way that is unrelated to the shoot itself.

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These revelations come at a time when sex workers’ rights are being dramatically eroded by the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which was signed into law this week by President Donald Trump. The law, which broadly holds websites responsible for any content deemed to be related to sex trafficking, has led to sweeping censorship of online venues used by sex workers to safely advertise and vet clients from the safety of their own homes. Against that political backdrop, sex workers’ safety and rights within the porn industry are more consequential than ever.

In early March, Raven took to YouTube in a video filmed by her wife, Nikki Hearts, to allege that she was abused on set during a shoot directed by Just Dave and co-starring Rico Strong. Raven, who filed a police report and underwent a medical investigation, alleged that she was misled about the nature of the shoot, and that she experienced excessive face-slapping and boundary violations. Raven was joined in the video by Riley Nixon, who made similar allegations about a shoot with Just Dave and Strong. Both Just Dave and Strong deny the allegations.

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This case does not stand on its own within the industry. Just this week, porn performer Nikki Benz filed a suit against adult industry behemoth MindGeek, the production company Brazzers, and two co-stars alleging sexual battery and gender violence. She similarly alleges that her boundaries were crossed during an excessively rough scene filmed two years ago and that she was misled about the nature of the shoot. Her allegations, which first surfaced in 2016, followed several against porn star James Deen, who was accused of on-set abuse in 2015. Deen denies the allegations.

The footage provided to Jezebel by Just Dave comes from a behind-the-scenes camera meant to capture the entire shoot, unlike the main camera, which was used to film the scene itself. It corroborates many of the uncontested details included in Raven’s original account. Her key allegations—that she was uncomfortable with the nature of the shoot, guided into a particular sexual position she had voiced concern about, pressured into eating apples to vomit on camera, penetrated deeply enough to cause pain, and scared of voicing her discomfort on set—cannot be ascertained from the video footage.

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Raven is shown laughing at several points in-between takes and also being quiet and looking tense. Raven explained her hesitance to speak up in the moment in her original YouTube video: “To be perfectly honest, I was afraid,” she said, explaining that she was in a warehouse, at night, surrounded by men and “didn’t know what could happen” if she voiced her non-consent.

There are several moments that are potentially relevant to Raven’s claim that she was afraid. Before the official filming has begun, one staffer says of another man on set, “Joe is really fun to work with. I haven’t heard any complaints.” Then Joe responds wryly, “It’s cause I shoot the ones who complain.”

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There are instances of threatened violence during filming breaks. In between scenes, Strong is shown standing naked in front of Raven, who has her face at the level of his crotch. He jokes that when he gets an erection it will slap her on the face—and then he softly, and jokingly, smacks her on the face with his hand to demonstrate. During another filming break, Strong can be heard joking, “I’m about to punch her in the fucking nose … I’m about to fuckin’ Pulp Fiction her ass.” He then does a lunge and punches the air three times while going, “Pow-pow-pow.” Strong adds, “I have to really whoop her ass … some really UFC shit to really make her mad.”

At the end of the behind-the-scenes footage provided by Just Dave, Raven is shown doing her on-camera exit interview. She says that everything was consensual and does not signal that anything was amiss, which is exactly what she claimed in her original YouTube video. “When this happened to me, I let it happen because I was in a state of disassociation as a defense mechanism,” she told Jezebel in a statement after the video was reviewed. Raven added, “I am disappointed that this industry doesn’t have measures to protect us performers from situations like this, instead just ways of legally covering their ass because they know they have to.”

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Some measures are currently in place. It’s standard for porn directors to go over a list of “dos and don’ts” with performers before filming and provide them with words that can be used to bring the action to a halt, as Just Dave did. But, as Jezebel reported earlier this month, some directors feel that it’s necessary to institute further protections, particularly during rough shoots. Both Madeline Marlowe, a longtime BDSM director, and Angie Rowntree, founder of Sssh, a porn site for women, and a still photographer for the BDSM porn site Wasteland, have interrupted scenes on behalf of performers who seem uncomfortable—because they know performers can be afraid to stop a shoot for a variety of reasons ranging from developing a poor professional reputation to losing a paycheck. But that can be a subjective call, and one that is hard to formalize. It’s an objective the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the adult industry’s trade association, will have to consider as it develops best practice guidelines around consent—a project that has been underway for months, but that now has a greater sense of urgency.

Just Dave provided Jezebel with a lengthy press release that speculates on Raven’s “dark” motives for making the accusations, which he calls “extremely dismaying and defamatory.” Addressing Raven’s claim that Strong slapped her excessively hard, Just Dave says, “Not for one instant does she behave stunned,” he says. “She expresses no displeasure or discomfort, physically, verbally, or in any other way.” In addition to what he believes is revealed by the behind-the-scenes footage, Just Dave alleges that Raven was warned three times beforehand about the particular requirements of the scene. He also says, “Leigh Raven was fully informed of the requirements of the scene, repeatedly gave knowing, affirmative consent, and was not coerced or intimidated in any way by any of us either before, during, or after that March 6 shoot.”

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The behind-the-scenes video highlights the impossibility of reliably knowing the internal experience of a person who appears to be verbally consenting, but who might be experiencing a sense of unease and pressure due to the environment, as Raven alleges was the case. Adjacent to these consent-related concerns are broader ones about appropriate workplace conduct within the adult industry. It should go without saying that hate speech—in this case, casual banter about “gay shit” and beating up a “tranny”—should not be tolerated in any workplace. The video also raises questions about on-set interactions between co-stars in between scenes—such as Strong jokingly smacking Raven outside the context of the scene.

Far from resolving these allegations, this footage introduces more questions for the industry to consider.