Twenty-two women are suing the adult site Girls Do Porn, alleging that they were coerced into performing on-camera. The San Diego-based company is accused of convincing women to appear in porn by dishonestly claiming that the films would not appear online, reports Vice’s Samantha Cole. It’s also alleged that Girls Do Porn pressured the women into signing unread contracts and continuing with performances despite voicing discomfort. The plaintiffs say that their lives were “irreparably” damaged as a result of unexpectedly having these films widely distributed.
The lawsuit was filed three years ago, but the trial, which is expected to begin today with opening statements, has been delayed because Girls Do Porn’s owner Michael Pratt filed for bankruptcy, according to NBC 7. The plaintiffs claim that the company falsely presented itself as Begin Modeling, a mainstream modeling agency that advertised on Craigslist and accepted applications through its website. Instead of modeling gigs, though, women were allegedly offered thousands of dollars to appear in adult films, while being promised that the resulting videos would not be distributed online or in the United States.
Once on-set, in a secretive shoot in a hotel room, performers were presented with documents to sign “under duress and coercion” and often with the defendants “yelling at them and saying there is no time to read,” allege the plaintiffs. After filming began, the suit continues, “if they refuse or say they are uncomfortable or in pain, The Defendants often yell at them, saying it is too late to change their minds and they cannot leave the hotel room.” The shoots also allegedly took “much longer than the promised,” and involved performers being “forced to have sex when not filming—to appease [their co-star].”
Ultimately, the films were released on Girls Do Porn’s free and for-pay websites. Some clips were additionally released or licensed “all over the internet on a multiple of free pornography websites,” according to the lawsuit. Then the performers would inevitably hear from someone they know who had found the video online, often their first time hearing of the site Girls Do Porn.
There is, sadly, more: After discovering the videos online, some of the plaintiffs attempted to reach out to the Girls Do Porn creators only to find that they had allegedly changed their phone numbers. And yet more: Girls Do Porn allegedly released the performers’ legal names online, resulting in stalking, harassment, bullying, and blackmail from what the lawsuit describes as “fans” (the lawsuit uses quotes around the term “fans” as well).
It is unfortunate, and yet not surprising, that in defending these 22 women the lawsuit subtly distances the plaintiffs from women who consensually appear in adult films. One passage from the suit devastatingly reveals the lengths to which lawyers feel they must go in order to inspire basic human sympathy for adult performers. It reads:
The young women appearing in The Defendants’ amateur pornography come from good families, have never appeared in pornography before, are often paying their way through school, and are just beginning their careers and adulthood. So, there is only way The Defendants can convince these women to have sex on film: The Defendants lie to them.
Note the emphasis on “amateur” and “good families.” The unspoken implication is those other women who appear in porn—freely and without coercion, and for reasons other than paying college tuition—do not come from good families. What a depressing bargain: levying sex worker stereotypes in order to protect the rights of certain sex workers.
Vice reports that the Girls Do Porn website is still live and features video descriptions that “emphasize that [the performers are] new to porn, that this is their first time making an adult video, and even their hesitation to be there in the first place,” Cole writes. She continues, “The viewer is meant to believe that the actors aren’t aware they’re being watched, or are so desperate for cash (many of the descriptions mention women needing money for student loans or rent) that they’ll do anything.” An example video description: “This girl was so fucking nervous to do her very first adult video, it took months of convincing to get her to finally agree to do this.”
This taps into the once-thriving genre of casting couch porn, which simulates the fantasy of sexual coercion, as Cole points out. This lawsuit, however, claims that in the case of Girls Do Porn it wasn’t simulated.