All the Rage

The NFL Should Take a Page Out of the Porn Industry’s Playbook


The adult film world took swift action when several women accused porn star James Deen of rape. Why can’t the top brass of America’s favorite pastime follow their example?



We have seen time and again that sexual-assault accusations by women typically fall on deaf ears, especially if the perpetrator is powerful, famous, or otherwise valuable in some way. At this moment, an all-white jury is deliberating whether to believe that 13 Black women were raped by Oklahoma City ex-police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. It’s taken years for people to take seriously the claims of now over 50 women against Bill Cosby—women are often discredited, until their numbers accumulate. And then, and only then do their testimonies finally get taken seriously.

But at least with Cosby we had voices of dissent within the entertainment world pointing our attention to his history of abuse. In the NFL, there’s not even that. Professional football players who have been accused of rape remain on the field and drawing paychecks—they are, in fact, among the top draft picks (e.g., Jameis Winston). Meanwhile, the NFL’s top brass assures the world that they are policing themselves and so we should pay no mind to these sexual-assault allegations against such players as Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy—just get back to watching the game! And their position is supported by police, who fail to follow up on allegations by famous players. These men are sold to us and our children as American heroes—family men (though the NFL, as an organization, has no paternity leave policy), upstanding citizens (what about those off-season clubbing bacchanals?), and paradigms of athleticism (as long as you ignore the head injuries that literally drive them insane). Surprisingly, it’s in the seedy, secret, Wild West of American porn where we see a better model of how an industry should quickly and directly handle allegations of rape and abuse, even when the alleged perpetrator is a top star.

On November 28, internationally famous adult-film star Stoya announced via two consecutive tweets that her ex-boyfriend, porn’s so-called “boy next door,” James Deen, raped her. (The two dated between 2012 and 2014.) She wrote, “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safe word. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.” Stoya is currently in Serbia, working long hours on a narrative film (not X-rated), in which she plays a woman who would be raped by a friend. She told The Guardian that the role brought up painful memories of her relationship with Deen, and inspired her not to keep quiet about it any longer.

After her announcement, Stoya logged off Twitter, but in the five days that followed, other women stepped forward—eight in all, including Stoya, each in the adult-film industry—to say that they too had been sexually assaulted by Deen, in their private life and on set. Joanna Angel, a porn star who also dated Deen (from 2005 to 2011), said that though she was at first attracted by the rough way that he had sex, she eventually went into therapy to deal with stress caused by his verbal abuse, several instances of extreme choking, and a particularly gruesome encounter in which he held her head under water during intercourse. Other stars described filming scenes in which Deen went too far, deliberately doing things that were on their “no” list, and penetrating them so roughly there was pain and in one instance anal bleeding that required stitching.

Several of these alleged abuses took place at the Armory, an adult-film studio run by the fetish pornography site Kink.com in San Francisco’s Mission District. Very quickly, Kink.com severed ties with Deen, and vowed to strengthen their “Model Bill of Rights.” Other companies followed suit. Though Deen denied and continues to deny the allegations, he resigned as the chairperson for the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, an industry oversight group he help co-found to help provide safe working environments and protect performers’ rights. Deen’s current girlfriend, Chanel Preston, took his place.

If this is starting to sound like something out of Boogie Nights, well, that’s not far off. The porn industry is small, marginalized, and largely unregulated. There are many personal connections among the performers, creative talent, and distributors, and the line between work and play is very blurry, especially at the Armory. According to Deen, Kink.com “puts all the models in one building on one floor unsupervised with access to alcohol and various sex toys, as well as a communal bathroom. It creates a very nonstop sexual environment which is very conducive to producing great content.”

And also conducive to sex workplace violations: Kink.com is currently dealing with four lawsuits alleging unsafe conditions, from assault to the spread of HIV. In this light, the company’s dropping Deen may be seen as an attempt to get ahead of the eight ball. Perhaps it’s less that porn’s biggest male star is a shit, and more that the system itself, which continues to push boundaries in an attempt to satisfy jaded viewers’ demand for more and more gonzo content, encourages this kind of shitty behavior, Kink.com’s non-stop BDSM factory especially so.

What is amazing, and heartening, is how the industry is already having an open conversation about Deen’s behavior and how he was enabled to get away with it unchallenged for so long. On Twitter, Stoya’s revelations sent the hashtag #solidaritywithstoya trending worldwide. The alleged victims are publicly supporting one another, and more women are coming forward with stories that show just how pernicious and degrading Deen’s been allowed to be during filming. This past weekend, Bree Olson began to cry when she described having violent sex with Deen, calling him “sadistic,” and men too are coming out to say that Deen is controlling, manipulative, egocentric, and difficult to deal with. The code of silence around Deen is breaking.

Which is funny, because the traditional feminist argument against porn has been that it devalues and dehumanizes women. That is in many ways an unassailable position, at least at the macro level. At its worst, porn reduces every performer to just big, grinding, wet genitals on a screen. (And yes, men too. How often does the camera focus on a male performer’s face during ecstasy, or at all in the course of a typical scene?) And yet, I’ve noticed a big change in the porn clips I see today compared to the VHS tapes of my dad’s that I used to sneak and watch. Then, the representation of female pleasure was a lot of breathy moans, with no sense of climax. I learned what a clitoris was by reading my mom’s Cosmopolitan magazines, not from watchingThe Devil in Miss Jones! To watch a video by Stoya, on the other hand, is to see a woman enacting female pleasure—not just moaning, but laughing and smiling, touching herself, asking to be touched in certain ways, talking with her partner about her orgasm. This represents a growing shift in female sexuality in America, a shift toward women being as comfortable expressing their sexual selves, and as active in pursuing pleasure, as men. You can see this off-screen as well—no one is quite sure exactly how many women in America watch porn, but it may be as high as 40 to 50 percent.

Similarly, there are no numbers on exactly how many women work behind the scenes in porn as writers, directors, and producers, but it’s clear that many have, since the 1970s. Compare that to the world of the NFL, which has just seen its first woman assistant coach (Jen Welter, for the Arizona Cardinals) and woman referee (Sarah Thomas), or Hollywood, where sexism remains entrenched. If these industries had more women in positions of authority then they would not allow alleged rapists, abusers, and misogynists to operate with impunity. That’s particularly the case for the NFL, which has largely been an entertainment created by men for men, and in which women literally have no role except as adornments on the sidelines, cheering on the players. You might have expected that to be the case with porn too, and perhaps it once was, but no longer.

Now, many young women watch porn and connect online with their favorite stars, and more women than ever hold leadership positions in the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Because of that, and also because especially in the world of BDSM the connection between sex and power is crystal clear, we’re seeing a more enlightened way of how an industry should deal with allegations of rape and sexual abuse. American pornographers are not just listening to the women who James Deen victimized, they’re taking action and censoring him, as they should be. Here’s hoping other industries pay more attention to the example the adult film industry has just set in handling perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault.

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