The conversation about abuse in porn needs to extend beyond harm on set

Two women have gone public about abuse they were subjected to on porn sets, but in order to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen to any other woman, we need to talk about why we allow men to sexualize violence against women in the first place.

 

On Friday, a YouTube video posted by Nikki Hearts shows two female porn performers describing brutal abuse they were subjected to on a porn set. Both scenes took place this year and were directed by a man known as Just Dave for an unnamed site revealed later to be connected to FacialAbuse.com, a site known for its extremely violent, abusive content.

One of the women, Leigh Raven (Heart’s wife), explains that her friend, male performer Rico Strong, contacted her asking her to participate in a “kinda rough” scene that includes “rough blowjobs” and “light racial play.” Raven explains that she won’t do scenes that involve racism against “black talent or any races,” but agreed to this “racial play” because “it was directed at me, not them,” and was only to include “him calling me things like ‘my little saltine’ or ‘my little cracker.’”

The shoot itself took place on March 6, and as soon as it began, Rico and the production assistant start to say things like, “look at this bitch,” “she’s a smart white bitch,” “this white cracker cunt,” off-camera. Raven says she is already feeling uncomfortable at this point, when she hears Rico say the words “black payback,” before entering the scene and hitting her “very, very hard across the face.” She explains:

“It wasn’t a fake slap — it wasn’t a slap that we typically use in porn to make things look a little bit more intense than they actually are. It’s very painful and it definitely stunned me. I, you know, saw stars, so to speak.”

Raven was then forced into “a very, very rough blowjob” wherein, she says, “if I pulled back, I got punished” by being hit and called names. “I needed to have the dick down my throat at all times.” The director was frustrated that Raven wasn’t vomiting, as he wanted her to, from the blow job, so had her eat a bunch of apples and drink water to induce vomiting. She says:

“So I began to eat my apples, at this point covered in saliva, snot. I’m sitting on the edge of the couch, not really saying much, wanting this to really be over.”

Because the men on set were clearly annoyed and “aggravated” at having been there since morning, Raven felt pressured to finish the scene, so everyone could get paid. She was also in a warehouse alone, at night, with a group of men, and no car, should she need to escape.

She continued the scene, which involved Rico penetrating her throat to the point that she was choking. Raven pulled away in order to vomit, but was punished for pulling away, and beaten “vigorously” — “slapped in the face… slapped on my ass, my thighs, my inner thighs…” Because Raven is known for being “tough,” she says, the men kept saying “she can take it.”

Raven was then made to have intercourse in a position she had already said was painful for her (“reverse cowgirl”), told this was because “this white bitch needs to be doing the work because after all these years black men have been doing the work.” When Rico recognized that her legs were shaking, Raven explains, “he found it funny and he made me sit up higher, which made it hurt a lot more.” As a result, she had difficultly holding herself up, and was punished by being hit on her legs, head, and face.

Crying, Raven says at this point she was required to respond to everything Rico said with, “Yes, black daddy.” Rico then began to penetrate her in a way that was extremely painful for her, and though she tried to signal to him to stop, he wouldn’t. She says:

“I was squeezing his leg, his left thigh, I think, as hard as I could while pushing away and wincing in pain and tears coming down my face, and he would smack my hand away, say some sort of ‘dumb white bitch’ comment and how I needed to take the whole dick.”

Wanting to finish the scene, Raven had sex with Rico off-camera in order to keep him hard. While they were having sex, Rico grabbed her neck with both hands and began to choke her until she couldn’t breathe and almost went unconscious. While this was happening, he was whispering things in her ear that “get him off — to make him have an erection” which also “referred to the racial things that were happening on set that day.” When he is finally ready to do “the pop shot,” Rico ejaculates on Raven’s forehead, in order for the director to film her face, “covered in cum, covered in tears, snot, saliva, and vomit” for five minutes.

Apparently, it is common in porn for the performers to do “exit interviews” in order for the companies to avoid getting sued, wherein essentially the performers have to say they weren’t raped or abused or otherwise violated. In this case, Raven said she wasn’t raped when asked, and then was asked to kiss Rico for the viewers, I assume in order to convince those watching that everything is all good, and that Raven enjoyed the abuse she experienced. When she got home, she douched with iodine and bathed in hibiclens (chlorhexidine — a disinfectant and antiseptic), then cried hysterically, and took some Klonopin to go to sleep. Afterwards, she contacted the police and received a medical evaluation through a battered women’s center, and was told she had a vaginal tear and a bruised cervix.

Riley Nixon, the second performer who speaks out in the video, had a similar experience to Raven’s, in that the first thing Rico did when he entered the shot was to slap her “really hard.” She had been asked to wear a shirt with the word “feminist” on it, and throughout the shoot she was asked questions like, “What has feminism ever done for black people?” Nixon says she was punished when she tried to answer the questions, cut off, hit, and slapped.

I applaud these women for speaking out about their experiences in an industry that is unlikely to support them, and within which careers are already short-lived, even if you don’t go public about abuse that happens on set.

What is worth noting, beyond this, though, is that “parodying” real social issues or cultural trends is common in porn. Things like incest, gang rape, pedophilia, racism in every possible form, slavery, domestic abuse, and of course your run-of-the-mill violence and misogyny all are common themes in pornography. These themes are all defended as “just fantasy,” and therefore not harmful. Celebrity culture is similarly utilized, as everyone from pop stars to politicians are emulated in porn. “Tranny” porn has grown steadily in popularity in recent years. No arena is exempt.

This is precisely what makes the “it’s just fantasy” argument so baffling. The themes pornography plays off of are happening in real life, all the time, including the trend of lobbing misogyny and threats at feminists — particularly those labelled “white feminists.”

It has become increasingly acceptable (encouraged, even) for men to abuse women online who fail to adopt what they have determined are “correct” positions on things like gender identity, prostitution, pornography, and objectification, more broadly. Those who put forth a radical feminist analysis of these things are not only labelled “white feminists” (often, regardless of their actual race), but deemed acceptable targets for verbal abuse, threats of violence, and harassment. How utterly convenient that these trends are now being pornified to further shore up the violent fantasies men communicate to us in real life. And how utterly convenient that both progressives and the porn industry are in agreement about who is deserving of abuse.

While it is absolutely unacceptable to abuse women on porn sets, as Rico did, it is similarly unacceptable that the porn industry is peddling these “fantasies” in the first place. While consenting to the violence, misogyny, or racism may be important to individual performers, we cannot stop there in our analysis. When the industry is creating porn specifically to show women being punished, women in pain from various sex positions or from being throat-fucked, women crying and vomiting from blow jobs, and women being demeaned verbally, in explicitly misogynist ways, it doesn’t only matter what is happening on set. It also matters that men around the world are masturbating to these scenes, these ideas, these words, and these images.

In a statement, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), a lobby group for the porn industry, said:

“We have been shocked and outraged hearing accounts of performers who say they have suffered abuse, consent violations, deception and assault on the Just Dave set. A performer’s control over their own body is an inviolable principle of this industry. Violating consent is not only unethical, it’s criminal.

Sex workers do not give up their right to consent when they enter a set or sign a contract.

We are in contact with Leigh Raven and are working to support her and other performers in whatever comes next.”

Lest their attempt at hitting all key liberal talking points confuse you, the primary purpose of the FSC is to fight any laws that might restrict the content, imagery, or themes allowed in pornography, indeed defending the misogyny, racism, and violence we see in porn as “free speech” (even going so far as to fight laws against “virtual child porn”). Their purported concern for women and protecting women from abuse is merely performative and their claimed interest in protecting “workers rights” exists in sharp contrast to their goal of ensuring the industry can continue to make billions, without limitation.

Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon bravely spoke out because they say they “don’t want any of this to happen to any other girl.” I hope all those good liberals who agree that this kind of abuse is wrong will extend that concern to women and girls who don’t work in porn as well to those who do.

Our conversation cannot simply be about what each individual wants and prefers. When it comes to pornography, we have to address what’s happening to women on camera, as well as off, and why it is that the kind of abuse Raven and Nixon experienced is sexualized and sold to men as masturbation fodder at all.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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