On November 28, internationally renowned porn performer, writer, and entrepreneur Stoya set social media ablaze when she tweeted that her ex-boyfriend and former scene partner, James Deen, had raped her. “That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks,” she wrote. “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword.” Since Stoya sent these tweets, at least eight other women, all involved in adult entertainment, have spoken out about being abused by Deen — and while each new claim has inspired both victim-blaming and sex-worker-shaming, the porn industry has stood by the women who have alleged sexual assault in a way that's unprecedented in other industries. Arguably the most famous male performer in the world of straight porn, James Deen has acted in over 2,000 porn scenes, won two AVN Awards for Male Performer of the Year, launched his own production company, been profiled on Nightline, appeared alongside Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons, and become one of the most bankable stars. What sets Deen apart from his colleagues is that he rocketed to mainstream acclaim through the popular demand of female — and, in particular, feminist — fans. Though he has repeatedly rejected the label of “feminist,” Deen has been lauded as the “the physical embodiment of consent culture” by feminist bloggers, labeled “the thinking girl’s porn star” by Elle magazine, and called “the Ryan Gosling of porn” by Esquire. This publicity culminated in a boy-next-door image that has made the nine women’s accounts of abuse — from rape on-camera to after-hours assault to private humiliation — all the more horrifying. Detractors of Deen’s accusers, meanwhile, question whether a porn star can even be a rape victim, and anti-porn activists are jumping to their pulpits to reiterate tired claims that all porn constitutes "rape." But amidst the immediate Twitter war between the #supportforstoya and #isidewithjd factions (along with plenty of victim-blaming, sex-worker-shaming, and demands for “proof” from Deen’s accusers), a heartening trend quickly emerged within the porn industry. The community united to do what the entertainment industry, politicians, police units, and more have failed to do, time and time again: support women who speak up about sexual assault. Within hours of Stoya’s tweets, porn performer and entrepreneur Joanna Angel — who, for years, had deflected questions about her six-year relationship with Deen, which ended in 2011 — tweeted “You have my support, @stoya. I’m here for you.” (Since then, Angel has detailed a cycle of brutally abusive behavior by Deen over the course of her relationship with him.) The following Monday, sex-toy company Doc Johnson announced it would “no longer proceed with the products that we make on [Deen’s] behalf,” and Kink.com, the largest BDSM porn site in the world, cut all ties with the performer. According to accusers, multiple instances of Deen’s abuse took place on Kink.com sets or on its premises, leading the company to pledge to “review our Model Bill of Rights to strengthen protections for performers off-set, and work with the larger industry to help performers that have been assaulted to more easily come forward.”
That’s not all. Porn performer Tasha Reign explained her choice to replace Deen in an upcoming production, telling The Daily Beast, "I’ve done tons of scenes with him, I’ve hung out with him, and I really like him…but I am a feminist before I am a model or pornographer." Production company Evil Angel echoed her sentiments, announcing that “These accusations are of a nature so contrary to our company values that we feel it necessary to suspend the sales of Deen’s product." (Deen later stated in an interview with The Daily Beast that he “fired Evil Angel over a year ago… The idea that they stopped doing anything is ridiculous.”) Also on Monday, The Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult industry, called for Deen’s immediate removal from the board of the Adult Performers Advocacy Committee (APAC), of which Deen had been chairman. Deen voluntarily stepped down that afternoon, and APAC “issued a statement of solidarity with all sex workers who have been violated or assaulted.” The following Wednesday, porn sites Blacked.com and Tushy.com confirmed that they would no longer work with Deen.
While some are cautioning against destroying the professional life of a man who is legally considered innocent until proven guilty, the decision to work or not work with someone whom nine women now say has no respect for boundaries is a decision that takes place in boardrooms, not courtrooms — and porn insiders are taking this opportunity to challenge stereotypes of performers and producers as careless with consent. In an essay for The Daily Beast in which she described her assault by Deen, Tori Lux points out that “sex workers are silenced and our negative experiences are swept under the rug as we try to protect ourselves from the judgment of others.” It is perhaps because so many in porn don’t expect outsiders to listen to them that the industry has banded together so strongly to support its own.
By opening a public dialogue about consent, the porn community is doing what every community should do in the face of rape allegation cases.
By opening a public dialogue about consent, the porn community is doing what every community should do in the face of rape allegation cases. Far too often, survivors are doubted, belittled, shamed, and ignored — that is, if they speak up at all. RAINN estimates that only 32% of sexual assault claims are reported to law enforcement and that just 2% of rapists ever see a day in jail for their crimes. While some raise the alarm about the possibility of false accusations (particularly when they are made against powerful men), it is becoming increasingly clear that false reporting is, as Salon put it, “vanishingly rare." The rates of fake accusations of sexual assault are estimated to be between 0.2% and 8% — the same as false-report rates for any other crime. In industries from television to movies to music to sports, those accused of sexual assault (Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Terry Richardson, R. Kelly, Roman Polanski, Rick James, and Ben Roethlisberger, to name a few) have remained on cultural thrones cemented by their profitability. But the porn industry, on the other hand, is pulling the rug out from under its most prized poster boy. Feminists of all genders are watching. They want not only justice for survivors of sexual assault, but a cultural shift in the way that survivors are treated. They want them to be believed. There are financial incentives to drop Deen, as well: He shocked the world into realizing that feminists watch porn, too, and that these people are willing to pay for what they like. The question of whether Deen deserved his pedestal as a feminist icon aside, those who support feminism now have their eyes on porn not just as skeptics, but as fans who want their voices heard.
Only by treating every sexual-assault allegation with gravity can we begin to shift the balance of power away from those who rape and toward those who speak out. An impressive roster of leaders has just proven that, rather than being some dark corner of immorality or corruption, the porn industry is opportune ground for that power shift to take place. It’s time to shed our surprise that this industry has offered a model for how to treat women who find the courage to speak up about sexual assault. It’s also time to follow its lead.
Lynsey G has been lurking around the edges of the porn industry as a critic, reviewer, interviewer, and blogger since 2007.