“Abuse Porn” or Sexual Assault?

Trigger warning: this article describes extreme misogynist and racist sexual violence and humiliation. Links to websites showing disturbing images/video have asterisks “**.”

One positive movement that has gained ground in recent years has been the growing effort to expose and challenge the existence of rape culture. From Trump’s “locker room talk” to Steubenville High School, from the Stanford rape trial last year to the rape epidemic in the US military, those who have spoken out have forced the rest of us to address the pervasive lack of respect for sexual consent. In order to deal with rape culture it is critical to identify and address the manifestations of this problem, despite the disturbing nature of the subject matter.

Many types of pornography contribute to rape culture in various ways but some are particularly harmful. One recent trend in internet pornography is the stripped-down, raw filming of abuse, humiliation, and forced sex acts. This is not simulated “rape fantasy” pornography, which dramatizes realistic situations of rape. The theme of this “abuse porn” is violent degradation — men use their penises, words and other tools to attempt to break down and strip all dignity from a woman who they are choking and otherwise sexually attacking with real force.

Some sites add intense racist humiliation by intentionally using numerous insults and props to trigger further degradation. The theme of the “Ghetto Gaggers” films, for example, is white men humiliating and sexually dominating Black women – physical violence coupled with jokes about poverty, welfare, slavery, putting nooses on women, etc. While a few writers and activists, a documentary film, and now a Lifetime movie have shed light on sites like Ghetto Gaggers, Latina Abuse (now called Latina Throats), Black on Black Crime and Facial Abuse (now called Facef**king), it has become a growing cultural atrocity that most media sources refuse to acknowledge. The story has been mainly to have been left to a handful of courageous vloggers and others who refuse to be silent.

In making claims about this highly sensitive issue, I do not intend to speak for the women involved or from an experience common to theirs. I am a man who has no experience as a sex worker or with the kind of intense sexual violence these women endure. I am speaking out to insist that rape is rape, whether people are doing it in private or selling filmed violence for profit. There is a difference between simulated, dramatized rape fantasies – where the participants are safe and consent is respected – and real forced sex. Out of the greed and desperation created by the commodification of labor, people are selling their sexual consent and dignity in the most prosperous nation in the world. The perpetrators make a product of this utter degradation, reinforcing and profiting from the racist, misogynist desires of anonymous online consumers.

In addition to the effects these acts of violence have on the women being attacked, the propagation of this kind of porn normalizes rape culture every day. What can we expect from young boys raised masturbating to men raping and humiliating women? Men have every reason to stand up with women and gender non-conforming people and insist that sexual violence is not just another product to be consumed. Rape culture degrades us all. Finally, I speak as a witness to the latest act in a tragedy that has been playing out for centuries. The oppression enacted in these films is carrying on legacies of hate that have been protected by the silent complicity of most men and white folks for far too long. Silence is an invisible glass wall that preserves atrocities in plain sight.

Rape is Rape

Some commenters defend abuse porn on the grounds that it is rough but consensual adult sex. Supposedly, the performer freely chooses to participate beforehand, signs a contract, and can theoretically stop the shoot – thus there are no ethical issues here. There are at least 4 ways to demonstrate that this is a dangerous myth and that these films routinely violate the sexual consent of the women performers.

First, many of these films show actual, indisputable sexual assault regardless of any consent given beforehand. These videos that are being sold for profit routinely show women being held down and choked by penises while they are “tapping” repeatedly to breathe and actively fighting the male performer off who continues to choke and slap and penetrate the woman. Consent is given moment to moment and the perpetrators in these films continue the violence after the withdrawal of consent is clearly communicated. Forcing sex acts on someone who is fighting back or expressing any lack of consent is rape regardless of any prior agreement.

Some defenders of this type of porn may point to the fact that some of the women are filmed after their abuse to show that they are okay and that they willingly agreed to everything in the film. It seems clear that the perpetrators would not give these women their full payment if they reported that they were violently forced during the filming as it appears. The exit interviews are produced by the perpetrators and cannot be trusted. Anyone who is able to endure the brutality shown in the film can be expected to say whatever is demanded about their experience afterwards in order to fulfill the contract and go home.

A few survivors of abuse porn films have spoken out to give their genuine reflections on what happened. This is from a courageous blog post by a woman describing her experience on in a Facial Abuse shoot: “I was still on my knees an the guys were so aggressive that at one point I literally had to stand up and push with all of my strength to get off of him. there is no point in having a safe word when you can’t talk. I was clawing at their legs and slapping their thighs and they still wouldn’t let up.”

One mother from New York City who agreed to do a scene for Latina Abuse to support her children has given her testimony: “I was a victim of this website. They tell you that they won’t abuse you. They start very nice, taking their time. They said, ‘You’re just going to do a little porn, get paid and get out.’ No, that’s not the truth. I didn’t know it was in a warehouse. The lady didn’t tell me where I was going. And once I got there and begged them to stop, and told them I wanted to leave, they just beat me up more.”

This woman reports that she is now taking psychotropic medication and feels she was traumatized for life from the experience. She reported privately that she agreed to be in this film by responding to a Craigslist ad for a porn film that gave no warning of the violence she was about to face.

One member of the Ghetto Doorway websites said this about the videos he has paid to see: “I like things a little rough sometimes, but watch the “******” video, for example, and it’s pretty clear these guys are rapists. At first she was game, but she ends up crying and shaking uncontrollably. The camera keeps rolling while these scumbags make it clear that “no” is not an acceptable answer. Disgusting. Yeah, some of the facial photos look appealing, but this site crosses the line from fantasy to flat out rape.”

The “Ghetto Doorway” perpetrators are proud of a particular rape technique that these men seem to have invented, which they jokingly named after a wrestling move. In the “figure whore leg lock,” the man wraps his legs around the neck and head of the victim and forces the woman’s head on his penis, leaving her incapable of speaking or breathing. Fluids, including vomit, generally shoot out the mouth and nostrils of the victim. The woman usually very quickly taps the man urgently for air and tries to pull away and a (rape) struggle ensues as the man uses force to keep gagging and suffocating them with his penis. For those who need to see this to believe it, try watching this video** that circulated on the internet several years ago, apparently generating little public commentary. This particular video compilation is intended to be humorous, making a joke out of the fight between a rapist and their victim. To put this content in perspective, this is not just a few isolated acts of abuse hidden away in a far corner of the internet; the site where this same video** (now removed) was mainly viewed shows over 5 million views. Millions of men have watched those perpetrators sexually assault those women in the context of a “funny” video. Clearly, rape culture is the norm for many men in 21st century USA.

Second, some abuse porn films show men perpetrating what is known as “incapacitated rape.” One of the most disturbing videos I came across showed a white man behind a Black woman holding his arm around her neck so tightly that she did actually black out for about 10–20 seconds, during which time the man roughly pulled her limp body around, slapped her in the face, and forced his penis into her mouth repeatedly — while she was still blacked out** from being choked.

Another form of incapacitated rape shown in these films is against women who are being traumatized and who cannot give consent. Many researchers have concluded that many people who are being raped “freeze” in the “fight or flight” moment of intense fear and bodily danger. Traumatic responses to sexual assault are varied, yet most are exhibited by women in abuse porn films. Those who can handle watching several abuse porn videos will probably see women crying, trying to flee from the men on set, fighting back, dissociating (“going all retarded,” in the words of the perpetrators), freezing. Research suggests that 12%-50% of people being who are being raped go into this state of “tonic immobility,” and that people who have been traumatized earlier in life — which is often the case with women in the sex industry — are more likely to go into this state of paralysis. When in this state, people are unable to speak or move. Human beings who are drugged, asleep, unconscious, and “frozen” in tonic immobility cannot give consent. Those who force sex on people in these states are committing sexual assault. This involuntary mammalian response has allowed perpetrators to use immobility as an excuse and opportunity — and police often believe the perpetrators because there was no obvious resistance.

The men who produce abuse porn often note the effects of the trauma they are producing**:

“…The financial burden of life finally caught up and forced her to sell that black ass. As the strange cock penetrated her, she just shut down. Her body was limp and her eyes were dead inside. She tried to go to her happy place but was brought back to reality as the cum dripped from her forehead.”

The film Hot Girls Wanted captures a candid moment showing some psychological effects induced by these forms of violent sex that deeply undermine consent. After returning from a “forced blowjob” scene, one young performer realizes she was having the emotions some rape victims have while she was being forced. She experienced terror and guilt and she wasn’t sure if she could say “no” once things got going despite how awful it became during her scene for that unnamed film series.

Third, many women who enter the sex industry are coerced to do so by husbands, boyfriends, agencies and pimps, as was the famous star of Deep Throat, Linda Lovelace.  The Japanese porn industry has recently been rocked by a major scandal involving the coercion and manipulation of porn performers, revealing that seemingly legitimate, contractual porn can in fact be showing forced sex. The perpetrators of abuse porn are not afraid to engage in this form of rape**, or at least make it out to be that way.

“****** ***** is nothing more than a black skank from Philly whose pimp is making her do BlackOnBlackCrime. She’s a small hood rat and doesn’t have the body that’s able to take a good beating, but she got one anyway…”

Based on existing research on the porn industry and evidence from abuse porn websites, it is safe to conclude that some women in these films are experiencing this form of coercion. For the women being forced in this way, their participation and their signature on an already deceptive contract are empty gestures of consent.

Fourth, the desperation of poverty leaves many in our society, especially the young and very vulnerable, like many single mothers, facing life options that range from bad to worse. Many teenagers, even younger than those who are legally allowed to perform in porn films, trade sex in order to get food and other necessities. Some young people even get arrested intentionally in order to secure access to food. Other teens make porn in order to pay for college. Miriam Weeks a.k.a. Belle Knox, who has attracted a great deal of media attention for being both a Duke University student and an outspoken porn performer, did her first ever porn film with Facial Abuse.

In the powerful 2015 documentary Hot Girls Wanted, one performer who was filmed by Latina Abuse seemed disgusted to see Knox on national news talking about how “empowered” she felt to be a porn performer. This experienced performer didn’t believe Knox’s PR-sounding lines about how much she loved doing porn, noting that Knox refused to even acknowledge being filmed in extremely abusive porn. The woman who had been in a Latina Abuse film stated bluntly that that kind of scene is something some people can’t “come back from” and that Knox was “one of the girls that didn’t know what she was getting herself into.” The recent Lifetime movie depicting Weeks’ experiences shows her being pressured by the director and terrified to be attacked on a fictionalized version of Facial Abuse. From Straight A’s to XXX did show some of the violence and degradation in these films but was relatively mild – showing some slapping and some degrading comments before fading out. The reality of these films is much more cruel and brutal than the film reveals.

Abuse porn sites are not shy about how they prey on the most naïve and inexperienced of porn performers. The texts on Ghetto Gaggers and other websites describe how they trick eighteen-year-olds and other young women who mostly have never have been in a porn film and clearly have been manipulated in some way and totally unprepared for what they are about to face. We know that poor teens are selling sex for food and at least one Facial Abuse participant used her porn earnings to pay for her college tuition. The websites actually joke about how some of these women are being violated because they are desperate to pay for food and other necessities for their children. It’s more than likely that many women have engaged in the sexual torture so that they and their children can simply survive. It would be surprising if many of the women in these films were not homeless or in precarious living situations to resort to such brutality to earn money. What kind of consent can someone fighting hunger and homelessness give to a lying, threatening producer on a contract that doesn’t describe the reality of the abuse they are about to suffer?

Conclusion

With or without the intense racial humiliation being perpetrated in some abuse porn, the violation of sexual autonomy and consent is actually a core element in this whole genre. Many abuse porn scenes show acts of rape regardless of whether they are committed against wealthy white performers or hungry, racially oppressed women who are doing porn to support their loved ones. There are very few more distilled embodiments of rape culture than this commodified footage of sexual assault. Anyone with open internet access can see women being assaulted while they are blacked out, forced on a penis while they are tapping for air, and other acts of forced sex. The fear of sounding moralistic or prudish often prevents sex-positive people from criticizing porn.  For this and other reasons, many conversations about rape culture do not address the influence of porn and are thus deeply lacking. Further, in studying about our reactions to extreme stress and trauma, scientists have discovered what some have long known, that humans and other mammals often “freeze” or are often completely immobile during the traumatic event. This has massive implications for any extreme pornography that puts the performer under such stress that they can no longer give or deny consent. There is evidence, both visual and textual from abuse porn sites that some of those on film become unable to respond in any way during the scene.

In a profit-based industry that employs people who need money to use as sexual objects, it follows that the most ruthless porn producers will find the most desperate, addicted, traumatized, or inexperienced youths to violate. The discussion on rape culture must also address the structural exploitation and impoverishment involved in the privatized labor market. A society that allows human trafficking and forced servitude to persist through exchanging money for people has reached its logical conclusion in the realm of legal pornography – human beings are selling their ability to consent to sex. It only takes viewing a few films to see that once the woman is on camera, the men deny her right to resist the abuse or assert any agency without “tapping out” and losing all but a couple hundred dollars for their suffering. Once the filming starts, videos of the woman will definitely be sold and promoted online, whether or not she goes through with the violence or takes a couple hundred dollars to quit, forcing a twisted incentive to stay and just try to get through the assault once it begins. This is nowhere near genuine consent. The violence of dispossession under the market system that exploits most of us has led to the commodification of our right to say “no.” It seems the power of money over human beings has left our cultural commons vulnerable to the degradation created when the most cruel can pay to violate the most desperate among us for entertainment.

The perpetrators of abuse porn are still assaulting women and marketing the evidence online. Women who were filmed on these sites over a decade ago are still having these films of them sold and shared on the internet. It would be easy to shut down the producers of abuse porn films and seek accountability if they were exposed publicly, but this requires more people willing to break the silence and say or do something to fight back.

What is it called when sociopathic men with money lie and prey on desperate youths, who endure racist degradation and sexual assault in order to survive? Is this rape or profitable entertainment under white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism?

Against hate/abuse pornography. For dignity and empowerment for sex workers.