September 25, 2020

NCOSE Law Center Files First Ever Anti-Trafficking Lawsuit Against Pornography Producers on Behalf of Survivor

How Cissy Steele Groomed Jane Doe

Cissy Steele was using the internet to disguise herself as a talent agent from Royal Loyalty Management who was looking for models and actresses when she came across Jane Doe (not her real name). Steele then proceeded to prey upon Jane Doe by intentionally cultivating a sense of trust and building a false relationship. Steele reached out to Jane Doe online and offered her lucrative acting and modeling opportunities. After communicating, Steele convinced Jane Doe to take a modeling opportunity with the promise of making Doe into a successful model and actress. Steele manipulated Doe to go a step further and move into Steele’s home with the reassurance that this move would benefit Doe’s supposed new career.

Online Grooming Turns Into Sex Trafficking Situation

Once Jane Doe was ensconced in Steele’s house, Steele furthered her deception of Doe by setting up several faux modeling photoshoots. After a few months, Steele began verbally degrading Doe and telling Doe that the only way she had a chance at becoming a lucrative actress or model was through pornographic “acting.” When Jane Doe resisted this pressure, Steele began using psychological manipulation, direct coercion, intimidation, threats, and physical violence against Doe including threatening to kill Doe’s dog and harm her family. In the end Steele managed to effectively imprison Jane Doe and coerce her into commercial sex acts with men at various hotels in several states. All the money made from Jane Doe’s sexual exploitation was immediately pocketed by Steele.

From there, Steele also trafficked Jane Doe to multiple pornography production companies in California and Nevada including Diabolic Video Productions, Black Ice Ltd., Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Third Degree Films, and Elegant Angel, Inc.  All of the pornography producers directly paid Steele for Jane Doe’s participation in the videos despite clear signs that Doe was being trafficked.

Pornography Production Companies Complicit in Crime

The pornography production companies distributed the videos of Jane Doe to a multitude of internet pornography providers. As a result, the online porn providers illegally profited from the sex trafficking of Jane Doe through advertisements on their websites as well as through viewers’ subscription fees.

Eventually, with the help of a friend, Jane Doe escaped from Cissy Steele’s home and control and began a new life. Despite Jane Doe’s many efforts to have the videos taken down, her videos remain on several online sites to this day.

Legal Argument Filed on Behalf of Jane Doe

Cissy Steele, the pornography production studios, and the internet pornography websites violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) which prohibits anyone from knowingly using force, fraud, and coercion to entrap victims into commercial sex acts and profiting off of their exploitation.

Accordingly, Jane Doe has now sued Cissy Steele, the pornography production companies, and the online pornography providers which continue to show and sell videos of her sexual abuse and exploitation against her will. The case, filed on September 24, 2020, is in federal district court in San Diego.

As horrific as this case is, it is not an anomaly. Countless Jane Does are trafficked and exploited by the pornography production industry and internet pornography providers. Jane Doe repeatedly attempted to have her sex trafficking videos removed to no avail and there are websites that continue to profit off of her sexual abuse and exploitation to this day. The same is the case for myriad survivors who find their sexual abuse images and videos on internet pornography websites and are afflicted with the paralysis of not being able to remove the degrading and re-traumatizing content. As long as someone is willing to pay for this content, pornography production companies and internet pornography providers have proven more than willing to provide it—no matter how violent, dangerous, and degrading the content may be.

Jane Doe is Not the Only Victim

Take the case of Mia Khalifa as another example.

In 2015, Mia Khalifa mistakenly signed a contract with a pornography production studio and resigned after two weeks. The contract she signed gave the company control over the websites and domains that contained her stage name. Although Khalifa has been out of the pornography business for over five years, the pornography production company is still promoting her videos and creating an illusion that she is still engaged in the commercial sex industry even though she has worked hard to have her videos removed from pornography sites. This reality has made it difficult for Khalifa to find employment in other fields, which only furthers the reach and extent of the exploitation.

Like many others, Khalifa’s attempts to remove her videos have been met by indifference from the pornography companies. “Pornography companies prey on callow young women and trap them legally into contracts where they’re vulnerable,” Khalifa noted in comments published by The Guardian. She also stated that during every filmed scene she would black out, yet no one on the set seemed to notice or offer any assistance: “The abuse and exploitation of young women is normalized in pornography, and if you don’t comply, you’re threatened, beaten, and intimidated.”

Pornography Producers Are Sexual Exploiters

Whether or not there is a contract in place, the sexual exploitation and abuse that comes from pornography production studios and internet pornography providers is degrading, traumatizing, and crippling. These abusive companies know they are profiting off of the sexual exploitation of women who have been beaten down, manipulated, often drugged, and are in no condition to acquiesce to such exploitation. The pornography industry’s lack of regulation hinders many survivors from fully healing, as they are continuously haunted by the existence of videos of their abuse living on in the Internet.

The Hope Jane Doe v. Cissy Steele Gives

The Cissy Steel lawsuit is the first federal lawsuit against a pornography producer and online pornography website for federal anti-trafficking violations. We hope this lawsuit and many others like it will hold pornography producers and internet pornography providers accountable for the damage, abuse, and exploitation of the untold numbers of women and children trafficked in the pornography industry.

Read NCOSE Law’s Amended Complaint here.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center offers survivors of pornography-related abuse a way to seek justice. More information can be found at: https://sexualexploitationlawsuits.com/.

Madison Van Oss

Madison Van Oss

Legal Assistant

Madison is the Legal Assistant for the Law Center at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Madison supports the Law Center and its quest to bring justice to survivors of the sex trade industry through civil and criminal litigation. Madison brings with her a master’s degree in Homeland Security, several years of professional experience in the corporate world, as well as strong desire to protect and defend individuals against sexual abuse and exploitation.

Further Reading