February 16, 2018

Washington Post: ‘We lost five women’: Porn industry reckons with assault allegations and a string of deaths

At the “Oscars of porn” last month, performers showed up looking so nude they could have been arrested.

The display is a tolerated tradition that goes back decades. But this year a few things were different at the AVN Awards, held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas.

Ron Jeremy, one of the biggest names in the industry to be accused of sexual assault, was banned from the proceedings. So the usual assortment of post-party photos featuring his hands placed as human lingerie — he has called himself “a groper” — was absent. Although the trade show’s zero-tolerance policy on harassment landed last year — long before recent sexual harassment scandals rocked Hollywood — this year it required participants to sign the policy, a clear response to the “Me Too” movement.

Moves like this have some in the industry peacocking, especially as crosstown rival Hollywood has been hammered over its lack of gender equality. “If you look at the recent AVN nominations for director of the year, nearly half of the names were women,” says Gamma Films chief Bree Mills. “You can’t say that about the Oscars.”

“There’s certainly more going on here that’s forward progress than in Hollywood,” adds AVN spokesman Brian S. Gross.

Boosters say that even though the industry may seem retrograde to outsiders, it’s actually quite forward-thinking, the result of its libertarian streak, and as evidenced by its history of prominent women as directors and producers (such as Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick). But adult video is also dealing with its own heartache in the wake of its assault allegations and the mysterious deaths of five porn actresses in the last four months — both of which have inspired some insiders to try to fight for change.

Even before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October and Hollywood’s Time’s Up initiative to combat sexual misconduct, adult video had seen scandals, including star Nikki Benz’s claims of on-set sexual assault last year against producer-director Tony T. Benz said via Twitter that the director stomped her head and choked her after she yelled “cut.” In 2015, multiple women alleged porn actor James Deen assaulted them.

Both men have disputed the allegations — Tony T. even sued, and the case is being appealed. He said Los Angeles police declined to pursue the case, but the LAPD hasn’t confirmed one way or another. Meanwhile, Deen continued to release titles through his production company last year.

Jeremy, accused of assault by multiple women, was cast out of AVN, but he was spotted on the XBIZ awards red carpet in Los Angeles last month.

Since November, porn has faced another scandal: a wave of tragedy that claimed the lives of performers August Ames, Olivia Lua, Olivia Nova, Turi Luv and Shyla Stylez.

Ames hanged herself after she was cyberbullied for implying she didn’t want to work with a male performer who appeared in gay porn. Luv, a.k.a. Yuri Beltran, died of a suspected overdose not long after she tweeted that she needed a hug. Causes of death of the others — Styles died in her sleep — were not immediately known, as the coroners’ conclusions have been delayed.

Industry watchers have said the deaths nearly all point to the issue of mental health in porn, or lack thereof. Each year, a performer or two dies — Amber Rayne died in 2016 at the age of 31 of a possible overdose, according to L.A. County coroner’s officials — but the cluster of five set off alarms and generated global headlines.

At the awards show last month, Ames’s husband, Kevin Moore — an adult filmmaker who is now working on an industry mental health initiative — told the crowd, “There can never be another AVN Awards show that has a memorial full of young women ever again.”

Critics have long argued that adult video is a magnet for creepy fans, coerced young women and STDs, claims the industry denies. The conservative Washington, D.C.-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation argues that porn viewing has fueled harassment and sexual violence in other walks of life. Some evidence supports the claim, but there is also research that correlates the freedom to view adult content with fewer incidents of rape — the idea is that porn can facilitate as a safe sexual release.

Read the whole article here. 

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