Sex Workers, Sexual Assault — Due to recent allegations from porn performer, writer, and visual artist Stoya* that porn performer James Deen sexually assaulted her, several reporters asked me questions about sex workers and sexual assault.

I am not gonna lie… This made me extremely uncomfortable. On one hand, it’s about time people started paying attention to people’s voices and experiences — ALL people’s. On the other hand,  I felt very not OK about participating in a media firestorm/circus that stemmed directly from one woman’s disclosure of something awful. Further, James Deen’s interpersonal/private life behavior is not something that should be used to describe or characterize the porno workspace overall. And his on-set behavior is not something that should be used to describe or characterize other men who also work as porn performers.

Given the overwhelming ick coupled with an overwhelming desire to destabilize the current victim blame-tastic world we live in, I offered the following measured responses regarding sex workers and sexual assault to reporters from Broadly/VICE and Mic.

*Stoya’s allegations were followed by related and similar allegations from additional performers, also levied against James Deen. See Aurora Snow’s piece via The Daily Beast here.

Here is my full correspondence with Mic’s Sophie Saint Thomas (article here):

Sophie Saint Thomas: Will you speak to the mindset being demonstrated by some that says a sex worker/porn star can’t be raped?

DrCT: I’m not sure I actually can speak to the mindset being demonstrated by someone who says a sex worker, including a porn performer, cannot be sexually assaulted, as such a mindset is absolutely outlandish and irrational. A sex worker consenting to any series of sex-related behaviors, both in a work scenario as well as within the context of one’s personal life, does not thereby necessarily consent to any additional and/or future sex-related activities. And just like a short skirt isn’t ground for a “I thought she consented because…” exception, work in a commercial sex occupation isn’t ground for an exception either.

SStT: How common is sexual assault within the adult industry? How do performers have to deal with issues of consent both professionally and personally? 

DrCT: There are no existing data describing sexual assault in the adult industry, neither in the workplace nor within sex workers’ personal lives. In terms of workplace consent, on the most superficial level, performers are requested for specific scenes that consist of a predetermined set of sex acts with specific co-workers. Accepting a request/booking indicates consent for the scene as outlined. Further, finer negotiations amongst and between performers also happen. As these negotiations are intensely personal and specific, questions regarding these finer points should be directed to the people who actually engage them – the performers themselves. Questions regarding consent in performers’ personal lives should also be directed to performers themselves.

SStT:How do you expect the allegations coming forward, now from multiple sources, will change the public dialogue about consent and sex workers?

DrCT: Though certainly awful, I hope that powerful women sex workers coming forward and speaking out about their experiences as survivors will challenge the status quo – that which apparently currently holds the idea that sex workers somehow cannot be assaulted, or at least are partially to blame when they are. Powerful women sex workers like Stoya and Christy Mack are actually receiving more support than other less-powerful sex workers may in similar situations. Put simply – people are paying attention to these cases, and I hope they serve to change the conversation for all sex worker survivors. This will be a long process though.

SStT: How do these allegations speak to larger issues within our society?

DrCT: These allegations, as well as the widely varied reactions to them, speak to many issues within wider society. We can certainly see something positive in a woman’s brave capacity to come forward, and supportive public responses are also a good thing. But the overwhelming presence of victim blaming, denial, and slut-shaming, among so many other negative inhumane responses, in conjunction with assault actually happening in the first place, speak to continued inequalities related to gender, sex work, and power, among many other issues.

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(pictured: Stoya and James Deen, via the interwebs)

Here is my full correspondence with Broadly’s Gabriella Bess (article here):

Gabriella Bess: After Stoya’s accusations of rape against James Deen, many people stood with her in solidarity. Others, however, balked at the idea of a porn star being raped. Does the latter reaction characterize why performers might be hesitant about speaking out about being raped or going to the police? 

DrCT: Reactions to Stoya’s allegations of rape against James Deen are widely varied, ranging from solidarity and support to dismissive denial. This pattern reflects what many survivors of sexual assault experience – a mix of support from some and blaming/shaming from others. It’s mind-boggling that any amount of victim blaming continues to occur in 2015. And yet, the pervasiveness of rape culture continues to silence survivors.

In terms of sex workers specifically however, the support Stoya is receiving may actually be unique. She is getting plenty of shame and blame, yes, but she is also getting support. This support is unique within the context of sex workers overall, many of who are questioned and scrutinized on a highly intense level – one that’s compounded by being both a survivor and a sex worker.

From issues related to criminalization to outlandish notions that consent in one context indicates consent in ALL situations – as War Machine’s attorney recently attempted espouse – we as a culture continue to question the veracity of sex workers’ allegations of rape and assault. Powerful women who command solidarity and public support such as Stoya and Christy Mack destabilize the existing power structure that shames and silences other less high-profile sex workers. Hopefully, this destabilization will eventually result in greater support for sex workers in general.

Sex Workers Sexual Assault

(pictured: Stoya and James Deen, via the interwebs)

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Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com

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