Tech + Health

08.13.14

Stop Blaming Christy Mack: Porn Stars Don’t Deserve to Be Beaten

A few days after the adult film actress allegedly suffered a brutal beating at the hands of her MMA fighter ex-boyfriend, the victim blaming has already begun.

In his online avatar, MMA fighter Jonathan Koppenhaver (better known as “War Machine”) is wearing a tank top bearing the slogan “I DO ALPHA MALE SHIT.” Right now, that image hangs hauntingly over a Twitter feed in which Koppenhaver reveals that he is running from the police after his ex-girlfriend Christy Mack claimed he had beaten her so badly that she had to be hospitalized.

Mack took to social media (warning: these images are disturbing) on Monday, three days after the alleged attack, to describe the injuries she suffered. Mack claimed that Koppenhaver found her with an unidentified third party, forced her to undress, and proceeded to break 18 of her bones, saw off her hair, knock out several of her teeth, and injure her liver with a kick to the side. A few hours later as Mack was presumably lying in hospital, Koppenhaver simply tweeted: “Hungry…”

As is typical in high-profile cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, the victim-blaming has already begun, spearheaded by Koppenhaver himself. In his most recent tweet, he writes: “I only wish that man hadn’t been there and that Christy and I would be happily engaged. I don’t know why I’m so cursed.” As the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness (CRAA) notes, rhetoric like this assumes that “the victim is equally to blame for the abuse, when in reality, abuse is a conscious choice made by the abuser.” Koppenhaver acts as if the beating was inevitable because Christy was with another man even though he actively perpetrated the abuse.

Victim-blaming, as the CRAA describes it, is a particularly dangerous mindset that simultaneously allows abusers like Koppenhaver to disavow responsibility for their behavior while discouraging survivors like Mack from reporting abuse. Even outside observers might be tempted to blame Mack for her own abuse in order to “reassure themselves” that they will not experience abuse “because I am not like her.”

In the particular case of Christy Mack, the victim blaming is taking on an even more defamatory dimension because Mack, as headlines around the web are sure to remind you, is an adult film actress. In virtually every publication from TIME to TMZ she is introduced by the same four words: “porn star Christy Mack.” You might think “porn star” is her first name and not her profession.

Of course Christy Mack’s occupation should not simply be left out of news reports but the way in which her occupation is always in the foreground is troubling. Women in Mack’s occupation are routinely devalued and disrespected because of the nature of their work. Earlier this year, for instance, PayPal, Chase, and other financial institutions shut down the accounts of clients who work in the adult entertainment industry, citing clauses in their terms of service. And, as the documentary After Porn Ends recently demonstrated, the social stigma of having worked in pornography tends to follow women like Mack long after they have retired from the industry.

We wouldn’t blame a stuntman for getting hit by a car in real life.

The way the media presents Mack and her occupation is encouraging a particularly insidious style of victim-blaming, one that would blame her abuse on her career. When a film actress like Charlize Theron comes forward with a story of domestic violence, the media regards it with reverence, declaring it, as ABC News did a decade ago, a “tragedy,” but when an adult film actress comes forward, the tone of the reporting changes.

Introducing Christy Mack by highlighting her occupation runs the risk of equating her career in pornography with her personhood. But Mack was not abused as a porn star, she was abused as a woman. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, around 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year. Mack is one of these women; her status as an adult film actress bears no relevance to the way in which men decide to commit acts of violence against women.

While media outlets have avoided drawing overt lines between Mack’s career and the abuse she faced, the viewing public has been less careful. One Huffington Post commenter, for example, says that he hopes “she recovers and takes time to reevaluate her career.” Male dating expert and blogger James Sama spoke out against the victim-blaming that Mack is being subjected to on social media, only to be greeted by a commenter who describes her as “someone who sucks dick for money” before putting forward this leading question: “She makes a living being subordinate to men sexually and professionally, why wouldn’t she do the same in her personal life?”

In comments like these and others circulating on social media, moralism and victim blaming are so carefully intertwined that they become practically indistinguishable. The boundaries between pornography and reality are strategically dismantled in order to dismiss her real-life experiences of abuse by equating them with her staged performances on-camera. And no one is better equipped to refute this false equivalence than Mack herself. When Mack was asked about her opinion on “degrading” porn in a 2013 interview with VICE, she responded:

There’s some girls that want to be absolutely degraded and they want to be destroyed on film and that’s what they go for. I don’t go for that. I play strong characters, never degraded, never hit, never choked out, nothing like that. Maybe some light domination but nothing that can be considered degrading. I don’t really see it as empowering or degrading. It can empower women a little bit through exploring sexuality and things like that but I don’t see it as degrading if you don’t want it to be.

In this response, Mack notes that she herself avoids performing in more violent pornography while also being careful to point out ways in which an adult film actress might find empowerment or pleasure in filmic acts that some viewers might be tempted to perceive as evidence of a total subjugation to men in all areas of her life.

The fictional acts of violence that are sometimes depicted in pornography do not justify the real violence that an adult film star like Christy Mack might experience in her domestic life. We wouldn’t blame a stuntman, after all, for getting hit by a car in real life just because he sometimes gets hit by a car during work hours. But because Mack works as a visible icon in a sexualized industry that many perceive as inherently immoral, Mack will have to be defended in the coming weeks from those who would chalk up her abuse to “bad life choices.”

As Christy Mack’s story unfolds, and if Jonathan Koppenhaver is apprehended by the police, we should play close attention to the ways in which Mack’s occupation is invoked in media reporting and public commentary. A sensationalistic focus on her career in pornography enables those who are tempted to perceive her abuse as a product of some sort of moral failing. Yes, Christy Mack is a porn star. But she’s also a woman and a survivor.