IS IT SAFE?

12.04.15 2:27 PM ET

James Deen’s Current Girlfriend Chanel Preston, Head of Porn’s Advocacy Committee, Speaks

Deen co-founded the Adult Performer’s Advocacy Committee (APAC), an organization that helps ensure workplace safety in porn, with Preston. She is now serving as chairman following his resignation—as her boyfriend stands accused of serial rape. Where will performers turn for help now?

As one of the adult entertainment industry’s top male performers stands accused of rape and sexual assault, the industry must now re-evaluate how performers give and receive consent.

On Nov. 28, Stoya publicly accused her porn star ex-boyfriend, James Deen, of rape. “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.” Since then, eight other women have come forward with their own allegations of abuse against Deen—with many claiming that the incidents in question took place on an adult film set.

In an industry that’s historically lacked performer unity, many have come to rely on the Adult Performer’s Advocacy Committee (APAC) to represent their interests. It’s the closest thing adult performers have come to a union.

Created by performers in the industry, APAC’s mission is “to provide representation for performers in the adult film industry and to protect performers’ rights to a safer and more professional work environment.” Deen was one of APAC’s co-founders, and up until his resignation last Monday, served as the organization’s chairman.

With few entities looking out for adult performers, APAC was supposed to be that safe harbor—a place to turn to for guidance, to address safety concerns, and to help with any other issues performers had. It’s a confusing time in the adult industry; there’s no precedent for this. Given the numerous allegations against Deen, it’s clearly a conflict of interest to head an organization promoting the well-being of performers.

Following his resignation, APAC issued a statement to reiterate whose side they’re on: “The APAC Board wants to state unequivocally that we stand with performers and other sex workers who are victims of any sort of sexual assault. APAC is committed to being a safe space for performers, and to creating a safer and healthier industry.”  

Still, performers may have a difficult time turning to APAC in their time of need considering that APAC president and co-founder Chanel Preston is dating Deen, and continues to as she assumes the additional role of chairman—Deen’s vacated position.

When pressed for comment about the potential that her relationship with Deen may give performers pause in coming to her organization with concerns, Preston issued this statement (with the condition that it be published in its entirety):

“James and I are involved. It was never a secret but we don’t talk much about it publicly. Obviously, this situation has presented me with complicated feelings, and I’m navigating them as best I can. The porn community is small and many performers have had some sort of relationship with Stoya and/or James, and are experiencing this situation in a personal way. James is no longer involved in APAC decision-making, direction, or duties. APAC has issued a statement of solidarity with all sex workers who have been violated or assaulted, and the revised board’s members, which consists of Conner Habib, Ela Darling, Veruca James, and I, will continue our commitment to serve our community and provide a safe and supportive environment for performers.”

Now more than ever, adult performers are in need of support and advocates they can trust. As more women continue to levy allegations of sexual abuse and assault at Deen, many of which allegedly occurred in a workplace environment, it’s clearly a time for change.

Tori Lux, who accused Deen of assaulting her on a porn set, wrote, “He proceeded to straddle my chest, pinning down my arms with his knees. Then, he raised his hand high above his head, swinging it down and hitting me in the face and head with an open palm. He did this five or six times.” Later, Ashley Fires told The Daily Beast she was “almost raped” by Dean while on the premises of the S&M company Kink. Kora Peters and Amber Rayne’s experiences also took place on set—and on-camera, no less.

It may prove difficult for women in this situation to turn to an organization now headed by Deen’s current partner, but Preston is not to blame for this. In an industry this small many—if not most—performers drift in and out of relationships with one another given the difficulty many civilians have in understanding sex work. Nonetheless, women who have felt victimized by Deen may feel like they have nowhere to turn but to the public.

Porn star Nicki Blue, 27, is the most recent woman to come forward, alleging that things between her and Deen got out of hand—also on the premises of S&M company Kink. She was 21 at the time. “I started giving him [oral sex]. It was nice at first, then it got really rough. I kept trying to pull my head up to say something, it was too rough… But he would just push my head back in so I was choking and I couldn’t say anything. As he was doing it—this is the embarrassing part and why I didn’t say anything—he said, ‘Oh my God, I have to go to the bathroom,’ and he pissed in my mouth.”

Deen is certainly the most extreme example, but also not the only performer to allegedly violate consent on set. Sadly, adult performers have been dealing with similar workplace issues for years with little recourse. The allegations against Deen may finally force directors and to have conversations about limits and acceptability.

New girls entering the porn industry often don’t know their limits—they learn on the job. “I didn’t know it was okay to say no, that I could leave whenever I wanted to,” says adult actress Carmen Valentina. As a newbie she felt pressured into pleasing a director in the hopes of being rehired. “I was booked for a handjob, when I got there the director and talent kept trying to also get me to do a blowjob scene. Not wanting to make anyone angry, and being so new, I did the blowjob scene. I didn’t get paid more for it,” says Valentina. “I felt taken advantage of. I was new and still learning the ins and outs of the industry.”

Anxiety about not being rehired or the fear of being labeled “difficult” prevents some female porn stars from speaking up. As hundreds of women compete for relatively few jobs, it creates an environment in which new—and sometimes established—performers participate in acts they later regret. There are no advocates for these women on set, no one to protect them from being bullied into submission.

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Workplace issues are at times unavoidable no matter how experienced the performer is. Adult actress Katja Kassin was hired to do a rape-like scene in an old bathroom with several urinals. She agreed the male performers could put her head in a urinal under one condition: it be sanitized. “I explained my concerns about germs and contracting diseases like hepatitis A or B. All performers and the director were present during the conversation,” says Kassin. Only one urinal was cleaned and approved of, but her co-stars had other ideas.

“The male performers dragged me towards a bathroom stall and attempted to dunk my head in the toilet even though I made it clear I do not consent,” says Kassin. “I said no several times but it took me using physical force and pushing off the guys to stop the scene. The director made no attempt to interrupt the scene. She did not intervene.”

Though Kassin wanted to stop the scene, the director communicated to her “that if I didn’t finish I might not get paid in full, which increased the pressure for me to continue the scene.” Afterwards, Kassin addressed the issue with company staff but no one seemed to care. “I decided to just suck it up,” says Kassin. “I can understand why none of the girls reported their abuse [regarding Deen] because oftentimes it feels like as a female porn performer you don’t have any support.”

With repeated exposure, alarming situations or on set behaviors can become conventional over time. Performers are encouraged to push limits physically and mentally. It’s not just about the sex; it’s about finding the extremes. Seasoned male porn star Voodoo believes the extreme nature of sexually violent porn—and the way it’s handled by directors, crew members, and performers on set—is creating problems within the industry.

“I will never defend him but you can’t just blame James Deen,” says Voodoo. “I believe the women who accused him 100 percent, but at the same time the porn industry is responsible for creating that kind of monster.” 

As a director, Voodoo feels obligated to ensure the comfort of performers within a scene—a responsibility he wishes more directors took seriously. “If I’m behind the camera and I see my performer experiencing physical or psychological discomfort, it’s my duty to stop that and see if they’re OK, but directors aren’t doing that,” says Voodoo. “Instead they’re saying, ‘Go harder, more, more, oh she can take it!’ As a performer, I’ve been subjected to that and told directors to go fuck themselves. Directors are getting out of control with what they want to put out there.”