SEX WORK

The Sexual Coercion Epidemic in Porn

Porn star Lana Rhoades accused porn director Pierre Woodman of trying to trick her into doing sex acts beyond her limits, claiming her agent gave the OK. And Rhoades is not alone.

“You can’t like everyone you work with—it’s the sex business, stop complaining.”

This is what one young girl was told when she spoke up. Sent to a director she’d never met in a city she hadn’t been to, then 18-year-old Minnie Scarlet was heavily reliant on the woman who had booked the gig for her. Like most inexperienced young women entering the world of porn, Scarlet hadn’t yet discovered where to draw the line between acceptable flirtatious behavior on set and sexual assault. Nor did she know what to do about it when she thought the line was crossed.

A long way from home, Scarlet was working 12-hour days and staying at the director’s house while in town to film—a common industry practice—to reduce a performer’s cost while keeping them accessible and accountable during the work week. Touching her in inappropriate ways as she modeled for his camera, she recalls the photographer she was working with taking a hands-on approach, saying things like “when your pussy lips push out like that I just want to lick them.” Feeling awkward and a little foolish, Scarlet wasn’t sure how to rid herself of the behavior and still get the job done. So she called the woman who’d arranged the shoot, who wasn’t even in the same city but operated from an office thousands of miles away.

“I didn’t want to be a complainer but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be like this,” confesses Scarlet, recalling the phone conversation that left her feeling even more vulnerable. “I’m telling you he sexually assaulted me, he touched me, said things and I’m staying at his house.” She remembers how no one recognized it as sexual assault but instead compared the experience to filming with people you didn’t like, writing it all off as a normal occurrence.

“I was already overworked and my vagina hurt really bad but I was told I was an amateur and didn’t understand how this works,” says Scarlet. “I thought, well, maybe I’m too sensitive if this is how it is.”

Eager to begin her career in adult entertainment, Scarlet wanted to shy away from being labelled a “diva” or a “complainer”—but at what cost? Looking back, Scarlet feels she was taken advantage of due to her age and inexperience by a director that took things too far. Those initial harrowing experiences shaped her view of working in the adult business and drove Scarlet into a more personalized niche of filming.

“I was so young and didn’t know any better… you shouldn’t have to worry, ‘Am I jeopardizing my rent this month by saying something?’ Because that happened to me, it scarred me, and I decided I’d never be put in that position again,” says Scarlet, who now primarily produces her own independent content.

Agents are a performer’s first line of defense—the safety net, the people who are supposed to act on behalf of the performers they represent. But not all agents are created equal; some have better business practices than others. Unfortunately, in Scarlet’s case, even though she made the right decision by making that phone call, it didn’t help her. While an agent can help guide performers through the on set experience, there isn’t much recourse for those who are bullied by directors.

You can refuse to work with a director, though that means not working and does not always fly. Told she’d never be a successful porn star unless she filmed with this notable European director, Luna Rival turned it down, aware of his nasty reputation. The director took that as a challenge and pursued her, asking her out for a meal to schmooze her into working with him. But Rival held her ground. She didn’t like what he proposed and turned the work down. Rejected, the director, whom she refused to work with, began lashing out at her in online forums and on social media, according to Rival. She felt she’d made the right decision when the colleagues she roomed with at a model house returned home several days later crying about the abuse they’d suffered on this same director’s set. According to Rival, some of her peers experienced their first anal scenes at the hands of this particularly aggressive director, and they swore they’d never try it again after being put through so much pain. Rival felt lucky to have dodged what could have been an even worse experience.

But Rival kept these observations to herself. She feared further reprisals, and openly naming this director—even to warn other girls—could create an expensive backlash in an already diminished economy where the women seeking work outweigh available gigs. Though her agent was aware of the director’s reputation, he did a lot of hiring within the local adult industry and to go against him would have meant a financial loss for the agency.

It’s not just the loss of work that keeps women quiet—it’s the shame that follows; the fear of being ridiculed by their own costars and peers on social media once they speak up. Few are willing to risk the brutality of the social media onslaught.

“For an agent, director or a producer, what a girl does has nothing to do with their conscience. They have a product to sell. Their bottom line is money,” says Alana Evans, vice president of the Adult Performers Actors Guild. “In essence you are taking away a performer’s true right of consent by pushing limits; those lines start to get blurred when a girl says she’s uncomfortable.”

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Filming sex scenes can be especially nerve-wracking outside the country, where everything is unfamiliar. Booked overseas to work with European companies and talent, Xbiz Best New Starlet recipient Lana Rhoades found herself in an awkward and very unprofessional situation. Using her social media platform, Rhoades tweeted about what—according to her—transpired: a veteran French porn director, Pierre Woodman, allegedly tried to coerce her into doing things she said no to. Her post also alleges that he admitted to violating another woman on his set.

Rhoades publicly posted the following texts to her agent:

“I’m tired of people trying to see what they can get out of me to make more money, I don’t want to drink his piss for any dollar amount & I’m sick of people trying to push me harder and harder so they can use me… saying the girl said nonono and he basically raped her with Ricky (his own words he used those words exactly) is what he told me.”

Rhoades knew her agent wouldn’t be pleased that she left set and refused to shoot but she also relied on the fact that he’d understand. For a XXX agent, these situations are complicated since the agent pockets fees from both the performer and the producers they farm them out to.

As a known award-winning performer Rhoades would’ve had more clout with her agent than a newcomer, and though it’s shameful to admit, may have been given different advice if she were less of a star. (Rhoades couldn’t be reached for comment.)

Some agents tell new girls they’ll make a fortune and then put them through the wringer, sending them out on shoots they aren’t ready for and seeing what sticks. This is bad agenting, and with the industry being as small as it is, those who do this are quickly found out. Agents who treat their performers as the people they are instead of sex objects with an expiration date work to prepare the performers for what lies ahead.

“You want to prepare them beyond the bare bones, if there is anything unusual. Depends who they are working for. Some of the guys like to bite and some girls are into it but the next day you can’t show up to work bruised,” says Mark Spiegler, adult agent extraordinaire. “I tell them what to look out for beforehand, like ‘this guy shoots quick,’ ‘this director will yell at everyone on set.’ You have to prepare them for what’s coming. It’s a good business practice.”

A prepared performer will know how to handle a bad situation should it arise, and falling back on one’s agent should be a no-brainer. Not everyone has an agent—or one they trust—which brings with it another set of issues. In these cases, social media becomes not just a platform but a valuable resource.

According to Nina Kay, experienced female performers need to step up and create better examples for the newer younger generation of porn star hopefuls. “Women who have been around longer need to be accessible to the younger women. If those of us who have established ourselves can give advice to younger girls: have confidence,” says Kay. “And if you’re not consenting it’s called rape.”