Cover image retrieved from NZ Herald. 5-minute read.
Recent news tells the tragic story of Hope Barden, a 21-year-old from Staffordshire, England, who died while performing asphyxiation-related sex acts during a webcam session. Hope was working in the porn industry to make extra money while working as a caregiver for people with learning disabilities.
To catch you up on her story, Hope gained the attention of 45-year-old Jerome Dangar, a pub manager in North Cornwall, and he paid her to webcam for him over the course of three months. As their online relationship progressed, his requests escalated into “degrading and dangerous situations.”
Finally, attempting to fulfill her client’s requests, Hope asphyxiated herself and did not recover. And the worst part? As she struggled to breathe and slowly died, Dangar watched his screen like it was a movie, making no move to call for help.
Dangar was arrested in connection with Hope’s death, but killed himself in prison soon after. Authorities were considering taking Dangar to trial for manslaughter, which would have been a hallmark case in the regulation of such dangerous corners of the porn industry. Because of his suicide, that legal process was stopped.
This case seems like a bizarre twist to an already tragic story, but its elements are anything but rare. We’ll explain why—stick with us.
A warning from Hope’s story
By the time of his arrest, police discovered what prosecutor Philip Lee called “the worst images it is possible to imagine” that revealed Dangar’s “preoccupation with strangulation, stabbing, torture, asphyxiation, and death.” He seems to have been hooked on “snuff” porn—a genre of porn that depicts actual sex-based murders (or very realistic depictions of said murders).
This stuff is beyond insanely dark. It’s actually out there, though, so let’s take a look at one of the darkest effects of porn.
Right off the bat, we want to make it clear that we are not claiming all porn consumption inevitably leads to something as dark and horrific as Hope’s untimely death. Not every porn consumer’s tastes will evolve as Dangar’s did. This is not a one-size-fits-all risk.
Even so, it is crucial in the wake of something so disturbing to talk about the forces behind what happened to Hope and the very real risks of porn to even the most casual consumers.
The thing about porn is that it escalates. It isn’t as simple as decisions made at random—“I think I’ll watch this” or “I think I’ll go for this genre of porn.” By its very nature, porn is escalatory, and without any conscious decision on their part, consumers can easily search for more extreme content and feel dissatisfied until they consume material that is more shocking and tantalizing than before.
No doubt that Jerome Dangar wasn’t into death porn when he started looking at XXX content, but his interests evolved over time to be darker and more dangerous. This often happens on a much smaller scale to porn consumers around the globe.
The brain becomes desensitized to certain material and sends neurological signals demanding something more intense in order to release the same amount of dopamine, the “feel-good” pleasure chemical housed in the brain. The result? Porn consumers who first clicked to a porn site with “normal” intentions can find themselves, years, months, or even weeks later, seeking genres of porn that would have totally disgusted them at the onset of their porn habit.
Dangar’s porn habit developed into such a twisted obsession that even watching strangulation porn or death porn online wasn’t enough—his next-level stimulation was to make an actual woman perform these horrendous acts while camming with him.
We know that porn can totally warp consumers’ sense of reality, and it clearly did that to Dangar—Hope’s on-camera death was just part of his pleasure-seeking, evidenced by the fact that he did nothing to stop it.
Webcamming isn’t immune to degradation and violence
Instead of asking why cam girls feel coerced into complying with these dangerous requests, we should be asking why these requests are being made in the first place.
The sad fact is Jerome Dangar isn’t the only porn consumer whose habit has escalated to the point of paying an actual woman to harm her self on camera.
In the wake of Hope Barden’s death, webcam girl Elysia Downings told the Mirror Online about her own experience as the recipient of sinister requests. Within weeks of beginning her webcam career, this single mom had clients asking her to choke, suffocate, and hit herself for their sexual pleasure. Elysia confirmed that what happened to Hope isn’t an isolated incident.
Other cam girls have spoken up online as well. The stories of clients stalking girls, making insanely degrading requests, and developing overwhelming obsessions are definitely concerning. Even when it hasn’t turned deadly, many cam girls find themselves feeling physically and emotionally unsafe with their clients.
And a sad fact about all of this? Many people often consider webcamming to be a safer alternative to the mainstream porn industry. But clearly, this is just a fantasy.
The escalation of a “casual” habit
Not every porn consumer’s obsession will develop into something life-threatening. Even so, it’s important to recognize that a porn habit cannot be controlled or predicted at the start. Many consumers do experience tastes and drives that escalate into more extreme content.
And unfortunately, all of the degrading and dangerous content you could imagine is totally available for consumption, if you know where to look.
Webcamming is not a safe exception to that reality. These stories show that quite clearly, though porn performers are steadily moving toward offering camming to further support their careers in the adult entertainment industry.
Webcamming can be the next step along the escalatory pathway—like it was for Jerome Dangar. Bottom line: there’s no way to predict or manage who pays a webcammer for sexual role-play and what their habits will lead them to do. Anyone who gets involved in that portion of the industry puts them self at risk.
Join with us in spreading awareness on the dangers of webcamming and the dark side of porn consumption. We can’t turn back the clock for Hope, but we can have informed, intentional conversations moving forward about how to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.
Collectively calling out porn for what it is—an addictive and unsafe activity that prioritizes cheap thrills over human health and wellbeing—is an important piece of that process. Are you in?