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22 Women Paid $12.7 Million and Given Rare Ownership Rights in GirlsDoPorn Lawsuit

By January 6, 2020 No Comments
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TRIGGER WARNING

A few years ago, in 2015 and earlier, hundreds of women were allegedly lured to San Diego for what many of them didn’t know were actually film shoots for an amateur porn site called “Girls Do Porn.” They were fed alcohol and drugs, coerced into signing dense contracts with incomprehensible legal jargon, and pushed into performing sex on camera—for 7 painful hours, in some cases.

A short time later, that footage was posted on Girls Do Porn’s website and uploaded to other popular free porn tube sites, including Pornhub, despite the promise that the footage would only be distributed via DVDs on the other side of the world. Many of the women said viewers found and published their full names online, resulting in severe harassment and suicidal thoughts, for some of them.

Starting in 2016, nearly two dozen of the sexually exploited women took a risk and banded together to sue the site owners, Michael Pratt and Matthew Wolfe, as well as actor and recruiter Andre Garcia. Now, after a years-long legal battle, a California judge last week not only ordered Girls Do Porn to pay the 22 women $12.7 million in damages, but took a rare and unprecedented step: he granted them ownership rights to the content.

Related: “You’re Gonna Be A Star”: The Day I Was Drugged And Raped On A Porn Set

“It’s an extraordinarily unique and incredibly valuable decision,” Ben Bull, vice president and general counsel at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told BuzzFeed News. “It will blaze a trail for other law firms and victims to come behind them and essentially do the same thing.”

Here’s what San Diego Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright wrote in his decision:

“Defendants’ tactics have caused the videos to become common knowledge in plaintiffs’ communities and among their relations and peers—the very thing that plaintiffs feared and that defendants expressly assured them would not happen. As a result, plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer far-reaching and often tragic consequences.”

Enright also called the operation a “fraudulent scheme” that targeted young women who “are mostly students with careers ahead of them who have only even considered Defendants’ solicitations to film a pornographic video due to some immediate and pressing financial need.”

Related: Pornhub Reportedly Profits From Nonconsensual Videos And Real Rape Tapes—Here Are The Latest Examples

He ordered Girls Do Porn’s founder, Michael James Pratt, 36, his business partner, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and porn actor Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, to hand over all images, videos, likenesses, and copyrights and to take “active steps” to remove them from circulation.

This is huge. But there’s still more work to do.

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What happens now?

Buzzfeed News reports that the men still face federal charges of sex trafficking and producing child porn, since some of the exploited individuals were 17 at the time of filming. Wolfe and Garcia are in custody. Pratt fled the US and is now a fugitive, likely in his home country of New Zealand.

Attorneys for the men could not immediately be reached, but in a statement to Courthouse News Service, they said their clients “are focused on defending themselves against the criminal charges.”

“The government’s burden of proof in the criminal case is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ which is a much higher standard than in this civil lawsuit where the burden of proof is a mere preponderance of the evidence,” the attorneys added. “The findings of fact in the civil case do not carry over to the criminal case where the government will have to prove the facts under a much more stringent standard.”

Related: Rape, Drugs, & Forced Porn: Here’s How Modeling Scams Lure Unsuspecting Victims

Unfortunately, Girls Do Porn has not been completely shut down, for now. Still, from now on, Girls Do Porn is required to explicitly state in recruitment postings that the videos will be posted online. Participants must also get copies of the contracts before arriving, and sign off on their names or personal information being used, Enright ruled.

“It’s vindication for the brave women who came forward after being manipulated and lied to by GirlsDoPorn,” Ed Chapin, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told BuzzFeed News. “They were young and inexperienced, and their lives were changed because they were sucked in by this disgusting, fraudulent scheme.”

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In case you missed it…

We’ll start from the beginning, in case you’ve missed this case’s public unraveling since the summer of 2019.

Girls Do Porn’s tagline is “amateur teens having sex on video.” The premise of Girls Do Porn’s videos is to imply that the young women are performing for the first time in porn. Supposedly, the appeal of this content is believing the women would normally never set foot on a porn set, but they are desperate for cash.

RelatedHow Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking

Despite the promises that these videos would not be shared online, they were. And not only were they uploaded to popular porn sites—including Pornhub—The women plaintiffs in the civil case, identified as Jane Doe 1-22, say their lives were “irreparably damaged as a result of unexpectedly having these films widely distributed.”

“It was a devastating feeling,” one woman said. “I felt like I was lied to. I felt like I was definitely taken advantage of. I felt stupid even though I know it wasn’t my fault for falling for something that was so well put together.”

Another woman involved in the scheme reached out to us directly and told us her side of the story:

“Hundreds of girls, including myself, were involved. Our lives were exploited and ruined all because three men wanted to profit. I totally agree with your movement. I was illegally manipulated into contributing to the porn industry. This is happening to college girls every day. These men are taking women’s freedom and lives. It killed love for us on personal levels as victims to it. Girls like myself have considered suicide as the only way out. I want the victims to know they have a voice. I want to put this company and industry of amateur porn to an end.  I’ve been working with the attorney involved with the case and we want this scandal to be brought to the public’s eye.”

RelatedHow Teen Girls Get Tricked And Trafficked Every Day Into Doing Porn

And recently in opening statements, Jane Doe 15 shared her experience:

“If I had known that, not only was it going on the internet, but that they were posting it on the internet, that my name would be attached to it, that it would be in the United States, and that I wouldn’t be paid $5,000, but $2,000 less, and insulted because I was pale and bruised; if I had known that it was more than 30 minutes of filming, if I had known any of that, just any one of those; if I had known that other girls had been harassed and kicked out of school for it, if I had known that I would be kicked off the cheer team; if I had known any of that, I wouldn’t have done it.”

When the value of a porn performer begins high and diminishes rapidly, no wonder there is exploitation of young women. This particular scheme preyed on young women looking to get into modeling and/or make quick cash and ultimately turned it into porn encouraging a culture of sexual entitlement.

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The porn scheme

Pratt and his colleagues relied on Craigslist to find women between the ages of 18-22, but in the advertisements for “Exceptionally Cute Ladies Wanted,” Girls Do Porn wasn’t mentioned anywhere. They completely misrepresented themselves as BeginModeling.com casting swimsuit models.

After the girls agreed, they were flown to San Diego, but instead of modeling gigs, they were told the job was actually to appear in an adult film. The women were reassured that their videos would only be released on DVD to collectors in Australia and New Zealand, not online.

That promise was quickly broken. Girls Do Porn shared the films on their free and for-pay website as well as posted clips on their tube channels and to major porn sites.

Related: How Can You Know For Certain The Porn You’re Watching Is Consensual?

The porn company’s lawyers protest that each woman signed the contract agreeing the videos could be used in any way the producers wanted, but the women say they were handed the hefty contract, given only a few minutes to review it, and forced to sign it without knowing what it all said. Some were even forced to sign it while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The lawsuit also alleges that the women were “pressured into signing unread contracts and continuing with performances despite voicing discomfort.”

The film shoots themselves reportedly lasted for as long as seven hours, though Pratt promised it’d only be 30 minutes of filming. The sex, many of the women said, was painful. When they tried to stop the producers told them they would not be paid, and yet when the shoots ended many women said they were not paid the full amount promised.

Val Moser, the website’s office manager and chauffeur who drove the women to and from the airport, corroborated the issue of pay. She said half of all the women she spoke to complained to her about getting paid less than they were promised.

The cost of coercion

What Girls Do Porn has done to these women—almost certainly more than the 22 included in this lawsuit—is beyond serious.

This legal case is not an attempt at redemption for a bad decision some women regret, but is justice for coercion cleverly crafted to sex traffic young women.

Related: By The Numbers: Is The Porn Industry Connected To Sex Trafficking?

If you’re wondering how this scheme could be sex trafficking, allow us to introduce you to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

In 2000, in response to reports of international human trafficking, one of the broadest U.S. bipartisan coalitions in history came together to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA. [1] The landmark legislation identified “severe forms” of human trafficking, imposed harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support systems for the victims. [2]

Why was that such a big deal?

Change Begins With One

The TVPA defines sex trafficking as a situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts has not attained 18 years of age.” [3] It was designed in response to international sex trafficking like what we see in movies like “Taken,” but it had an interesting result: it ended up shining a light on every form of sex trafficking, especially in the United States—including when it happens in the name of the porn industry.

But how can porn performers be sex trafficked? As survivors and data show, some people have been forced, tricked, or coerced into entering the industry in the first place, unable to leave once they’ve started. Not only that, but performers who are already in the industry can be forced, tricked, or coerced into performing sex acts they’re uncomfortable with, or performing with other performers on their “no” list. This is also considered a form of sex trafficking under the TVPA.

Under the TVPA definition, these women were absolutely trafficked. But, if you can believe it, their stories get worse.

Stalked, humiliated, and blackmailed

After finding their videos online, many of the women tried to reach out to their contacts at the porn production company only to find that they had changed their phone numbers. Worse still, Girls Do Porn allegedly released performers’ legal names online, which resulted in stalking, harassment, bullying, and blackmail from what the lawsuit describes as “fans.”

Some of the women said they have experienced thoughts of suicide, humiliation, and isolation as a result of being lied to and then publicly outed.

Related: Not All Porn Is Consensual. Don’t Believe It? Just Ask These Performers.

This case is not actually new. The civil lawsuit was filed three years ago, but opening statements for the trial recently began.

In January of 2019, a San Diego Superior Court Judge issued a tentative ruling that the women were likely to prevail as Pratt and his employees “engaged in malice, fraud, and coercion.”

That same day, Pratt filed for bankruptcy. Through their lawyer, the women accused Pratt and his attorney of filing a bogus bankruptcy case purely to stall the civil trial. In March of 2019, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that the civil case could proceed despite Pratt’s bankruptcy case, and Pratt voluntarily dismissed the bankruptcy case.

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A genre of entitlement

Of course, not every porn company tricks, forces, or coerces performers to have sex on camera. Even so, unfortunately, it happens way too often—we’ve heard too many stories of the porn industry’s sketchy dealings, and this Girls Do Porn story is just one more added to the list.

Courtney Trouble, a performer, had this to say about working in porn:

“As a vice industry, [porn] can attract people who just want to be part of the fantasy lifestyle of partying and sex. Stigma against porn…is what makes men like this think they can get away with exploiting struggling women or established professionals.”

Related10 Popular Ex-Porn Performers Reveal The Brutal Truth Behind Their Most Famous Scenes

But even if the stigma against porn and its performers didn’t exist, there would still be sex trafficking and exploitation.

In the case of Girls Do Porn, the company’s scheme is not only harmful to many women but it also feeds an entitled porn fantasy of young women who normally would never be in a porn film resorting to performing to pay for student loans but need some convincing (read: coercion) to play along.

RelatedThe Porn Industry’s Dark Secrets: Not All Porn Is Consensual

In writing about this case, Samantha Cole described the genre as “a fantasy that plays on coercion, and a real-life version of the ‘casting couch’ porn trope, which blurs the line between reality and fiction”—and sex trafficking, we may add.

There is little or no thought of how a young woman feels in that situation—and worse, to consumers, it is more exciting because of how tricked, betrayed, and violated she feels afterward. In a #MeToo world, how is this acceptable?

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