Cover image from Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. 4 minute read.

The owner of a business in an industrial area of Phoenix, Arizona, says he was running a legitimate porn studio where amateurs could rent cameras, lights and props to create their own sex scenes with the help of a model, reports AZ Central.

But after arresting owner William James Hartwell, authorities say it was nothing more than a cleverly disguised house of prostitution, sex trafficking, and sexual assault that raked in $40,000 a month in profits.

Hartwell, 56, denies running a brothel and accuses the government of violating his free speech rights as protected by the First Amendment.

The eight people arrested include: Hartwell, 24-year-old Michelle Marchetti, 20-year-old Shelby Dunn, 23-year-old Tammie Torres, 22-year-old Adrianna Aguirre, 20-year-old Danielle Bell, and 25-year-old Amber Mackenzie. Reportedly, one of these women was 9-months pregnant when taken into custody.

William James Hartwell being taken into custody in Tempe, Arizona (Image: AZ Central)

 

He was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison after being convicted of running a prostitution business, as well as sexually assaulting and pimping some of the young women who worked for him. Hartwell says the sex acts that were recorded and photographed at his business were protected free speech and practiced in the same way professional porn studios legally operate.

The prosecution suggested a 44-year sentence as punishment for the trauma they believe he caused the victims both at the time of the offense, as well as the trauma they had to relive as they shared their testimonies.

“All sexual conduct that took place at the studio was for the purpose of exploring and expressing an individual’s sexuality via safe and legal adult content creation,” Hartwell wrote in court records.

Police say customers would pay $140 per half hour to have sex with a female employee. The women would take customers into rooms and insist on shooting minutes-long videos or taking 10 photos with sexual content. Then, the cameras were shut off and discarded and they began to have sex. Prosecutors say those images were taken for no other reason than to guard against future prostitution allegations.

To get to the location of the business, men had to respond to an online ad and were given the address only after they called from a nearby gas station. Once inside, they had to show their genitals as a way to prove that they were not undercover police officers. (Police have to avoid the appearance of being participants in sex so they can maintain credibility when cases go to court.)

A screenshot from the business’ now-defunct website, telling customers that their operations were legal.

 

The investigation was launched back in 2012 after police received a tip about the business. Authorities sent informants who posed as customers or prospective employees. One informant said Hartwell offered customers with porn production space, cameras, condoms, and a “free porn girl.”

The business’ website said customers couldn’t give their money to anyone other than a receptionist, and that the money could only be for equipment rental and studio fees. Police say the sex workers were told they didn’t have to worry about the legal ramifications of prostitution because they didn’t handle any of the money. Customers were allowed to pick up a USB drive with still photos or videos a few days after their sexual encounter. About half the customers actually returned to pick up the images.

Porn and Prostitution

The story above is just one case in countless others of people who have tried to legitimize their prostitution/trafficking exploits by writing it off as pornography. Many people don’t see porn and prostitution as being related, but the facts are showing otherwise.

Even the very meaning and origin of the word ‘pornography’ tells the true story. Taken straight from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

The word pornography, derived from the Greek porni (“prostitute”) and graphein (“to write”), was originally defined as any work of art or literature depicting the life of prostitutes.

That should sum it all up for anyone questioning the difference between porn and prostitution. But we’ll keep going just for argument’s sake.

Let’s talk about how it is now a popular trend in the porn industry for porn stars to auction themselves off to fans who will pay to have sex with them on camera. Yes, that’s a real thing. Not long ago, a porn website announced multiple auctions for fans to appear in a scene with popular porn performers. With opening bids between $2,500-$3,500, the winners of the auctions were even required to pay for their own transportation to Las Vegas to claim their prize.

Not to mention that as studios have become increasingly obsolete in the industry, many performers have found themselves out of work, out of money, and without any quality alternatives. That’s led more and more to involvement in prostitution just to pay the bills—whether by choice or notaccording to a porn producer who we’ll call M.S..

“When I came into the business in 1992, we were very tight-knit,” he said. “Nobody in the industry was prostituting and if they were, they were keeping it way, way under the radar. Nowadays, I can actually count the number of girls who don’t prostitute on one hand.”

Why This Matters

The porn industry is quick to dispel the idea that what they are doing reflects prostitution in any way. They claim that the people being filmed are “actors” and “actresses” that are getting paid for their time to be on camera, and that what they are doing on film is just the nature of their work.

In reality, the link between porn and prostitution is inseparable. Research shows that men who buy sex are twice as likely to have watched a porn film in the last year compared to the general population. It’s also not surprising that when these customers show up, many come ready with porn images in hand to show the women they’re exploiting what they want to do.

Related: Death To XXX: How The Internet Is Slowly Killing The Porn Industry

And they’re not the only ones using porn as an illustration. “Pimps and traffickers use pornography to initiate their … victims into their new life of sexual slavery,” says Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, a former UN representative and a senior fellow at the Beverley LaHaye Institute. Through exposure to porn, these victims “get hardened to accept the inevitable and learn what is expected of them.”

Finally, in a study of 854 women in prostitution across nine countries, 49% said that porn had been made of them while they were in prostitution, and 47% said they had been harmed by men who had either forced or tried to force their victims to do things the men had seen in porn.

The differences between pornography and prostitution is getting are fading by the day. Society needs to understand that fueling the demand for pornography can only be harmful for individuals, relationships, and the world as a whole.

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