Three women, so far, have come forward to accuse porn star James Deen of sexual assault. It seems exceedingly likely there will be more.
After porn actress Stoya tweeted on Saturday that Deen had forcibly raped her, other women in the porn industry made clear that they’d been warning fellow performers about Deen’s allegedly predatory actions for years.
Indeed, porn actress Sydney Leathers told the Daily Beast that another porn performer “told me when I first got into the business that I should avoid him — that he has boundary issues, basically that he tries to break women.”
In other words, Deen seems to be a perfect example what kink blogger Cliff Pervocracy once called a “missing stair” — that is, a dangerous person that women warn one another about, but whose power in the community shields him from public accusations.
As Cliff wrote in a now-famous post, some people are the equivalent of a missing stair,
[s]omething massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house …. [is] used to it? “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”
Cliff came up with this striking metaphor after posting publicly “about a rapist in a community I belonged to,” noting that even without giving a name or details of the rapist’s actions,
I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying “oh, you must mean X.” Everyone knew who he was! … The reaction wasn’t “there’s a rapist among us!?!” but “oh hey, I bet you’re talking about our local rapist.” Several of them expressed regret that I hadn’t been warned about him beforehand, because they tried to discreetly tell new people about this guy. Others talked about how they tried to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on him at parties, because he was fine so long as someone remembered to assign him a Rape Babysitter.
Just as Bill Cosby’s status as a beloved father figure of the comedy world made it terrifyingly difficult for women to go public with their rape accusations against him, Deen’s status in the porn world, and his public reputation as an enlightened, even feminist, porn performer made it similarly terrifying for women to come forward with their accusations against him.
But it wasn’t just Deen’s power in the porn world that kept his alleged victims silent. There is also a strange but widespread belief that porn performers (and sex workers more generally) can’t really be raped.
Tori Lux, one of the three women who say they’ve been assaulted by Deen, explained that she hadn’t gone to the police or gone public earlier because
people (including the police) tend to operate from the assumption that sex workers have put themselves in harm’s way, and therefore can’t be assaulted – which is incorrect, as being involved in sex work does not equate being harmed. …
[S]ex workers are silenced and our negative experiences are swept under the rug in simply trying to protect ourselves from judgement of others, or worse, a variety of problems ranging from further physical attacks to professional problems such as slander and blacklisting. To put it simply, I was afraid.
Her fear is certainly understandable. The “porn performers can’t be raped” argument, despite its obvious absurdity, is one that actually makes it into rape trials. Indeed, only a couple of days before Stoya came forward with her accusations, the lawyer for the MMA fighter known as War Machine, who is currently on trial for sexual assault and attempted murder, suggested that his accuser’s history as a porn actress known for rough sex somehow means that she can’t be raped. As the Daily Beast writes,
War Machine’s attorney … said that even when she wasn’t acting as on-screen seductress Christy Mack, the accuser showed the “desire, the preference, to acceptability towards a particular form of sex activities that were outside of the norm.”
If Deen is prosecuted for his alleged sexual assaults, will we hear a similar argument from his lawyers?
For now, Deen is flatly denying all of the allegations leveled against him:
I want to assure my friends, fans and colleagues that these allegations are both false and defamatory
— James Deen (@JamesDeen) November 30, 2015
I respect women and I know and respect limits both professionally and privately
— James Deen (@JamesDeen) November 30, 2015
But a couple of years ago, Deen took the issue of consent a good deal less seriously than he says he does now. joking about it on Twitter:
Things I've learned… It's not rape if you yell surprise and if you put enough bbq sauce on anything it will taste ok
— James Deen (@JamesDeen) February 19, 2011
He liked that joke so much that he used it again later:
— James Deen (@JamesDeen) April 10, 2012
Then again, maybe these Tweets weren’t meant as jokes at all. Maybe this is what Deen actually believes.