Writer and porn actress Stoya took to Twitter last week to accuse fellow porn actor and ex-boyfriend James Deen of raping her. The accusation, which Deen denies, has prompted several other porn actresses to come forward with their own allegations against him. The news has inspired a wave of support on Twitter via the hashtag #SolidarityWithStoya, as well as backlash against Deen. His column in ‘The Frisky’ has been cancelled, and several porn companies have severed ties with him. Despite this, there have still been those quick to critique Stoya’s rape as an inevitable consequence of both the porn industry and sex work in general. Anti-sex feminists and anti-porn Republicans alike have jumped to frame the story as emblematic of the inherent evil of sex work. To write off Stoya’s claim as just another facet of an insidious business, however, is to invalidate both her career and her alleged rape.
When it comes to allegations of sexual assault, the deck is stacked pretty high against sex workers. Their claims are rarely taken seriously, as their careers are used as weapons against their claims. As the argument goes, a career in sex work indicates promiscuity outside the workplace as well. But even if this were true, one’s sexual history still has no bearing on one’s right to consensual sex. When it comes to sexual violence, career choice should always be irrelevant. Arguments to the contrary are damaging because they presume either that rape is a forgone conclusion in sex work, or that sex workers are by definition unrapeable. Such views not only discredit sex workers, but dehumanize them as well.
Stoya was allegedly raped not just by a coworker, but an ex-boyfriend. This was not an instance of a video scene gone wrong, nor can it be attributed to so-called blurred lines of consent between sex workers. It occurred outside the workplace, between individuals who had once shared an intimate relationship. The exact scenario could have occurred — and it regularly does — if neither Stoya nor Deen had been involved in sex work. By framing the story as a cost of sex work, critics deny Stoya the sympathy typically extended to survivors. The emotional pain sustained from her rape is written off as a product of the industry instead of what it really is: a valid human response to trauma.
This is not to say that the porn industry is completely innocent. Rape allegations are not always treated seriously in the industry, and they can even cost actresses jobs if casting directors perceive them as dramatic. This is a real issue that needs to be dealt with, but it is hardly the only factor that discourages sex workers from coming forward with their stories. Others, like the fear of not being believed by law enforcement, come not from the porn industry itself but from the stigma attached to its workers. To truly be in #SolidarityWithStoya — and other sex workers who have survived sexual assault — we must not take her story as an indictment of the porn industry, but instead as an indictment of a culture that scares sex workers into silence.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, December 7 print edition. Email Mandy Freebairn at [email protected]