No matter your take on the swirling discussion that kicked off one week ago today when popular, outspoken porn performer Stoya tweeted about being raped by ex-boyfriend and fellow actor James Deen, there is one certainty: Women who perform in porn for a living do not feel like their accusations of sexual or physical abuse are taken seriously. And, given the dirge of comments on our Facebook or underneath the articles that have since covered the eight other women who have come forward, why should they? Why should they feel like power structures take them seriously when campus rape is still virulent, when a woman who comes forward with a story of sexual assault is constantly, continually asked, “Well, can she prove it? Show us, definitively, whether or not she was violated.”
In rape cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that there was criminal or pre-planned attempt. With acquaintance rape being 80 percent of all rape cases, and the fact that rape kits don’t tell the whole story in the same way that, say, a bullet wound can confirm a murder or the loss of property can prove a theft, that burden of proof is particularly heavy. (Rape defense points out that vaginal tears and bruising can happen during entirely consensual sex.) In the case of a porn star, as Kayden Kross told us, “For a glaring example of how sex workers are treated within the court system, consider the case in 2007 under Philadelphia judge Teresa Carr Deni, who reduced the charges of a man and his friends—who were proven to have gang-raped a prostitute at gunpoint—simply to ‘Theft of Services.’” And when Stoya, who does indeed do porn but also makes art, writes, and is a staunch, vocal, and articulate actress for sex workers speaks, it is safe to assume she understands exactly what she is doing—especially when it comes to sexual health and safety.
But what happened after Stoya sent out her 55 words, naming her ex-boyfriend and the industry’s most “approachable” poster boy as the perpetrator of assault, has shaken the porn industry. In a researched, thoughtful piece by The Guardian today, Stoya gives her first interview, saying, “It’s not just a porn problem. It’s not just an entertainment problem. It’s easy to look at Bill Cosby and think, Oh, he had access. No. It happens fucking everywhere.” Of course, the difference between it happening “everywhere” and it happening within the confines of a closed porn set is that, ”...Now the public is hearing, perhaps as loudly as ever, about the particular structural problems the porn industry contends with, and the persistent and pernicious idea that sex workers are by definition unrapeable.”
The notion of “unrapeability” is an issue that women continually face in their claims of sexual assault: She initially wanted it, she’s unrapeable. We are in a relationship, she’s unrapeable. We’ve previously has sex, she’s unrapeable. This seems particularly poignant in Stoya’s case. “If you hold someone down and fuck them while they say ‘no’ and ‘stop’ and use their fucking safeword, that is rape. But when it first happened, I felt numb. And I went to work the next day. And I went to work the day after that. And I did a scene with him two days after, maybe three days after, I’m not sure. Then I felt like I’d been violated by someone I trusted,” she explains. When she confronted him about it, he dismissed her emotion and anger as “abusive.”
Hopefully—hopefully—the outcome of all of this discussion, undertaken by women who are pro-sex and deeply committed to their own platforms and positions as not just sex workers, but advocates for sexual safety, is that we address the insidious notion of the “unrapeable woman.” As Kayden writes, “Already our industry battles the constant din of claims that the women, simply by showing up to work, are victims. Already, we battle the claims that porn is rape, that consent is questionable, that no woman given a fair choice would engage in it.” And that male entitlement is protected by women feeling like they are somehow “unrapeable,” and worthy of suspicion or deserving of having their autonomy infringed upon. Which is why what Stoya did is so important. It’s not about justice or vindication, but instead about the notion that these are not things that women should be forced to suffer quietly, no matter how they pay their bills.