I’m often met with a blank, disbelieving stare or outright hostility (and subtweeting) when I tell someone that I don’t believe that ‘The West’ has a rape culture. There’s a variety of reasons for this but several of them can be illustrated by three relatively recent events, all relating to people working in pornography. The main thrust of this article is about the Stoya/Deen situation, but I wanted to place it into context with my reasoning on the rape culture issue, and these two other incidents as this all interrelates.
Christy Mack was beaten, raped and abused by her former boyfriend, an MMA wrestler going by the monicker ‘War Machine’. She was hurt so badly she had to have a bunch of surgeries and the trial for that assault and rape is now in progress. Unbelievably, part of ‘War Machine’s’ defence amounts to the idea that ‘you can’t rape a porn star’ (though put in more legalistic terms than that). The reaction to this has been near universal scorn, derision and horror that someone could even say such a thing. At least in the court of public opinion and the media – our culture – that’s not going to fly and it seems unlikely to fly with the judge either.
Mack’s case received reasonable media coverage, sadly – mostly – due to the involvement of an MMA fighter.
Cytheria suffered a home invasion and sexual assault by three men, who have been subsequently arrested. While Cytheria’s assault received little coverage, despite heroic efforts by fellow adult film star Mercedes Carrera, the authorities at least took it seriously and the trial is – last I heard – in progress.
Cytheria’s case received little publicity and assistance via crowdfunding etc to help her get past her problems and back on her feet. Aid only came via unconventional sources such as Gamergate and support from people like Mercedes, rather than from women’s groups. Her plight was little spread on social media.
Which brings us to Stoya versus James Deen. Over the weekend Stoya – an adult star and former girlfriend of James – tweeted out a two tweet accusation against Deen that he had raped her. In the wake of this Deen lost several positions in several organisations, work on podcasts and websites and fairly instantly became persona non-grata. Since then, others have come out to accuse him, others to support him, others simply to ask for calm, distance and for it to be taken to due process – innocent until proven guilty.
In this case we have nothing to go on but a couple of tweets. The issue may or may not end up in court either as a prosecution for rape, or as a prosecution for libel. Meantime it’s trial by social media.
Now, what’s interesting in each of these cases is that they have all been taken seriously, in Mack’s case by the authorities, media and the public. In Cytherea’s case by the authorities and in Stoya’s case, by the media and the public. This despite each case being different, one an assault within a relationship, one a stranger assault and the last being a social media accusation of a rape within a relationship.
Unlike the other two, there’s little or nothing to back up the claim when it comes to Stoya’s accusation. Just her word, which while it may be good enough for her friends – and I know some people who are her friends, which makes this awkward – is very likely not enough for a court case, or to establish that he really did do what he’s accused of.
There’s something strange going on though. Those who aren’t immediately ‘listening and believing’ what she said, who are entering notes of caution and that people should be considered innocent until proven guilty are being vilified and attacked as though they were calling Stoya a liar or taking James’ side (as some have). While there have been a few people who have claimed she’s lying – something they can’t possibly know either – asking for due process and presumption of innocence is something different.
For those who know Stoya, her word might be enough to believe her – friendship brings trust, but that shouldn’t be enough for anyone else and it shouldn’t be enough for the kinds of consequences we’re seeing. When two tweets essentially ruin a man’s career on the basis of the mere suggestion that he has done something like this, we have a problem – and we don’t have a rape culture (one that excuses and even condones rape) if a mere accusation has such enormous consequences (loss of career, loss of income) then the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.
Arguing for due process and for the maintenance of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as the standard should not be a controversial position, whether it’s a sex crime or any other sort of crime. We hold to it on the sound basis that we do not wish to punish anyone who is innocent and because of logical principles that also guide our work in science and many other arenas. We should not believe things until such time as we have true reason to believe them – solid evidence, and we should not punish people until we’re reasonably sure (beyond reasonable doubt) that they’ve done wrong.
Trial by social media, demanding that people ‘listen and believe’ when they have nothing to go on, ruining someone’s life before you’ve established their guilt. We’ve seen where that takes us with recent, high profile cases that didn’t turn out to be true (as per the Rolling Stone scandal). We don’t know what’s what in this case, I’m not suggesting it’s fake, nor that it’s true. I’m just pointing out the dangers and the lasting damage caused by hounding and ruining people on a basis that may not turn out to be correct.
And harassing someone to ‘confess’, doesn’t do any good either.
Step back, take a breath, leave it for the court and, otherwise, reserve judgement. It’s no bad thing and it’s not something to insult, harm or claim someone is a ‘rape apologist’ over.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Stoya situation has been jumped upon by political opportunists in order to attack sex work, adult film work and BDSM. This has no bearing on the case, but it is worth noting that BDSM and film work have much stronger consent culture than the norm – including contracts in the case of film work. That someone works in, or prefers ‘hard’ sex scenes has no discernible bearing on them being more likely to be rapists than anyone else. The idea, seen repeated around social media some, that actual rape may be taking place on screen, is breathtakingly disgusting and opportunistic.