The first shock was that her former boyfriend had filmed them having sex with each other. But the second shock was worse — he had uploaded the videos to the world’s leading free porn site.
The 24-year-old woman, an administrator from Derbyshire who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted her local police force in August last year after discovering that two leaked sex tapes had been posted on Pornhub by the man, whom she had dated for a year.
She found out after the man’s new partner sent her links to them on Snapchat and wrote: “You need to see this.” The videos, tagged with terms like “f****** my ex”, were allegedly viewed hundreds of times before being deleted.
Now Pornhub has been accused of contributing to the collapse of the investigation into the incident after police said it had failed to co-operate with requests for information. Pornhub claims it did not receive the emails. The case was closed last month due to a lack of evidence.
“When I watched the videos I felt sick,” the alleged victim said. “I knew straight away it was me. I felt dirty and ashamed, even though I had done nothing wrong. I thought I was in love with him at the time. I had no idea the videos had been filmed.”
Anyone can earn advertising revenue by uploading videos to Pornhub, with the most-watched clips racking up millions of views and top models generating tens of thousands of pounds.
Officers arrested a 28-year-old man last October, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it needed further evidence, including a statement from Pornhub, before making a charging decision.
Derbyshire constabulary tried to contact Pornhub, owned by the Luxembourg-based company MindGeek, and initially received an email containing “technical information” about the videos. But it did not provide further details requested by the CPS, police said.
“A second request for information, which was required by the CPS, was submitted by email to Pornhub in March 2019 and a further follow-up email sent in April. There was no reply,” police said.
Kate Isaacs, from the campaign group #NotYourPorn, said: “It should be mandatory for porn websites to co-operate with the police to provide justice for those who have suffered sexual abuse and had it broadcast on their platform.”
The CPS said it was unable to make progress in the case because of a lack of “crucial” evidence, including information about “who, when and how the material was uploaded”. A spokesman added that pursuing Pornhub was “not the only possible line of inquiry” but that if the site supplied further details “then the file would be reopened and we would be able to make a charging decision”.
The woman said she was “appalled” by Pornhub’s alleged lack of co-operation.
She believes the videos were posted by her former partner, who has previous convictions for harassing women, shortly after she discovered that he was cheating on her: “I stood up to him and said: ‘No, I don’t want to speak to you any more.’ I think that loss of control kicked him off. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be other victims.”
Pornhub came under fire in July for hosting a video of a British teenager who claimed to have been gang-raped by up to 12 Israeli men at a hotel in Cyprus. Lawyers for the woman, who is currently on trial accused of making false allegations, claim she was a victim of revenge porn.
Blake White, Pornhub’s vice-president, said revenge porn videos violate the website’s terms and conditions and are removed if reported. He added that the company responded to an inquiry relating to the Derbyshire investigation and provided “personal information” about the account holder but “received an autoresponder email in return. Since then, we have no record of correspondence from Derbyshire constabulary.”
The BBC has used the term ‘sex work’ in an article about drug dealing and child slavery. I have sent the following complaint:
I am writing to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in an article about child slavery: ‘County-lines gangs fuelling’ child slavery rise.
Words matter, the BBC is supposed to be politically neutral, the debate over whether prostitution is ‘work like any other’ or exploitation and abuse is still ongoing in the UK. The use of the term ‘sex work’ is partisan, and it is begging the question (asking whether ‘sex work is work’ is like asking ‘is this bad thing bad’).
No child is a ‘sex worker’; even in countries that have legalised/decriminalised the sex industry, it is still illegal to purchase sex from anyone under the age of 18.
Calling a commercially raped adult or child a ‘sex worker’ reduces a sexual abuse issue to a mere labour issue.
Please consider complaining to the BBC, and please feel free to copy or adapt the above template. The BBC is a publicly funded body, indirectly through our taxes, and directly through the licence fee, they have to listen to complaints. You will probably be fobbed of with a standard response (as I was in a previous case), you will need to follow-up and say you were not satisfied with the original response to your complaint. You do not have to be a UK citizen to complain, but the form will ask you where you live.
This is how powerful the sex industry lobbyists are; they complain about being ‘marginalised’ and ‘silenced’ but they have managed to change the way we use language so much that mainstream news sources now routinely call commercially raped adults and children ‘sex workers’. I am sure there are post-modern academics right now writing papers about the ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ of the children being used as drug-mules, but that language is currently confined to academia.
The legalised cannabis industry in the US lobbies for tighter controls and regulations, while the organisations claiming to speak on behalf of prostitutes and porn performers lobby for fewer controls. The legalised cannabis industry is controlled by a completely different group of people than the illegal industry, while whenever the sex industry is legalised/decriminalised, the pimps and brothel keepers are rebranded as ‘sex entrepreneurs’, even while they still rely on trafficking to fuel their industry.
(That people, mostly poor and black, are still in prison in the US for crimes committed pre-legalisation of an industry now mostly run by middle-class white people is a real issue, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the legalised cannabis industry is cleaned-up and well-regulated, while the legalised/decriminalised sex industry is basically just rubber-stamping what was going on already and turning criminals into ‘business men’.)
QotD: “One victim testified that she had been bound in shackles in the basement of one of Chatman’s houses while men paid to rape her”
In 2017, Kenny Chatman, who ran several treatment centers and sober homes, went on trial for money laundering, sex trafficking, and insurance fraud. He pleaded guilty, after evidence surfaced that he had held female clients hostage for sex work. One victim testified that she had been bound in shackles in the basement of one of Chatman’s houses while men paid to rape her. “I recall close to 150 in total different faces of rapists abusing me daily over a period of 3-4 weeks,” she wrote. “I was unrestrained for brief periods, only to be cleaned up of bodily fluids. I thought I was going to die there.”
I’m really disgusted by the use of the term ‘sex work’ here, in the same paragraph as ‘sex trafficking’ and ‘rape’, it shows what a joke the concept is.
The number of teenagers seeking sex therapy on the NHS has more than trebled in two years, according to official figures.
Experts blamed the jump on the increasing prevalence of pornography on teenager’s smartphones and social media, with one saying that youngsters expect sex to be “perfect every time”.
In total, 4,600 children and young people aged 19 or under needed psychosexual therapy in 2017-18 and 2018-19. During the previous two-year period, there were 1,400 referrals. Overall, teenagers make up 1 in 10 patients receiving sex counselling, compared with 1 in 30 two years ago, NHS Digital said.
Muriel O’Driscoll, a counsellor and psychosexual therapist who has treated teenagers, said: “With the young ones, sometimes, despite the availability of sex education, they often don’t know what they’re doing or expect sex to be perfect every time.
“They don’t know what they’re doing because they’re basing their potential experience on pornographic films or videos on Facebook and all the other media. They expect people to be able to have orgasms at a blink.”
O’Driscoll, who has worked for the NHS and Brook Advisory Centres and now practises privately in Merseyside, also said that boys and girls were sometimes concerned that their genitals did not look like or measure up to those they had seen online.
Children are stumbling on pornography online from as young as seven, a report found last month. The survey, from the British Board of Film Classification, suggested that three-quarters of parents felt their child would not have seen porn online, but more than half had done so.
Mary Sharpe, chief executive of the relationships charity The Reward Foundation, said: “The overuse of technology is creating teenagers who are anxious, depressed and with psychosexual problems. Since the advent of high-speed broadband in 2006, the prevalence of mental health problems has soared among young people. Are they linked?
“The internet and porn industries are doing their damnedest to deny it, but we think they are connected because symptoms so often clear up once people go through a digital detox that lets their brains resensitise to everyday pleasures.”
Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director at NHS England, said: “What is becoming abundantly clear is the need for other parts of society to start taking responsibility for their actions, exercise a proper duty of care and stamp out damaging online behaviour — so the NHS is not left to pick up the pieces.”
The top court in Maryland ruled this week that a teen who sent a sexually explicit cellphone video of herself to two friends violated state child pornography law.
The teen, referred to in court papers as SK, did not have to register as a sex offender but was ordered to undergo electronic monitoring and probation, which required drug tests and anger management classes as well as permission to leave the state.
The decision, which upheld a decision from a lower Maryland appeals court, means other minors who engage in sexting could face similar legal repercussions.
Amidst spreading criticism, one expert told the Guardian it was “a ridiculous reading of the statute” concerned.
The ruling, by a 6-1 majority among the judges on the Maryland court of appeals, said: “We refuse to read into the statute an exception for minors who distribute their own matter, and thus we believe SK’s adjudication as delinquent … must be upheld.”
This 35-page decision stemmed from an incident at a high school several years ago. The student identified as SK was 16 at the time and therefore “legally able to consent to engage in sexual conduct”.
According to the ruling, she and her two best friends swapped “silly photos and videos” in a cellphone-based group chat “in an effort to ‘one-up’ each other”.
“The trio hung out together and trusted one another to keep their group messages private,” the ruling said.
The other group members were identified as AT, a 16-year-old female, and KS, a 17-year-old male. During the 2016-17 school year, SK sent them a “one-minute video of herself performing [oral sex] on a male”.
After the trio fell out, the clip was shared with other students.
AT testified that KS “would always write on the board, like, saying she’s a slut or saying any type of thing” and also urged AT to accompany him to the school resource officer, a member of the sheriff’s department, to report the video. While KS claimed he “was worried about SK and wanted her to receive help”, the court papers said, AT thought his motives “were not so pure”.
“AT testified that KS was bragging around school about SK going to jail if he were to report the text message,” the papers said.
KS, who had a copy of the video in his email account, showed it to Officer Eugene Caballero. He was told to delete it.
Caballero then met SK, who was read her rights. According to Caballero’s police report, SK “cried during their meeting and was upset that the video was going around the school”. The student thought the meeting would stop the video circulating. Caballero did not tell her she was “considered a suspect for criminal activity”.
SK gave Caballero a written statement saying she was in the video and had shared it with her two friends.
Caballero’s report was sent to a state attorney. Prosecutors charged SK as a juvenile with filming a minor engaging in sexual conduct, distributing child pornography and displaying an obscene item to a minor. The juvenile court determined SK was involved in the last two counts.
She appealed, arguing that “the statute was intended to protect, not prosecute, minors victimized and exploited in the production of sexually explicit videos”.
The top court recognized that the issue was more complicated than in cases involving adults – but still ruled against SK.
“On the one hand, there is no question that the state has an overwhelming interest in preventing the spread of child pornography and has been given broad authority to eradicate the production and distribution of child pornography,” the opinion said.
“On the other hand, SK, albeit unwisely, engaged in the same behavior as many of her peers. Here, SK is prosecuted as a ‘child pornographer’ for sexting and, because she is a minor, her actions fell directly within the scope of the statute … As written, the statute in its plain meaning is all encompassing, making no distinction whether a minor or an adult is distributing the matter.”
The judges said they did “recognize that there may be compelling policy reasons for treating teenage sexting different from child pornography” and said legislation differentiating the two “ought to be considered by [Maryland’s] general assembly in the future”.
The dissenting judge said prosecuting SK conflicted with the intent of the state’s child pornography statute.
“She made a video depicting consensual sexual conduct,” Judge Michele D Hotten wrote. “The general assembly did not seek to subject minors who recorded themselves in non-exploitative sexual encounters to prosecution. Rather, the statute contemplates protecting children from the actions of others.”
The decision prompted criticism.
“If there is any victim here,” said Slate, “it is SK, who was allegedly the target of revenge porn by her erstwhile friend KS. Yet KS was never charged with distributing the video, nor were any of the students who passed it around.
“Only SK, humiliated and horrified, found herself charged as a child pornographer. The system failed her at every step, from the school resource officer who treated her like a criminal, to the prosecutor who inexplicably brought a criminal case against her, to the courts that affirmed the prosecutors’ ridiculous reading of the law.”
Rebecca Roiphe, a professor of law at New York Law School and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, agreed.
“This is a ridiculous reading of the statute,” she said in an email. “The law uses two different terms, ‘person’ to describe the perpetrator and ‘minor’ to describe the victim. The legislature clearly did not intend to criminalize the victim.
“If there were a law prohibiting a person from bringing an animal into the park, it would be absurd to say a man walking alone in the park violated the law because he brought himself.”
Roiphe added: “I think the case illustrates how troubling the enforcement of sex crimes can be and how important it is that prosecutors use their discretion wisely.”
Obviously, I agree that it is completely wrong for minors to be prosecuted in this way, and that this is an incorrect interpretation of the law, which is meant to protect minors.
We need to be careful that this isn’t used to try to weaken laws that protect minors from sexual exploitation, especially by the porn industry (see my 2015 blog post here about an attempt in the UK to do just that).
QotD: “she says she believes that coercive sex is the price she has to pay for being in a relationship”
When Jed first heard from friends about websites where you could see naked women, it sounded too good to be true. So one afternoon, aged 11 and with his mind straying from homework, and while his mother was busy, he typed “boobs” and “sex” into the search bar of the family laptop.
“My first reaction was: ‘This is confusing.’ I knew a bit about sex, but there were men doing painful stuff to women,” he recalls.
After trying to make sense of what he was seeing, Jed clicked off the page and cleared the browsing history. “But I couldn’t put it out of my mind, so half an hour later, I had another look.”
Now, eight years on and in his first year of an engineering course at university, Jed is a member of a generation that has grown up with porn, and estimates he spends five or six hours a week looking at it.
Indeed, a 2016 analysis of 1,001 11- to 16-year-olds by Middlesex University for the children’s commissioner and the NSPCC found that at least 56% of boys and 40% of girls had been exposed to online pornography by the age of 16. The study also found that not only are boys more likely to keep seeking it out after they first see it (59%, compared with 25% of girls) but they are more likely to be positive about it.
“It’s normal,” says Jake, 19, echoing many of the boys I spoke to. “If one of my friends hadn’t seen it, I’d consider that weird.” For Jason, a swaggering 17-year-old, porn is a comforting routine, something functional that he wakes up with and winds down to at the end of the day. “It’s stress relief, and less work than girls,” he says.
When Samuel’s parents found a list of what they considered to be extreme sexual acts in his browsing history (“Nothing too serious,” Samuel, who is 16, says: “double and triple penetration”) he wasn’t embarrassed. He was annoyed: “I thought, ‘So what? Everyone watches it.’” Tom, 17, says: “We know it’s fake. My mates laugh about it.”
“They may be laughing about it,” says Dr Gail Dines, a scholar of pornography and professor emerita of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College, Boston, “but they are also masturbating to it. They say they know it’s fake, but what does that mean? You haven’t got one brain that processes fake stuff and one that processes real stuff. You have one brain and one body that’s aroused. If you begin by masturbating to cruel, hardcore, violent porn, studies show that you are not going to grow up wired for intimacy and connection.”
Most of the girls I spoke to seemed to be concerned about a loss of intimacy that comes from their male peers’ porn use. Although there are some girls who watch porn, most I speak to are exasperated by the groups of lads accessing it on GCSE field trips or talking in the school cafeteria about videos they’ve seen.
Nia is 14, and though she avoids porn, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t felt its influence. Among the boys, she says it’s easy to tell which ones are the heavy users. “They’re the ones who don’t know what to say at parties, and then write sexual comments on your Instagram posts.”
Megan, 15, has visited porn sites a few times because she heard about her friends giving blowjobs and thought, “it sounds like a skill you’d better learn how to do. You don’t want to get it wrong.” Ayeesha, 17, talks about how porn warps things. “Boys like to spice it up because ordinary sex is considered boring,” she says. “And girls think having anal sex will make the boys love them.” When Ayeesha had sex, she rated her performance as if through the pornographer’s lens. “The first time I did it, I was thinking, ‘My body looks good.’”
When Rhianna, 21, looks back on her teenage sexual relationships, she recalls being asked to replicate scenes her boyfriends had seen on porn. “It wasn’t about what I wanted. It was as if you were some prototype female they got to act out their favourite videos with.”
Now she’s older, Rhianna has started to demand sex on her own terms and enjoys porn herself. “As long as it’s not violent, or shows rape, it’s fine for people over 18 to watch. I think it can be fun to use with a partner.”
But it’s impossible not to hear the angst and confusion in the voice of Ciara, a 20-year-old retail trainee, when she says she believes that coercive sex is the price she has to pay for being in a relationship. “Boys all want the things they’ve seen in porn. If you say it hurts, they don’t seem to take it seriously. It’s as if that’s a normal part of the experience.”
There is some hope, though: a few of the older boys I speak to seem to be gaining some perspective on the downsides of porn. Henry, 20, decided to wean himself off it when he felt he couldn’t masturbate without it. “You’re entranced by it. Denying myself and forcing myself to use my imagination instead was really tough.”
Beyond that, he also started to recognise how it affected his view of women. “I’d see girls in the street and realise I couldn’t just click a button and see them naked. I’d be talking to someone and get frustrated that I couldn’t just make sex happen.”
Mitchell, 19, has begun to understand the connection between what he watches and how he behaves. “If girls are reluctant to do something, you pressure them because you think, ‘Lots of women do it in porn. Why don’t you?’” He says he began to feel “like I wasn’t in my own body”.
The effects of porn run deep – 53% of boys and 39% of girls in the Middlesex University study saw it as “a realistic depiction” of sex – and even with the anticipated new verification checks, free porn will bubble up in other ways; it is already increasingly appearing on platforms children use from a young age, such as Snapchat and Instagram.
Glamorous and flamboyant, Liliana del Carmen Campos Puello often posted snaps to her Instagram followers of racy days spent surrounded by beautiful young women in some of Colombia’s most exclusive spots.
Behind the façade, prosecutors say, lay a dark secret: last year the brash 48-year-old woman was arrested and accused of being the country’s biggest pimp. She is now in jail and on trial accused of making a fortune by catering to the dark desires of those visiting the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena, after her arrest last year along with 17 others in a huge police sting known as Operation Vesta.
Prosecutors allege that Ms Campos Puello, nicknamed “La Madame”, forced young women to work in her international sex-trafficking ring and provided them to clients such as celebrities, policemen and politicians.
While Ms Campos Puello vehemently denies the accusations, her trial has highlighted Colombia’s insidious problem with sex tourism.
During the Eighties and Nineties Colombia was a no-go zone for travellers as a war involving left-wing guerrillas, drug traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries turned it into a near-failed state. But tourism has been booming since a peace deal in 2016 ended half a century of conflict, and Cartagena is the country’s biggest tourist trap. The beaches and colonial architecture of the Unesco World Heritage site attract millions of visitors each year.
But anyone wandering around the city’s old town will come across females, many very young, offering their services. Prostitution in Colombia is legal but it is alleged that Ms Campos Puello coerced women, often from poor backgrounds, into the trade and trafficked them overseas. Others caught in Operation Vesta were alleged to have trafficked children.
Despite admitting to having an escort agency, Ms Campos Puello claims that those involved chose to be so and were always older than 18. Mario Gómez Jiménez, the chief prosecutor, said that Ms Campos Puello had close to 400 women in the network.
“Never, never have there been minors involved,” Ms Campos Puello told local media in an interview from prison.
She has been kept in jail since her arrest last year. She has since been accused of continuing to run her agency and also threatening a journalist via her social media accounts.
Last year Néstor Humberto Martínez, Colombia’s former chief prosecutor, described the victims in the case as “true 21st-century sex slaves”.
The US-aided Operation Vesta led to 17 other people being arrested, including three Israelis who “had built a network of human trafficking, sex tourism and child exploitation that plagued Colombia for over a decade”. One navy official who has been jailed tattooed his initials on the bodies of the underage girls he raped. About 250 victims have been identified.
Mr Gómez said he hoped Operation Vesta would “open the eyes of the state, the government and society”.
Most of Cartagena is poor and the sex trade is seen as an easy way out of poverty for many young women.
“It’s very difficult to believe just one case will radically change the country. But emblematic cases such as this one give us hope,” Mr Gómez said. “We hope it could give some direction and help with the next step with many of the women who are involved in this trade. If the government could help, financially, those trapped in this trade and provide better opportunities, such as funds to set up small businesses, that would be a turning point.”
This article is a long, detailed, critical, but balanced account of the history, from the 1970’s to today, of the second ever battered women’s shelter in the US. I’m posting the first few paragraphs, which cover the setting up of the shelter and its early years, and include details of what was happening in second wave feminism at the same time, but I would recommend reading the whole thing.
In the winter of 1975, a week after a ten-inch snowfall, Chris Womendez and Cherie Jimenez decided to turn Cherie’s apartment into a shelter for women who were getting beaten up at home. Cherie lived downstairs from Chris in a building on Pearl Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Neither knew what running such a shelter involved, but nobody did; there was only one in the country, which had opened in St. Paul the year before. They were both on welfare, and each had a little kid, but rent was cheap, and their apartments were bigger than they needed. They put up signs with Cherie’s phone number in laundromats, and the bathrooms of broken-bone units in hospitals, and the waiting rooms of maternity wards. Cherie painted a picture on her wall of a woman brandishing a rifle. They met a few times with a lawyer they knew, to ask questions like: What if a guy found a woman in their apartment and killed her—would they be responsible? They got some women together to make plans, but the meetings were long and kind of boring, so they decided to just do it.
Chris grew up in the projects in South Boston. One night in 1966, when she was seventeen, she went to the Waldorf, a twenty-four-hour restaurant on Tremont Street where gay people used to go after the bars closed. She met a deaf Puerto Rican guy there, got pregnant, and married him. Soon after she gave birth, he started beating her up. He tried to strangle her and drown her in the bathtub. She fought back, but he was stronger. They had terrible arguments, all in sign language. She left him when she was eighteen and moved back in with her parents; her mother watched the baby while Chris went downtown and turned tricks. The money was good, and she moved to a nice apartment in Back Bay with a woman she’d been seeing who worked as a prostitute, too. She changed her last name from her husband’s name, Mendez, to Womendez.
Later, around 1973, Chris had a minor nervous breakdown, became religious, moved to Cambridge, and found work moving furniture and delivering the Gay Community News in her van. Then, one night, she met Cherie at a Daughters of Bilitis meeting, and they went out afterward to a lesbian bar in Boston called the Saints. They became friends, and then a couple, and talked every night about how they wanted to do something to really turn things upside down. They thought, There are so many women getting beat up who need a place to stay—we should just open our place up, make it a shelter. They would call it Transition House.
Cherie, like Chris, had fled a violent early marriage. When she was a teen-ager, she went to Puerto Rico with some friends and met her future husband, a rich man from San Juan, in a hotel lobby. They had a daughter together, but he hit her, and then he became violent with their daughter, too. She left him and travelled around for a while, supporting herself and her daughter by working as a high-end escort. She spent some time in Mexico City, then stayed for a summer with friends who had an organic farm in Michigan. Finally, she fetched up in Cambridge and met Chris.
Word about the shelter spread fast. It was Cambridge in 1975, and there was a lot going on. Women were meeting for consciousness-raising sessions at the Sergeant Pepper Coffee House, and helping rape victims at the Women’s Center, and starting up the Combahee River Collective. There were biker feminists in leather, and Cambridge feminists in bandannas, and Dorchester feminists in dresses. There were socialist feminists who believed that all victimized groups should struggle together against capitalism, and radical feminists who believed that misogyny was the fundamental oppression—that if the patriarchy could be broken then all other oppressions would follow.
Cherie and Chris opened their shelter on New Year’s Day, 1976, and it was full almost immediately. There were mattresses stacked up in the kitchen and all over the floor, and children everywhere. The women who came to stay all pitched in, cleaning the house, taking donations, answering the phone, which began ringing constantly, helping out with child care while mothers went to the doctor or the housing office. A lot of women showed up at the apartment to help. One was Betsy Warrior, a former battered woman who was a founding member of Cell 16, a radical feminist group whose journal, No More Fun and Games, advocated celibacy, separatism, and wages for housework. Another was Lisa Leghorn, an ardent young student who had met Warrior in Cell 16 and spent time with her studying social movements. (They concluded that the basis of women’s subjugation was their place as unpaid laborers in the home, reinforced through violence.) There was Rachel Burger, who had grown up in a pacifist Anabaptist community in England and Paraguay, and, having seen abuse that nobody talked about in that community, had gone looking for another. There were housewives from the suburbs who turned up carrying homemade cakes.
The idea was that there should be no difference between women who came to stay and women who came to help. They made decisions together, went on protest marches together, went out drinking and dancing. “We were changing consciousness,” Leghorn says. “A woman would come into the shelter in the morning, and by the evening she was showing a new resident around. Women were learning that they weren’t just victims.” Nobody wanted to make rules or control behavior; the only rule was to keep the shelter’s location a secret. Chris and Cherie had almost no money, but they were determined not to fund-raise from any source other than individual women, because doing so would compromise their independence and their politics.
Chris and Cherie worked around the clock, taking naps when they could. There were a lot of people and a lot of frantic emotions in a small space. Everyone was in crisis, panicking about where she was going to go next. One woman kept begging Chris to kill her, and Chris would say, Not today, honey, maybe tomorrow. A volunteer went to help a woman escape from her house and got beaten up herself. Some of the women had not been battered but had come because they were homeless; Chris and Cherie couldn’t decide what to do about them. Some days, when the weather was nice, all the women would take a picnic out to the back yard and the kids would play and everybody would be at peace for an hour or two.
In August that first year, Transition House helped to organize a women’s march that rallied at Government Center, in Boston. Five thousand people turned up. Leghorn spoke passionately about female servitude. Florynce Kennedy, the founder of the Feminist Party, advised battered women to occupy the nearest cathedral, mosque, or synagogue, because religions had been “pushing the family trap” and had taken upon themselves “a monopoly on the license to fuck.” Afterward, dozens of women showed up at the shelter to volunteer.
Many volunteers had been activists in the civil-rights and antiwar movements but had got sick of being ignored and making coffee. Gail Sullivan had just come back from a stint at the Wounded Knee defense committee, in South Dakota. “The movement was dominated by men who were actively hostile to feminism, which they termed ‘white feminism,’ ” Sullivan says. “Most were very invested in traditional gender roles, which they defended as Native American traditions. This stuff was very common, men using racial oppression as an excuse to oppress women.”
Domestic violence felt like the front line of the liberation struggle. “When we started to understand how deeply pervasive and corrosive it was, when we heard stories from women whose father beat their mother and then they replicated that in their own relationship, it felt like the work was so central to creating a world in which women could be liberated,” Sullivan says. All women needed was a place to go—a refuge where they would realize that they could survive on their own—and then they would be freed from dependence on violent men, or any men, forever. The stories were brutal, but the work was exhilarating.
Unlike most small feminist organizations founded in the nineteen-seventies, the shelter survived the decade, and the next, and the ones after that. It is still open, in a clapboard house in Cambridge with an unpublished address. It was founded not just to be a refuge for battered women but to embody a set of principles and enact a theory of how women would be liberated. It survived the seventies because the women who worked there were so fervently committed to the theory and the principles, and it survived after that because, year by year, they abandoned every one of them.
Each abandonment was the occasion of bitter fights, mutinies, and accusations of betrayal. For many women who worked there, Transition House was their first political love, to which they attached their most utopian hopes for the future, and, after all the devotion and the sacrifices and the impassioned arguments and the work day and night, it was hard to leave its founding principles behind, no matter how destructive they had become. Women left in anger, or hurt, or from exhaustion, or because they got older, or it was a different time. But the doors stayed open.
When I first heard about the tragic case of Cyntoia Brown, sentenced in 2006 to 51 years for killing a man who was paying to use her for sex when she was 16-years-old, I immediately thought of Emma Humphreys. In 1985, Emma also killed a man in very similar circumstances.
Both girls killed as a result of severe provocation and mental ill health, caused by the extreme abuse they had endured in prostitution.
Brown shot Johnny Allen in 2004. On the night she killed him, Allen picked up Cyntoia and took her to his home. Brown said in her statement she thought he was reaching for a gun during sex, so she shot him with a handgun and fled with his money.
The defence claimed Cyntoia was a victim of sex trafficking who feared for her life and was afraid of coming back to her pimp, “Cut Throat”, who used to beat and terrorise her, with no money. The prosecution said she was a greedy opportunist. Cyntoia was convicted of murder.
Like Cyntoia, Emma had grown up with appalling abuse, and was pimped into prostitution as a runaway child. Having met Trevor Armitage on the streets of Nottingham, Emma – who had been prostituted on the streets aged 13 – moved in with him, desperate for a home.
Armitage began beating, raping and pimping Emma, and her life was sheer hell. She killed him after he threatened her with a “gang-bang”. Like Cyntoia, she was just 16 years old, and yet was convicted a few months later of his murder. The jury failed to understand how child abuse and neglect is a training ground for prostitution, and how pimps and other predators target girls such as Emma.
Following a relentless three-year campaign to overturn Emma’s conviction, she finally walked free in July 1995. Emma had served a decade in prison for the “crime” of defending herself. But the lifetime of abuse, and her decade in prison took its toll on her mental and physical health, and Emma died three years later.
Cyntoia had been in prison for over a decade when campaigners brought her case to the public’s attention, and soon the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown trended on Twitter. Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, and even Snoop Dogg, himself a former pimp, called for her release.
Cyontia says that “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.” Emma said much the same when she was released. What Emma needed, and what all the girls caught up in prostitution need from us is to call it what it is – child abuse.
We need to challenge those that claim that when the Cyntoias and Emmas of this world reach 18 they are merely exercising a “choice”. One pro-prostitution organisation recently referred to Cyntoia as “a survival sex worker” as opposed to a victim of sexual exploitation, and called for changes to attitudes so that such young women can hang on to their “agency”.
A child in the sex trade has no “agency”. She is a victim of sexual abuse and violence. Girls such as Cyntoia and Emma usually never come to our attention. They often take their own lives, die from HIV, are murdered by pimps and punters, or end up in prison. We owe them a duty of care, and that begins by calling prostitution what it is: one of the worst forms of sexual exploitation and brutality on the planet.
Former top porn actress Mia Khalifa has called out pornography companies that “prey on callow young women”.
The 26-year-old says the corporations “trap women legally in to contracts when they’re vulnerable”.
Mia spent just three months working in the porn industry before leaving in 2015 but she remains a highly ranked star on site Pornhub.
Speaking in an interview with her friend Megan Abbott, Mia says she “hasn’t yet accepted [her] past”.
Mia has usually avoided speaking about her career in porn, but says she’s “ready to shed light on every questionable moment from my past, because if I own it, it can’t be used against me”.
She is one of the most-viewed porn stars of all time – but Mia says that didn’t necessarily equate to payment.
She says she made around $12,000 (£9,900) during her time performing and “never saw a penny again after that”.
There is still an active website under her name, which she says she doesn’t own or profit from.
“All I’ve wanted these last years is for the site to be changed from my direct name,” she says.
The Lebanon-born performer opened up about how difficult it is to move on after porn, as she found out when attempting to pursue a career in sports punditry.
“It gets me so down when I get ‘no’s’ from companies who don’t want to work with me because of my past, but I also thought I would never find a man like my fiancé,” she said.
Mia Khalifa got engaged to Robert Sandberg earlier this year.
“The fact that he appreciated everything I’ve done since porn meant so much.”
Although Mia’s career was short-lived, it wasn’t without controversy. Her most famous scene shows her performing sex acts whilst wearing a hijab.
“Instantly that it was posted, it was like wildfire. ISIS sent me death threats, they sent me a Google Maps image of my apartment.
“I stayed in a hotel for two weeks after that because fear really set in.”
With almost 17 million followers on her Instagram page, Mia often receives offensive messages from trolls.
“I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, things people say don’t offend me. I always think ‘OK, but are you ISIS? Are you going to kill me? No, move on’.”
The actress was scouted on the street in Miami in 2014, and made her first porn film in October that year.
She didn’t plan for anyone to find out, telling Megan Abbott she saw it as her “dirty little secret”.
But by December she was the number one ranked performer on website Pornhub.
“I definitely have not come to terms with my past yet,” she says. “I might put on a facade, because I fake it until I make it.”