A #MeToo for French porn? Actresses speak out after rape inquiry

A rape investigation targeting a prominent French pornography website is prompting actresses to disclose their own experiences of abuse, a moment of reckoning for an industry where speaking out has long been taboo.

Prosecutors said last month that Jacquie and Michel, which bills itself as a hub for “amateur” porn videos, and other sites had been under investigation since July after feminist groups collected testimonies from several women.

Actresses warned that users should be aware that the concept of “amateur” porn is a misnomer and belies the experiences that performers may have had to endure.

“Those who might be tempted need to know that they abuse women,” Estelle, who asked that her real name not be published, told AFP.

She is one of a few dozen women, according to lawyers and women’s associations, who have contacted lawyers since the inquiry was opened. 

Estelle said that she was 22 when she set her sights on becoming a “star” for France’s leading porn production company, Dorcel.

Unable to get a break, however, she started making videos with smaller producers, many of which were shown on Jacquie and Michel. 

The experience turned into a nightmare.

One director forced her to accept certain scenes — despite her objections — that left her in intense pain for several days.

“He said, ‘She’s crying because she’s not used to it. Stop crying, we can’t sell that — Smile!'” Estelle recalled, saying she was paid 250 euros ($290).

She said that she was forced to perform without a condom with a man who had lied about having tested negative for a sexually-transmitted disease but in fact had a herpes infection.

“They pay you hardly anything for doing scenes that you’ve never said ‘yes’ to.”

– Amateur acts? –

Other women told AFP about directors who suddenly demanded additional sex acts they had not been warned about in advance. 

But Marion Lew, 32, who documents her adult film career on Twitter, said: “The legal system has a very difficult time recognising sexual assault.”

Additionally many women hope to force Jacquie and Michel and other sites to remove their videos, arguing they were unaware that they would be available permanently.

“Many women complain first about the images, which have the most immediate impact on their lives, and initially play down the serious violence they have suffered,” said Lorraine Questiaux, a lawyer for the Mouvement du Nid, an anti-prostitution group.

Jacquie and Michel has denied any wrongdoing, saying it only distributes films and is not responsible for how they are made. 

But it has promised to stop working with anyone convicted of rape or other crimes.

Many actors and actresses scoff at the claim, saying the site effectively requires directors to meet certain aesthetic standards.

“We really need to stop with this idea of ‘amateur porn’,” said Tony Caliano, who has acted in X-rated films for the past 10 years.

“The women are always paid, and the idea is to make you think the girl next door is ready to fool around,” he said.

He indicated however that the women were not likely to have long-term “professional” careers either.

“Jacquie and Michel’s business model is based on always having a new actress,” he added.

“The average girl who gets into the industry will do just 15 or 20 scenes, over three or four months.”

– ‘Tough situation’ –

And the reality is that the vast majority of women are paid just 200 to 300 euros per scene, far below the four-figure payments given to star actresses in “professional porn.”

“Most often, these are women who need to get out of a tough situation,” said Eric Morain, a lawyer representing around a dozen women trying to have their videos removed.

Many believe “it’s easy money, because it only lasts two hours,” he said. 

“But in general, it almost never turns out the way it should.”

Activists hope the Jacquie and Michel inquiry will raise awareness and demolish the idea that victims know what they are getting into.

“We’re at the beginning of a #MeToo moment for pornography,” said Celine Piques, of the Osez le Feminisme! (Dare Feminism) collective, which also alerted prosecutors to victims’ accounts.

But others, including actresses, remain sceptical.

“Some are starting to speak out, but it’s not easy,” said Nikita Bellucci, one of France’s most prominent porn film stars. 

“None of them have been contacted or been publicly supported” by the industry.

“The girls who talk get floods of abuse on social media,” she added. 

“Since they act in porn videos, people say they have no right to present themselves as rape victims.”

Or, as Kim Equinoxx, another star actress, put it: “Some people don’t understand why they complain about rapes. For them, it’s like a boxer complaining that he’s getting hit.”

by Nicolas KIENAST and Caroline TAIX