French Senate report denounces sexual abuse in porn industry

'Hell Behind the Scenes'

Sexual and physical abuse in France's porn industry is “systemic” and lawmakers should better regulate the production of videos and protect children who are “heavily exposed” to the content, according to a French Senate report released Wednesday.

The report, titled “Hell Behind the Scenes,” was the first prepared for the French parliament to focus on the porn industry, which the authors described as “predatory.”

A former porn performer who now works as a filmmaker welcomed the long-overdue look at the industry, though she said it doesn't do enough to hold platforms that distribute violent porn accountable.

During six months of research, the Senate’s delegation for women’s rights and gender equality heard from over 50 people, including some involved in the industry, women’s rights activists and victims.

“Both the actual volume of pornographic contents accessible to all and their very nature have contributed to make violent sexual acts against women banal,” the report's authors wrote.

“Sexual, physical and verbal abuses are widespread in porn, making them systemic. They are not simulated but very real for the women who are being filmed,” they added.

In the past two decades, pornography has massively developed as global video platforms multiplied and social media helped share content.

A police investigation into alleged rape, human trafficking and pimping in France’s porn industry has called attention to abuse in the business. Dozens of alleged victims have come forward in two separate cases linked to a major video platform and France's leading amateur porn site.

The investigation revealed that the consent of women was not being asked or respected in many occasions.

The former porn actress, known by her performing name, Nikita Bellucci, was among those who spoke to the senators because “for once, people working in the porn industry were given a voice,” she told The Associated Press. Bellucci would not disclose her full identity to protect her children's privacy.

Bellucci — who has worked in the porn industry for more than a decade in France, Eastern Europe and the U.S. — said she was proud of her job yet stood in the front line to denounce how women are targeted by abuse in the industry.

She recalled with much emotion in her voice how, in the early stage of her career, her “consent (was) abolished” while performing a scene. It took her ten years to realize what happened because she believed the wrong idea that “a porn actress can’t be abused because she chose to do this work."

The Senate report aims to alert the government and the broader public to the huge scale of the problem, its authors said. They noted the “massive, ordinary and toxic” viewing of porn by children, despite French law requiring viewers to be at least 18 years old.

The report found that 90% of pornographic scenes include violence and that two thirds of children aged 14 and less have seen pornographic content — voluntarily or not.

“We must stop having a dated, distorted, watered-down view of porn. Porn today includes violent, degrading, humiliating content,” Sen. Annick Billon, co-author and president of the Senate’s delegation, said.

"Scenes in which a man, most often several men, up to 50, inflict physical and sexual abuse on women have become standard,” she added.

Billon and the other delegation members issued 23 recommendations for enforcing current laws and introducing new regulations.

They include making it a criminal offense to incite the committing of a rape in the context of the porn industry, issuing “dissuasive” fines to make it more difficult for minors to access porn and requiring age-verification mechanisms.

Sen. Laurence Rossignol, report co-author and a former minister in charge of women’s rights, said the two major cases being investigated by police highlighted some of the industry’s methods, including “an initial rape” to “break” women, she said. “That’s the same method as in prostitution rings.”

To withdraw videos from the internet, producers require women to pay 3,000 to 5,000 euros ($2,900-4,800) — ten times the fee they were paid for shooting them, the report said.

Rossignol said policies to fight abuse in the porn industry must come as an additional step in the wake of the #MeToo movement that made a political issue of sexual abuse.

“What is shocking to us is that when it’s about fighting terrorism online, our legal arsenal is useful and efficient. When it’s about violence against women, it’s not efficient and not applied," Rossignol said.

For Bellucci, the report came a bit too late — yet the move is positive. She praised the recommendation to reinforce sex education of teenagers, especially at school. “We now live in a society that's hyper-sexualized by the internet and social media. It is very important to address these topics,” said the 32-year-old mother of two.

“What we’re asking for, above all, is a legal framework. And being actually protected,” Bellucci said. As a porn producer and director, she explained how she takes care of the actors, discussing what practices will be performed and requesting their consent at every stage.

Other countries have tried to regulate online porn but face challenges. Efforts in Britain to tighten age verification on porn sites have run up against privacy concerns.

In the U.S., legislation seeking to remove tech platforms’ traditional immunity for violations of laws related to online child sexual-abuse material was approved earlier this year by a key Senate committee. It has faced substantial pushback, however, including from some liberal Democratic lawmakers.

A new law enacted this month in California targets “cyber flashing,” in which victims receive unsolicited sexually graphic material, often from strangers. People who receive the material by text, email, app or other electronic means will have the legal right to sue the sender.

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