- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Jan Villarubia, 42, came to the porn industry years ago as a divorced mom desperate to feed her three children — and producers were happy to take advantage.

“I was traumatized, I was an alcoholic, and I wasn’t myself anymore,” said Ms. Villarubia, who now helps women leave the business. “But I would have done anything to put a roof over my children’s heads and food on the table.”

Ms. Villarubia is one of a growing number of sex-trade survivors calling for tighter consent and age verification policies in the porn industry — and urging Congress to get behind the bipartisan Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act, introduced by Sens. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, and Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, in December.

The bill would make it harder to upload pornographic content online.

Ms. Villarubia said she became an adult film actress at 27, working for a year-and-a-half, from 2006 to 2007, and performing in more than 40 films.



Happily married today, she told The Washington Times about the rampant abuse, coercion and deception she encountered in the industry — and the fight she‘s faced trying to convince websites to take down old clips.

“The crazy thing is that I’ve been out of the industry since 2007 and adamantly fighting injustices in it since 2008,” Ms. Villarubia said.

But the sex scenes she filmed more than a decade ago are still readily available on subscription-based porn sites.

“I’ve tried to have them remove the materials, but they’ve just laughed at me,” she said.

Ms. Villarubia‘s comments came as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) last week asked credit card giants Visa and Discover to follow the lead of MasterCard in requiring porn websites to more strongly verify the “unambiguous” consent and age of performers in their videos.

MasterCard has taken the proper steps to prevent it from profiting from videos with child sexual abuse material, sexual assault, rape and non-consensually shared content. This kind of content has been found on tube sites like Pornhub and XVideos, and subscription sites like OnlyFans,” said Dawn Hawkins, the nonpartisan group’s CEO.

Ms. Villarubia and other activists calling for more restrictions on websites say they’re trying to help performers, but many working in the industry say those efforts actually negatively impact women trying to earn a living in the sex trade.

The Free Speech Coalition, an association that represents the adult entertainment industry in the U.S., told The Times on Friday that MasterCard‘s move to stop doing business with Pornhub in December hurt the profits of performers who generate their own content.

“People who are producing legal adult content now have to go through much more bureaucracy, waiting for weeks and months to get it uploaded, or else MasterCard will stop doing business with them,” said Mike Stabile, director of public affairs for the L.A.-based organization.

Mr. Stabile said that because most new adult content comes from individual content creators uploading it online, rather than from film production studios, “old-school religious censorship” efforts to tie websites to abuse and trafficking hurt individual sex workers more directly than studios.

Pornhub spokesman Ian Andrews defended the website’s safety and security measures, telling The Times that they “far exceed those of any other user-generated platform on the internet.”

“That said, if you can provide an example of illegal activities occurring in Pornhub videos, please send it to me so that I can have it removed immediately,” Mr. Andrews told The Times in an email.

Ami Gan, a spokeswoman for OnlyFans, added that the London-based subscription website empowers its users to safely monetize what is after all a legal industry for consensual adults.

“The site is inclusive of artists and creators from all genres. It is focused on maximizing their control while empowering them to monetize their individualized, creative content and developing authentic relationships with their fanbase,” Ms. Gan told The Times in an email.

But Ms. Villarubia described for The Times a culture in which drugs and alcohol are used to coerce “informed” consent from performers who, in many cases, sign away to the industry the perpetual right to use their videos — and the royalties they generate.

“The porn companies don’t care about human beings, and they don’t care if the performers live or die, so long as they’re making money,” Ms. Villarubia said.

Mary, an ex-performer in her 30s who asked not to use her real name, described a similar experience after she got involved at age 18.

“I think people envision porn as a 100% consensual industry, but they don’t get to see everything that happens behind the scenes,” she said. 

As a Los Angeles-based porn actress from 2005 to 2006, Mary performed in a series of increasingly violent porn shoots that wounded her emotionally and physically.

“It was a gradual progression of abuse that stretched my boundaries until I was having very violent sex with more and more people at the same time,” Mary said. “Frequently, they’d have to stop filming because I was bleeding, then they’d clean up the blood and keep going.”

Mary eventually left the industry, sobered up and now has a “normal” job that she loves.

“I don’t know anyone doing super well mentally who would choose to do porn. Even though you thought you were consenting, you never really knew what was going to happen, and I don’t think my mental state made me capable of giving consent,” she said.

Cyntoia Brown-Long, a bestselling author and former sex worker who became a social media celebrity under the “free Cyntoia” hashtag in 2019, said women trafficked against their will often transition from underage sex work into porn films.

“I feel pornography encourages … men to think it’s OK to treat women like sex commodities. No human should be bought and sold; that’s a basic fact we should have learned by now,” said the 33-year-old activist, who recently hosted a webinar about her experiences.

Ms. Brown-Long takes a hard-line stance on porn: Make it illegal and shut down the websites.

“It’s not just freedom of speech, because when you have people using these sites to exploit kids and vulnerable people, they shouldn’t be allowed to go on,” she said.

Although they often avoid the spotlight, women who performed in porn as legal minors have surfaced in recent years to speak out about their childhood traumas.

Jewell Baraka, 51, said she was 14 when she first began doing hardcore pornographic films.

Ms. Baraka said she “suffered violence, torture, suffocation and choking” in the film shoots that followed and has since suffered lifelong trauma.

Active in porn from 1985 to 1988, she now writes about her experiences online for Exodus Cry, a Christian advocacy group that seeks to reform the sex industry.

“The U.N. Convention against Torture says people can’t consent to their own torture, but we’re allowing people to consent to their own torture in porn, and that needs to be changed,” Ms. Baraka said. “People talk a lot about empowerment in porn, but porn was the most powerless I’ve ever felt.”

As awareness grows of the toll the industry takes on performers past and present, activists are mobilizing to empower the actresses and actors demanding more accountability, humanity and respect.

Laila Mickelwaite, who directs the Justice Defense Fund, gathered more than two million signatures from people in 192 countries for her #Traffickinghub petition last year to shut down Pornhub.

“We need mandatory age and unambiguous meaningful consent verification regulations imposed on these sites for every individual in every video,” Ms. Mickelwaite said. “Age and consent verification regulations would do an enormous amount of good to prevent this kind of criminal sexual abuse from proliferating.”

Such regulations may be coming soon.

The bipartisan legislation that Mr. Sasse and Mr. Merkley introduced would require a national offenders’ database and a 24-hour hotline hosted by porn sites for whistleblowers to immediately report nonconsensual content.

Ms. Villarubia, who has been reaching out to performers since 2008, said lawmakers need to hold the companies behind the porn sites accountable.

“I don’t want what happened to me to ever happen to anyone else,” Ms. Villarubia said.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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