On Valentine’s Day, the Duke Chronicle ran a piece about a Duke freshman who spent her breaks in Los Angeles shooting porn. The student, who was given the pseudonym “Lauren” by the Chronicle, told reporter Katie Fernelius that the idea to go into the adult industry first came to her while grappling with the question of paying for her education.
The Project on Student Debt by the Institute for College Access and Success estimates that borrowing students will graduate with $29,400 of debt, with one in ten going over $40,000 into the red. Of course, it’s important to remember that these and other similar attempts to get an overview of the student loan crisis are incomplete, as schools are not legally required to report debt levels for their graduates. These data are collected using different methodologies, and provided to third parties voluntarily.
“The limitations of relying on voluntarily reported data underscore the need for federal collection of student debt data for all schools,” reads the 2013 student debt report. “Even for colleges that do report voluntarily, the debt figures in the report may understate actual borrowing because they do not include transfer students or any private loans the college was unaware of.”
It’s estimated that some 20 percent of student loans are private. These private loans are more costly and provide fewer consumer protections (you can default after missing a single payment) and repayment options than safer federal loans, which have fixed interest rates, are subject to income-based payback, and take nine months to default on. “Lauren” was ineligible for financial aid or a federal loan at Duke, and thrown by the 11 percent interest of the private loan offered to her to continue her education. For comparison, the interest for federal loans was reduced to 3.8 in July of last year, from a hike to 6.8 percent.
Aware that unemployment for recent graduates was still high following the financial crisis, and that 18.3 percent of young college graduates were either working fewer hours than they wanted, were out looking for work, or had completely given up looking for work, â€œLaurenâ€ e-mailed adult agencies about working in Porn Valley. When Matrix Models got back to her, â€œLaurenâ€ took a look at the numbers and made her choice. It wouldn’t be the first time sheâ€™d taken a gig for her bottom line. In high-school, she’d been a waitress — one of those so-called “real” jobs that people like to believe have more dignity than anything that involves showing some skin, even when the wages are dismal, the hours are brutal and the tips are slim.
But what “Lauren” found when she arrived on her first porn set surprised her — and it’s this part of the story that seems to confuse the world. “Lauren” soon found that she enjoyed working in the porn industry. It took her one shoot to confront insecurities about her body. It blew her mind how much her work depended on her being honest with herself about her personal boundaries, and communicating these explicitly. These two things alone were not things she’d had occasion to consider, much less embrace, in the sexually hostile climate of many of our nation’s academic institutions.
Exploring sex work was not inconsistent with her focus on women’s studies. She told the Chronicle, “Feminism to me means advancing my personal liberty, my opportunity in the world, while also championing my body and my right to choose what to do with my body. For people who say that porn is inherently degrading, that’s wrong. First of all, everything we do is consensual. We are not coerced in any way. Second of all, you’re right, all the directors are male, there may be two female directors in the entire world that are porn directors. If anything, that means I need to go in there and I need to change it.”
After she was outed at Duke, “Lauren” would go on to write two pieces for the site xojane expounding on her views as a porn-positive feminist. Her outing was almost instantaneous: she confided in a student who turned around and let the cat out of the bag at rush that same evening. The news hit the school’s electronic grapevine shortly. One of the more popular college message board sites has over 78 posts about her, over 15 of which reveal personally-identifiable information about her or her family. Some 18 of these posts are defamatory or harassing: “Lauren” has been accused of lying about needing tuition money to cover up a cocaine or heroin habit, being bulimic, engaging in cutting and self-injury, and being responsible for rape culture at Duke. Some posters have called for her to overdose, kill herself or die in some fashion, and “Lauren” herself has recounted numerous threats made against her person and her life.
The allegation that she was encouraging rape was the worst. A writer at the Huffington Post berated her, saying “Women did not burn their bras to take them off.” That piece brought up how anti-porn feminists helped Linda Lovelace. It made no mention of the vitriol faced by adult performers who stand by their choices and don’t believe they’re being victimized.
“Of course, I do fully acknowledge that some women don’t have such a positive experience in the industry,” wrote “Lauren” at xojane a week after her interview for the Chronicle went live. “We need to listen to these women. And to do that we need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulation and oversight. We need to give a voice to the women that are exploited and abused in the industry. Shaming and hurling names at them, the usual treatment we give sex workers, is not the way to achieve this.”
Today, “Lauren” came out under her adult industry name, Belle Knox, on another passionate piece on xojane.
“I may never have a normal life again,” Knox admits. “But if I’ve exposed the insanity and the unfair standards that all women and especially my sisters in the sex industry face — if I’ve challenged the way that people view female sexuality — then this journey has been worth it. Society tries to tell women that our worth is contingent upon the secrecy of our sexuality, but I will not be silenced. […] I stand for every woman who has ever been tormented for being sexual — for every woman who has been harassed, ostracized and called a slut for exerting her sexual autonomy — and for every woman who has been the victim of The Double Standard. You want to see me naked. And then you want to judge me for letting you see me naked.”
A couple of hours after the post went up on xojane, Knox’s account on Twitter had gained over one thousand followers. Then, for reasons that remain unclear, the account was suspended. It remains suspended as of the writing of this post, despite several requests made to Twitter by me, Mandy Stadtmiller and other users to consider reinstating it. Retweet this to let Twitter know suspension is a mistake.
Header image is a still from a CastingCouch-X.com scene with Belle Knox.