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The sexual assault allegations against porn star James Deen, explained

Adult film actor/director James Deen attends the 2015 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 22, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Adult film actor/director James Deen attends the 2015 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 22, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

James Deen is a phenomenon.

He's an 11-year veteran of the adult film industry, having sex with women in such films as Ass Eaters Unanimous 3 and Frat House Fuckfest 4, 5, 6, and 7. His fandom is beyond massive and has helped him transcend porn to become a mainstay at several mainstream media outlets — most notably BuzzFeed, where he appears in playful videos (like this one about relationship advice) that garner millions of views. He's starred in a (non-pornographic) movie with Lindsay Lohan, which was written by Bret Easton Ellis. James Deen is America's most famous male porn star.

And according to his ex-girlfriend, he's also a rapist.

Stoya, an artist, writer, and one of the most famous women in the adult film industry, tweeted her allegations against Deen on Saturday:

Since then, four more porn actresses and a woman who once met Deen at a party have come forward with their own accounts of Deen's sexual abuse. And Joanna Angel, one of Deen's ex-girlfriends (who is not one of his six accusers) tweeted her support of Stoya — asserting that Deen was "dead on the inside."

There seem to exist a pair of James Deens: the one we know as a good guy and a terrifying one who is capable of dastardly evil. But this story isn't just about him. It's about the grim reality of rape, the fear ingrained in women's minds about coming forward as victims, and the kind of culture that keeps those women quiet.

James Deen is accused of raping his ex-girlfriend and sexually abusing five other women

On Saturday, November 28, Stoya — a top porn actress and Deen's ex-girlfriend — tweeted that Deen once held her down and raped her:

Stoya was the first woman to accuse Deen of sexual assault.

After Stoya came forward, two more women followed suit, describing sexually abusive encounters with Deen. Adult film star Ashley Fires told the Daily Beast that she once witnessed Deen "pick up another performer like a caveman" and "grab her by the hair." Fires also said that Deen "almost raped" her:

Later on that night, I was getting out of the shower of the communal bathroom at Kink, I reach for my towel to dry off, and he comes up from behind me and pushes himself and his erection into my butt," she continued. "He pushes me against the sink and starts grabbing on me and I was like, ‘No, no, no James, no,’ and he released me from his grasp, and says, ‘You know, later if you want to fuck around I’m in room whatever-it-was. I was like, ‘Fuck you.’ I didn’t even know this guy, he was so out of line and entitled with my body.

Former porn actress Tori Lux also came forward against Deen, writing at the Daily Beast that Deen physically assaulted her on a film set in 2011, hitting her and forcing her face into his crotch:

While James wasn’t performing with me that day, he was present on set—and almost immediately after I’d finished my scene he began to antagonize me. I hadn’t even had time to dress myself when he said, with a smirk on his face, "Tori Lux, would you like to sniff my testicles?" "Nope," I replied in a neutral tone. "I’ll repeat myself: Tori Lux, would you like to sniff my testicles?" he asked, more aggressively this time. I replied with a firm "No," in order to establish my boundary—which James then disregarded by grabbing me by the throat and shoving me down onto a mattress on the floor.

He proceeded to straddle my chest, pinning down my arms with his knees. Then, he raised his hand high above his head, swinging it down and hitting me in the face and head with an open palm. He did this five or six times—hard—before finally getting off of me.

Disoriented and nursing a sore jaw, I stood up—but before I could collect myself, he grabbed me by my hair and shoved me to my knees, forcing my face into his crotch several times before shoving me to the floor.

In addition to Stoya, Fires, and Lux, a fourth woman (who declined to be identified) told LAist that Deen had forced her to perform oral sex on him at a party while some of his friends watched:

As soon as I walked [into the party], Deen saw me. He didn't say anything. He grabbed me in front of the entire party and took me into a side room. I definitely said no, but I was also super scared. There was a crowd of his friends and fans [in the room]. He forced me to [perform oral sex on him] and had sex with me. As soon as he was done, he walked away. I was kind of in shock and I was embarrassed, so I just left, and I didn't tell anyone.

A few days after Stoya, Fires, Lux, and the unnamed fourth woman spoke out against Deen, two more women — porn stars Kora Peters and Amber Rayne — added abuse allegations to the pile. Both women spoke to the Daily Beast, recalling instances in which Deen went too far and beyond consent in scenes they were filming with him. Rayne alleges that he went too far and physically assaulted her during an anal sex scene that resulted in *warning graphic* ripping her anus and so much blood that the scene had to be cut short. Peters claims that Deen choked her and forced anal sex in his scene with her.

In an report by The Guardian, the number of women accusing Deen of sexual assault has risen to nine (including Stoya). While the nine women's stories differ in their level of severity, they all paint Deen as someone who physically and sexually abuses women. However, none of the women have pursued or filed criminal charges against Deen.

The women accusing Deen of sexual abuse have faced backlash for doing so

If you look at Stoya's Twitter mentions, you'll find people who support her but also people who believe she's lying about her rape. The latter group is extrapolating that belief to a broader (incorrect) message about women "lying" about being raped:

The idea that women consistently lie about rape is a harmful but persistent myth. As my colleague Dara Lind has reported, "Research has finally nailed down a consistent range for how many reports of rape are false: somewhere between 2 and 8 percent." Meanwhile, the Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. But seeing the way people have attacked Stoya at least partially explains why more rape victims don't come forward.

One of the criticisms launched at Stoya and Deen's other accusers is that none of them have gone to the police or pursued legal action against Deen. There are many reasons why women don't report sexual assaults — including the stress of talking to a stranger about their assault, the worry that they will face doubt or somehow be held accountable, anxiety over participating in a trial and having to face their attacker in court, and fear of retaliation from the attacker — but just because someone doesn't report sexual assault to police doesn't mean the assault didn't happen.

It's much more complicated than that.

In a piece that appeared on Nylon, Stoya's business partner Kayden Kross explained that sex workers face an uphill battle when it comes to reporting claims of sexual abuse to police, and that Stoya considered as much when coming forward against Deen (since she tweeted her accusations. Kross writes (emphasis mine):

People want to know why Stoya didn’t take this to the police. Well, I’ll tell you why. Like many of the women who are only now coming forward, she never meant to say anything. When she discussed what happened with me, she weighed the pros and cons. There are a lot of cons to bringing a rape incident to light. There are even more for a sex worker. For a glaring example of how sex workers are treated within the court system, consider the case in 2007 under Philadelphia judge Teresa Carr Deni, who reduced the charges of a man and his friends—who were proven to have gang-raped a prostitute at gunpoint—simply to "Theft of Services." All charges for sexual assault against the victim were dropped. Factor in now the fact that Stoya has always been and continues to be a defender of sex workers, and of her specific line of work, which is pornography. Already our industry battles the constant din of claims that the women, simply by showing up to work, are victims.

Kross brings up a good point that explains the fear Stoya felt and why people have been attacking her for talking about her rape: She works in an industry that many don't consider to be "legitimate." Some people hold a misguided belief that women who work in porn are somehow less trustworthy when reporting rape. In fact, many of the attacks Stoya has received on Twitter say that because she has consented to have sex on film, she also consented to her rape, a powerful mutation of the myth that women are often raped because of what they're wearing. At the Daily Beast, Lux eloquently rebuked the idea that because she consents to sex on film, she can't be assaulted (emphasis mine):

The reason for that is because people—including the police—tend to believe that sex workers have placed themselves in harm’s way, and therefore can’t be assaulted. Of course, this claim couldn’t be further from the truth, as being involved in sex work does not equate to being harmed. Despite porn being a legal form of sex work, and it occurring in a controlled environment such as a porn set, this blame-the-victim mentality is still inherent in much of society. In turn, sex workers are silenced and our negative experiences are swept under the rug as we try to protect ourselves from the judgment of others—or worse, a variety of problems ranging from further physical attacks to professional issues such as slander and/or blacklisting.

James Deen's fame plays a key role in his accusers staying quiet for so long

The sexual abuse controversy centered on Deen isn't unlike the one involving Bill Cosby, where many women were afraid to accuse the comedian of rape in part because they were going up against a powerful figure who was seen as a "good man" by the public.

Deen is a strange case in that he's broken through into mainstream pop culture in ways many adult film stars, particularly male adult film stars, never do. His claim to fame is that he's someone women could fantasize about who is also porn's "nice guy." Gawker asked him about his reputation in 2013, and he gave a decent "nice guy" answer:

It can’t hurt to maintain a nice-guy image, but I think my nice guy image is because I’m pretty genuine …

When it comes to me, I’m always open, I’m honest, I’m always down to say whatever, but when it involves other people, I like my boundaries respected so I try to respect other people’s boundaries. I try to err on the side of caution.

Deen is an enigma because the image he presents is one that rubs against what we expect from male porn stars. He looks like a guy you'd find shopping at the supermarket. He talks about boundaries. He talks about being genuine. He's a guy with 9-inch penis who talks about boundaries and being genuine.

For example, in a story published by Jezebel in 2013, an amateur porn actress wrote about how casual and nice Deen was as the two prepared for a scene they were filming together, citing a very polite email in which Deen asked her about her likes and boundaries and stated that he wanted to provide "the perfect porno experience."

One year prior to that, Deen had told Good about not wanting to work with a particular adult film studio because its scenes were too "rapey."

Stories like those, in combination with his enthusiastic porn performances, have made Deen a poster boy for women and feminists who like porn. But as Slate's Amanda Hess astutely points out, much of Deen's reputation has been constructed by the media. Hess asserts that women enjoyed Deen's performances and thus he became popular, but that it was the media who made the leap and anointed him a feminist.

"For many of [Deen's fans], Deen was little more than just a conduit for expressing their sexuality, or a key to an online erotic world that had previously been closed." Hess writes. "The idea that Deen himself is a feminist icon is another side effect of a media narrative that warped his fans beyond recognition and erased all the truly subversive work they did to make him a star. Credit for the community they created was transferred to Deen himself."

Deen's relationship with the media prior to these rape allegations has been a cozy one. Earlier this year, Mic ran a story about one of its writers sexting with him. The Frisky hosted a regular advice column written by Deen, which it will now be ceasing in light of the accusations against him. And BuzzFeed has posted articles like "15 Things You Might Not Know About James Deen" and produced comedic videos starring Deen that garner millions of hits:

Because Deen is as visible as he is and has as many media ties and fans as he does, it's easy to see why Stoya and other women may not have wanted to come out against him and why they stayed quiet for so long. But it also makes clear the courage it took to do what they did and tell their stories.

James Deen has denied all the allegations made against him, but his employers are dropping him nonetheless

Deen has denied the claims of rape and sexual abuse in messages he posted on Twitter, claiming that the accusations are false:


Deen's tweets were posted on Sunday, November 29, one day after Stoya came forward with her story and one day before Lux and Fires recounted their experiences to the Daily Beast. Deen hasn't responded to interview requests or made any further statements since Lux and Fires spoke out.

However, Deen's silence hasn't stopped his employers and sponsors from taking action.

The porn website — which features Deen in hundreds of scenes and owns the studio where Lux alleges that he assaulted her — has parted ways with him. Evil Angel, another fetish/kink porn site, has also promised to stop working with him. The Frisky dropped him from his writing gig. And Broadly reports that the sex toy company Doc Johnson has stopped production on its James Deen line.

In the aforementioned 2013 interview with Gawker, Deen expressed that he was worried about his 15 minutes of fame fading away.

"I’m going to be out the limelight and there is going to be a new flavor of the month and nobody is going to care about me," he said at the time, explaining that what calmed him was the solace he found in knowing that "I got my fans by just being me."

The problem is that we don't really know who James Deen is. And maybe we never really did.

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