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Hell behind the scenes: French senators present a damning report on the porn industry

A damning report presented to the French Senate on the porn industry
A damning report presented to the French Senate on the porn industry   -   Copyright  GETTY IMAGES ISTOCKPHOTO   -  
By David Mouriquand

A French Senate report unveiled on Tuesday 27 September denounces the terrible conditions to which some actresses in pornographic films are subjected. It also makes several recommendations to prevent minors from accessing Internet sites that broadcast pornography.

After more than six months of work, four senators - Annick Billon, Alexandra Borchio-Fontimp, Laurence Cohen and Laurence Rossignol - have presented a damning report on the porn industry, entitled “L’Enfer du Décor“ (“Hell behind the scenes”, a spin on the expression “L’envers du décors”, meaning “behind the scenes”).

The 150-page report, which features interviews and testimonies of actors, sociologists and associations, focuses on the sexual violence perpetrated and conveyed by the pornographic industry, which is sometimes linked to “modern slavery”.

The report calls for action by public authorities and highlights the fact that since the emergence of large Internet platforms such as Pornhub in the mid-2000s, the distribution of porn has "contributed to an upsurge in increasingly violent content, without any control or consideration for the conditions in which this content is produced."

Senat Francais
Senator Annick BillonSenat Francais

The bleak picture it paints denounces a system that “generates systemic violence against women, both those who find themselves in these productions and those who suffer from the sexuality modelled on the norms of violence conveyed by porn.”

The report goes on to say that there are “absolutely no rules or checks, not even regarding the use of condoms” and that some pornographic sites offer categories that include rape, with unambiguous keywords such as “anal surprise”, “unintended facial”, “torture” and “kidnapping”.

With regards to this latter category or videos relating to “confinement”, Claire Charles, a spokesperson for the association Les Effronté.es states that “this is not feigned.”

“When the woman cries, she really cries,” says Charles, referring to certain videos online.

The report states clearly that the government must lead the charge against the excesses of the porn industry and that the fight against this violence must become a "public and criminal policy priority."

One of the country's biggest trials over sexual violence

The parliamentary report comes as the French "amateur" porn industry has been rocked for the past two years by several judicial investigations, one targeting the "amateur" porn site ‘Jacquie et Michel’ and the ‘French Bukkake’ platform.

Three actors and a director were taken into custody this week in the latter investigation, for aggravated human trafficking, gang rape and aggravated pimping. Dozens of alleged victims have come forward in what has been described as one of the country’s biggest trials over sexual violence.

"These legal proceedings reveal the barbarity, violence, sexist and racist hatred of the French pornographic industry," commented a group of feminist associations in a statement, which welcomed the Senate's "fundamental report".

In view of the complaints lodged by women victims, "no one can talk about art or cinema any more", these associations added.

Only in June this year, four men were questioned by police in a separate case opened in 2020 involving the Jacquie et Michel, including the site's owner, Michel Piron. They are suspected of pimping, organised human trafficking, rape and accessory to rape, and rape involving torture.

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ScreenGetty Images

"The ideal prey"

The victims, who were interviewed by the senators, reported a recruitment system, based on the young age of the actresses and their precariousness, by means of false Facebook or Instagram profiles.

"We are spoken to every day. The person presents herself as an escort, she tells me that it's wonderful, that it's magic, that she has money (...) Behind this false profile of a girl, there was a man," explains a young woman.

"They knew I had money problems. I was the ideal prey for them, that's how you get in there," she explains, while another agrees: "I needed the money right away. I had to pay my bills and rent or I'd lose my flat.”

Investigators believe the women were lured into participating under false pretenses and were told the videos would only be accessible on private Canadian websites. The films were viewable in France and the producers demanded large sums of cash (between €3,000 and €5000) from the women to remove them - only for the images to continue to circulate online.

Blocking sites and other proposals

The report released yesterday puts forward 23 recommendations, including strengthening legal arsenal to better protect actresses, the recommendation to "make sexual violence committed in the context of pornography an offence of incitement to a criminal offence", and facilitating the deletion of online videos in the "right to be forgotten”.

The senators also put forward a proposal to prevent minors from accessing porn on the Internet, a precaution which is theoretically required of broadcasters but which is often not applied in practice.

France’s media regulator Arcom (ex-CSA) has been seeking to block access to porn sites unless they put in place age-verification mechanisms that prevent them being viewed by children. A court rejected the blocking order in early September and suggested mediation.

The report states that Acrom should be given stronger means to impose "dissuasive" fines on porn sites accessible to minors, and that the government should impose the "development of age verification devices".

It also notes that while two thirds of young people under 15 have already had access to pornographic images, the fight must also involve education. The parliamentarians note that the "commodification of bodies" and pornography should be addressed in schools, as part of education sessions on sexual and emotional life.

They added that the French National Education has only 7,700 nurses for 62,000 school sites and 13 million pupils, highlighting the lack of means and personnel.

ROMAIN LONGIERAS / HANS LUCAS / AFP
Pornhub screenROMAIN LONGIERAS / HANS LUCAS / AFP

Taking / avoiding responsibility

Major porn companies including Jacquie et Michel and Dorcel have announced the publication of ethical guidelines meant to prevent abuses, but those prosecuted for complicity in rape and human trafficking contest the accusations.

"We are anxious to be able to explain this to the investigators in order to show the seriousness of our companies and the fierce desire that the adult industry be just as respectable and respected as any other industry," Michel Piron, the CEO of Jacquie et Michel, stated in a letter.

Jacquie et Michel hides behind its status as a “broadcaster”, a means of absolving itself of any responsibility for the content of videos posted online.

As for Gregory Dorcel, boss of the porn giant of the same name, the necessary defense of victims must not lead to "generalisation" or to a "caricature".

"The victims must be believed and heard, and justice must do its job. But beware of confusing criminals, who must be prosecuted, with the porn industry as a whole," Mr Dorcel told AFP, warning against "abolitionist" positions and suggesting that thought be given to creating the profession of "agent" for porn actors.

He added that "everyone must work together to move things forward", for example through the introduction of ethical charters or mechanisms to facilitate the reporting of violence.

Outside of France, Pornhub, the world’s largest adult website, has recently partnered with child abuse charities and stated that a pop-up will be generated if users input one of 28,000 key words linked to the abuse of children. The user searching for any of these terms will be directed into a conversation via chatbot and encouraged to seek help from Stop It Now!, a helpline preventing people watching online child abuse.

Additional sources • AFP