Killing The Perfect Victim: Meditations on Violence & Credibility in Porn & Journalism

When talking about stories in which someone has been wronged, journalists tend to gravitate towards those that are centered around the “perfect” or “sympathetic” victim. This is code for those who are upper-middle class, attractive, educated, wholesome—brownie points if they’re white and female.

I was first introduced to this phenomenon during the media frenzies surrounding missing white women like Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson and Chandra Levy in my teen years. The common argument/outcry from people of color was that stories of missing or afflicted minorities were never given as much media attention or credibility as those of white people. I’ve come to see how the conversation surrounding sympathetic victims extends past race and further into our perceptions of (and consequential detachment from) sex workers. Our ability to empathize with rape, assault and murder victims that happen to partake in sex work is handicapped by our tired, problematic ideas on which socioeconomic groups of women are more believable and important than others. Changing the way we tell stories of people across oppressed groups is crucial to putting an end to the violence and unjust circumstances that they are confronted with.

In the recent years that I have gained experiences working alongside sex workers and pursuing feminist theories on sex positivity, I’ve learned that sexual consent is not exclusive to women whom are perceived as being pure and wholesome. Each woman has the right to consent to any and all of her sexual encounters. This is true even if her labor is to perform sexual acts for others’ enjoyment because it ultimately doesn’t matter what a woman’s profession is or how she decides to present herself. We are all equal. We all have the right to choose. Most importantly, we all deserve to be taken seriously when we claim to having been abused.

This is a more recent conclusion. In the past, I didn’t understand the concept of a prostitute, stripper, or porn star being raped by one of her customers. The idea seemed completely counterintuitive. How could a woman who has offered her body to please customers read their advances as being violent or forceful? How could she be losing in the exchange if she has set a precedent for being compensated for it? I used to see their stories occasionally pop up in the news and I didn’t know how to feel. I couldn’t view them as credible or sympathetic victims because the media didn’t paint them that way. Uncomfortable questions and ugly assumptions lingered in the back of my mind as I read and listened to the reports. Why should I believe their accounts? Why should I feel sorry for them?

I have been meditating on violence in the porn industry and the idea of the so-called “perfect,” “credible” or “sympathetic” victim ever since I’d learned of Maino’s sexual assault case a couple days ago. On Friday, March 6, charges against the “All of the Above” rapper were dropped by a DA after Porn Star Mellanie Monroe claimed he attacked her in October 2014. The two were partying at The Griffin where Maino reportedly punched and kicked Monroe because she had rejected his sexual advances.

To my disappointment, Monroe had apparently lied through her teeth. Videotape of the incident shows Maino only spraying champagne at her, not punching, kicking, or throwing bottles as Monroe had claimed. Weakening her case, Monroe had repeatedly yelled the “N” word at Maino before and during the quarrel. The smoking gun in the story was the seating arrangement in the SUV where the incident allegedly happened. Despite Monroe’s claims, it would have been impossible for Maino to kick her from the way the seats were laid out in the vehicle.

Did Monroe actually lie, though? Is it possible that Maino had attacked Monroe off camera? I’ll entertain the idea, despite the decision that the DA has yielded. As Maino’s lawyer had said in a public statement, if Monroe truly did fabricate the incident, stunts like hers make it harder for genuine victims to come forward with their stories and get the justice that they deserve. Still, that notion becomes much less compelling when considering other cases in which sex workers spoke out on their verified experiences of rape and assault. These women are frequently shamed for their professions and are told that they deserved being attacked.

Take for example, Christy Mack. Mack, a renowned porn star, made headlines in August 2014 after she tweeted graphic images of her bruised, bloodied and barely conscious body in a hospital bed. Along with the images were a public statement detailing her beating from her then-boyfriend, Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver. After showing up at her house unannounced and accusing her of being unfaithful with a man that was in her home, Koppenhaver beat her friend, threatened to rape her, broke her nose as well as 18 other bones in her body, fractured one of her ribs, ruptured her liver, and knocked out many of her teeth. Mack was left without the ability to see, walk, chew or speak.

Thankfully, Koppenhaver was indicted for the assault charges and is still serving time for the attack. And sure, there were plenty that sympathized Mack. But of course, you had a host of War Machine fans that made a sport of cracking jokes about the event. I’m not sure which was worse: seeing Mack’s graphic images or reading the insensitive responses to her condition.

 

 

Responses to the rape of Lola Taylor, a Russian porn star, were just as disappointing. Taylor’s horror story turned viral in October 2014 when the news broke that she had broken both of her legs after jumping from a third-story balcony. Two men held her hostage and raped her hours after luring her inside an apartment to discuss a film project. Comments to the story on the Daily Mail included gems like:

“Pretty girl. Why did she feel the need to go into this industry?”

and

“The moral of this story is to “NEVER meet with strangers in a private residence to discuss business, but in a crowded lobby of a hotel! Always think about the worst -case scenario and plan accordingly!!!!! No one should care more about your safety than YOU! Never tempt fate!”

and

“I think she ought to go back to being a librarian – I imagine porn stars get mixed up with all sorts of shady characters and risk getting STDs.”

I’m happy to say that most of the people reacting to the story featured on the Daily Mail website expressed sympathy and support for Taylor. But I’ll never know how many negative comments the publication deleted to make the page look the way that it does. People questioning Taylor’s choice to enter the industry and spewing condescending, futile instructions on how not to get raped muddle the fact that Taylor can work in whatever field she wants and that her attackers shouldn’t have taken advantage of her.

The case that drives this issue home for me is the story of Angelia Mangum and Tjhisha Ball. Mangum and Ball were only teens when they were found dead and naked surrounded by blood in an open lot by a Jacksonville, FL highway last September. Curiously, the images local reporters used to depict the two young women were mug shots—unlike the gleaming, glamorous shots used in other blog posts and news articles portraying Mack and Taylor.

If one hadn’t read the articles closely enough, it would have been easy to mistake Mangum and Ball for the perpetrators in the story. A newspaper in Tampa went as far as listing criminal charges from Mangum and Ball’s early adolescence that had nothing to do with their deaths. The grisly details of the story were enough to grab anyone’s attention but they hardly caught any traction in social media or in mainstream outlets. It couldn’t have been more obvious that their status as young, black female exotic dancers was enough to discourage people from running the story.

It’s appears as though months have gone by without any significant updates (i.e. arrests or motives) in Mangum and Ball’s case. Remembering their lives and the way they ended is a bitter reminder that the world of strip clubs—as well as the various other forms of sex work surrounding them—can be a dangerous vacuum for women unlucky enough to be interacting with the wrong people at the wrong time.

In 2014, there were 320,086 women that went missing and approximately 293,066 victims of rape. All of these cases are equally important. Just as the story of Hannah Graham deserved thorough and relentless media coverage, so did those of Christy Mack and Lola Taylor. Just as the sensation surrounding Janay Rice swept online outlets for weeks, then months on end, so should have Mangum and Ball’s tragic tale. Hell, just as the stories of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice swept the nation, so should have those of the eight so-called “felons and prostitutes” that were raped by serial attacker Daniel Holtzclaw.

I am a woman that is here to write myself—and all women around me—into history. But my words don’t mean anything if no one will take them and run with them, much less debunk or deny the narratives of my subjects for their colorful and unwholesome pasts.

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