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After many years working as a therapist for pornographic actresses, I was devastated at the shock news concerning women being forced to turn to the sex industry for financial again after losing so many benefits through the introduction of Universal Credit.
If you are a university student, a mother with children to care for, or a single woman struggling to afford a basic standard of living, I urge you to seek help and guidance before turning to the sex industry. I have seen the physical and psychological effects of selling your body, and it is devastating.”
The sex industry is known as “the world’s oldest profession”. Yet unlike most professions, it remains virtually unregulated. And the consequences can be horrendous.
The results of a pilot study on the health problems of inner city sex workers published in The Journal of the Medical Library Association in 2003 identified a range of physical and psychological issues, such as rape, STIs, and depression. It found lack of regulation, including access to information and insurance were major barriers to health in the industry.
I have worked with the Adult film industry for over 20 years and witnessed widespread physical and mental abuse on many levels.
Take, for example, the case I worked on recently. I interviewed a young adult actress for my documentary, Porn Police. She says “I was unemployed and living on the streets in Bristol. I was approached by a Bristol based self-proclaimed pornographer and candidate as MP for the Bristol area ‘Johnny Rockhard’ who promised me a porn film career to make some money. But when I went to his house, I was just required to have sex with his friends, including anal, which I didn’t want but felt I had no choice”.
Whilst her story is shocking, it is far from unique. And the risks associated with the porn industry are not limited to our society’s most vulnerable such as the homeless.
Recently, Tory Minister, Esther McVey, raised the apparent increase in the number of women choosing to enter the sex industry to survive during the rollout of the Universal Credit scheme.
Whilst alarming, the increase is unsurprising as those who can’t afford to feed their families are turning to the sex industry in desperation. And this exposes a whole new range of people to the perils of an unregulated industry
Let me be absolutely clear – my position on sex work is not, and should not be construed as, a moral judgment on the rights or wrongs of the sex industry. It is based on the damage I have witnessed over many years counselling those within the industry and those seeking to transition out of it. I also work beside the Metropolitan Police Sexual Violence Unit and have seen first hand the harmful effects of crime within the sex industry.
I know from personal experience the damage caused by working in the sex industry far outweighs the short-term financial gain for women – sometimes as low as £50.
I have observed many times the physical and mental health consequences of that work including STIs, harm through violence from clients, pimps and unscrupulous “producers”, drug addiction and mental disorders. And these are only the short-term consequences of an unregulated industry.
A number of former adult film actors who I counsel share deep concerns about the long-term damage they and others have suffered both whilst working in the industry and since they retired.
Lucy was a top performer between 1998-2002. She says “performing in Adult films left me vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse and with a range of health issues. If you make a sex tape, when it gets out (and you should assume it will), it not only affects you, it affects your family, your friends, your relationships, your work prospects and the rest of your life”. She says “At the time, I thought it would solve all my problems and provide me with some financial security. But make no mistake, it cost me dearly, both physically and mentally. On occasion, I doubted whether I could survive the abuse I endured, and still endure 12 years later. I know I will always be remembered as “that” girl”.
One of the UK’s top male performers who wishes to remain anonymous worked in Adult movies in the late 90s and told me “At the time I was married and working with my partner. We are now divorced. At the time I never thought about the long-term effects it would have on my family, it was all about the money; as a couple we were making £350 pounds a day. However I now regret it. My children have suffered abuse from neighbours, schoolmates and even strangers and I feel so guilty. It has ruined my life, my relationships, and I have had to have counselling to cope. One of the worst consequences of my decision to join the sex industry was that it forced me to turn on and off my emotions – it separated sex from love. It simply destroyed my life. And as a performer I was forced to sign away any rights to the sex tapes I made. Some of the work I did in 1999 was re-released under other titles as recently as 2012. There is nothing I can do about it. And I didn’t see a further penny”.
Kelly Berg is a retired performer who now works as a specialist counsellor to Adult models wishing to escape the industry and rebuild their lives. She says “Working in pornography certainly appears to offer immediate gratification in terms of money and so on. However, it doesn’t build self-esteem and the emotional damage it causes to performers far outweighs any financial gains. I see people who find it difficult to recover and have a healthy attitude to sex and relationships after. Some people will not survive after working in the industry. It does however provide some very dark times and has a ripple effects in their lifes”. She adds “Retired performers often refrain from speaking out against pornography because of fears it will threaten their new reputation, relationships and emotional well-being. Some experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Clearly, sex workers have no protection against the harms of the sex industry, and this will continue to far outweigh the benefits until the industry is regulated.