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Criminal Case Draws Link Between Porn Industry And Sex Trafficking

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Ellie Gardey Contributor

An 18-year-old woman struggling to pay for school replied to an advertisement on Craigslist for a modeling gig. The advertiser offered to pay her up to $2,000 for a purported photoshoot. He later informed her the photoshoot was five sex scenes to be sent in DVD format to one individual overseas. Believing only one foreign man would see the video, the 18-year-old agreed and flew to San Diego to record the tape. 

In San Diego, she was hurriedly made to sign a contract she did not read. During filming, she cried out in pain and told the male actor to stop, but he refused. The male actor told her she needed to perform certain sexual acts, or he would not take her back to the airport. She relented, she says, because she did not have enough money to purchase her own flight home. 

A few months later, the pornographic film was posted online on a popular site. Following the publication of the video, the 18-year-old was harassed, and she soon left school. 

Last week, the two owners of the pornographic site that posted the 18-year-old’s video, Michael James Pratt, 36, and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and an employee who was the male actor, Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion and three counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion. 

Another employee, Valorie Moser, 37, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion. 

The criminal complaint against Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser filed by the Southern District of California October 10.

The criminal complaint against Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser filed by the United States District Court in the Southern District of California October 10.

The pornographic site, Girls Do Porn, is featured on Pornhub, the largest adult content site, and has made profits in excess of $17 million, according to financial records. Twenty-two women filed a civil lawsuit against Girls Do Porn this August for alleged exploitation.

The criminal complaint follows claims in recent years of widespread coercion and abuse in the pornography industry, signaling this case could be putting the industry on notice. The case is the first in more than a decade to bring significant charges against pornography producers. But if the allegations of widespread coercion and abuse have any validity, this case may not be the last.

“A large number” of plaintiff’s attorneys are already “seriously considering” civil lawsuits against pornography producers for illegal sex trafficking, Benjamin Bull, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told the Daily Caller.

Bull said his organization has been encouraging the Department of Justice to pursue sex trafficking charges against some pornography producers for years.

Allegations of mistreatment and coercion in the pornography industry have abounded recently.

Nikki Benz, a Canadian porn star and Adult Video News Hall of Fame inductee, filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging battery, assault, sexual battery and gender violence by her director during the filming of a pornographic video. Ten pornography actresses accused male porn actor James Deen of rape and sexual assault during filming in 2015. Twenty women came forward this past April with allegations that Derek Hay, one of the leading agents of the pornography industry, had sexually abused them. 

In 2015, a popular Netflix documentary titled “Hot Girls Wanted” chronicled the lives of young women working in the pornography industry. The co-producer of the documentary, Mary Anne Franks, wrote that she uncovered the lives of these pornography actresses “often include unscrupulous agents, unconscionable contracts … feeling powerless to halt scenes or walk away from sets even when they are frightened or in pain.”

A producer of amateur pornography appears in Netflix's "Hot Girls Wanted." (Youtube/Netflix)

A producer of amateur pornography appears in Netflix’s “Hot Girls Wanted.” (Youtube/Netflix)

The legal line between pornography and sex trafficking is sometimes blurry. 

“Some types of pornography actually are sex trafficking, specifically as the production of pornography often involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to prompt the performance of those shown in the pornography,” Donna Rice Hughes, President and CEO of Enough is Enough, an internet safety and anti-trafficking nonprofit, told the Caller. 

Sex trafficking is officially defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.” 

Thus, when a person is forced, deceived, or coerced into performing a commercial sex act for a pornographic film, sex trafficking has legally occurred. Sex trafficking has occurred when a porn actress is forcibly paired with a porn actor she does not want to be paired with, a porn actress is deceived about her reimbursement, or a porn actor is coerced into a sex act he does not wish to perform. (RELATED: Mia Khalifa Says She Only Made $12,000 In The Porn Industry)

Regarding the criminal case against Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser, First Amendment lawyer Corey D. Silverstein told the New York Times: “Was the line crossed from content production to sex trafficking?”

“The government has a pretty high burden … They have to be able to show that someone knowingly recruited, enticed, harbored and patronized a person and then gained value from it,” said Silverstein.

However, Bull, who is a former prosecutor, said “Clearly multiple state and federal criminal laws have been violated, including the Mann Act, prohibiting the transport of persons across state lines for purposes of prostitution.”

FBI Special Agent Lana K. Sabata says in the criminal complaint that the actions of Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser constitute sex trafficking because they deceived the women “about the nature of the sex acts, the compensation they would receive for performing said acts, and the nature and scope of the distribution and publication of said acts.” Sabata said the actions also constitute sex trafficking because the defendants “used coercion and threats.”

Lawyers for the defendants argued in civil court that the women “knew what they were signing up for when they agreed to be flown from their homes around the country to San Diego, where they were paid thousands of dollars, given written release forms and recorded on camera agreeing that they were making the videos willingly,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune

Pornhub continued to host Girls Do Porn’s official page and videos on their website for four days after federal sex trafficking charges were filed against the owners until Pornhub removed the page Monday. Earlier, Pornhub removed the videos containing only the women involved with the civil lawsuit. Some individual videos from Girls Do Porn which are not uploaded by the site are currently maintained on Pornhub’s website, according to Vice

“In light of the new criminal charges against Girls Do Porn we have removed all their uploads and channels from all sites across the Pornhub Network,” Pornhub Vice President Corey Price told the Caller.

Hughes told the Caller she hopes this case will cause the Department of Justice to bring similar cases in the future. (RELATED: How To Nuke The Porn Industry And Save The American Family)

“We need to see charges of sex trafficking brought about by anyone who uses means of force, fraud or coercion to lure anyone into a sexual encounter or performance.”