There have been numerous reports of human rights abuse in the adult film industry. The
inappropriate and rash themes such as ‘bondage’ and ‘sex slaves’ shown in the adult-movies
have affected the lives of its actors and its viewers. Women are portrayed as enjoying forced-sex
and enjoying being whipped, choked and beaten which indirectly promotes and normalizes rape
culture. Various Human Rights treaties have conferred upon the mankind, various fundamental
rights, which are inalienable.
It is certain that the adult film industry has devastated its actors and has become a hub of trafficking. This article gets into the details of how the adult film industry has directly violated the human rights of its actors. The article further includes case laws and confessions from female porn actors who have acted in such movies. Other major issues i.e. child-pornography and human trafficking have also been dealt with.
By Jasmine Siddiqui, a 4th year student currently enrolled in B.A. LL.B (H) from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
The adult film industry is considered as one of the biggest industries in the world. Porn is watched in almost every second house. It is a pre-conceived notion in our society that the industry is one that of leisure and fun. It appears to be all gold and glitter but the reality is far away from this.
The world of adult films is humiliating and the lives of its workers are dull and shady. The industry has portrayed ‘bondage’ as if it were right and common. The portraying of women as sex slaves and whipping them on their private parts are some of the main themes of pornographic videos. Many people love passionate sex but bondage and slave sex is not a form of passionate sex. It is sheer violence and inhumane behavior towards the porn performer and further promoting cruelty and torture among its viewers.
It is reported from time to time by various human rights organisations how women are forced to be part of the porn industry and are coerced to be slaves or servants of influential clients. The porn actors’ human rights are violated due to violent and humiliating pornographic acts which they are often forced to perform. Trafficking, child abuse, non-consensual sex and fake contracts are some of the other human rights violations.
Apart from the actors, the viewers are also highly affected by such content. They get exposed to such uncommon and unacceptable sexual behavior that they often desire to have same type of sex with their partners. They imitate the actors and start turning hostile towards their partners which results in increased sexual crimes/assault cases toward women.
Many porn websites purchase homemade porn videos and allow their upload on their portal. This tends to men capturing their intimating scenes with their partners, mostly with hidden cameras which they later sell in return for a good price from porn websites.
Trafficking in Adult Film Industry is Unreported But Not Uncommon
The viewers of adult videos believe that the porn stars are performing in such videos by their will. They defend pornography by saying that if porn stars didn’t enjoy what they were doing then they would have quit the industry. This may not be the case every time. Trafficking and porn industry may seem unrelated but the reality is far opposite.
Article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children defines Trafficking as, “Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of
the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking which involves trafficking of women and children for the purpose of commercial sex or sexual exploitation. The term “commercial sex act” is defined as “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”  The term ‘sex trafficking’ is not particularly defined in the UN conventions but a Parliamentary Act of the United States defines it.
According to The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) sex trafficking is defined as “Recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of an individual through the means of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex”.
Sex traffickers target victims through false promises. The adult film industry includes escort services, brothels, clubs and fake massage parlors. The International Labor Organization asserts that there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally. According to a report by International Human Rights NGO based in Japan, there have been numerous cases in which Japanese women were coerced to appear in adult pornographic videos.
Very recently in 2016, young women were contracted to be models or actress but later they were forced to do pornographic videos. The porn companies make them sign the contract and later coerce them of penalty or other similar threats. They are forced to perform sex scenes and later their videos and pictures are circulated among adult cinemas and internet. The report further claims that many derogatory roles are assigned to the porn actress which includes the role of being a slave or debt bondage. In many cases, it has been revealed that young innocent actresses who are new to the industry gets duped by an agent under the pretence that she is assigned a simple role but in reality she is forced to do ‘rough sex.’
The Case of United States v. Bagley
In the American case of United States v. Bagley, a husband and his wife were accused of trafficking a minor. The victim ran away from a foster home at the age of 16 years and was taken into their home by a married couple. They treated the victim as their property and forced her to sign a contract to be their sex slave. She was made to forcefully dance at clubs. They not only beat her but also whipped, flogged, choked, caned, skewered, drowned, mutilated, hung and caged her. She was tattooed on her arm with a Chinese character for “slave.” She was electrocuted and suffered cardiac arrest for which she was hospitalized at the age of 23.
In yet another case of the Netherlands, four people were found guilty of kidnapping asylum seekers from North America and forcing them to take part in pornography. The victims were taped and recorded while forced to have sex with men and animals. One of the victims escaped and reported the local police. This depicts the hidden reality of organized human trafficking of women especially of women coming from vulnerable places.
Adult Film Industry Promotes Rape Culture & Sexual Exploitation
More and more porn stars are now coming up to speak about the terrifying reality of the adult film industry. Female porn stars have reported that they have to shoot films which contain brutal acts. One porn star was reported saying, “I agreed to do the scene, thinking it was less beating and only a punch in the head. He had worn his solid gold ring the entire time and continued to punch me with it. I actually stopped the scene while it was being filmed because I was in too much pain.”  Abuse and sexual violence are that common in the porn industry.
The adult film industry through its abusive and pervasive videos promotes gender stereotypes. Pornography changes the way the world sees women. There is nothing like love and affection in the porn videos and women are depicted as sexual objects with insatiable sexual desires who are always ready to please men. Pornography has made the outer body only criteria for judging women.
Women are expected to have perfect body figures just as the appealing body figures of the female porn stars. Porn websites contain male domination and female submission videos as if these are the expected roles. The viewers of ‘bondage’ and ‘rough sex’ porn videos often start lacking empathy for women. Their behavior towards women turns dominating and sexually imposing.
A study consisting of data from seven countries found that effects of pornography include increase in verbal and physical aggression.  Another study found that males aged 14 to 19 who viewed pornography have more often sexually harassed a female peer.  Many women have reported that their partners turn aggressive during sex and perform rough sex without even asking for the other partner’s consent. Though sex is a person’s choice and many couples enjoy unnatural sex; including oral and anal sex but this becomes a matter of fear and concern when the male partner starts enjoying to see her female partner in pain, crying and begging for his mercy. These brutal sexual acts leave women in fear. Choking, gagging, spitting are among some humilities usually done by their male partners.
The question is how and why young people find it alright to be abusive with their partners? The answer is ‘Porn’. Usually young children grow up watching porn. Sex-education is not common in most of the countries like India. The adult videos websites are flooded with submissive sex videos that it becomes the new normal for these young adolescents. It is an accepted fact that pornography has a higher impact on adolescents. They tend to believe that women are designated to be sexually exploited by men.
A report from November 2019 surveyed some British women which found that a third of them below the age of forty have been victims of choking, slapping, gagging or spitting during sex. 20% of these women said they were left frightened by the incidents.  Yet another study by Debby Herbenick who is a sex researcher found out that nearly a quarter of adult women in the US have reported unwanted choking during sex. 
Top 50 popular pornographic videos were analysed and it was found that 88% of scenes contained physical violence, 49% contained verbal aggression, 87% of aggressive acts were against women, and 95% were neutral expressions. 
Not only physical violence but verbal abuse has also become an intensive part of the adult film industry. Women are often called with names like “bitches”. They are portrayed and used as sexual objects. Such occurrences have affected the dignity of women in real life also. There is an increase in the performance of rough sex between real life couples where women are considered as mere sexual objects. These occurrences have direct correlation to the extreme violence and verbal abuse typified in pornography. 
There is a fine line between pleasure and pain but through these pornographic videos the porn websites are depicting that inflicting pain upon women is a pleasurable and fun activity; for both men and women. The BDSM category videos promote rape, sexual abuse, cruel and inhumane behavior. While shooting such videos, the porn stars go through highly painful experience. They are not even allowed to leave the shoot in between. This is nothing but rape. If we go by the definition of rape, penetration of penis or any other object into the sexual parts or mouth of a woman without her will and consent amounts to rape.
In a survey conducted, the interviewer did not even mention about pornography yet out of 193 cases of rape, 24% rapists mentioned that they were stimulated by pornographic materials including videos and writings. These rapists insisted that the victims enjoyed rape and extreme violence.  Another study by FBI researchers concluded that out of 36 serial killers 29 were attracted to violent and rough sex pornography which they tried to do with their female partners and ended up killing them. 
In March 2020, Pornhub was accused for profiting from rape and abusive videos. An online petition was circulated against Pornhub for facilitating sexual trafficking and for weak protection policies. In a reported incident, a couple’s intimating video was stolen from her mobile phone and later sold to Pornhub. She got trending in top five ‘soft porn’ videos category until it was removed after few days.  In yet another incident, a 15 year old girl was raped and her videos were later uploaded on Pornhub and other porn websites.
Porn sites are also accused of giving a platform to ‘revenge porn’. A revenge porn victim felt extremely embarrassed when she found out that her intimating videos with her ex-boyfriend had been uploaded on Pornhub which crossed 600,000 views.  This is how giant adult websites such as Pornhub and YouPorn are promoting non-consensual sex and are profiting from this.
The Case of Adult Film Actress, Linda Lovelace
Linda Lovelace, a former porn actress revealed her experience in porn industry. Many books and movies have been written and filmed depicting her life story. Her autobiography titled ‘Ordeal’ reveals that she was forced into the porn industry. She shared that her first shoot in the adult industry included gang rape by five men. Her husband forced her into prostitution and private porn and he threatened to shoot her from his pistol if she did not cooperate. She wrote, “They treated me like a plastic doll. They were playing musical chairs with my body parts. I engaged in sex acts for pornography against my will and consent in order to save my life and my families’ lives.”
Child Pornography Flourishes in a World With No Borders
In legal language, a child is a person below the age of 18 years. In recent times, child pornography is on the rise due to easy accessibility on internet. In 1996, World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children defined commercial sexual exploitation of children as “sexual abuse by the adult and remuneration in cash or kind to the child or a third person or persons.”
It includes prostitution of children, child pornography, and child sex tourism. Further, if a child enters into sexual activity in return of money, food, shelter or any other necessity then also it comes under the purview of commercial sexual exploitation. Cases where sexual abuse are not reported by the family members due to benefits derived by the family members from the perpetrator also amount to commercial sexual exploitation. The production, promotion and distribution of child pornography, child sex tourism and use of children in public or private sex shows are also within its ambit. This broad definition is acknowledged by the International Labor Organisation in its 2015 report.
According to the UN Special Report on the Sale of Children and Child Prostitution, it is estimated there are around three quarters of a million people on the internet searching for child pornography videos. The report also claimed that child pornography has now turned into a billion dollar business. More than one-third producers of child-pornography are the child’s family members and more than a third people who are guilty of possession of such pornography live with the children.
In a 2015 report by Pornhub, India holds third position in the list of most porn watching countries while USA and UK bagged the top positions respectively and Indian viewers are more interested in ‘teen porn’  despite the fact that India has very strict laws against child pornography. According to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, child pornography includes “any representation of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes.”
According to Section 67B of the information technology Act, child pornography is illegal and any person browsing for child pornography videos can be punished with five years of imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 1 million. India has also accepted the Convention on the Rights of Child on 11th December, 1992. In 2012, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, was enacted. Its aim was to protect the children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, pornography. Article 39(f) of the Indian Constitution provides for the State to secure children against exploitation.
The Optional Protocol to the (U.N.) Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, The Council of European Convention on Cybercrime and The Council of European Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse are three effective International treaties to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children. These three contain provisions for providing punishment to the perpetrators.
Pornography Affects the Dignity of Women
Pornography violates porn actor’s human rights by affecting their dignity and constituting forced labor and trafficking. All human beings have equal and similar human rights. As per Article 1 of the UDHR, humans are born free and as per Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the dignity of every human must be respected and protected. Not all, but many porn actors are humiliated and made to perform sexual acts without their consent. This is disrespect towards their dignity.
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives every human the right to life, liberty and security of person. Article 5 of the UDHR and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights state that “no one shall be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. It is evident from previously mentioned case studies, that the porn industry treats women in an inhumane way. They take advantage of poor and vulnerable minorities.
Article 4 of the UDHR and European Conventions on Human Rights prohibit slavery or servitude. Article 23(1) prohibits human trafficking. There are several conventions and treaties which the Nation-States sign in order to protect their citizens’s rights. Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women obliges the State parties to prevent trafficking and exploitation of women. The Convention for Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, considers trafficking done for the purpose of prostitution as evil and incompatible for human dignity and welfare.
Pornography is illegal in India under sections 292 and 293 of Indian Penal Code. In India, Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits trafficking in human beings and forced labor in any form. The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act penalizes trafficking for ‘commercial sexual exploitation’ with imprisonment of 7 years to life imprisonment. India is also a signatory to the Prevention of Suppression of Women and Children Convention.
Every person has a right to choose a profession of his/her own choice. Prostitution and being porn stars does not make them less humans. They also do have equal and similar human rights as persons following other occupations. A porn star’s rights against forced sex are also a matter of human rights. The defense that the porn actors take up the work with consent is not a valid defense because ‘consent’ in the porn industry becomes very difficult to prove. The ambiguity remains intact as for what purpose she consented to.
Did she consent to do simple sex or sex in any form or her consent was gained by faking the terms of the contract. All these points become difficult to prove. Rising aggression and hostility towards female partners are effects of aggressive porn videos. These industries only focus on earning profits rather than the worker’s safety. Not only the porn industry but such content is publicized even by Hollywood like the movie- 50 Shades of Grey. The international and national laws are good on paper but when it comes to implementing these, the gap is never filled.
- Sex trafficking, National Human Trafficking Hotline, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/type-trafficking/sex-trafficking
- Porn stars share dirty secrets, The Observer (July, 27, 2018, 3:14 A.M),
- U.S.A v. Edward Bagley, http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/news2011/bagley_indictment2.pdf
- Jorge Keek, The dark side of the adult film industry, Film Daily (July, 3, 2020), https://filmdaily.co/news/female-porn-stars-abuse/
- PJ Wright, A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies, Journal of Communication (Dec, 29, 2015), https://academic.oup.com/joc/article-abstract/66/1/183/4082427?redirectedFrom=PDF
- European Centre for Law and Justice, Pornography and Human Rights, European Centre for Law and Justice (July, 2019), https://eclj.org/geopolitics/pace/pornography–human-rights
- Ruth Akinradewo, The Dark of Pornography, Press Red (Dec, 05, 2019) https://pressred.org/2019/12/05/the-dark-side-of-pornography/
- Debby Herbenick, Feeling Scared During Sex, Journal of Sex and Martial Therapy (Apr,4, 2019)
- Ana J Bridges et al, Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update, Violence against Women (Oct, 26, 2010) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077801210382866
- Supra note 7
- Robert W. Peters, Laura J. Lederer, Shane Kelly, The Slave and The Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and
Pornography, The Protection Project Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society Issue 5, Pg.13 (2012)
- Supra note 11
- Kate Issacs, PornHub Needs to change or shut-down (Mar, 9, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/09/pornhub-needs-to-change-or-shut-down
- James Melley, My sister found me in revenge porn online, BBC NEWS (Feb 25, 2020)
- Souvik Ray, Top 10 most porn watching countries in the world: India on 3 rd India Times (July, 3, 2020, 4:51 P.M) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.indiatimes.com/amp/news/world/india-3rd-most-porn-watching-country-in-the-world-up-from-4th-last-year-249212.html