Trans Porn Star Takes To Twitter To Crowdsource Her Safety

By Lilly Dancyger

Late last month, trans porn filmmaker and star Chelsea Poe was giving a live show in a “cam room” (like a chat room with live-streaming video) on the porn site Cam4 when she kicked a user out for not “tipping” with tokens — the site’s internal payment method that’s the equivalent of giving dancers singles at a strip club. People wanting her to work for free is a big pet peeve of Poe’s, and she has a low tolerance for it, often calling people out on Twitter when they ask her to send them nudes, or to chat with them for free. She points out that they’re asking her to give them freebies of what she sells to make her living. The Cam4 user didn’t take her strict rules well, sending her a private message through the platform’s chat function, saying “fuck you too bitch.” When she responded with “do I know you?” he threatened to kill himself, and Poe.

When Poe contacted Cam4 to report the threat, she got an automated response suggesting she block the user. She tried again, and got the same response. Concerned for her safety, and distraught at the platform’s lack of action, she started tweeting about what had happened, hoping that the attention of her more than 15,000 Twitter followers might spur Cam4 into action — or at least that someone would be able to tell her what she should do next.

She even tweeted a photo of her computer screen, showing the typo-riddled threat.

“I’m in a lucky place in this situation because I do have a following, so I can get more attention on this,” she told me over the phone.

Poe’s experience on Cam4, and their lack of action, highlight the vulnerable position of sex workers and porn stars working online; sites like Cam4 don’t prioritize their safety — and even if they did step up and get authorities involved, those authorities still haven’t figured out how to handle online threats. Nobody should have to crowdsource help dealing with death threats. There should be a system in place to handle that.

Ben Doman of BD Eye Trademark & Investigation Service, a consulting firm that specializes in Intellectual Property law and has a special interest in helping performers in the adult entertainment industry, noticed Poe’s tweets, and volunteered to help her handle the case pro bono. Doman’s firm regularly advocates for adult performers who, he says, are often dismissed by law enforcement because of their line of work.

“We believe it is our corporate responsibility to stand firm in ensuring the safety and well-being of not only Ms. Poe, but also other adult entertainers,” Doman said in an email. “We are continuing with our inquiries to identify the person involved in this matter so that he may be referred to law enforcement agencies.”

A few of Poe’s followers suggested going to the FBI, but, Poe explained, the only way she could get the threatening user’s personal information to take to the FBI would be through Cam4 — plus, she wasn’t sure they’d help her at all.

Doman said that her hesitation to go to the authorities is common.

“Often times adult entertainers such as Ms. Poe feel that they will not be offered the same level of support by law enforcement agencies and are fearful of repercussions or discrimination,” he said. “This allows for violence (both actual and threatened) to be a continuing and real threat for adult performers and is especially so for trans people.”

Finally, after four days — and after Doman contacted them on her behalf — Poe got a response from Cam4, saying they had suspended the user’s account. It was too little, too late, Poe says.

She asked the site to give her the user’s email address so that Doman could send a cease and desist letter on her behalf, but said they told her she’d need a court order.

“I just don’t understand why they think they don’t have to do anything,” she said. “Let’s say I worked at Starbucks, and someone had an account there with their email, and they threatened to kill me and walked out. Starbucks’ response wouldn’t be ‘well, we just won’t let that guy back in the store anymore.’ Ultimately, this is a worker safety issue.”

A week passed without further incident since the threats were made, and because the user claimed to know where she lived, but was wrong, Poe believed that the threats were empty. But that’s not the point. Cam4 didn’t know that, she said, and if someone really had been trying to kill her, four days would have been way too slow of a response.

“They haven’t taken my safety or my well-being into consideration at all,” she said. “It’s just not their primary concern.”

She said that until this incident, she had no complaints about Cam4, but now that she knows how they handle threats to their performers, she’s never going to work with them again.

“At the very least Cam 4 should have referred the matter to law enforcement so that they could review the threats made and respond appropriately,” Doman said. “Cam4 has a duty of care to performers and members on their platform.”

Cam4 has not responded to multiple requests for comment on this incident.

Poe described a very different experience she had a few years ago when she was working what she called “a nine-to-five porn job” with KinkLive, another cam site. She received a threat from a patron there, and the company immediately gave her his name, email address, and location, so that she could send a cease and desist letter and/or get the authorities involved. Even if Cam4 wanted to do something like this, they may not be able to, Poe said, as they require very little personal information from users. This level of anonymity is common, as the focus is on protecting the privacy of viewers, rather than the safety of performers.

“They literally let you sign up with a fake email address and that’s it,” she says. This emphasis on anonymity for users puts performers like Poe in danger, she says. “These sites need to have more registration for users. If people are allowed to be this anonymous, this abuse is just going to keep happening.”

Poe has long been a very vocal advocate for porn performers, especially for the treatment and representation of trans women in porn. She regularly calls out porn companies for using slurs like “tranny” and “shemale” in the marketing of their porn, and asks anyone who shares her scenes using such language to stop.

While her experience with Cam4 was frightening and infuriating, Poe says she hopes it will help draw attention to the issue of online safety for porn performers.

“There needs to be a lot of reforms from within to make this industry better and safer for workers and performers,” she said. “Who knows how many times this is happening every day and being brushed aside?”

***

Lead image: flickr/D. Sinclair Terrasidius

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