LOS ANGELES—Hollywood website The Wrap is making a big deal about the fact that Taboo, a Hustler publication helmed by Nina Hartley hubby Ira Levine, once used a photo for the cover that included a woman who is now the centerpiece of a case involving charges of sex trafficking, domestic servitude and other alleged crimes.
The woman—who is alleged to be mentally deficient and kept against her will as a “brutally tortured” sex slave in Missouri between 2002 and 2009—was photographed by fetish photographer Ken Marcus, who sold some of the photos to Hustler and made others available in the members area of his website. A month later, the woman also was the subject of an interview in the August 2007 issue of the magazine. The latter feature included photos by Ed Bagley Sr., the man who allegedly kept her against her will as a sex slave and is currently being charged, along with four co-defendants, with the aforementioned crimes.
According to The Wrap, the FBI has interviewed Marcus and Levine, but says that “while it's highly unlikely that Marcus or Flynt will face any criminal action, they could be called to testify or face civil action if the woman should ever choose to sue.”
In a call today with AVN, Levine declined to comment on the situation because of the fact the case is ongoing and he could be called as a material witness, but he said that he will be eager to talk about it once the dust has cleared and the legal issues are clarified.
The feds are alleging that the woman was forced by Begley to become his sex slave at the age of 16, and several years later was coerced to travel to California for the purposes of the photo shoot.
Marcus, who did speak with The Wrap, said that he met the couple only briefly and saw no indication that the woman was “forced, coerced or mentally disabled,” as the indictment alleges.
"They say she was of diminished mental capacity; we never saw that whatsoever. She seemed to be bright, intelligent and in control, able to say 'yes' and 'no,'" Marcus told The Wrap.
Marcus said that he had been interviewed by FBI agents a few months ago, as had Levine, and admitted that he "may have very well been mistaken” about the voluntary nature of the woman during the photo shoot.
"I have been interviewed and cooperated, and gave whatever information and documentation ... I don't know whether they are planning on calling me as a witness or not," he told The Wrap.
The documentation Marcus is referring to would at the very least include a signed model release and a copy of the woman's government-issued I.D., not just for purposes of general recordkeeping, but also as required by law under 18 USC 2257, the federal labeling and record keeping law that all publishers must keep and make available in case of an inspection by federal agents. The website for Taboo has a 2257 link at the bottom of every page, of course, which leads to a page that contains the custodian of records for the publication, information that also is required by law.
While The Wrap acknowledges that neither Hustler nor any of its employees will probably be subject to any legal action—except for the possible civil action by the alleged victim—it says the case “certainly raises fresh questions about the ethics and practices surrounding hardcore, violent porn publishing.” The site also refers to Larry Flynt as a “self-proclaimed ‘free speech activist.’” [Emphasis added]
That last statement might be news to Oliver Stone, not to mention the prosecutors who have tried unsuccessfully to muzzle Flynt’s speech over the years. But more to the point, and as disturbing as the charges are, one should tread very lightly when questioning “the ethics or practices surrounding hardcore, violent porn publishing.”
The constitutional right of the BDSM community to express itself is taken very seriously, not only by its members but also by the general free speech community. Such rights are easily lost if not defended, which is but one reason why producers of fetish content tend to go out of their way to document the written and verbal consent of performers. As horrific as these alleged crimes are, their connection to Taboo is incidental at best, and it seems to this writer that The Wrap could have easily decried the alleged acts without also questioning the right of Taboo to publish BDSM content. After all, whether it wants to acknowledge it or not, Hollywood itself owes Larry Flynt a huge debt of gratitude for the battles he fought, and the injuries he sustained, on the behalf of all publishers and producers of visual and written content.
The federal indictment can be read here.