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At The US’s Biggest Porn Convention, The Industry Braces For Trump

As the adult industry gathers at its annual expo, insiders warn of the crackdown to come

SEX
Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jan 20, 2017 at 3:02 PM ET

LAS VEGAS, NEV. — Clyde DeWitt, a silver-haired Las Vegas attorney, stood Thursday in front of dozens of members of the adult industry to sound an alarm. “You in the industry have had eight years of wonderment. You’ve had no [Code] 2257 inspections, you’ve had no obscenity prosecutions, none of that crap,” he said. “Fasten your seat belts, starting at noon eastern standard time tomorrow.”

DeWitt was, of course, referring to the inauguration today of President Donald Trump — and his warning came during a panel Thursday at the annual Adult Entertainment Expo. As hundreds of porn stars and an estimated thousands of fans flocked to the Hard Rock Hotel for autograph signings, photo ops, film screenings, and demonstrations of the latest sex toys, a smaller group gathered in a conference room for a sober discussion of what a Trump presidency means for the porn industry. Although the panelists, most of them attorneys who have represented members of the adult industry, acknowledged uncertainty about what is to come in the next four years, most argued there was good reason to worry.

The biggest threat, according to attorney J. Michael Murray, is the possibility of inspections and prosecutions under U.S. Code 2257, which requires pornographers to retain extensive records proving that their performers are all above the age of consent. Many adult industry insiders consider the law an undue burden and unnecessary, given the business’s own age-verification requirements, as well as an attempt to allow law enforcement to harass pornographers. According to The Free Speech Coalition, “With 2257, if a form isn’t complete, or you’ve misfiled, or you aren’t available when an inspector arrives, you can be prosecuted, and the stakes are incredibly high: ANY violation can result in a felony conviction with a prison term of up to five years.” Under Obama, that wasn’t the case, but that could all change very quickly. “You are going to be at risk of being attacked,” said Murray. “That is a tool the new attorney general could use to really cripple the industry.”

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According to the panelists, it’s also possible that we could see the revival of obscenity prosecutions. In the U.S., obscenity is considered unprotected speech and is vaguely defined as material that, according to “community standards,” “appeals to the prurient interest,” is “patently offensive,” and “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Under Obama, we have seen no new obscenity prosecutions. However, George W. Bush’s presidency saw the notable prosecution of Joseph Francis, of “Girls Gone Wild” fame, Ira Isaacs, a so-called “poo porn” producer, and Max Hardcore, who sold content featuring fisting, urination, and vomiting.

As the panelists pointed out, Trump has signed an anti-porn pledge, in which he promised to “aggressively enforce” obscenity laws. He has nominated Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who not only has a history of blaming sexual assault on pornography, but also stated during confirmation hearings that obscenity should be “vigorously prosecuted” and that he would consider re-convening a special taskforce specifically for that purpose. Trump also has brought onto his transition team Edwin Meese, the former attorney general who under Ronald Reagan led a crackdown on the adult industry.

Panelist John Stagliano, a legendary porn producer unsuccessfully prosecuted in 2010 for obscenity, was surprisingly unalarmed by the possibility, noting that obscenity prosecutions are “increasingly a difficult proposition for the Justice Department to take on.” Although he warned that crackdowns might come in other forms, like the revival of attempts at cutting off banking services for certain politically unpopular industries, like the porn business. Other panelists noted that Utah recently signed a resolution declaring porn a “public health hazard” and pointed to attempts across the country to bring legislation that would require all new computers to be sold with porn-blocking software.

Attorney Reed Lee, who wore a t-shirt styled after a street sign reading “Keep Left,” agreed with Stagliano that the adult industry has less to fear now when it comes to obscenity prosecutions. “Contemporary community standards are developing in a way that conservatives don’t like and that this industry does,” he said. In other words, community standards have loosened enough that it would be difficult to bring a successful obscenity case — fewer acts are deemed obscene.

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Outside of the panel, some expo attendees were notably much less concerned. J.D. Obenberger, a Chicago-based attorney who has represented the industry, argued that Trump is unlikely to crack down on the adult industry. In a recent Op-Ed for trade publication XBIZ, he wrote, “For better or worse, we’ve elected a President whose sale of pay per view porn in hotel rooms for decades makes him an actual member of this industry, a man who introduced a softcore Playboy video … whose earthy rhetorical style found him punctuating a nationally televised debate by comparing the size of his generative organ with that of Marco Rubio, who is proud of the publication of the undraped allurements of his Slovenian model wife, and who privately speaks about how celebrity acts as a pussy magnet that invites the grabbing thereof,” he said.

Obenberger continued, “I think we’ve elected (arguably) a member and friend of this Industry who has no problem with your share of the same revenue stream he drinks from.”

On a more measured note, Adam Grayson, CFO of porn company Evil Angel, said he was feeling optimistic. “As much as there are certain concerning trends in talking points from the incoming administration, we’re still a democracy where it’s the will of the people,” he said. “If we leave it to five-hundred-and-thirty-five legislators and a court system I feel like there will be good outcomes that are right.” At the very least, he suspects that any crackdowns will be targeted toward more extreme porn producers — and, in this climate, he doesn’t have any plans for Evil Angel to push the boundaries of the kinds of content that it produces.

While waiting to begin filming on a shoot during the expo, Lena Paul, a newcomer to the industry, said Trump’s election suggests there is a more progressive mood, at least in certain limited respects, in the country. “I think the advent of the Trump presidency indicates that the evangelical vote is waning. He’s a man who has been married multiple times, he’s had multiple well-documented infidelities … and he won the vote of the conservative party.” She added, “While I myself … am not thrilled about his presidency, I’m not intimidated by his presidency — as a woman yes, but as a professional no.”