Wasting time on Facebook, I happened on an article from a few years back about the plight of a former porn star.  It had shown up in my feed as “liked” by a relative of mine who had long ago quit attending church, and I clicked because I was kind of intrigued as to what about it had appealed to her.  The former porn star, Bree Olson, was very unhappy with how people were treating her.  She said that she’d gotten into the porn industry when she was 19 and experimenting sexually, and she was amazed at the amount of money she could make.  She’d quit school and performed in the porn industry until she was 25, when she left the business.  She said she’d gotten caught up in a media frenzy and discovered just how much people hated her, so she quit porn because she wanted to be liked and respected.  She says:

I left a career where I made millions to try and gain respect. I pushed and struggled for years. People look at me as if I am the same as a sex offender. They look at me as though I am less than in every way, and they assume the absolute worst in every way. I had never realized how progressive my mind was and how scared people were of sexuality until this. I also realized I could never go back and be a nurse or a teacher, or work for any company really that can fire me under morality clauses for making customers feel “uncomfortable” because of who I am.

She also did a video with Real Women Real Stories on YouTube in which she describes how people treat her when they find out who she is.  They call her horrible names and withdraw their friendship.  She says she might as well have the word SLUT written across her forehead.  The interviewer asks her how she wants people to treat her, and she becomes very emotional.  After a pause, she says she wishes people would treat her like a “married, registered nurse with 2.5 kids in Indiana,” and she starts to cry.  After a pause, the interviewer asks “how would that change your life?”, and she responds “I would be SO happy”.

The article closes with 

“People hate me and if they knew me, I’m one of the nicest people they’d ever meet. It’s a shame. It’s a shame for everyone….

Porn didn’t hurt me. The way society treats me for having done it does.”

Apparently, once you’ve been in porn, it’s pretty hard to make it back in the regular world.  Every once in a while, you hear a news story about a teacher getting fired from school when her past in porn came to light.  I heard of a former male porn actor who’d made it through nursing school and gotten a job at a hospital, only to get outed and fired after a couple weeks on the job (he was considered too big a liability risk).

So what’s the proper way to react to Ms Olson’s predicament?  What’s the Christian way?  Or maybe I should ask, what’s the Christlike way?  I have to admit, I have a lot of conflicted feelings.  

My first thought is that I feel bad for her.  It sounds like she’s been the recipient of a lot of people’s venom.  Taking pleasure in another person’s pain is evil.  It’s one thing to lash out in pain or frustration against a person who has hurt you directly, but it’s another thing entirely to find something about another person you don’t like and use it as excuse to indulge your lust to cause them pain.  That’s just wrong.  Even when it comes to punishing people who deserve to be and need to be punished, taking satisfaction in their suffering might be excusable, but it’s not noble.  I don’t think God feels that way. 

My second thought is that it’s remarkable that she’s so instantly recognizable.  Does everybody watch porn?  It seems to me that if our society was truly comprised of such upstanding moral citizens, they wouldn’t be able to recognize her, and she could fly under the radar a little better.  [1]

On the other hand, there’s another part of me that’s not nearly as sympathetic.  Ms. Olson dug her own hole.  If she wanted to be treated like a married RN with 2.5 kids, then that’s what she should have aimed for.  If she didn’t want to be regarded as dirty and disgusting, she shouldn’t have done dirty and disgusting things.  There are powerful feelings and emotions associated with sex, and most people feel simultaneous, often contrary pulls in their desire for intimacy, love, self-respect, and release.  Her seedy business seeks to profit by inflaming the simple, self-indulgent physical appetite.  If you descend to appealing to people’s baser natures, then maybe you shouldn’t be so surprised by their baser behaviors.  Of course it’s hard for Ms. Olson to find a legitimate job.  How can she expect an employer to take on the distraction of customers or co-workers being able to pull up shocking videos of her on the internet?  What does it do to a brand to employ such a person?  What kind of distraction gets created in a classroom if the students could google up their teacher’s porn videos?

Besides, you can argue public shaming has a role.  Not every harmful or offensive behavior should be criminalized, yet there remains a need for a deterrent.  For example, you don’t put someone in jail for saying something racist — you shame her instead.  You let her know that that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable in your society.  Bree Olson is warning girls about going into porn because of the consequential shame.  If the shame weren’t there, would she be warning girls against porn?

But then the sympathetic part of me kicks in again.  She was only 19 when she got into it.  Just a kid.  For whatever reason, it either didn’t feel wrong to her or the money was just too good.  If the former, then I can’t help thinking something probably happened to her earlier in life that made it that way.  They say a lot of porn actors were sexually abused before they entered the business.  But maybe that’s just anti-porn propaganda. 

I really don’t like people being condemned for life, unless they belong in prison.  I don’t like that after a felon does time, he’s always marked as a felon and can’t get a job.  I don’t like that after sex offenders have done their time and been released, their names and addresses are publicly listed for contempt and persecution the rest of their lives.  I like the idea of second chances with a clean slate.  My feeling is that if they don’t deserve a second chance with a clean slate, then they belong in jail. [2]

But I do believe the second chance is contingent on evidence of rehabilitation, and Bree Olson isn’t exactly repentant.  It’s not like she’s come around to my values.  In fact, she seems to imply that it’s my values that are messed up, not hers.  In her warning to girls against going into porn, she made it quite clear that she sees nothing wrong with porn itself, she was just warning them that society wasn’t open-minded and that they’d live with the consequences forever.  Now it’s possible Ms. Olson actually does feel participating in porn is bad and just hasn’t admitted it to herself yet.  Or maybe she just doesn’t want to offend her friends in the business.  But from what she says, it sounds like she wants to move society in a direction I oppose.  That makes us opponents, and me less sympathetic.  

Is shaming and shunning the appropriate response?  There’s an alternative punishment that’s been tried in some places for shoplifters.  In exchange for not going to jail or getting a criminal record, they’d be required to stand outside the store all day wearing a sign saying “I stole from this store”.  I watched a documentary on it once.  At the outset, it seemed to me a much better deal for everybody:  real punishment (deterrent), in the moment, with a real second chance (no long-term consequence).  However, watching the videos of these thieves doing their penance outside the store made me wonder if it really worked.  Yes, some seemed pretty ashamed and penitent, but some treated it like a joke, and some became outright defiant.  The “shaming” seemed to reinforce the shoplifters’ sense of separation from law-abiding society, rather than making them want to become part of law-abiding society.  It was confusing, because shame has always worked on me.

The question of how to react to Ms. Olson’s predicament is pretty moot, really, because I’m not liable to meet someone like that in real life, and even if I did, I’d probably be unaware.  But it is hypothetically interesting.  I certainly wouldn’t abuse her, either to her face or on the internet, but I don’t think I’d want her as my kid’s teacher either.

Is public shame a good tool?  Is it effective?  Is it moral?





[1]  Yes, I know this isn’t true.  It only takes one person to out her, and then word would spread like wildfire.

[2]  This is my emotional response, not an informed, data-supported opinion on public policy