Published On: Tue, Apr 24th, 2012

Girls Gone Wild or drunken exploitation?

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The infamous American porn franchise Girls Gone Wild (GGW) recently announced its plans for a UK tour. At this, uproar ensued from MPs who feared that the youth of their constituencies would be exploited and degraded. However, is blocking this company enough?
Headed by Joe Francis, a convicted criminal, Girls Gone Wild (GGW) travels around America, to popular student events and entices drunk girls ,with cheap GGW merchandise, to strip and have sex on camera. These films are then packaged and sold for $9.99 (£6.98) making the company a healthy turnover of $40 million per annum. The crew consists largely of young, attractive males, many of whom are hoping to break into the Hollywood production industry; their job is to seek out and film drunk women.
When asked why he thought women appeared in his films Francis commented “It’s empowering, it’s freedom…it gives a good time to all”.

However, for one woman from St Louis this was not the case. Identified only as Jane Doe, she was 20 in May 2004 when she attended the Rum Jungle nightclub, where producers of GGW happened to be filming. Video footage was captured of Doe dancing, when asked to “flash” she could audibly be heard to say “no”, however, her top was then pulled down by a friend and the scene captured by producers. The woman remained unaware that this footage had been used until 2007 when she was informed, by a friend of her husband, that she had made an appearance in the 2006 “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy”. At 26, and married with two children, the woman filed a lawsuit against Mantra films (GGW) for $5 million as they refused to remove the footage. Any woman who appears in a GGW film is required to sign a consent form giving permission for their footage to be used; however, in this instance, a consent form was not signed or seemingly even produced.

When the case came to trial, in July 2010, Mantra films used two main lines of defence; all the images had been captured in a public place and, therefore, Doe had no right to privacy and implied consent was given. The outcome of this trial was ruled in favour of GGW but what is so shocking is that not only did the jury consist of a majority of women (7:5) the majority were also under the age of 40.
The foreman of the jury, Patrick O’Brian, stated after the trial “Throughout her actions, she gave implied consent. She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing.”

This suggests that sexual harassment, in a public place, is not only acceptable but something that women must go out of their way to avoid, by dressing conservatively and refraining from acting in any way that could be seen as provocative.
As Jane Doe’s attorney, Stephen Evans, stated after the trial “She is entitled to go out with friends and have a good time and not have her top pulled down and get that in a video.”

This verdict speaks volumes about the current raunch culture of which we inhabit today. Not only is the exploitation of young men and women seen as acceptable by today’s generation, individuals such as Joe Francis are allowed to profit from it without being held to account for their actions. There may yet be a silver lining for Doe in the form of a retrial, which has been ruled by Judge John Riley. However, whether this will transpire is yet to be seen as Mantra films have since filed a motion against it.
Unfortunately, the hunting ground of choice for GGW is one of alcohol fuelled debauchery (nightclubs, bars, Spring Break) which means its prey is inevitably vulnerable. What is so problematic is that youth culture is inextricably interlinked with a culture of binge drinking. This raises questions as to whether the individuals who participate in GGW films have the capacity and freedom to genuinely consent. As it stands in the UK, the law surrounding consent whilst drunk is rather vague; the main axiom being “Drunken consent is still consent”.

Mr Matthew Gibson, a lecturer in Criminal Law at the University of Liverpool states “The jury have to be certain that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt…if the complainant was drunk then consent remains an area of doubt for the jury.”
It is fair to say that a number of women who appear in GGW films do so regardless of their level of intoxication. For many it is the vain hope that they will be spotted by a Hollywood mogul, who will shoot them to “Paris Hilton like fame” which incites them. However, there is a group who would only dare appear whilst drunk and who may, consequently, be overwhelmed with regret the next day.
However, Mr Gibson stated “The law takes the view that where your inhibitions are lowered through intoxication, consent will not be negated by a change of mind on sober reflection…it’s a very difficult balance for the law to take and at the moment it’s just doing the best it can on a case by case basis.”

On the whole many people would assume that drunken behaviour and reasoning is a far cry from its sober counter-part and this is something that science demonstrates.

Mr Paul Christiansen, a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Liverpool explained “We have two fundamental drives; basic midbrain drives (automatic and impulsive, arising from brain structures that are similar in all animals) and frontal functioning (slow, deliberative and logical, far more advanced in humans). To say one reflects true behaviour is, from the stand point of cognitive neuroscience, misleading.”.

Therefore, in the case of GGW, it may be too simplistic to merely assume that drunken consent is the same as sober consent, given the effects of alcohol.

Mr Christiansen added “Alcohol has the same physical effect on people but a very different emotional effect… it doesn’t have a general effect on decisions, in that way it’s very individual dependent.”

In this sense, it is universally accepted that alcohol affects people differently and, in many cases, an individual’s ability to make decisions will be seriously impaired whilst intoxicated. Consequently, in the eyes of the law, being able to determine the difference between individuals who have genuinely been exploited and those who have freely chosen to objectify themselves is problematic but essential. However, it is made exasperatingly complex with the current manifestations of “American dream” ideals; many of which promote self-objectification. Due to this, it is important that safe guards, at the very least, are put in place to maintain a level of dignity for any individual who par-takes in GGW filming.

About the Author

- Ellen is originally from London and is currently studying for a Bsc in Psychology.