Kinky Clarity: SF Weekly Discusses Elaborate E-mail Fraud and Blacklisting
Yesterday, Peter Acworth, the founder and CEO of Kink.com, released a response to my story ("Gag Order") about the complexities of model treatment inside his ethical porn business. But the response wasn't initially sent to me; rather, it went to other Bay Area news outlets.
When I eventually obtained a copy of it, I was extremely surprised by its contents. Rather than directly addressing the concerns raised in my story, the response read like a somewhat prevaricating thank-you note. Thanks for not publishing those damaging e-mails about our company. P.S. You're a shoddy journalist.
The response also floated the suggestion that I'd knowingly relied on forged e-mails to write the story. That's absolutely false. Were emails involved in my initial reporting process? Yes. Did any of their contents end up in print? Nope.
Confused? I was, too. Here's the deal: I've been researching, writing, and discussing ethical porn for the last nine months. Over that period of time, I've heard wildly conflicting stories about what it's like to work for Kink. I could tell right away that some were false or biased, and so I didn't write about them. Others seemed legitimate in their original telling, and were verified by screenshots, videos, photos, and bank statements. Some sources opened their e-mail accounts to me. Particularly disturbing e-mails, apparently from Acworth, were revealed.
Before I approached Acworth about the e-mails, I wanted to be absolutely sure of their veracity. So I asked to sit at a computer and view the correspondence in a live e-mail client, and I was granted that access.
Seeing the messages in an inbox, easily clicked through, convinced me they were real. But when I first asked Acworth about what I had read, he brushed it off. I pressed further and quoted the messages directly. I didn't think he'd deny it; I thought I had irrefutable proof. I asked if he was sure he didn't write the messages.
The answer wasn't yes, but it wasn't no, either. Bizarrely enough, it was both. Acworth and I went through the same drill: He sat me down in front of his computer and showed me the messages in his inbox. Everything about the e-mails -- the date, the time, the sender, the recipients, the subject line -- was identical. The content was not. Acworth's versions of the messages were missing a few sentences I'd seen in the other version. He'd written some of what I'd seen, but apparently not all of it.
Here's what Acworth wrote about the experience in yesterday's statement:
When we originally agreed to speak with the Weekly, they began asking questions that, to those of us who work here, did not seem to have any basis in fact. When we asked for support of those claims, the Weekly quoted e-mails they'd received from a source who'd originally tipped off the investigation. The emails turned out to be forged, and the journalist admitted to Kink management that the e-mails were fabricated.
Let me clarify a few things. First, I became interested in Kink not because of salacious e-mails, but because I wanted to know how "ethical porn" works. When Kink's cam girls had their base pay taken away last summer, it seemed like an unusual move for a company that prides itself on its treatment of models. The new world of camming is different from the old world of porn -- cam girls negotiate directly with their customers, rather than directors and agents. Kink has prided itself on being at the forefront of the ethical porn movement, and their cam department is a frontier within a frontier. But how do you enforce ethical model treatment when the people interacting with your models aren't your employees? It's a question Kink is still trying to answer, and one that intrigues me.
Second, as far as the e-mails are concerned -- I know someone lied. What I don't know is who, or how they pulled it off. Since Acworth and I sat down at his computer and read through his e-mail, I've been trying to figure that out. Acworth has offered me access to his servers, his IT department, and his e-mail account. It's the kind of transparency that Kink is renowned for, and it will hopefully help me find answers.
At this point, I know it's entirely possible to change the text of an e-mail. Outlook messages live in a database file, which is susceptible to editing. I'm told these edits would leave evidence behind. Right now, I'm looking for that evidence.
When I find it, I'll be eager to let SF Weekly's readership know. In the meantime, if you're an extremely savvy e-mail expert who wants to answer some of my questions, please get in touch.
There's also one point of clarity I'd like to offer about my story, which Acworth called to my attention in his response yesterday. It's about Nikki Blue/Aaliyah Avatari's alleged blacklisting. In the original article, I wrote:
Aaliyah Avartari, who formerly performed under the name Nikki Blue and famously lost her virginity during a live Kink broadcast in January 2011, says she was blacklisted after the controversial performance. "They're very picky and choosy," she claims. "If a model whines too much, they won't work with her anymore."
A review of our HR records could easily have shown that models who were allegedly "blacklisted" after a complaint continued to work with us for months afterward.
It's true that Avatari continued to perform for Kink after her virginity shoot (though she says it took her months to heal from it). My original wording could be misinterpreted to mean that she claimed to be blacklisted immediately afterward. Avatari described experiencing extreme pain during her virginity shoot, and said that the pain continued during her later shoots at Kink. Eventually, she says, Kink stopped working with her because of her difficulties handling her pain. "All of a sudden you're kicked out and blacklisted because you had vagina problems for a year," she told me.
Acworth responds that the company "fell out with her over an entirely unrelated issue." He also notes, "She mentioned nothing of pain nor injury to us during this time to myself, managers, nor HR; indeed from our perspective she could not have been more content, and this is evident from the various shoots she was in."