Published 16 December 2021
INVESTIGATION | “Lawsuits against French pornographic industry” (1/4) Judicial investigations of an unprecedented scale, implicating several hundred people, shine a light on the dark underbelly of the industry where images are widely distributed on the internet. In a four part investigation “Le Monde” unravels the workings of a network which held dozens of young women under its control.
They are of all ages. Donning caps, hats, beards, and glasses. They don’t hide themselves, some are chatting, others are smiling. A few days later, France will enter total lockdown, however this particular Sunday, 8 March 2020 at 1:00 p.m., these men wait outside a grey building at the Porte d’Italie in Paris, before finally entering. A few metres away, French policemen (gendarmes) in an unmarked vehicle took photos of these thirty three men, one by one. Each one of them are there in response to a brief email they received two days earlier: “BUKKAKE on Sunday 8 March at 1:00 p.m., 11 avenue Léon-Bollée, 75013 Paris. 2 big ejaculations and one week’s subscription to French-bukkake. Required: Balaclava and a form of I.D.” The Parisian research section investigators also received this invitation : they have just infiltrated this pornographic platform using fake profiles.
On this particular Sunday in March, the police officers don’t need to go through the gate ; they already know what’s happening behind these walls. At a hearing, Samira, one of the victims, stated “Pascal told me that there was going to be lots of men, I said “No I don’t want to do that, I can’t do it and I’m scared”” (to preserve their privacy, the names of the victims in this article have been changed). « You’re going to do it, you’re going to be smiling, you don’t have a choice » Pascal allegedly ordered her. “I went into the room, they all had balaclavas or masks. They wore clothes but they had their penises exposed” added the 22 year old woman. She talks about having to get on a cushion on the ground and perform oral sex on each of these strangers. Then they all ejaculated on her, a camera recorded this “bukkake”, the name of this practice is derived from Japan, where one woman must satisfy several dozen men. The victim states “I couldn’t see anymore, I cried but my tears couldn’t flow down my face as my face was completely saturated in it, my eyes were covered, my body shook, I had zero control. That lasted one whole hour, I felt like it wasn’t going to end, it was pure torture.”
Lawsuits against French pornographic industry
Le Monde dedicates a four-part investigation to the case of sexual violence in the French porn industry. With over sixty victims identified, eight actors and producers indicted for gang rape, human trafficking and aggravated pimping, this legal case on highly viewed videos is shaking the porn industry to its core.
This testimony is only one of hundreds collected by police officers during the two years investigation into what is shaping up to be one of the biggest cases of sexual violence handled by the French justice system. With 53 victims identified to date, eight people indicted, three investigating judges and thousands of statements, the investigation, revealed in part by Le Parisien, is dealing with “gang rape », « aggravated human trafficking », « aggravated pimping », « money laundering », « undeclared work » and » dissemination of the recording of images relating to the commission of a wilful attack on the integrity of the person”. According to our information, more than 500 men who participated in these “bukkake” sessions were identified by the police and may be subject to prosecution.
This far reaching inquiry involves the biggest porn distributing network in France and threatens the industry at large. It could, for the first time, put an end to the lack of legal regulation surrounding the porn industry, by reconsidering it as pimping, that is the act of profiting from the sexual exploitation of others.
This case allows us to examine and deconstruct the videos that are falsely presented as “amateur porn”. These videos are based on the myth of the young naïve thrill seeking woman, who stages her refusal of violent practices which the professional finally forces upon her. These “Pro-amateur” videos are very popular on porn streaming sites such as PornHub, YouPorn or even XVideos. Nearly a third all internet traffic is pornography. These international platforms shape the imagination of millions of consumers, especially teenagers.
These videos are in fact a very complex form of abuse of women. The men are predators, underpaid, but whose gratification is quite different. “They were rapes disguised as videos. Actors and producers had all the freedom”, admitted one of the members of the network. This investigation documents above all the what this multimillion industry is ready to do to get its “raw material”, that is very young vulnerable and sexually inexperienced women (23.5 being the average age). These young women are completely exploited before they are, in the words of one producer, “burned out”.
The hearings conducted by the police are long, precise and they often highlight the victims troubled background. Let us take for example Emilie, her mother left home and then her father completed suicide by throwing himself under a truck. She was consequently placed in foster care, and she ended up getting a diploma as a medical secretary in Reims. Héloïse had a peaceful childhood, living in the countryside near Toulouse, but everything changed at the young age of 13: “I was raped by two people in my class at a party ”. She obtained a degree in assistant management and is now trying to rebuild her life abroad. Soraya grew up in the suburbs of Paris. She was a good student until her father suddenly left home for Morocco, which sent her mother into a deep depression. She didn’t pass her final high school exams, but she managed to obtain a temporary job as a receptionist. Samira, the youngest in a large working class family, dropped out of high school very young. She now does some odd jobs to get by. All of these young women are trying to navigate the difficult transition into adulthood and financial independence as best they can, but their paths will crash into the same obstacle.
If some people lead double lives, Julien D., leads three . The official version is that Julien is married to a woman that he met at a friend’s party. This young woman had the wedding of her dreams with Julien, a special needs teacher greatly appreciated by his colleagues. Then along came the kids. Apart from Julien D. becoming bored of family life and spending more time on his cell phone, this couple were the picture of marital bliss. However, for several years, Julien has been having an affair. He promised his mistress that he would leave his wife.
A third woman takes up even more of Julien’s time. When his wife is working the night shifts, via his telephone or computer, Julien virtually becomes Axelle Vercoutre, an American model who boasts of her luxurious lifestyle on her Instagram and Facebook accounts. In fact, Axelle doesn’t even exist : Julien stole these images from an American influencer named Angie Varona. Using the fake profile of Axelle, Julien D. orchestrates a hunt. His targets: hundreds of young women.
Fake profile and compliments
When confronted by investigators, Julien states that he can’t really remember when he started, what he likes to qualify as, “sexual deviancy”. He later declares it was probably in 2015, during his wife’s pregnancy, before the police confront him with testimonies that date back to 2012. He is also unable to explain the chain of events that pushed him to relentlessly contact these unknown women.
Despite the fact that he did everything to hide his digital tracks and even had his victims erase their conversations together, the police were able to access some extracts and consequently decipher his strategy. Patiently and strategically, the fake Axelle starts complimenting her prey. She speaks about the dream life she leads between Belgium and Miami, she makes these young women feel at ease, they trust her. Always having an excuse to avoid speaking with these women by telephone, Axelle makes sure to be very attentive to her unsuspecting prey via written messages, carefully reacting to their every word, until she has gained their trust.
Like all serial manipulators, Julien D. adapted the way he spoke to his victims according to their weaknesses. Still hiding behind the fake persona of Axelle, Julien becomes a “virtual best friend” to these women. “It seemed like we had lots in common. This person had managed to collect a lot of information about me in order to manipulate me into thinking that we are close and very much alike”, said Emilie. Héloïse was worried about her sister’s health. “After months of correspondence, this profile [Julien D. posing as Axelle] managed to connect with me at a deeper level by saying “You have a little sister too. My little sister is in hospital. We are really close, like you seem to be with your little sister. From that day forward, we spoke every single day for 6 months. Just two normal girls who have some worries, but speak about them together online”. Like Heloise and Emilie, Karine also let Axelle into her life. « She [Axelle] valued our friendship so much, and showed me that. On my birthday, she sent me a letter telling me that I was so special, and that she never had a connection so deep with someone on the internet. I thought that we had so much in common, but in reality she was just telling me what I wanted to hear.”
Not only does Julien D. become friends with lots of young women on the internet, but he also watches hours and hours of pornographic videos. This special needs teacher has a particular penchant for films made by a certain “Pascal OP”. Pascal OP is the owner, film director and star actor of the “French Bukkake” platform. The 60 year old, whose real name is Pascal Ollitrault, is something of a celebrity in this industry. His racist and homophobic tirades, his misogyny and violence have allowed him to become a legend in porn culture. He is particularly adored by teenagers and young adults, on the 18 – 25 forum, hosted on the Jeuxvideo.com website. At a time when porn is merely viewed as a popular cultural product, Pascal Ollitrault intrigues the media.
On his Twitter account as well as in his videos, « Pascal OP » insults, slaps or spits on women in his films. In 2013, he explained that « being gay is a disease », and proposed that female Syrian refugees in France should star in his pornographic films. He wore blackface, and called black actors in his films “monkeys” and “coons”. During film auditions, he tells the actors not to confuse him with the cruel “character” that he plays, to separate the artist from his art, however this side never leaves Pascal.
In Reims, Julien D., using his feminine alter ego Axelle Vercoutre, gets in touch with « Pascal OP ». Neither of them tell investigators when this strange pact between « recruiter » and « producer » was made. The latter reluctantly admits that he knew that Axelle was not a woman, but they both deny having met each other. One thing is certain: they were regularly in contact, because Axelle slowly became one of “Pascal OP’s” greatest assets in this world of so-called amateur porn, a world in which the workforce is difficult to recruit : young women who never received money in exchange for sex.
This online trap built by Julien D. is closing in on his victims. His “prey” are faced with financial difficulties, and over the course of several months Julien D., via his virtual double Axelle, will provide these young disadvantaged women with a solution : escorting. Axelle speaks of luxury prostitution, she glamorises this “profession”, she tells these disadvantaged women that paid sex with a few old rich men will make them thousands of euros richer. As Héloïse sinks deeper into debt, Axelle puts more and more pressure on her. “She takes over my brain, she puts ideas in my head, she totally manipulates me. (…) I start to let my guard down, and I ask her “Are you sure?” I start to believe her solutions, and she continuously tells me how terrific everything will be, everything I will be able to do with this money, all of the things that I can finally do for my sister, I will be able to pay for the holiday of her dreams…”
The hearings of the fifty or so victims give us an idea of how Julien D.’s broke the mental barriers of these young women, who had never considered prostitution as a solution to their problems. Axelle, their long-distance friend, presents prostitution as an enjoyable experience. “She sold it to me as if it was fun. She used to say “Let yourself go, enjoy yourself”. At the start she was encouraging me, it was positive manipulation” said Karine. Soraya recalls that “For a long long time I didn’t think that this was for me, I really didn’t think I’d be capable of doing it. It was Axelle who contacted me every day, not me. She would tell me that she slept with men that same day and she earned between €2,000 and €3,000. She never forgot to tell me how easy it was, how cool it was, and that it only lasts ten minutes”. Axelle sends pictures of bundles of cash to a young woman who can no longer pay her rent. Marianne is struggling to raise her child alone, she tells this to Axelle. In response Axelle sends her pictures of Miami. Marianne said to herself “Why not do it once, just to have a little money”.
His prey are ready. Thus, the second phrase of his strategy begins. Axelle puts these women in contact with a man called Sébastien Laurent, who in reality is just another fake profile run by Julien D., however a male one this time. Sébastien Laurent introduces himself as the director of an escort agency. On the phone, he suggests that they should meet one of his very rich clients who lives in the Reims region. The rate is very high, they are promised several thousand euros. The transport costs, the hotel room, and other fees will be paid by the young women. They, themselves, will be finally paid afterwards by a courier.
“He disgusted me”
In these mid-range hotel rooms, they all discover the same client. Soraya describes this client to police officers as thus “This man is about 5ft9 tall, white, rather pale, average build, with brown short hair. He had a short brown beard. I think he was wearing jeans. He seemed like any average person.” This was of course Julien D. This first sexual encounter marks what specialists in the domain of sexual violence call “slaughter rape”, the recruiter rapes the victim in order to make her enter his network. This same tactic is also used by pimps in Albanian and Nigerian criminal organisations. “The first rape has a very specific function, that is to break the victim down so she can no longer resist. It’s a mental blow for the victims, this means complete submission of the victims to the pimp” specifies Ms. Lorraine Questiaux, lawyer of several of the complainants. Yet again, the accounts of all these women, who don’t know each other, converge. Héloïse recalls « I was a little paralyzed. It was worse for me, because it made it even more violent. It was very violent. I had bruises everywhere by the time it finished. With all his strength, he squeezed my body with his hands. I had the feeling that he was trying to destroy my body.” Soraya remembers “Kissing was the last thing that I tried to keep from him, but he managed to take that too”.
In front of the investigating judges, Julien D. defends his actions “When I met them for an appointment, I always told them “Just because I am paying you doesn’t mean I own you and you have to do everything I want””. When indicted for the rape of all his victims, Julien D. spoke of « consensual relations ». On the contrary, his victims assert that none of their requests were respected, particularly in relation to sodomy, which they were forced to do nearly every time, despite their refusals. Lara states “I asked him to wash himself beforehand. He didn’t want to do that. He disgusted me. He tried to kiss me and I didn’t let him. I pushed him away.” The investigators note that she starts to cry. “I don’t like talking about this. There was penetration and he took me from behind even though that wasn’t at all planned, I had never done that before.”
Recruiter, prostitution client, and father of a family ; Julien D. seemed to have no limits as he played with his different personas. As she waits in the hotel room in Reims, Emilie receives messages from her model friend « Axelle reassured me by SMS, she advised me to drink alcohol« , she says to the police. Unlike the other women, Emilie receives special instructions that day: to be blindfolded. Supposedly, the client is a celebrity, keen to preserve his identity. The reality is more mundane. Julien D. and Emilie know each other and are friends. After this bad blindfolded experience, she unknowingly confides in him, « because he had always been lovely ».
Shame and anger
The encounter ends, the sheets are creased, the fake client gets dressed and then disappears. Then the majority of these women, the complainants, break down. “When he left I took a shower, I stayed in it for hours and hours, I didn’t even feel the water become cold” recalled Karine. “I found myself sitting under the shower in cold water. My lips were blue. I was rubbing myself to wash myself. I had scratches all over my body, I could’ve knocked out my teeth with my toothbrush.” Faced in front of the judges, Julien D. struggles to face these stories and what they what they mean in penal terms. “I was naïve enough at the time to believe that it wasn’t like that for her, in all honestly” he responded when the word “rape” was pronounced. His lawyer was contacted by Le Monde, he didn’t reply.
Julien D. disputes the rape claims, but does not deny the nature of the scam. As soon as the client left, the women received a text message: the courier, the bearer of the payment, has been arrested by the police, the women are ordered to erase all their messages and leave the hotel room immediately, they will never receive their payment. In addition to the shame, the victims are also afraid of the police. “I became afraid,” Soraya confided to the investigators, “I did all I could to return to my home straight away. I absolutely did not want to sleep in this hotel where, today I can admit, I was raped. I didn’t sleep all night. » Shame and anger. Marianne went to a shop in Reims to put aside clothes for her son that she intended to buy with the promised money. Héloïse had booked a trip for her sister who just lost her partner, “I came home completely destroyed, in a state of pure panic, empty. I’m destroyed to have done that and still not be able to help my sister.”
Raped and conned, these victims turn to the only person who could understand them – Axelle. “After my experience in Reims, I was in the worst place imaginable, more alone than ever in my sadness, and there was only one person who could comfort me, ” said Héloïse. Posing as Axelle, Julien D. provides in some way after-sale service of his assaults. Karine likes to call this “The abuser and the therapist”. Now he is in the role of the confidant who inquires about the client’s sexual performance, that is to say his own, and then pretends to be astonished. « That has never happened to me », Axelle assures Emilie, when told about the arrest of the courier. Fabienne increased her debt by paying €300 to have someone take care of her son and to pay for the journey to Reims. Axelle sent her the following message “Babe I really don’t know what to tell you, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard about that happening”, “We’ll stick together, I am always here to support you”.
Before the judges, Julien D. recognized the quasi-totality of the facts, while ensuring to have never « forced » any girl. « In your opinion, what is a predator?” the magistrates asked him. « I see it as someone who does not give a damn about his victims, (…) who has no remorse, no scruples, but I don’t see myself like this. This is more complex. Of course, this won’t come across when you read this story detached from the situation, because there is a sexual nature to this story, but I was more so in the search of affection, I know that may sound surprising (…), and I really feel guilty and have empathy for these young women”
It is also in the name of this supposed empathy that he justifies continuing his role within the network. Because Julien D. hasn’t finished with his victims. They complain about their lives to Axelle and say that now they are even more indebted. That’s music to Axelle’s ears. Axelle has a new plan for these women : she knows a man that directs “really cool” pornographic films, he works for a private and exclusive site, based in Canada, that has only a few subscribes. This role is not as well paid as prostitution, around €500 – €1,000, but that can increase.
The confidentiality of the videos becomes a major talking point, but of course, the truth is yet again hidden from these women. This is an exchange that Axelle had with Marion in October 2016 “It will stay between me and u, I’ll never speak about it. It’s amateur anonymous porn. It’s not Jacquie et Michel [a well known French porn site] lol. It’s a private subscription site in Canada but d films r made in Paris. Totally anonymous, I swear to u, it won’t be seen by many, or else I wouldn’t do it! (…) really cool atmosphere”. The complainants resist at first, but Axelle’s insistence and their despair after the rape in Reims lead them to change their minds. “Once I have been raped for the first time, you can do anything to my body, it’s no longer a big deal, that’s what we feel, however dissociated it may be”, says Soraya. “With the shooting, you no longer think of the other person, of the person who raped you in Reims”, Axelle heavily insists in response to Karine’s worries about staring in a porn film.
In early October 2016, the recruiter, under the guise of Axelle, creates a Facebook conversation with “Pascal OP” and Soraya : “Hey Pascal, let me introduce you to Soraya, the woman I was telling you about. She’s my soul sister. She’s a gem. I told her that you know how to do it without rushing or forcing” Once they are convinced, Axelle sends her victims to “Pascal OP”, ready to shoot in his porn films. Julien D. seems to work for the network for free : the police haven’t found any trace of financial compensation from the producer to the recruiter.
“That makes me feel a little less guilty that they could at least earn some money this way” argues Julien D. Empathetic again. The exchanges he had with “Pascal OP” tell another story. The latter revealed the content of their conversations to the investigators during his custody, in particular the fact that Julien D. asked for the videos to be more « hardcore » for the victims. He had even ordered « Pascal OP » to stop « throwing off » his prey to one of his colleagues, who he considered was too nice with the women.
Source : @leMonde