The disturbing world of teen porn, in which thousands of 18- and 19-year-old girls have sex on camera for money, is exposed in a documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Hot Girls Wanted tells the true stories of a group of them, mostly naive small-town girls enticed by the promise of money and fame in the bright lights of Florida or California.
The reality is, of course, far less rosy: they typically last less than six months in the game, before either their parents find out, or the industry tires of them, constantly seeking “fresh meat”.
“It’s the Wild West,” director Jill Bauer told AFP after the movie was screened at the independent film showcase festival in the Utah mountain resort of Park City.
“Anyone can make a video. Any producer can go online and recruit a girl on [the small ads website] craigslist. You just need to prove that you’re 18 years old, but anybody can do it and its art, protected by the First Amendment, freedom of speech.”
Bauer, a former Miami Herald journalist, has already made a film on a similar theme: 2012’s Sexy Baby used a 12-year-old girl’s story to explore the growing sexualization of youth and popular culture via social media.
At first, she and co-director Ronna Gradus had planned their new film to focus on boys on college campuses who consume porn online – coincidentally, the subject of another film at Sundance, The Hunting Ground.
But as soon as they began investigating what those young men were watching, Bauer and Gradus discovered the world of girls just out of high school lining up to make money by having sex in videos posted on porn websites.
“We thought, this can’t be true, because if this was true it would have been reported before. So we really couldn’t believe it,” said Gradus, who previously worked with Bauer as a photographer at The Miami Herald.
The girls involved are typically working minimum wage jobs straight out of high school and see adverts like “Hot Girls Wanted” on craigslist.comas “a ticket to freedom, adventure and their dream of instant fame”.
“This really is a perfect storm … for these girls you take, say, 18-year-old, impulsive, and you mix it with (instant online) access and no decent sex education,” she said.
Bauer and Gradus hope the film will trigger a debate about possible changes in the law: either in labour laws, where appropriate, or possibly through forcing porn producers to get licences with strict rules.
The film is punctuated with startling onscreen facts about this type of porn, including that the websites involved garner an average of 41 million hits a month, more than many mainstream websites including CNN and Disney.com.
Banner ads like “Latina Abuse” and “18 & Abused” pop up like on a computer screen, to a thumping soundtrack.
Perhaps the grimmest segment of the film concerns extreme videos: the most disturbing one focuses on so-called “facial abuse” – forced oral sex – which new girls find themselves drawn into doing, for the promise of extra pay.
“We couldn’t watch it, so our editor watched it for us and she made the choices,” said Bauer of one scene in particular, which was edited to avoid direct footage, but with accompanying sound.
Perhaps one small mercy in all of this is the fact that young girls typically last less than six months in the “industry.”
“There are two reasons for that,” said Bauer.
“One, their parents find out, or they get a boyfriend. Secondly it’s to do with the industry: the industry will not tolerate girls staying in for very long, because people demand to see new faces.”