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Porn actress and college student Belle Knox (Facebook)
Porn actress and college student Belle Knox (Facebook)

Why death threats won’t keep the ‘Duke porn star’ from doing what she needs to do to pay tuition Add to ...

It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.

It’s also how 18-year-old Belle Knox describes filming a porn scene, “an honest day’s work” that goes toward her $60,000 (U.S.) tuition fees.

Knox has landed infamy as the “Duke porn star,” a fiercely unapologetic freshman at the prestigious North Carolina university who is putting herself through school with a side career in the adult-film industry, finding it less degrading than the waitressing job she had once. A women’s studies major ultimately aspiring to work as a human-rights lawyer, Knox (her porn name) recently began flying out to Los Angeles during breaks in her school schedule to film hardcore sex scenes.

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It’s a titillating duality that both her classmates and the Internet hordes have had trouble stomaching. A male friend outed Knox’s x-rated alter ego at a frat party in January. The next day, the young woman was treated to 230 friend requests on her personal Facebook account, plus legions of new followers on the Twitter profile she maintains as a fledgling porn star. Gossip also spread like wildfire on the anonymous online student forum CollegiateACB; stares and whispers greeted her in the schools dining hall. On Valentine’s Day, the student newspaper published her story, dubbing it “Duke’s best worst-kept secret.” After a month-long correspondence, reporter Katie Fernelius was left perturbed, describing Knox as “at once both whip smart and distressingly naive.”

After online bullies divulged her real name and personal details – and wished her dead – Knox published two essays in the online women’s magazine xoJane.com, revealing her face but refusing to use her real name. Even with the pride she takes in her work (and a Twitter feed peppered with explicit shots), Knox explained she deserves to keep what’s left of her privacy: “My sexuality is not some sort of blackmail to be used against me, granting you ownership over my life or my story.” She spoke with The Globe.

Did it surprise you that young, sexual, porn-watching university students reacted this way to you?

To judge me for something that everybody consumes, it’s so incredibly hypocritical. I’m getting a lot of heat from people at Duke who are telling me that I’m bringing bad publicity to the school. The reality is that this never would have been a scandal if the culture at Duke hadn’t been so bad for women that I was met with threats, sexist remarks and slander.

“You want to see me naked. And then you want to judge me for letting you see me naked.” That’s what you wrote about critics who are also porn consumers.

Porn is a multibillion-dollar industry. It’s very widely consumed. Like any other industry if there wasn’t demand it wouldn’t exist. This reflects how we don’t view the people in this industry as people, we don’t see the humanity behind that screen. We’re prepared to watch them having sex but we’re not prepared to recognize them as human beings deserving of equal protection.

A colleague of mine said “people hate porn stars because they represent a part of themselves they hate.”

I think people are repressed in their own lives and jealous of the fact that I can live my life, be a sexual person and be unapologetic about it.

How did you get into porn?

I’ve been working in the industry since November. I needed a way to pay for my tuition. I didn’t want to have to take out loans and be indebted to a bank for decades. I knew that no matter what job I got, it wouldn’t be enough to pay the $4,300 bill I got every month. I literally Googled “how to be a porn star” and all these agencies popped up. I do porn, I make DVDs, I do everything but I don’t do Web-camming. I can make $1,200 a scene. Porn is giving me a lot of financial independence and stability.

You’ve said working in porn is empowering. People balk at that word in this context.

The only narrative we’ve heard is that porn is bad, porn is degrading to women and porn is dangerous. It’s condescending for people to tell me about my experience when I’m the one living my experience. It’s patronizing and reflective of the views we have of the sex industry as a whole. You can’t generalize. People in every industry – journalism, medicine – may feel very degraded and hate their job. Others love it and are empowered by it. Some of us really want to be here so don’t assume that we’re all trafficked or exploited.

Do you think your experience is the norm?

I don’t think my experience is atypical. All of the women I’ve met love their jobs.

Your Twitter bio reads “rising porn starlet.” Is this outing at Duke free publicity?

My haters are my motivators. I never intended for any of this to happen but I’ve been outed and thrust into the spotlight. I can’t unring the bell, so I’m going to take advantage and use it as a platform to talk about these issues.

You’ve insisted on not using your real name. Can starring in online porn ever be a private decision?

I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “What did you expect when you did porn?” Why is it expected that women who do porn will be outed, but also harassed and threatened? Just because I do sex work doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to have some level of privacy in my life. Yes, I was probably naive to think that I could keep this a secret, but it’s upsetting, this rhetoric of “you deserve everything you have coming to you because you chose to engage in a taboo market.”

What do your porn colleagues make of your newfound virality and the threats?

It’s a process. They’re working with me at this point. I got victim-blaming from the police when I reported the threats. I’m trying to get them to take these threats seriously and not slip through their fingers.

How will you face down the bullies in school, who will be relentless?

There have been times when I haven’t felt resilient. I’ve wanted to cry and crawl into my bed. I plan to graduate with my class from my dream school. I have friends who have been supportive of me. The LGBTQ community at Duke has been really great.

What challenges do you foresee with potential employers down the line?

My work in porn has given me insight into sex work. I want to be a women’s rights lawyer, a human-rights lawyer. I have dived into an industry that could use a lot of changes. I don’t want to work with anybody who wouldn’t hire me because I do sex work. People keep trying to pick me apart. They say I don’t really need the money and that I’m not as empowered as I think. There is criticism from all sides but I’m firm in my position.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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