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Last summer, Maxine Holloway found herself at the center of a debate about fair wages when she tried to organize her fellow cam girls in protest of a sudden pay decrease. Cam girls perform in what's essentially a digital peep show — they appear in a public video chat room, where customers can request a private performance. Once the private chat starts, customers pay by the minute to keep the live video streaming. Kink abruptly switched its cam girls from earning a base rate to earning a 30 percent commission; when Holloway took action, she was promptly fired.
At that time, Acworth denied Holloway had been fired and claimed that she was put on temporary leave because her cam shows had become unprofitable. (Holloway alleges her supervisor told her she was one of the cam department's top 20 models just days before her dismissal.)
Now, Acworth describes the incident as "my biggest mistake of 2012." In explanation of the sudden pay cut, he says, "Due to the structure we had in place at that time, I think we did a very ineffective job of discussing this change with the models and getting their feedback prior to executing the change. The change was perceived as rushed and delivered without notice or respect. I am very sorry for how this ultimately went down." He also notes that commission systems are standard for cam sites across the industry; while this is true, Holloway observed that other cam sites she'd worked for typically offered a commission between 60 and 80 percent.
Holloway and three fellow models pursued a lawsuit against Kink, which was eventually settled out of court.
The experience caused Holloway to question the ethics on which Kink is formed when we talked last year, before the settlement required she no longer speak publicly about her experiences working for Kink. Before being fired, she said, she had had only had good experiences with the company. After the ordeal she felt less trusting. "There's a difference between being unethical or unfair and being illegal. I think a porn company is responsible for all those things, especially when you have your ethics, your mission statement, and your values right there on the front page of your website. You're not just responsible for being a legal company," she explained last year.
Another model involved in the lawsuit, Coral Aorta, continues to model for Kink. Initially she worried about retaliation after filing the lawsuit. "I kind of expected directors or people working at Kink to bring that up with me, to be like, 'Oh, Coral, you sued us. What the hell?' But no one ever has." In fact, she's enjoyed working in the Armory in the months since then. "Obviously it's going well because I keep coming back for more."
Not every cam girl has been happy since the lawsuit, though. Eden Alexander, a model who has performed for Kink's cam site as well as other porn sites and did not participate in the lawsuit, claims Holloway's firing created a culture of fear in the cam department. She says models became afraid that voicing concerns meant risking their jobs. "You're in a position where if you don't follow along, you're going to lose shoots," she explains.
Bottoms agrees that the fear of losing work is legitimate. "Blacklisting happens," she says. "It can be unsafe to be a whistleblower."
Aaliyah Avatari, 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."
Alexander also attributes the new commission system with creating a cutthroat environment in which earning a living wage meant pushing her boundaries, something she felt Kink's shooting rules should have protected her from doing. These rules state that models' limits must be respected at all times.
One limit Alexander typically set was not subjecting herself to electric shocks, one of the fetishes Kink portrays. However, she claims she used an electric zapper (a toy that delivers small shocks) at the request of a customer in order to generate more revenue. The zapper misfired, leaving her with a small burn on her inner thigh instead of the red dots typically left by the toy. She claims the toys aren't tested as often as they're supposed to be, because they only fire on skin contact, and most production assistants don't want to zap themselves every day.
When asked about the injury, Acworth points out, "The zapper in question takes two AA 1.5 volt batteries, so there is a limit to the charge it can deliver. However, there is no question this was an upsetting incident for Eden and we have since removed the zapper."
Upon mentioning the burn to her supervisors, Alexander says she was called into a meeting in which she was asked to admit to throwing the zapper against the wall and thereby causing the misfire. She denies throwing the zapper, but claims, "They told me that there was no actual workers' comp claim, that I am never, ever to even utter the words 'workers' comp,' that I'm never to tell anybody that there was a workers' comp meeting. However, since I'd been such a good model and an example employee, they are going to give me the difference back for all of my cam shows since the commission system started. It's not workers' comp; it's a reward. It's a bonus for being an excellent employee. And they made it very clear that I could go with their version and take the money, which was not very much money, or I could just go with no money — I could just leave."
Acworth vehemently denies her account of the meeting. "In case of injury," he says, "there is no way an employee would tell a model that she was not entitled to workers' comp, and there is no way our HR department would refuse workers' comp to anyone with an injury. That's just not how we operate."