Stop Applauding Duke Student’s Porn Career


Miley Cyrus putting “twerking” on televisions and smart phones across the country was nothing.

Belle Knox is mainstreaming violent anti-woman pornography in the warm approving glow of a media spotlight — while journalists applaud her.

Belle Knox is the stage name of the Duke University student who says she turned to a pornography career to pay for college.

She has been interviewed on television’s The View and elsewhere sharing her message that pornography is empowering to her because it gives her the ability to “express herself sexually” while making a lot of money.  Said Knox:

“The idea of empowerment and degradation is completely subjective. For me, I feel that in this backdrop of our society where women are so often robbed of their sexual autonomy and are subjected to sexual violence in this backdrop of misogyny against women, it’s incredibly freeing and liberating for me to have that choice, to make decisions about my own body. In porn, I’m in a safe, controlled environment where I set the boundaries. I set the rules.”

Knox’s double life as a pornography actress came to light when a fellow Duke student, Thomas Bagley , exposed her secret. How did he know? The New York Post reported that “Bagley shells out $1,000 a month as a subscriber” to one of Monarchy Distribution’s hardcore pornography sites.

The site is like the ones feminist Gail Dines exposes in her frightening PowerPoint presentations at major universities. It specializes in depictions of women being gagged, tears streaming down their faces, or even being caused to vomit by men violating them. Knox is one of its featured woman. The promotional blurb for her video on the site quotes Knox this way:

She says she enjoys watching our videos and what turns her on the most is ‘seeing the misery in the girl’s eyes.’ Those are her own words.”

To most of us, the fallacy of Knox’s argument is self-evident: It is not liberating to women to work at a place where men pay to watch women spit on and slapped, as Knox does. Elizabeth Stoker at The Week, for one, has been willing to say so.

But some journalists are siding with Knox’s argument that, if she wants to do it, then there’s nothing wrong with her career in pornography — in her case on a site apparently known for forcing its participants to vomit in a dog dish labeled “whore.”

the viewSamantha Escobar at The Gloss is exasperated that “View” hosts Barbara Walters and Sherri Shepherd dared even question Knox.

“Some people like being naked and having sex on camera. Is it really that hard to believe?” asks Escobar. “Apparently, it is for The View, and I’m so disappointed that they would bother having such an intelligent young woman on their show only to berate and condescend her further.”

Escobar’s headline: “Duke Porn Star Belle Knox Proves She’s More Mature Than Everyone On The View Berating Her.”

Emily Shire at the Daily Beast is also okay with Belle Knox’s career.

“Duke’s Freshman Porn Starlet Isn’t Ashamed—and She Shouldn’t Be,” wrote Shire. “After being outed for her work in pornography, a student is explaining her professional choice, but not abandoning it. Her words reveal our own unfounded stigmatization of sex workers,” she said.

Not so. If anyone is stigmatizing sex workers, it is Knox’s Monarchy Distribution site. It introduces one of its featured woman by saying: “I made her wear a trash bag… because she is garbage.” It introduces another by mocking her age and saying: “Whores, man… they age like dogs. 2 whore years equals 14 real people years.”

Knox has spent a lot of time trying to justify her lifestyle — and she is absolutely right about two things.

First: Knox is right that it is an inappropriate double-standard to criticize the people making careers in pornography and not to criticize the people watching it. The customers, in fact, may be worse, because they are bankrolling and taking pleasure in the degradation of other people.

Second: Knox is right that secular moral theories give her cover.

If her autonomy is paramount — if her very choice is the only thing that matters and moral evaluation of it is impossible — then it is hard to criticize her decision to promote violent fantasies that degrade women. You need traditional moral reasoning to criticize even that.

But Knox is wrong when she tries to sidestep responsibility for her own actions.

“We play around with roles and identities while we are working out issues that are long buried in our subconscious,” she wrote. “‘I’m an ambitious young woman. I’m a student at Duke. I’m a slut who needs to be punished.’ Can you guess which one of those is a role?”

She explained further: “Yes, a Google search reveals pictures of me in hard-core sexual experiences. No, that Google search is not me.”

Unfortunately, Knox can’t have it both ways. We own our choices and we own our bodies and we own what we do with them. She owns that Google search — and so does the one typing her name into Google.

Knox says she doesn’t want to be rescued, but one day she will want to walk away.

At that point she should put the unthinking, cruel praise of her journalist fans out of her mind and become who she has been all along: A beautiful woman made for greatness.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.

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