Duke University student Miriam Weeks was all over the news in March, but that wasn’t the name you would’ve seen in the headlines. Weeks is a performer in adult movies, supplementing the costs of her studies by acting in porn under the moniker Belle Knox.

‘Knox’ was spotted in an adult film by one of her fellow students at Duke, and he proceeded to out her to the wider university body. She has received death threats and hate mail since the revelation, and has become something of a minor celebrity in her quest to defend herself, having appeared on Piers Morgan’s US talk show and daytime TV mainstay The View.

In a story like this that brings risky topics like the sex industry to the fore, there was always bound to be some strong reactions from conservative media outlets in the States. For coverage that leaves a sour taste in the mouth, however, we don’t need to look much further than our very own Daily Mail.

Of course, the Mail is always the obvious punchline in this kind of scenario by now and can be relied on to sensationalise and force outrage with equal measure: one article detailing Weeks’ father’s return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan led with the headline ‘EXCLUSIVE: “Welcome home daddy, I’m a pornstar!” It was the piece below, however, that caught my attention, its lack of empathy and incredibly misguided intent elevating it about the tasteless norm.

The article featured on MailOnline.

The article featured on MailOnline.

I wonder what ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ hoped to achieve by ‘revealing’ photos that prove an 18-year-old girl used to self-harm. The piece’s tone frequently seems to be using Weeks’ problem as a form of character assassination, insinuating that her mental struggles and problems with body image somehow validate the rising backlash against her from the media and her fellow students. One of the photographs included in the article has the caption ‘Belle insists that she hasn’t cut herself in five years. Her scars may fade but will never go away’. Though by her own admission and the authors she hasn’t self-harmed in half a decade, the fixation here is still the permanence of the act and a refusal to let it lie.

The title’s proclamation that Knox is ‘aroused’ by her self-harming is incredibly disturbing in its unsubstantiation.  Apart from a single sentence in the opening paragraph suggesting that Knox has said that she’s ‘aroused by pain’, everything following paints a very different picture. A quote the author included from the adult actress states that “like many young women grappling with depression, I used to take it out on myself.” The correlation between admission of a mental illness and gaining enjoyment from the self-harm that illness instigated is completely non-existent, and a dangerously misguided link to make. Weeks’ struggle with depression has no bearing on her career in the porn industry whatsoever, and perpetuates a myth that she must have only got involved in the industry because of underlying mental health issues. Suggesting that her having carved the word ‘fat’ into her leg after a cheating ex-boyfriend made comments on her weight somehow gave her pleasure is insensitive beyond belief. Similarly, trying to back up the piece’s attack on Knox by using a quote from a porn site, where she was quoted as saying ‘I’m a slut that needs to be punished’, is laughably naïve: even if Knox did say that, as opposed to the website’s marketers, she was undoubtedly playing up to the required image for the video she was shooting.

Weeks’ decision to participate in pornography is hers, and hers alone. She was the right to do with her body whatever she wishes, and to judge her career as many of her fellow students have done is to try and exert a control over her that we have no right to. The Mail’s decision to further demonize her by dredging up a history of mental illness and self-harm is unacceptable, and shows a complete disregard for the wellbeing of a teenager already under immense pressure.

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  • Beth
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    The daily mail show zero social responsibility or humanity. The press have huge, huge power to affect peoples lives and change peoples attitudes, but with great power comes great responsibility and the daily mail seems to use this in such a negative way. The article reverses all the good work done by health professionals to remove stigma and increase public empathy (great article btw)

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  • Beth
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    Also, publicly outing somebody’s history of mental illness and self harm is completely unacceptable, the person who wrote the article should be fired!

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  • Gabriela Discenza
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    Thanks for writing this Sam. People with self-harm are often stigmatised as attention-seeking when often its a symptom of a mental health difficulty. Its a shame that a national newspaper feels the need to do this.

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