Consenting To Be Beaten

Bought and paid for.

Ethics Alarms has frequently used the analogy of a drunk paid by cruel bar patrons to dance for their entertainment as an example of how using money to persuade a desperate, impaired or foolish individual to allow himself to endure humiliation or harm is still unethical and cruel, despite the supposed “consent” of the victim. PETA’s attempt to pay Nadya Suleman, a.k.a. “Octomom” was recently cited in this context in the post about painting homes as billboards. Now, from St. Petersburg, Florida comes an even more horrible example. Shefights.net, a locally operated website that sells videos (for up to $900) of scantily clad or semi-nude women beating up men, has been paying homeless men, drug addicts and street alcoholics $50 for submitting to  12-minute videotaped beatings by attractive females.

St. Petersburg homeless advocate G.W. Rolle had noticed men walking around with black eyes, split lips and limps, and after questioning some of the men learned about the “beatdowns,” as they had come to be known on the street. He interviewed and photographed  homeless men with similar stories and injuries, and Southern Legal Counsel, representing two of the them, has filed a lawsuit against Jeff Williams of Shefights.net, J.P. Florida Productions, “Cindy Doe” and “Jane Does 1-5.” The suit seeks an injunction to stop the beatings and damages for medical costs and emotional distress. The attorneys argue that there was no valid consent, because the victims were vulnerable, desperate for money, and in many cases, mentally disabled.

In a chilling defense that pretty much proves the plaintiffs’ case, Shefights.net argues that Rolle coaxed and bought the testimony from the two homeless plaintiffs in the suit. “These men are crack addicts and will say anything for money,” Jeff Williams said. Right…and they’ll do anything for money, too. That doesn’t make it ethical or legal to hurt them. “They signed liability releases and knew what they were doing. They’ve come back many times, which makes it pretty consensual,” he added.

It might make it legal, though I fervently hope that the court determines otherwise. It cannot possible make it right, or better than cruel. Using money to persuade the needy and desperate to harm themselves for the amusement of voyeurs and sadists is a depraved abuse of power. This is the basement floor of this category of misconduct, the lowest of the low. We should remember it, however, and the unethical values it stands for, when we see the latest TV reality show featuring has-been performers, hoarders or addicts embarrassing themselves for a pay-check and notoriety. No doubt about it: watching these shows are better than buying videotapes of poor and sick men being beaten up.

But how much better?

7 thoughts on “Consenting To Be Beaten

  1. I disagree with your statement that “No doubt about it: watching these [reality TV] shows are better than buying videotapes of poor and sick men being beaten up.”

    It’s no better. Degrading and humiliating other human beings, or taking vicarious “pleasure” in others doing so, is wrong. It’s wrong on reality TV, it’s wrong in these videos.

    • I really don’t want to disagree with you on this, because I essentially feel the same way. But paying Anna Nicole Smith to have a camera follow her around as she mutters drunkenly and looks fat, drugged and stupid is still not as cruel as paying her to have someone neaten with sticks, and I admit to watching about five minutes of her show at a time to get a sense of how bad it was. I wouldn’t watch a minute of beating videos.

      Cruelty and unethical conduct are on a spectrum..it’s not helpful to pretend important distinctions don’t exist.

  2. You’re just jealous because you were doing it for free. Just Kidding! Don’t get mad! Low hanging fruit….

    So, could rich people who weren’t desperate for money submit to this and get paid? Your argument (albeit, a good one) is that this is unethical because the participant’s economic status made them susceptible to exploitation.

    As such, I think that means your focus is too narrow. Can you articulate a more encompassing or broadly based principle?

  3. This is almost a stepdown from the old carnival freak shows and no different from some of the more disgusting bar exhibitions such as dwarf bowling or midget bowling or whatevcr it was that was quasi-popular about a decade ago. I thought we had progressed past the days of the deformed court jesters, but maybe not.

  4. I’m wondering whether this doesn’t belong as an addendum to that long long list of unethical medical experiments and trials that you posted earlier this year.

  5. This was the inevitable outgrowth of the “Bumfights” DVD’s that came out not so long ago. When people are desperate, drunk or drugged, they become the natural prey for this sort of thing. Bums and kids being desecrated in every way possible is nothing new. All we’re seeing is a few new wrinkles in the formula. And Joe Francis keeps getting richer.

  6. Which is ethically worse, cruelty for profit, or cruelty for the sake of cruelty?

    This one is cruelty for the sake of cruelty. If it were for business they would have put out ads and probably been able to find men who would pay the producers to have sexy women beat them up.

    It opens a larger question about the nature of consent. This case is open and shut, but what about things like hiring desperate people for dangerous jobs? They may be sane and chemically balanced, unlike the victims in this story, but how free is their consent? What if they’re in Bangladesh or some other place people are more desperate than the US poor, and there’s no effective legal regulation of the dangers?

    Here’s an interesting real-life example. There are still labor camps in Siberia harvesting timber. Conditions are about what you’d expect. Russia imported North Korean labor for them a few years ago. The North Korean workers competed fiercely and scraped up bribes to get themselves assigned to Siberian labor camps rather than endure the conditions at home. Consensual, maybe, but not free!

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