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?