Four porn actors have died within three months. Why?

Video by Mamamia

WARNING: This post deals with suicide, and may be triggering for some readers. 

The pornography industry is currently mourning the deaths of four of its North American stars. All young, all women, all lost within the past three months.

Hall of Fame member Shyla Stylez died in her sleep in November, aged 35.

August Ames, 23, was found dead last month in a Californian park, reportedly after leaving a suicide note to her parents.

Yuri Luv, 31, succumbed to an apparent drug overdose, a bottle of pills found near her bed in December.

The latest to join this tragic list is Olivia Nova (real name Lexi Forte) who died on January 7, after less than a year in the business.

The 20-year-old had lost her boyfriend to suicide just days before her birthday in April last year, and during the Christmas period posted numerous tweets about feeling lonely. She had also previously sought help for alcohol dependence, a friend and colleague recently told The Mirror.

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Of course, this cluster of deaths are only those that have made the headlines; the sad reality is that there are possibly several more that went unreported.

High-profile Australian porn actor and escort Madison Missina told Mamamia the problem with mental ill-health runs deep within the local industry too. The 35-year-old said the problem is so prevalent, so ingrained, that as a 17-year veteran of the industry and a qualified counsellor, she took it upon herself to establish a support group for her colleagues.

“I was getting contacted by a lot sex workers who had been isolated in the community and were self-harming. I’d been sent photos by girls who had slashed their wrists,” she said.

“And I’ve sat by so many sex workers as they wanted to end themselves, because they don’t know how they’re to get through. We do have a really big problem in this industry.”

Missina felt the death of August Ames the most deeply. Before her death, the award-winning porn actor had experienced a torrent of online abuse after she tweeted her objection to performing with a gay porn star due to a perceived risk to her sexual health.

“Whichever (lady) performer is replacing me tomorrow… you’re shooting with a guy who has shot gay porn, just to let cha know,” Ames wrote. “BS is all I can say. Do agents really not care about who they’re representing? I do my homework for my body.”

August Ames' death struck a chord with Madison Missina. Images: Instagram.

The pile-on came thick and fast, and almost entirely from her own colleagues. So intense and cruel was the backlash, that some have pointed to it as a contributing factor in her apparent suicide (investigations are ongoing).

"That had a real personal impact for me, because I was the one in Australia who stood up and said that, and now I only work with condoms. So I went through a period of bullying along the same lines," Missina said. "To see that when we do draw a line in the sand to say, 'No, I'm standing up for my autonomy and my own sexual health', that the industry turns around and bullies you to the extent that you consider taking your own life... it's incredibly confronting."

This behaviour is, of course, enabled by social media; Missina has watched the two grow exponentially over the last decade.

"I've been in the sex industry for 17 years and I've seen this trend increase. Now with social media we're starting to see massive bullying factions. Go on to twitter and you'll see poor girls isolated and attacked by numerous people within the industry. It's becoming a really negative, isolating environment," she said.

But that's just a tool. What drives this behaviour, she argues, is something called 'lateral violence' - that is, attacking one's peers rather than one's enemies, a characteristic often associated with disenfranchised groups.

"No one wants to be at the bottom of the pecking order within a group that's already at the bottom of society's pecking order. So they try and shoot those around them down," she said. "It's like tall poppy syndrome, but on steroids."

LISTEN: Porn star Madison Missina speaks to Mia Freedman about the toughness of porn, and what it takes to make a living in the industry.

But social media isn't going to change soon, nor is the perceived social standing of sex work. So for Missina, the immediate, fundamental problem right now is that when men and women are being "isolated and attacked" by their peers, they often don't have anywhere to turn for help.

"We have situations where we have to deal with being estranged from our families - I'm completely disowned, for example, I'm an orphan, so I don't have family support," she said. "When we come to friends, we can't always be completely open about what we do in our careers, so that's shut down. And then we deal with pressures where we're discriminated against on a daily basis - for example, it's hard for us to get leases if we're honest about our profession."

Sadly, many performers argue that even mental health professionals aren't immune to prejudices against them and their work, and that their jobs are often treated as a symptom.

"When we seek professional help we basically have to seek out peer-based counsellors, because [others] basically say the reason why our lives are chaotic, the reason we're having these issues is because we're sex workers, and so they try to get us out of the industry," Missina said. "And that doesn't work. Particularly, this generation - we're all loving it, and are making careers in the sex industry. We shouldn't have to leave a legal profession, that we love, in order to for our mental health to be taken seriously."

It's partly why she was compelled to start her support group.

"What we need to do in the adult industry is establish programs that promote inclusivity, to come up with tactics for how to handle [internal] bullying, to ask ourselves why girls are able to be singled out and bullied and removed from sex work," she said.

"It's something I've been dealing with for a long time and am really passionate about the fact that we all need to stand up and do something to stop this from happening."

Lives may depend on it.

If you are suffering, please remember, crisis support is always available via Lifeline. You can call them 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.

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