Begin Modeling

How a University of Oregon freshman was coerced into sex trafficking

He promised that everything would be paid for. The flight. The hotel. The food and transportation. He also promised that the work wouldn’t take more than a few hours and she’d earn $2,000. She could keep her panties on and it would just be pictures. 

And most important — nobody would find out.

To Kelly Lanzafame, this wasn’t just two grand and a free trip to San Diego; it was a chance to keep her housing. 

By the time Lanzafame stumbled upon a Craigslist ad for adult models, she had already lost her scholarship to the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. She wasn’t enrolled at the university anymore. She couldn’t find work around town. 

That’s when she says she met Ruben Andre Garcia, who went by the name “Jonathan” in the Craigslist ad.

“I talked to him on the phone,” Lanzafame says. “He was really nice and professional, and that’s when he told me all about how he would pay for everything.”

Lanzafame says that when she got to San Diego she was emotionally and physically abused by Garcia. She alleges that he raped her multiple times over the course of two days and gave her an STD. She also alleges Garcia then refused to pay her the agreed amount of money and released the video online. Lanzafme never reported her attack to authorities.

Lanzafame is one of hundreds of women who have come forward accusing Garcia, along with Girls Do Porn founders Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, of running a porn website where women as young as 16, but mostly between the ages of 18-23, were tricked into performing adult scenes on camera.

In August 2019, the three men were sued in civil court by 22 women for $12.7 million. The women allege they were coerced and deceived into having sex on camera, under the belief that the videos would be sold only on DVD to private buyers abroad and that the models would maintain full anonymity.

The civil suit was interrupted in October, when Garcia, Pratt, Wolfe and two others were charged in federal court for sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion for their connection to both Girls Do Porn and Girls Do Toys, another site owned by Pratt, according to a press release. 

Pratt, a New Zealand native who fled after the federal indictment, is also being charged with producing child pornography in 2012 involving a 16-year-old girl. Both Garcia and Wolfe are in custody and face life in prison if convicted. 

Although Lanzafame says she was promised that her video wouldn’t be made available on the internet, less than a month later her video was released online and passed around, eventually reaching her friends and family.

At the time, the site was immensely popular. From November to December 2016, Girls Do Porn had more than 1.185 million visitors, 84,035 of whom visited the site for the first time, according to the San Diego Reader.  

Lanzafame says that within 24 hours, her video had been viewed by her entire social circle and seen by her partner in Eugene.

The cult-like following Girls Do Porn was able to build is a testament to the popularity of a sleazy amateur porn subgenre where vulnerable girls are offered money, often on camera, to act in their first adult scene. The nature of the videos has also birthed a community of viewers dedicated to identifying the models in the scenes.

According to an affidavit from the civil suit, a Jane Doe claimed in 2015 that her information was leaked by the defendants themselves on PornWikiLeaks.com, a site that existed solely to name and humiliate amateur “porn stars” from these types of casting videos. 

Lanzafame’s name and other personal information were made public in a similar way, just days after her video was released.

Lanzafame’s story, as well as details found in both the criminal and civil suits, show exactly how Girls Do Porn was able to manipulate and exploit vulnerable women with impunity for close to a decade, by using a well-organized system, involving made-up names, fake companies and a network of recruitment girls. 

All Expenses Paid: San Diego

Originally from Poulsbo, Washington, Lanzafame came to UO on scholarship in 2016 as a violin performance major. But halfway through her first year, Lanzafame lost her scholarship and had to drop out of school after not being able to pay for classes in early 2017.

“The rule my parents had for my sister and I was that after we turned 18, we were cut off,” Lanzafame says. “There was no way I could continue paying for school.” 

Lanzafame’s entire life was still in Eugene. She had a partner she loved, and she lived with her best friends near campus. She wanted to stay. She didn’t want to go back to Washington and start over. She was looking for work when she first saw the ad on Craigslist in January 2017.

“I remember I was on the computer, and I was behind on rent. That was the problem,” Lanzafame says. “So I was on Craigslist looking for a job.” 

Lanzafame says she came upon an ad for an adult photo shoot. It would be two hours of work to take nude photos in San Diego. The flight and hotel would be paid for by the company, which was being called “Begin Modeling” in the ad, but was actually Girls Do Porn, a popular amateur porn company featured heavily on free sites like PornHub and XVideos. 

According to the proposed statement of decision filed at the end of the civil suit, “Defendants are aware that the models recruited for GirlsDoPorn do not intend to pursue a career in adult entertainment. The women are mostly students with careers ahead of them who have only even considered defendants’ solicitations to film a pornographic video due to some immediate and pressing financial need.”

All the videos on Girls Do Porn start the same way. 

There’s a girl, usually on a hotel bed being interviewed by a man who’s behind the camera. The girl reveals that it’s her first time doing porn and is asked questions about her past sex life. In some videos, girls are even encouraged to read the contracts they’ve signed on camera. 

The Girls Do Porn videos are part of a larger subgenre of porn that has risen in popularity over the years. It’s the classic “girl next door” narrative taken to its extreme. Producers have traded in their big lights and expensive production equipment for the faux authenticity of reality TV. It’s a genre that needs exploitation to exist. 

Lanzafame responded to the ad and was contacted by Garcia, who introduced himself as “Jonathan.”

“He called me and asked if I’d send him pictures of me in a bra and underwear,” Lanzafame says. “He said it was to see if I was good enough to be a model.”

It was on this phone call that Garcia first told Lanzafame that the actual job consists of a lot more than just modeling. 

On the phone call, Garcia tells Lanzafame that the Craigslist ad was misleading. The job didn’t pay $2,000 for one weekend of work — it actually paid $5,000, but only if she was willing to be in an adult scene. Garcia told her that there were numerous male actors she could choose from once she got into San Diego, and that the videos would only be sold on DVD to collectors outside of the U.S. It all sounded strange to Lanzafame — and then he mentioned the other girls. 

“He told me about how I could FaceTime these other models who would talk to me and tell me how it’s legitimate. How nobody will ever find out and how it’s short and quick and you get all this money,” Lanzafame says. “When they offered me the money at the time, I didn’t know they were lying.”

Lanzafame says she FaceTimed two models whose information had been given to her by Garcia. She says that the girls told her everything was legitimate and nobody would ever see the videos. She says they also told her that the work would take no longer than one to two hours. The phone numbers Lanzafame called to reach the recruiters were no longer in service as of January 2020.

On Jan. 20, 2017, Garcia, with the email jobs@beginmodeling.com, sent Lanzafame a receipt for a booking at the Kimpton Solamar Hotel in San Diego for two nights, Jan. 27 through Jan 29. The total for the two nights was $467.02.

Lanzafame didn’t tell most of her friends or family that she’d be taking a trip to San Diego. She felt that the responsibility of paying rent and surviving was hers alone, and she didn’t feel comfortable asking for help. When the plane landed in California, she felt truly alone. 

One of Garcia’s assistants picked her up from the airport and brought her to the hotel. After she was dropped off, Lanzafame went to the reception and attempted to check in. The receptionist informed Lanzafame that there would be a $300 deposit before she could get her room.

“This is when I started to feel scared,“ Lanzafame says. “I didn’t have $300. I just didn’t have it.”

When Lanzafame called Garcia, he completely changed his tone. She says Garcia berated her on the phone for not having enough money for the deposit, before having someone from his office come get here and take her to his apartment. 

“This is when he switched from professional to demeaning,” Lanzafame says. “I was caught off guard. People just don’t treat you like that.”

Although Lanzafame didn’t know it at the time, Garcia was probably only pretending to be annoyed about the deposit, having likely planned for Lanzafame to end up at his apartment the entire time.

A motion filed by attorney Brian Holm on behalf of the 22 Jane Does involved in the original civil suit uses testimony from more than 100 women to outline how Garcia specifically manipulated women into coming to his apartment after landing in California.

“Plaintiffs’ evidence will show Garcia is a serial sexual assailant,” Holm writes, “who uses the secrecy of the circumstances to assault young, vulnerable women off-camera for his own personal pleasure. Garcia has used the same tactics, same cheesy lines, and same artifice to lure women to a secluded place where he can force himself on them sexually.”

Most of the stories of assault attributed to Holm in interviews and depositions have striking similarities. Many of them involve Garcia convincing the girls to come back to his apartment in various different ways. In some cases he would argue that the girl should stay at his place instead of the hotel because it was him driving them to the airport in the morning. In others, he would tell the girl that he had to stop at home real fast and then suggest they come inside. 

When Lanzafame got to Garcia’s apartment, his tone changed once again.

“He was really,” Lanzafame pauses, “touchy. He was invading my space, like, trying to flirt with me.”

Lanzafame says Garcia ended up paying for the deposit and taking her back to the hotel. He paid for her food that night and then left her alone. The next morning, he asked Lanzafame to send him pictures of her outfits for the video shoot later in the day.

“I was showing him pictures of the clothes that I had, and they told me that they would instead provide clothes there,” Lanzafame says. “And that’s when he started texting me saying, ‘You’re going to look like a homeless person. You only brought a white shirt with a stain on it like a little girl. You’re a grown ass woman, act like it.’”

According to Lanzafame, Garcia continued to talk to her like this for the entire time she was there. He remarked on her body, her clothes, her shoes. 

When Lanzafame got to the hotel, the verbal abuse continued.

“It was so shocking to me, I didn’t know what to do,” Lanzafame says. “He was asking me, it would be things like, ‘How many Instagram followers do you have?’ and I would be like, ‘1,000,’ and he would laugh. He would just try and make me feel like I was disgusting compared to the other girls that would come.”

“You don’t know what to do in that situation,” Lanzafame says. “I don’t know if ‘cornered’ would be the right word for it, but how do you act in that situation? I just was trying to make him happy and not get yelled at.”

The video shoot lasted more than five hours, three hours more than the amount of time promised in the Craigslist ad. In the middle of the shoot, Garcia asked the cameraman to leave the room so he could be alone with Lanzafame.

“Off camera I would say is the most traumatic part of the experience,” Lanzafame says. 

“He raped me.”

“They would film and then stop, film and then stop, and then he asked the camera man to leave the room for a little bit,” Lanzafame says. “He says he wants to practice. And it’s not as easy as you think to know what to say when you’re in that situation. That’s the thing that a lot of people don’t get, they think I could have just left at that point. But it’s not that easy.”

While the cameraman stepped out, Lanzafame alleges Garcia raped her repeatedly before inviting the cameraman back in to continue filming. She says this happened multiple times during the two video shoots Lanzafame did that weekend. 

When the filming was done, while Lanzafame was alone with Garcia and the photographer, she says was offered more money and pressured into doing another shoot the following day. Garcia alluded to the fact that she might not get a plane ticket home if she didn’t continue filming, according to Lanzafame. Garcia also allegedly offered Lanzafame cocaine during the filming process on the second day.

“All of it was a lie,” Lanzafame says. “They manipulate you, and I can’t stress that enough because, how did they get so many girls? Because they know exactly what to do to get them there and then they corner them and then they can just treat them however they want.” 

Altogether, Lanzafame was supposed to make $5,000 total for two videos. However, when it was time to get paid, right before she was to leave the state, Garcia informed her that she wouldn’t be getting that much money.

“I ended up getting $2,000 for the first video and $2,000 for the second,” Lanzafame says. “They said it was $1,000 less because I wasn’t attractive enough.”

Going Viral

On May 15, 2017, Lanzafame received a call from a friend while visiting her family in Washington.

“We were out at a restaurant and I got a phone call from an old friend from high school,” Lanzafame says. “She said that an old boyfriend’s friend had sent her the video. I can’t put into words how I felt when I first heard that.”

Lanzafame’s first video was uploaded onto the Girls Do Porn website on May 15, 2017. The video’s appearance online explicitly broke all promises of anonymity that Garcia had given her. This is when everything began to unravel. 

The company hadn’t been called Begin Modeling. The man she had spoken to — indeed the man who had raped her — wasn’t even named Jonathan, as he’d claimed the entire time. Everything had been a lie in an effort to exploit and rape a young and vulnerable woman for financial gain — and the court cases show they’d been doing it to women like her for over a decade.

Lanzafame’s name, hometown and Instagram page were all leaked by a user on the website known for publishing the identities of women in amateur porn videos. The user claimed to be from her high school in Poulsbo, Washington.

While some people reached out with messages of support, others went out of their way to humiliate her. That first week after the video came out, a boy Lanzafame had gone to high school with sent her a Snapchat of him and his friends watching the video and laughing.

“I had to delete all my social media. Everybody at the whole university knew,” Lanzafame says. “It really shows who your true friends are. I went to a pretty small high school, and people knew who I was. Everybody found out. I remember being back in Eugene when my mom called and she knew. She’s intuitive like that.”

Lanzafame began the impossible task of attempting to get the videos taken off the internet. 

According to Lanzafame, her video had been posted under multiple links and passed around to the major free porn sites. She contacted numerous attorneys from both Eugene and her hometown in Washington. She says her parents paid thousands of dollars in attorney fees to get the videos taken down, only to have them reappear hours later. 

“There came a point where it was too hard to remove all of the videos from all the sites,” Lanzafame says. “Which is why I eventually stopped contacting the lawyer, because the video just kept spreading around.”

‘A Fairly Common Form of Exploitation’

A cloud of hopelessness surrounded Lanzafame in the following months. She did everything she could to forget about what happened in San Diego, eventually moving back to Washington. Lanzafame says she’s never received any form of closure or justice, her only defense was to block it out completely.  

The story told by Lanzafame, and the hundreds of other women defrauded by Girls Do Porn, isn’t that unusual, according to Tamara LeRoy, who serves as the sex trafficking intervention coordinator for Lane County’s Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS). 

“It’s something that we do see happening on college campuses,” LeRoy says. “Exploiters will post ads on Craigslist for a modeling position. They wine and dine and shmooze whoever they first meet with and then they fly them all fancy like down to L.A., and if you’re somebody from Oregon, that can seem really exciting.”

SASS is a local nonprofit that provides support, outreach and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault. One of the things they do is connect survivors of human trafficking to resources for help in Lane County. Victims of human trafficking and other types of sexual abuse can become intimidated by the drawn-out nature of justice. 

Revisiting their trauma in lengthy court procedures and civil suits can prove to be just as traumatic as the actual attack. That’s why a lot of survivors, including Lanzafame, choose to simply forget or move on.

“That’s a big ask for somebody who’s experienced trauma,” LeRoy says. “And the treatment of the survivor after the assault happens is critical to mitigating the long-term effects of trauma. One of the best things that we can do is to sit down with a survivor and hear their disclosure, believe them and treat them with dignity and respect.”

Through SASS, survivors have access to a 24-hour crisis line as well as a list of resources designed to help current and past victims of sexual trauma, including contact info for specialized lawyers, hospitals and health services around Lane County. Everything is confidential when you’re on the crisis line or speaking with a volunteer. 

“One of the things that we do is work to eradicate the underlying conditions that sexual assault is a product of,” LeRoy says. “And so we try to be inclusive and validating in our language to de-stigmatize and support survivors of sexual violence.”

A Certain Type of Closure

Brian Holm, of the San Diego-based Holm Law Group, first heard about Girls Do Porn in October 2015

“A victim came to my co-counsel, John O’Brien, with complaints of fraud,” Holm says. 

Holm says that he and O’Brien talked to more than 150 victims with similar stories. He and his law group eventually represented the 22 Jane Does in the 2019 civil suit, alleging that the young women were manipulated, conned and defrauded by Pratt, Garcia and Wolfe as the owner and operators of both Girls Do Porn and their sister website Girls Do Toys. 

On Jan. 2, 2020, following a three-month trial, the judge handed down an award of $12.7 million to the 22 Jane Does from around the U.S. Holm says he’s never seen a case with this many victims on such a large scale. 

“There is nothing like it that I am aware of,” Holm says. “However, since filing the lawsuit, I have received calls from victims claiming they were defrauded by similar schemes perpetrated by people other than the defendants.”

According to Holm, the casting call subgenre that is popular in amateur porn can’t exist without someone being exploited. 

“The entire ‘amateur’ porn industry does not make real sense to me based on the information I’ve gathered over the last five years,” Holm says. “Either the woman is being lied to about the distribution and use of the video, or the woman in the video is not a true amateur.”

Holm says that every woman he spoke to had three things in common: They were broke, near eviction or unable to pay for college tuition. Amateur porn producers can exploit that by offering enough money to incentivize women to have sex on camera, but not enough money for them to lose anonymity.

“To get a true amateur to agree to have her sex video widely published on the internet takes far more than the couple thousand dollars offered by the producers,” Holm says. “This creates a real paradigm, because the amount of money it would actually take to get a true amateur to agree is far more than the producer could actually make on the video.”

Yet, it’s the true amateurs that viewers want to see, as evidenced by the countless blogs and forums dedicated to identifying models who only appeared in one film. They want the innocent; the shy; they want the girl next door to be a slut so bad, if only to validate why they hate women in general. 

Holm confirms that multiple women he spoke with say they also received an STD from Garcia after having been raped in adult scenes with him.

Lanzafame says, “They made it seem like it was like a really big company. Really. They pay for everything. Nobody finds out. You get a lot of money from it.” She continues, “‘ The people are professional, like you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to worry.’ These were my thoughts and then everything was a lie.”

Holm spoke with Lanzafame in 2017, shortly after her videos were released. She didn’t want to trudge through her trauma every day and decided not to be part of the civil suit that settled in January. For her, it was easier to just forget and try to move on. 

“I made a conscious decision to push it out of my life and not think about it, because that’s my way of coping with it, just like a lot of other experiences I’ve been through,” Lanzafame says. 

“Finding out that they had won the case made me extremely emotional, because I realized that I truly was not alone in this, and it was validation for me to know just how messed up these people are.”

After moving back to Washington, Lanzafame got a job teaching preschool. A year later, she began taking classes to work toward becoming a kindergarten teacher. She’s currently teaching pre-kindergarten at a school in Seattle.

“Extreme trauma is a hard thing to explain to people who have not gone through it themselves,” Lanzafame says. “You suppress the memories to the point where they almost disappear and you’re able to move on, and function in your day to day life. So I have moved on, and in a way I feel at peace, but like I said, I know the pain is still inside of me. I’m just not ready to face it.”