For this week's cover story, SF Weekly investigates allegations of mistreatment among performers inside's armory, where the company shoots everything from panda porn to bondage to foot worship. The company has generally been held in high regard for its tough ethical standards and clearly defined rules designed to protect both models and directors in an industry that is, by definition, meant to show pain on screen. But several former models interviewed for the Weekly's story claim that they were coerced into rough performances or left with lasting injuries only to be blacklisted or be paid hush money to keep quiet.

In response to the piece this morning, claims that many of the accusations in the Weekly's article are false, calling it "shoddy journalism" that could have easily been cleared up with a few calls to the company. "Today the SF Weekly chose to knowingly and carelessly publish a cover story with serious flaws and dubious sourcing," Acworth wrote in an email sent to media outlets this morning, "— including forged emails and false accusations." [See below for the full text of Acworth's open letter.]

Still, the Weekly piece is an interesting look behind the scenes at the Armory as pornographers and BDSM performers grapple with the term "ethical porn." The company itself has been famously open to the public: those model's rights and director's rights are posted visibly on the site, and the company recently saw the release of a James Franco-produced documentary at Sundance. Openness alone can't protect everyone in the industry, however: As Princess Donna, one of Kink's best known performers and directors, described her first BDSM shoot with a New York company on page four of the article:

"I was crying and crying, which was not against their shooting rules. There was a male dominant and a male videographer and a female photographer. I kept looking to her to save me, you know? But then I realized, that's what safe words are for, and it's my responsibility to say what I can and can't handle."

Or as one former cam girl defined it: "It's really easy to make ethical pornography. To make unethical porn, you have to actively do something fucked up."

Acworth's statement in full:

Today the SF Weekly chose to knowingly and carelessly publish a cover story with serious flaws and dubious sourcing — including forged emails and false accusations. Despite the fact that we proved, to the satisfaction of the journalist, that major factual problems existed with the piece, the article was run with few changes.

The story "Gag Order" paints a bleak picture of life at Kink. It’s not rooted in reality — nor in the tenets of ethical journalism. When we originally agreed to speak with the Weekly, they began asking questions that, to those of us who work here, did not seem to have any basis in fact. When we asked for support of those claims, the Weekly quoted emails they'd received from a source who'd originally tipped off the investigation. The emails turned out to be forged, and the journalist admitted to Kink management that the emails were fabricated.

We invited the journalist in to review the original emails on our servers, and speak with several of our employees about some of the other accusations. She was visibly distressed to find out that that she'd been lied to, and we suggested that she contact other people to verify the rest of the claims.

Though we'd been told repeatedly that it was a tight deadline, we expected that it would be held until the rest of the claims in the piece could be double-checked for veracity. Unfortunately, only hours later, the piece went live. Sections related specifically to the forged emails were excised — but there was no further verification of other, similarly sensational claims in the article. In fact, there was no mention of the forged emails, or the fact that readers might have good reason to question those other claims as well.

Instead, "Gag Order" is rife with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and sometimes blatant falsehoods. Many of them could have been disproven (or proven, for that matter) with a simple phone call. To a doctor. To a director. To other models on a shoot. A review of our HR records could easily have shown that models who were allegedly “blacklisted” after a complaint continued to work with us for months afterward. Models who were supposedly “paid off” for silence could be checked against actual payment records in accounting. There are many such examples. Unfortunately, none of that was pursued.

We understand that as a company that employs over 130 people and shoots over 1000 scenes a year, that we can't make everyone happy. We're not perfect, and we do our best to correct mistakes when they happen. We don't expect everyone to love us or what we do, and we don't expect that everyone will think a BDSM porn company can have ethics. What we do expect is that a major alt-weekly, upon realizing that there was at least one major source with an agenda and outright fabricated claims, would hold a story until other sources could be verified as well.

We were told repeatedly that this was a tight deadline, but that's no excuse for shoddy journalism. We welcome the chance to engage with the Weekly now that said deadline is past. In the meantime, we ask that they take down the story in its current form, and work with us to correct it. We also expect an apology.

Peter Acworth
CEO and Founder,

SFist also reached out to SFWeekly and author Kate Conger about the piece. We're told the Weekly is currently working on a response to Acworth and we'll update when we have more. In the meantime, Conger says her article does not mention the emails Mr. Acworth described in his statement.

Update: The Weekly has posted their response to Acworth's letter, noting that no one at Kink saw drafts of the article which Conger began researching back June of last year. As for whether the story "paints a bleak picture of life at Kink," the Weekly maintains the piece is balanced with both positive and negative stories: "I don't think it paints a bleak picture at all. I think it points to the extreme differences in experience from one model to the next. Several longtime models and directors are quoted about their positive experiences at Kink." Click through for the full, point-by-point response on the Weekly.

Previously: CEO Arrested For Coke Possession, Investigated for Firearms