(CN) – Women who appeared in “Girls Gone Wild” videos while they were underage teenagers are entitled to anonymity at trial against the soft-core porn franchise they say coerced their conduct, according to a split-panel ruling from the 11th Circuit.
“Anyone entering the plaintiffs’ names into an online search engine will find several links containing articles discussing their appearance in the videos,” Judge Joel Dubina wrote for the majority. “In a worse scenario, an audience of voyeurs, pornographic consumers and pedophiles will create a heavy demand for these links, pictures and videos, knowing they provide an easy way to obtain some explicit sexual images of minors.”
“Justices should not carry such a high price,” he concluded.
“J” and “S,” who sued anonymously, said they were stopped in traffic when a man with a video camera persuaded them to flash their breasts. They were, respectively, 13 and 15 at the time.
One woman, suing for damages as “V,” said Francis gave her $100 after he forced her and a friend to touch his genitals and stimulate him in a hotel room.
Another woman, “B,” claimed she was 17 when “Girls Gone Wild” agents invited her to a hotel room, plied her with a mix of what she believes was alcohol and drugs, then coerced into having sexual intercourse with a female friend.
In a 2-1 decision, the Atlanta-based federal appeals panel said a Florida federal judge improperly framed all four women’s actions as “casual and voluntary” and failed to consider “the scope of harm they faced” if their real names were released to the public.
Judge James Moody dissented in part, arguing that J and S’s actions were not of the “utmost intimacy.”
“I conclude the trial judge acted within his broad discretion in deciding that plaintiffs J and S, who flashed their breasts for less than a minute while sitting in their car, could not proceed anonymously,” Moody wrote.
The majority’s opinion asks the District Court to reconsider whether J and S could keep their names under wraps or at least maintain “some degree of anonymity” while allowing public access to the trial.
Joseph Francis, the man behind “Girls Gone Wild,” is named as a defendant in the suit, in addition to his companies, Mantra Films, MRA Holdings and Aero Falcons.
The women, now reportedly in their 20s, seek damages for use of the footage in the videos and sexual assault.
They asked the trial judge at the Northern District Court of Florida to preserve their anonymity, fearing that otherwise they would become, in the words of the court’s opinion, “Internet sensations.”
In vacating the lower court’s decision, Dubina noted that the issues in the case “could not be more sensitive and highly personal in nature.”
“They involve descriptions of the plaintiffs in various stages of nudity and engaged in explicit sexual conduct while they were minors who were coerced by the defendants into those activities,” Dubina wrote, adding that the lower court judge had failed “to take into account the individual facts of the case.”
Identifying the woman might immortalize them as porn stars, the judge cautioned, noting the accessibility of cast lists on sites like IMDB.com, as well as the availability of the “Girls Gone Wild” videos on consumer sites such as Amazon.com.