May Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild Rot in Jail

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What Women Really Think
May 8 2013 2:52 PM

May Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild Rot in Jail

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Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild is headed to jail. Good.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Joe Francis is headed to prison for the second time. May he rot there. The founder of Girls Gone Wild was convicted Monday on misdemeanor charges of assault and false imprisonment. The allegations: In 2011, Francis met three women who went out after college graduation, took them home with him, and then tried to separate one from the other two, in the process grabbing her by the hair and throat and slamming her head to the floor. Charming. Also entirely of a piece with Francis’ long history of bad boy misdeeds. This is a guy who has literally made it his business to use and humiliate women. If we had our own Most Wanted List, he’d be on it. (Though the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 spots today go to Ariel, Pedro, and Onil Castro, the brothers held for questioning in the abduction and imprisonment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight in Cleveland.)*

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

A brief and noxious history: Joe Francis launched Girls Gone Wild in 1997. The name captures the business perfectly: Put girls on camera flashing their breasts or asses or doing anything else Francis and his minions could talk them into, whooping it up all the while. As a court put it in 2011, “Francis has made millions of dollars by going to places crowded with young, enthusiastic, and often-intoxicated women and filming them exposing their breasts, fondling each other, kissing each other, and sometimes engaging in more explicit sexual acts.” This was billed as girl power entertainment, wrapped in the protection of the First Amendment. "It's not like we're creating this," one of Francis’ employees told Ariel Levy in 2004, at a dance club in Florida. They’re watching two girls give a guy a double lap dance. "This is happening whether we're here or not. Our founder was just smart enough to capitalize on it."

Also smart enough to duck liability in lawsuits brought by girls who argued that he violated their privacy and that they weren’t of age to consent when Francis filmed them. In 2006, Francis won a Texas lawsuit in a case in which the girls who sued him had signed a release form, lying to say they were over 18. In 2011, he won another case brought by underage girls in Florida. Francis represented himself at trial and went after the girls, asking one if she was a prostitute. "I shook them like a tree until all the fruit fell out, and I shook them violently," he said afterward.

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Francis has not been quite as good at eluding prosecutors. In 2003, he showed up as usual for spring break filming in Panama City Beach, but this time the father of an underage girl complained, and he ended up facing 70 counts of selling drugs, prostitution, and promoting the sexual performance of children. All but six of the charges were thrown out because of problems with the search warrant. But Francis ended up in jail anyway after the judge in one of the civil suits found that he’d been verbally abusive in negotiations with the opposing side. When he was found with sleeping pills and other medication in his cell, he faced a new set of charges, which led to the revocation of his bail. Then Nevada socked it to him for tax evasion.

Francis played all of it for sympathy, taking out ads and going on radio and TV to cast himself as a Larry Flynt-like crusader for the First Amendment. But being Mr. Pornography Lite doesn’t make you a free-speech hero. Francis hasn’t been prosecuted for making movies. He’s been prosecuted for hurting women and underage girls. In 2008, he pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution based on the account of a girl who said he “physically and verbally coerced” her and a friend into giving him a hand job. He then gave them $100 to split. Then there’s this disturbing account from Los Angeles Times writer Claire Hoffman, from the parking lot of a nightclub outside Chicago after 3 a.m.:

“Joe Francis, the founder of the Girls Gone Wild empire, is humiliating me. He has my face pressed against the hood of a car, my arms twisted hard behind my back. He's pushing himself against me, shouting: ‘This is what they did to me in Panama City!’ ”

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“As he yells, I wonder if this is a flashback, or if he's punishing me for being the only blond in sight who's not wearing a thong. This much is certain: He's got at least 80 pounds on me and I'm thinking he's about to break my left arm. My eyes start to stream tears.”

 And

“He is amped, his broad face sneering as he does a sort of boxer's skip around me, jabbering, grabbing at my arms and my stomach as I try to move away, clutching my notebook to my chest. He stabs a finger in my face, shouting, ‘You don't care about the First Amendment. I care about the First Amendment, but you are the kind of reporter who doesn't care.’ ”

May Joe Francis get the maximum five years he now faces for the assault and false imprisonment convictions. And you’ll forgive me if I don’t cry over the demise of his company: Girls Gone Wild went bankrupt in February. Also not making me sad: The error message I get when I click on meetjoefrancis.com.

*Correction May 8, 2013: This post originally misstated that all three brothers were charged. On Wednesday, Pedro and Onil Castro were not charged. Ariel Castro was charged with kidnapping and rape.