Tabloids Insist A Brain Injury Turned Me Into A Dominatrix


Alissa Afonina is internet-famous today as the woman who won a huge lawsuit after a car accident turned her into a dominatrix. We realize that reads like a nonsense string of words, which is why tabloids couldn’t resist the headline. The story goes that she was a good student on the path to a promising career, when a car accident gave her brain damage. Suddenly she was posting half-naked photos of herself, and soon she was doing professional sex work.

That, they say, means one of two things is true: The brain injury changed her personality overnight and turned her into a sex-crazed fiend, or she managed to scam the courts with the world’s most hilariously implausible disability. We talked to her and found that the reality is, as usual, more interesting than the clickbait headlines …

5

The Truth Is Weird, But The Tabloids Couldn’t Resist Making It Weirder

For the rest of her life, headlines like this will turn up when anyone searches Afonina’s name:

The Daily Mail

The popular narrative goes something like this, per The NY Post:

Alissa Afonina, 23, of Burnaby, British Columbia, said in court papers that she was a bookish teen at the top of her high school class until a pickup truck she was riding in ran off the road and she bumped her head.

The resulting brain damage caused a loss of ‘impulse control,’ turning her into a sex-crazed wild child — and leading her to sex work, say the court documents, filed in British Colombia Supreme Court.

First off, it was a bit more than a bump on the head. Alissa’s accident caused significant damage to her frontal lobe, which we all kind of need to operate as human beings. It controls motor function, judgement, impulse control, and the way we behave socially and sexually. So yes, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can change people’s personalities on a dime. A 35-year Swedish study found a significant uptick in violent criminality among those who had suffered TBI (another study found that more than 20 percent of serial killers have such injuries in their past). More than half of TBI sufferers experience depression — a rate eight times higher than among the general population.

Alissa was in that last group, and struggled with intense depression and anxiety in the wake of her accident. Of course, that’s not what the press focused on during her lawsuit. Here’s Cosmo‘s tasteful take:

Can a car accident lead you to Fifty Shades of Grey territory? That’s what one lawsuit claims. An accident victim filed suit for damages in Canada, and one of the arguments was that her resulting brain damage led to her career as a dominatrix.

Each story asserted that Afonina was claiming her “bump” on the head took away her sense of reason and unleashed her basest carnal desires, wiping out her old personality altogether. That’s a promising plot for an extremely high-concept porno, but not necessarily something that happens in the real world.

4

Personality Transplant? Or Coping Mechanism?

“I wasn’t getting much pleasure anywhere,” says Alissa about the months following the accident. “I was feeling just really numb, with mostly anxiety constantly flowing through me. I remember thinking, ‘Not much is making me happy, but all this sexual shit makes me happy. So I need to introduce more of this into my life.'”

Prior to the accident, sex wasn’t a huge slice in Alissa’s mental pie chart — she didn’t reject it, but it wasn’t the center of her world. And for the most part, head injuries don’t typically make people super horny. But TBI can absolutely cause decidedly un-sexy chronic fatigue and depression. And Alissa found that sex was the one thing that cut through the numb fog. In her mind, something like erotic modeling (which she took up soon after) wasn’t some tawdry form of self-indulgence. It was self-expression … and therapy.

But it also guaranteed that articles about her situation would forever be accompanied by photos like this:

The New York Daily News

The implication was always that her TBI flipped a switch, and she was now constantly obsessed with sex in a detached and sleazy way — the uncontrollable animal urges of a broken brain. In reality, while sex provided Alissa the rare escape from TBI-related misery, it also underscored the painful mental and emotional shift she experienced after the accident. “My most recent breakup, I went 11 months without not just dating, but I didn’t have sex with anybody, not even myself,” she says. “And the relationship had only been three months.”

Is that emotional turmoil due to physical damage to her gray matter? Or the natural consequence of a nasty accident that ruined her academic and professional career? Or both? If you think there’s a neat answer to that question, try asking it of yourself sometime. You already know that a severe enough head injury could render you unable to read the words on this screen. It’s harder to imagine that a moderate injury could leave you able to read them but change how you feel about them. Now imagine that cloud hangs over every decision you make, every single day.

3

Her Life Changed … But Not Overnight

Every person’s life is a never-ending chain of cause-and-effect reactions. The problem is that we assume this is an extremely simple process in everyone but ourselves — in a movie, childhood trauma equals serial killer. So when you hear that a “bookish” young girl bangs her head and suddenly is doing erotic modeling and sex work, well, she must have broken the part of her brain that kept her from doing that before! That’s how brains work, right?

But Alissa’s real story shows how much more complicated a human life can be. After the injury, for example, she wound up making herself more attractive to men almost by accident. Prior to the this, she had been a goth — unrepentantly rocking a Mohawk and trying to stand out by looking scary. One could argue that her gothness was evidence that she’d been depressed prior to the accident (we’ve all seen that South Park episode). But here’s the thing: That look takes a lot of energy and creativity to maintain. It was when Alissa got depressed that she gave it up.

“You can tell the progression of photos: The first year in grade 12, I still had pink hair that got left over, and then eventually I stopped … I was now too depressed to put that much energy into my appearance …” But with her less intimidating look, she was attracting more sexual attention. The attention filled a need, particularly in the hazy aftermath of the accident that had derailed her life. “So that’s when the seeds of what I could do for work started to appear in my head.” It started with the pictures, the ones that now accompany every salacious news story about her. “It didn’t involve actually fucking anybody, but it still had that rush and ego boost.”

Before the accident, Alissa was on track for a career in film. One of her teachers testified that she was exceptionally driven and well suited to the field, having been accepted into a media arts program. She then failed out of the program after becoming, according to the court ruling, “lethargic, disruptive, unable to follow course content, and socially isolated.” But Alissa’s supposed “descent” into commercial sadomasochism wasn’t immediate; this all happened over the course of a few years.

“I did a bit of stripping, and then I did some camming, and I just was in a desperate enough position financially, life-wise, just depression-wise, that I was like, ‘I need to make a change in my life … fuck it, I don’t even know what I’m doing, but I have to do it and just see if I’m good at it.'” She was.

2

No, She Didn’t Win The Lawsuit Because Of The Dominatrix Stuff

As a tabloid story, this one had it all — not just the sex and the freak show Jekyll-and-Hyde element, but also the fact that Alissa had supposedly tricked the legal system into giving her a truckload of cash.

VICE

The New York Daily News

The National Post

Boy, $1.5 million sure sounds like a lot! And all she had to do was survive a car accident and take up BDSM! Why don’t we all do that? But keep in mind that this number is the judge’s way of confirming that Alissa’s TBI has harmed her to the point where full-time work in a conventional setting is impossible for her … for the rest of her life. The court calculated that Alissa’s lifetime earnings would normally have been $1,280,583 had she not been injured.

The rest of that $219,417 is meant to reimburse her for medical expenses and pay future medical and therapy expenses … for 60 years. Oh, and lawyer’s fees. Here’s a breakdown:

The Courts of British Columbia

Now deduct about 30 percent of that for attorney’s fees.

Contrary to what an entire industry of outrage headlines would have you believe, courts don’t simply dole out endless cash to anyone who slips and falls on a sidewalk. Experts testified on both sides of Alissa’s case. Almost everyone agreed that she had suffered a brain injury. The only dispute was about the severity. Yet notice how these guys …

… all but call Alissa a con artist, which is a common criticism of “invisible disabilities,” as she points out. “The idea you get in the comments you can read on these videos is that people are like, ‘Oh she sure didn’t lose any brain power, because she sure scammed the system good.'”

In the outrage headline industry, there is no room for nuance. If “Head bump turns normal teen into a dominatrix” is an implausible premise, they figure, then the whole thing must be bullshit.

1

There Is An Awful Paradox To Victimhood

The lawsuit required Alissa to take the stand for a few days to answer some incredibly intimate questions about herself, since in cases involving brain trauma and personality change, everything’s fair game. Meanwhile, the insurance company she was suing kept tabs on all her social media accounts, and would highlight Alissa’s more upbeat tweets as proof that she couldn’t be all that sick. Y’know, since she had a good day. “I wanted to win, and I needed to prove that shit was really real, but I also wanted to heal, and part of healing is being positive, so if I was positive it was going to be used against me … There was really no good choice there.”

Likewise, anything Alissa says about her sex work being a willing, empowering choice would seem to run counter to what her attorney said in the suit. Wasn’t she awarded all of that cash specifically because she successfully made the case that brain damage turned her into a dominatrix?

Well, not really. Her side put forth a long list of effects from the accident, and did note that the way she went about her sex work (including a risky lack of safety precautions) demonstrated Alissa’s impulsiveness and poor judgment, a result of the TBI. Whether Alissa agrees with that sentiment is irrelevant to the process — the whole point their experts were making was that if these personality changes had occurred, she wouldn’t necessarily be aware of them.

The court didn’t buy that argument, though. Their ruling wasn’t “You turned this poor woman into a dominatrix, give her $1.5 million.” Their ruling was that she’d had a promising academic career that was clearly stopped dead in its tracks as a result of the accident, that an MRI showed physical damage to her brain, and that her symptoms (everything from impaired memory to chronic fatigue) would make it all but impossible to pursue her chosen field. And please note that at the moment, there is no cure for this kind of brain injury. She can work around it or treat symptoms, but the damage will probably always be there.

Meanwhile, sex work is something she can do and get paid a living wage for. The hours are manageable and her disability doesn’t get in the way. In her view, she’s supporting herself, taking back control of her life. But that right there is another maddening part of her situation: Even when the headlines elicited sympathy rather than cheap outrage or titillation, Alissa was frustrated at how wrong the public got it.

“It was really upsetting because some people messaged me and they were acting like they took advantage of me because I’m this poor uncontrollable nymphomaniac … I’m like, ‘You’re out of your mind if that’s what you fucking took away from it.'”

For more on TBI, it’s worth watching that Will Smith movie on concussions, Concussion.

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Read more: http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1928-tabloids-insist-brain-injury-turned-me-into-dominatrix.html

Dominatrix Wins $1.5 Million Lawsuit Blaming Profession On Car Accident

"A woman claims a car crash changed her personality — transforming her from a star student to a lusty dominatrix — and now she’s getting $1.5 million in damages for it.

Alissa Afonina, 23, of Burnaby, British Columbia, said in court papers that she was a bookish teen at the top of her high school class until a pickup truck she was riding in ran off the road and she bumped her head.

The resulting brain damage caused a loss of “impulse control,” turning her into a sex-crazed wild child — and leading her to sex work, say the court documents, filed in British Colombia Supreme Court.” *

Cenk Uygur (http://www.twitter.com/cenkuygur) and Ana Kasparian (http://www.twitter.com/AnaKasparian) break it down on The Young Turks.

*Read more here from http://nypost.com/2015/02/06/woman-wins-1-5m-after-car-crash-turns-her-into-a-dominatrix/

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Dominatrix, Alcohol, Kanye West, Bruce Jenner & Final Judgment - The Young Turks 2/9/2015 Social Commentary
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTpcK80irdQgwa2EmyQqMu8etynzjuUMi

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