Joe Francis And Jail: The ‘Girls Gone Wild’ Boob Who Got What He Deserves In Assault Conviction

joe ''Girls Gone Wild'' video series producer Joe Francis arrives at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles, 2008.  Reuters

News that Joe Francis is facing real jail time has come tinged with a bittersweet aftertaste.

After years of lawsuits and court appearances, the ignoble entrepreneur behind the “Girls Gone Wild” video series was convicted on Monday of false imprisonment, dissuading a witness from reporting, and assault causing “great bodily injury.” The conviction, as CBS News reported, stemmed from a 2011 incident in which Frances met three women at a Hollywood night club. After taking them back to his home, he is said to have grabbed one of the women by her hair and throat, slamming her head into the floor.

Francis now faces a maximum of five years in prison. It’s a fitting bit of justice for a man whose public and professional image was predicated on an appreciation of women that literally ran skin deep. Over the last 16 years, Francis got rich by dispensing his camera-wielding minions out into the world, where they would prod inebriated young “woo!” girls to lift up their shirts and flash their breasts. (Seriously, that’s a career.) Elbowed into signing release forms, the titular girls gone wild would be left no legal recourse once they inevitably sobered up and decided that they had no wish to become masturbation material for throngs of middle-aged Middle Americans.  

Two of those wild girls were just 17 when they were approached by a GGW camera crew while vacationing in Florida. One crew member, who reportedly said he was making a private film, asked the girls to flash their breasts. The girls obliged. Later, after they turned up on a GGW video, they sued Francis in civil court. But in 2006 a Texas jury found that GGW did nothing wrong. The girls in question had signed a release form, and as they say, those are the breaks.

Here’s how the Wall Street Journal reported it at the time:

The jurors ruled in favor of the company and awarded no damages, finding that the girls had signed a valid consent form. Said Richard Merrill of Fabio & Merrill, which represented Mantra: “The plaintiffs knew what they were doing. The jury realized that there were no drugs, alcohol or coercion involved in what they did.”  

From a legal perspective it was the right decision. The First Amendment is a tricky thing to get around, after all. And while the ruling might have taken Francis off the hook from a litigious standpoint, it did nothing to absolve him of ethical culpability. You see, there are things one shouldn’t do because they’re illegal, and there are things one shouldn’t do because they’re wrong. Mr. Francis’ “Girls Gone Wild” videos belong in the latter category. They represent the worst kind of exploitation, through which Francis and his cretinous brethren hone in on a basic human failing -- in this case, our willingness to do stupid things when someone points a camera in our faces -- and then abuse it to serve their own shallow gains.

Often we hear an argument in favor of Francis’ “Girls Gone Wild” empire, one that reminds us that the wild girls are sound-minded adults and, therefore, willing participants in the creation of the videos. That’s definitely true. The girls, after all, should know better than to flash their breasts. But if we’re comparing the moral caliber of the erstwhile breast flashers with the opportunist who exploits and profits from said breast-flashing, we need no barometer to make a judgment. Plus, shifting focus to the so-called wild girls negates the reality that all of us, at one time or another, are willing participants in scenarios that we will later regret. Most of us are just fortunate enough to not be in the presence of Mr. Francis’ entourage during our lapses in judgment.

This is why I say, unequivocally, that Francis got what he deserved on Monday when that jury handed down its decision. It’s not that I know with certainty that he physically assaulted that woman. I wasn’t there. What I do know is that Francis has built for himself a Faustian empire based on the idea that the private parts of others are always a matter for public consumption, if only because the law allows it. Live by that credo, and it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself on the receiving end of that very same system. And then, presumably, you’ll know what it feels like to be stripped bare.

Got a news tip? Send me an email. Follow me on Twitter: @christopherzara

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the jury in Monday’s conviction was in Texas. It was in Los Angeles. The 2006 court case took place in Texas.

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