In the winter of 2014, Duke University’s student body was buzzing: A freshman among them had a side hustle appearing in porn films. Frenzied speculation gripped chat boards and text messages: Who was the Duke porn starlet?
By spring, the adult video vixen flipped the script on the insatiable gossipers, outing herself in an essay posted on xoJane. She was Miriam Weeks, an Army brat and Catholic schoolgirl who, as Belle Knox, decided to fund her $60,000-a-year education by having sex on camera — and while wearing her “Scarlet Letter with pride,” she said.
The media lapped up the story and the subsequent debate that erupted: Why, exactly, was doing porn any worse than consuming it? (A frat boy who’d been blabbing about Weeks’ identity to fellow Greeks was revealed to have a $1,000-a-month smut habit himself.)
As one of the industry’s freshest faces, Weeks quickly racked up more than 30 appearances in films like “Teen Wonderland” and “Belle Gets Schooled.” Her first gig with a company called Facial Abuse reportedly paid her $1,200. Describing her choice to do porn in the language of sex positivity and feminism, she had no regrets. Weeks ultimately graduated from Duke — debt-free, claims a former publicist — in 2016 with a degree in women’s studies.
Weeks, 22, is now pursuing a law degree at New York Law School, as The Post exclusively revealed last month. The once-proud porn star, who has said she left the industry in late 2015, is now unwilling to talk about her erotic past.
“She’s doing great, she just wants to keep a low profile now,” Lainie Speiser, an adult industry publicist who previously worked with Weeks, told The Post. “I have to respect her wishes, but I can tell you she’s doing what she wants to do, she’s happy and she’s moving forward in her life. She specifically asked me not to say what she’s doing … She doesn’t want to talk.”
But does Weeks — who is believed to be using another alias at the $49,000-a-year law school — have what it takes to pivot from the XXX industry to the courtroom? Experts tell The Post the jury is still out.
“She’s a very admirable young woman,” Dr. Kathryn Smerling, a New York-based family psychologist, told The Post. “She’s taking her past and turning it into a positive. She said she went into porn because she thought it was less degrading than a minimum wage job because at least she had control over herself, at least she had control over her own body.”
Weeks is “very brave” to face the inevitable judgment she’ll receive from some classmates once her identity is revealed, if it hasn’t been already, Smerling said.
“People are going to Google her,” she said. “They are going to see her, they are going to titter and look at whatever’s out there. That’s the reality of what she chose to do. But, you know, living well is always the best revenge.”
Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Los Angeles-based forensic psychiatrist and author, was much less sanguine about Weeks’ prospects.
“I think her presence in the classroom, given that her past life will undoubtedly be revealed, will be a definite distraction,” Lieberman said. “For one thing, it presents a challenge to men in the class to have sex with her and I guess some women will feel she’s a feminist and they’ll respect her for that. But there will be other women who will look down on her for doing porn and people who think she doesn’t belong there — that it diminishes the seriousness or the status of being a lawyer.”
Weeks’ possible success in law will largely depend on her area of expertise, particularly if she chooses women’s rights as she has previously indicated, Lieberman said. But something as basic as selecting a jury could eventually prove problematic for Weeks.
“I mean, are they going to have to ask jurors if they know who she really is?” Lieberman asked. “Because if they do know who she is, for the most part, they’re not going to have very much respect for her as an attorney — and therefore not have very much respect for her case.”
The adult industry apparently made Weeks feel respected and empowered, something she likely didn’t experience while at Duke, Lieberman said.
Weeks seemed to relish the attention lavished on her after she outed herself as the Duke porn star. In March 2014, Weeks revealed her identity in a column on xoJane after a classmate recognized her and spread the word to the university’s “entire Greek system.”
She claimed she’d received rape threats and suggestions that she “slit her wrists,” and used her newfound platform to complain of the hypocrisy embedded within porn and its consumers.
“You want to see me naked,” Weeks wrote. “And then you want to judge me for letting you see me naked.”
One month later, and with appearances on CNN and “The View” under her belt, Weeks further pulled back the curtain in an exhaustive Rolling Stone profile, detailing her youth as the daughter of a US Army doctor who frequently moved before graduating from a private Catholic high school in Spokane, Washington.
Her path to Duke was, in many ways, similar to that of her peers. In high school, she was the overachieving co-captain of the debate team who founded a charity that shipped water filters to El Salvador.
But Weeks said there was a far darker side to her sexual awakening. She told the magazine she began watching porn at age 12, and lost her virginity four years later. She was then “grounded for, like, a year,” she said, after naked pictures she sent a guy were shared, causing her to start self-mutilating by cutting herself. (Years later, at her first porn shoot, Weeks said a man on set spotted that she had carved the word “fat” into her thigh, and proceeded to tease her, calling her a “cutter.”)
Weeks also disclosed to Rolling Stone that she was raped at a house party in high school after drinking to excess and passing out in a bedroom. The aftermath of the incident, including being blamed for the assault and being asked by friends not to report the crime since partiers were under age, propelled her to pursue women’s rights issues, she said.
Weeks also acknowledged that “rough sex and pain” aroused her in another essay for xoJane detailing her first scene in which she performed oral sex on an extremely aggressive male co-star. In the piece, Weeks wrote that whatever choice a woman makes is “absolutely feminism” because “to me, feminism is about women not being shamed but rather being empowered.”
“I’ve been called a hypocrite and mocked for daring to talk about empowerment if I have also not kept adequately hidden away my enjoyment of rough and dirty, nasty and filthy, saliva-dripping and name-calling-filled sex,” she continued.
The baggage Weeks brought to Duke — and sought liberation from in porn — could follow her to a new campus, Lieberman warns.
Based on everything she’s read and seen about Weeks, including the Lifetime movie inspired by her life, “From Straight A’s to XXX,” she needs “significant psychotherapy, significant psychiatric treatment” stemming from, in large part, feeling abandoned by her father and being raised in a conservative Catholic family that ran counter to her ideals, Lieberman said.
“And so if she hasn’t gotten that therapy, then that’s going to be at least as much of a barrier to her becoming successful as an attorney as the fact that people will know about her past life,” Lieberman said.
Holly Richmond, a certified sex therapist and somatic psychologist, acknowledged that Weeks should be prepared for some “pushback” in the classroom, but said her previous work as an adult film star is as legitimate as any other profession and shouldn’t be subject to unsolicited judgment or ridicule.
“Being an adult entertainer is as valid a career as being a lawyer,” said Richmond, whose patients include current and former adult industry stars seeking treatment following sexual assaults and compulsive sexuality disorder (among other disorders). “So this was something she chose to do to put herself through school. I would hope that she wouldn’t have to contend with that very much — it’s just a different choice.”
In the end, what matters is her in-class performance, Richmond said.
“If she’s doing the work and making the grades, her past shouldn’t make any difference,” she said.
Weeks can expect some bumps in the road, according to one therapist The Post contacted, but seems to have made peace with her sordid past and has the resources to excel.
“The only way it could be problematic for her in law school is if she allows some shade from other students to get to her,” according to Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a New York-based family therapist. “My sense of her, however, is that she has the strength and intelligence to rise above it.”
Some classmates may make crass passes or judge her, but Hokemeyer said Weeks will thrive due to her “intelligence, ingenuity, drive and resilience,” among other qualities.
“In this regard, she’s at the top of her class,” he said. “She might run into some problems after law school when she applies for internships or bar admittance. But I’m certainly not worried about that. Firms and legal bars would be lucky to have her among their colleagues.”
How financially strapped she might be upon graduation from a pricey law school is unclear, as Weeks did not respond to several requests through Speiser for an estimate on her porn career earnings. But Mike Stabile, communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, the porn industry’s trade association, said a female performer typically earns about $1,500 per scene with a male counterpart and roughly $1,000 for sessions with women.
“Those rates have dropped in recent years due to piracy and the availability of free content,” Stabile told The Post. “It tends to be a middle-class job. It’s not all glamour and excitement, but it can get steady income.”
Performers with name recognition and those who work frequently can earn significantly more, Stabile said, particularly if they make regular appearances at industry events or run private cam shows.
“I would imagine that Belle was significantly above those rates,” Stabile told The Post. “She probably had a fairly lucrative run in the industry.”
Whatever Weeks has banked from her pornographic past, Hokemeyer said he expects her to rise above any vocal critics — in or out of the classroom.
“If I were a betting man, I’d certainly bet on her ability to push through these social forces and become a legal star in the 21st century,” Hokemeyer said.