A lawyer defending a website that features the beating of homeless men by trained female fighters says the videos are more sexual than violent and by no means a hate crime.
Shefights.net is now the target of a civil lawsuit alleging it promotes hate crimes and battery against homeless men by paying them a pittance for beatings and whippings portrayed in videos sold on the Internet.
Tampa attorney Luke Lirot, representing producer Jeff Williams, told Pinellas Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell during a hearing Thursday that the videos are nothing more heinous than masochistic eroticism.
"This is nothing new," Lirot said. "It's unorthodox, it's unique, it's confrontational, it's disconcerting, but it isn't beating up a homeless person just because he's homeless."
But attorney Neil Chonin, who filed the suit on behalf of two homeless men in St. Petersburg, insists the videos portray criminal acts of violence against a population of men who are vulnerable to exploitation because of mental illnesses, addiction or other disabilities.
One of his clients, George Grayson, attended the court hearing and spent his time doodling while lawyers argued the case.
"He had whippings on his back that went back to the days of slavery," Chonin later told reporters. "The videotape will show you what happened to him."
Whether the videos are violent or sexual may ultimately be less important than the validity of waivers signed by the homeless men who agreed to physical punishment in exchange for pay.
"That's the heart of the lawsuit," Campbell said.
Williams has something else to worry about.
Chonin revealed in court that the Florida Boxing Commission has issued a cease and desist order against Shefights.net based on the presumption that Williams is staging unlicensed amateur bouts between his female fighters and male volunteers.
The commission threatened $5,000 per incident fines if Williams continues staging the Shefights matches without qualifying as a licensed amateur fight promoter.
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