Over the last few years, college campuses have become a hotbed for conversations about the meaning of consent and how to address sexual violence. With the rise of affirmative consent laws in California, New York and several other states, the country is codifying new definitions of consent.

Yet there is one industry that is struggling to define consent: pornography. An already marginalized community, pornography and the problems that afflict performers in the industry remain a stigmatized topic today.

Enter Mark Khazanov SOM ’18, a first-year Silver Scholar at the Yale School of Management. Khazanov is one of the founders of ICON(sent), a project that aims to use technology to redefine consent and to create tools that performers can use to exercise rights and take control of their own content.

“The harm that’s been caused to performers is a direct result of the lack of education and training that’s been provided to this community,” he said.

Kyle Jensen, the director of entrepreneurship at SOM, serves in an advisory role for the independent study project. Khazanov called Jensen an “inspiring” individual and cited him as a factor in his decision to come to Yale.

“Mark feels passionately about eliminating abuse in the adult-content industry,” Jensen said. “I hope he is successful at eliminating abuse.”

Khazanov said that to the best of his knowledge, ICON(sent) is the only group in the country looking at how to help producers, rather than consumers, of porn.

An engineer by training, Khazanov heads a multiperson team that began exploring what consent in the porn industry looks like.

The team examined it through four different lenses, he explained: education, meaning performers understood their rights and were able to communicate health care concerns and boundaries to producers; voice, ensuring performers’ concerns and complaints were taken seriously and addressed appropriately; transparency, particularly that the production companies communicate their terms and standards to performers clearly; and practices of consent, which ensure performers feel as if they are in control thanks to the use of safe words and regular check-ins.

Many of these rights have been lost in the changing landscape of the porn industry. With studies estimating that as many as 35 percent of all Internet downloads contain pornographic material, online porn providers have been gaining in popularity since the web’s creation.

These online sites, often referred to as “tube sites” because, like YouTube, they aggregate content uploaded by users, compete with studios and other traditional content producers.

While conducting research for ICON(sent), Khazanov said he realized the porn industry is slowly becoming monopolized. A company called MindGeek, which began in advertising and later built some of the early tube sites, has emerged as the leading provider of porn, much of which is pirated — and without distinguishing between proprietary and pirated porn, MindGeek collects the profits that should instead go to those in the videos. MindGeek currently owns some of the largest and most popular tube sites in the world, as well as multiple production companies.

“If we were able to effectively combine social movements with a distribution platform of pornography that has our technology as its infrastructure, we could really generate a mass redirection of demand away from irresponsible distributors like MindGeek to something that really guarantees worker rights as the workers within the industry define it,” Khazanov said.

Now that the team has a few connections to the industry and has concluded user interviews, Khazanov said, the group has begun to develop the technology for the reforms they want to establish. To simplify the process, Khazanov plans on moving out to the San Francisco Bay Area this summer and forming partnerships with several major organizations in the industry.

Ultimately, the team hopes to co-develop an educational platform with the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, a group founded by performers in the porn industry. The organization “advocates to maintain and improve safety and working conditions in the adult film industry by giving adult performers organized representation in matters that affect [their] health, safety and community.”

Its mission, the website continues, is to have members educate one another and the greater community, develop ethical best practices, foster solidarity and review existing health and safety protocols, crafting new ones as needed.

APAC released its launch statement in February of 2014 alongside a video called “Porn 101,” an educational resource that drew attention to the challenges facing performers in the porn industry, many of which are related to health and wellness, legal rights and the intersection of financial interests.

“The stigma fueling those messages —  that no one would do porn willingly, so the line between porn and rape doesn’t matter, but also that porn performers who are raped are at fault — is responsible for keeping porn performers silent,” Melissa Gira Grant wrote in Dec. 4, 2015, article in The Guardian. “It is what puts them at risk.”

Khazanov echoed that thought, pointing out the paradoxical nature of the industry. The thing that drives users to pay for access to these videos is the one thing performers will never want to be seen as: helpless performers. Consumers want to see people who need to be saved, he pointed out, and perhaps the only way to revitalize the industry is to pretend performers are not creating content with their own will.

The porn industry generates approximately $13 billion per year in the United States.