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The Blue Devil in Miss Belle Knox: Meet Duke Porn Star Miriam Weeks

She's a studious college freshman — and America's top new adult-film actress

April 23, 2014 10:00 AM ET
Belle Knox duke porn star
Belle Knox
Danielle Levitt

It's a soggy spring night, closing in on 10:00, and Duke freshman Miriam Weeks is on the hunt for new panties. Which in someone's fantasy is probably a pretty standard way for a college coed to pass a Wednesday night after a day of classes – in Weeks' case, two sociology courses and a women's-studies seminar on the "politics of pleasure." But these panties have a higher calling. Two days from now, at a convention called Exxxotica, in Atlantic City, she will try to sell them for upward of $50 apiece to the men (and women!) who find themselves sexually aroused by any of the 30 to 35 pornographic film scenes in which Weeks has appeared since she entered the adult-entertainment industry in November.

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So Weeks needs panties. "Cheap panties," she says wearily, gazing with big brown doe eyes out the car window as Duke's hallowed halls give way to Durham's less-hallowed strip malls. "Do you think the Dollar Store would have them?"

It's been only a matter of weeks since news broke that a freshman at Duke University was paying her way through college by getting frisky on film, and Weeks' hornier alter ego, Belle Knox ("Belle" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast and "Knox" because of her fascination with Amanda Knox: "I tried to find a name that wouldn't really stick in people's minds"), became a matter of national debate. It wasn't the first time a college woman had ever done porn, of course, but America's collective consciousness seemed both scandalized and titillated by the idea of a woman from as prestigious a school as Duke choosing to do so. On the one hand, said some, why shouldn't a consenting adult engage in a perfectly legal profession in order to better herself through higher learning? And what right does society have to tell women what to do or not do with their bodies, anyway? But, on the other hand, you know, WTF?

In the ensuing media frenzy, Dr. Drew told Weeks that if he were her father, he would "be chompin' down on a cyanide capsule." Piers Morgan asked Weeks how she would feel if she had a daughter who wanted to be a porn star. On The View, Sherri Shepherd said that in direct response to Weeks' decisions, "My heart just breaks. It really, really does." Meanwhile, Howard Stern asked, "Are you wearing underwear or no?" Weeks, a women's-studies and sociology major, did not shrink back from her public slut-shaming. Instead, giggling like the teenager she happens to be, she came forward as both a feminist and a "voice" for women in the porn industry.

All of which is to say that it's been a topsy-turvy kind of freshman year for Ms. Miriam Weeks, the type of freshman year that's brought such fame and infamy that she can, and will, sell her panties to the highest bidder. A traffic light turns green and onward she goes.

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When I first meet Weeks, the day before, she wears a rumpled navy jacket and glasses, and carries in one hand a breakfast of mashed potatoes and in the other a pink backpack. She's catching a bus to the west side of campus, where she has an interview at the Women's Center for a coveted internship next fall. Entering an imposing gothic building, Weeks is greeted warmly by several of the older women who work there. The Women's Center is one of the first places she came when a fellow student outed her as a porn star in January, and the only place on campus where she feels totally free of judgment. "Women come here to report sexual assault," she says. "So they can come talk to me."

At the student center and later back at her dorm (a blandly girly room cluttered with books and shoes and beauty products), Weeks outlines her biography: Her dad was a military doctor, so the family moved a lot before settling in Spokane, Washington, where Weeks attended a private Catholic high school. She was nerdy and studious, co-captain of the debate team, founder of a charity that sent water filters to El Salvador, food server at an old-folks home, a builder of a résumé that would land her a spot at Duke, her dream school because of the university's reputation as the best in the country for pre-law.

She also started watching porn at age 12, lost her virginity at age 16 and can't remember a time before she knew she was bisexual. While playing house, she would ask her friends to lock her in a dog cage. "I don't know why, but it was something that was very appealing to me," she says.

By the time she was in high school, Weeks was playing the part of the perfect student at school, but was partying on the weekend with college kids. After naked pictures she sent a guy started making the rounds, she "was grounded for, like, a year. My mom had always told me not to let any naked pictures of myself get out there." She suffered from depression, which she says she responded to by cutting herself.

Miriam Weeks aka Belle Knox with her parents at high school graduation.

None of which, she maintains, has anything to do with why she entered the sex trade. When Weeks started at Duke, her father was working in a private practice. Then he got called by the Army Reserves to go to Afghanistan for less than half of his previous salary. Weeks says she begged Duke to revisit her financial-aid package, but "they didn't care." Staring at a monthly bill for $4,300 that they couldn't pay, her parents suggested she take out private loans, despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt she'd rack up by the time she graduated. In high school, Weeks had worked as a waitress – a job she has said she found more degrading than the sex trade – so she knew how impossible it would be for someone without a car or a college degree to make anywhere near enough to cover her tuition. In desperation, Weeks joked to her roommate, "Oh, screw this, I'll just be a porn star."

And then, having said the words, she started to actually consider it. "I Googled 'how to be a porn star,' and all of these agencies popped up. And then there's this website called SexyJobs.com. It's like the Monster.com of porn." Weeks took a few naked selfies and submitted them, along with her height (five feet four), weight (95 pounds) and a short description ("'I'm a college girl with a naughty side' or something like that"). Within days, she got a call from a company called Facial Abuse that offered to fly her to New York for her first shoot, at a rate of $1,200 per scene. The night before leaving, Weeks says, "I was horny. I remember thinking, 'This is gonna be really hot.'"

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