Journalist. Writer. Researcher. Editor.

Porn and sexual violence – some studies

So, journalist Barry Bateman asked me on Twitter this evening about the relationship between porn and rape.

I’m not sure why Barry posited the question to me, but that’s neither here nor there. Soon after this tweet, and before I could respond, I had a whole bunch of @mentions basically decrying the apparent nonsense links between sexual violence and porn. So I thought I would write something up quickly.

Some points for clarification:

1. I am a feminist, rape survivor and sexual violence activist. None of these necessarily makes me anti-porn. I do believe there is a world where porn can be made that is in line with my feminist ideals in that it is supportive of enthusiastic consent and largely egalitarian sexual interactions. I haven’t found porn like that yet, but a girl can dream. I am not by default averse to porn.

2. There is obviously evidence that some types of porn lead to rape. Eg rape porn. If this discussion about porn and sexual violence is to be useful, we need to be more specific than that. I obviously can’t definitively argue that *all* porn has links to rape, just as someone else can’t definitively argue that *no* porn is linked to rape.

3. Judging from some of the responses to Barry’s query, it seemed apparent to me that a lot of the responders were viewing rape through rape myths. Here are some examples of the responses:

Here’s the rape myth I see in these responses: rape is a physically and obviously violent act. Yes, in some cases, rape is exactly that. But according to the South African Victims of Crimes Survey 2012 [pdf] three out of four sexual offences – including rape – are committed by someone known the victim. One in two rapes happens in someone’s home. Therefore, the large majority of rapes are not committed in some overt act of violence. If someone is coerced into doing certain sexual acts, even without the explicit threat of violence, it is still rape. Coerced sex =/= consent. The key point here is consent. No consent = rape. (See the Sexual Offences Act, here [pdf].)

Some tweeple also claimed that there are “no studies” that can link porn to rape, which is patently false. There are shitloads of studies on this issue. Seriously, did y’all think feminists and religious types just got all in a huff about this stuff without a single person attempting to research this over the last thirty years? I used my Rhodes access to online journals to find some studies, which I will admit not everyone can do. So for posterity and the sake of discussion I’ll post some of the studies I found here. Read them, critique them, lambaste them (whatever you like) in the comments or catch me on Twitter. I searched for “porn” and “sexual violence”, and these are some of the studies that came up.

Sexual violence in three pornographic media [pdf]

Here are some tables from that study. Note that “Usenet” was their source for online porn.

graph   You can see that the researchers found that sexual violence generally in online porn and was really high – over 42% of the media sampled has some form of sexual violence. Both magazine and video porn had around 25% of scenes with any kind of sexual violence. That’s one in four scenes. The magazine and video porn had various kinds of sexual violence, and doesn’t seem to focus very much on any single one. Online porn was another story though – 25% involved some kind of bondage or confinement, 16% involved a weapon, and 9% had torture and mutilation. I’d say that’s a pretty strong link between porn and sexual violence.                 I included this second table in this because I thought it was interesting that the researchers went out of their way to look for “nonegalitarian sex”, or sex where one partner is dominant or submissive. There were significant differences between magazine porn and video and online porn, in that men were more likely to be submissive in the mags. The other two were all about the submissive female partners, though. This is problematic not only in that this porn is a cultural artefact that influences culture, but also that this porn is an expression of our culture. Someone had to make it, right? And none of the producers or consumers of this media saw it at all a serious problem that over 3/4 of their work is premised on the idea of a submissive and sexually pliant woman. Enthusiastic consent is apparently not in vogue with these chaps. I’m not going to explain how the idea of women as sexually submissive is conducive to and supportive of a rape culture – I’ll leave that for another post.

Pornography and sexual violence [pdf]

I particularly enjoyed this one, because the researcher thoroughly trashed ideas like this:

I’ve decided to quote the researcher because it’s a pretty succinct way of setting out the issue, and why feminists and sexual violence researchers/activists are concerned about porn:

If the question about the connection between pornography and violence is constructed simplistically — “Does pornography cause rape?” — the answer is clearly no. Since some men who use pornography don’t rape, and some men who rape don’t use pornography, pornography is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for rape. There is no way to make a convincing claim that pornography is, as the lawyers say, an “if not but for” cause — “if not but for the use of pornography, this man would not have raped.” But if we ponder the question beyond simplistic cause-and-effect models (which are not particularly useful in explaining any human behavior), we might ask, “Is pornography ever a factor that contributes to rape?” That question recognizes the limits of the human ability to understand complex behavior while at the same time opening up pathways for deeper understanding within those limits.

Critics of pornography do not argue that pornography is ever the sole direct causal agent in sexual violence. No one argues that if pornography disappeared that rape would disappear. Instead, the discussion should be about the ways in which pornography might be implicated in sexual violence in this culture. We understand that pornography alone doesn’t make men do it, but that pornography is part of a world in which men do it, and therefore the production, content, and use of pornography are important to understand in the quest to eliminate sexual violence. [my emphasis added]

Gay male pornography and sexual violence [pdf]

This was interesting because it focused on a specific case study, as well as the fact that it speaks to high rates of domestic violence in the gay community. It also spoke about sexual violence in a context other than that of heterosexual relationships, which I think it would be prudent to include if we are going to have an intersectional discussion about rape and sexual violence.

Gendering violence [pdf] TRIGGER WARNING

This study focused specifically on how rapists understood their actions, which is something I think we should explore more. This is similar to the “Rapist or Lad Mag” study, where people couldn’t tell the difference between rapists’ statements and those in lad magazines. I put a trigger warning on this though, because the rapists’ descriptions of their rapes and why they raped were disturbing.

Please feel free to tweet me @mishsolomon if you have any questions or points to add. Also feel free to drop any points in the comments. (Also let me know if any of these links don’t work!) I will add more links in a follow up post.

Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,

Categorised in: Activism, Writing

3 Responses

  1. Great articles you have linked here. You made interesting compelling arguments. Articles and this blog post inspired this post – https://bitly.com/shorten/ on The Sex IT Blog (http://nml.ru.ac.za/blog/dilim/)

    Like

  2. Article Reblogged by http://www.southweb.co.za – Keep up the great work! –SWB Editor

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. SA Bloggers – Porn and sexual violence – some studies