Northampton Shelter Coordinators: Porn a Factor in Many Cases of Domestic Abuse


The Union-News studied porn and the porn industry in 1994. One article discussed the impact of porn on women:

Tina’s boyfriend would watch the same x-rated movie repeatedly and then force her to reenact the kinky things he saw. Or he’d go to strip bars.

“He used to come back from these shows and I was terrified,” she said. “He forced me to have sex.”

It took Tina two years to marshal enough courage and self-esteem to leave him. She said that for her boyfriend the line between fantasy and real life was distorted by pornography.

Roz Cuomo, the administrative coordinator at Necessities/Necesidades, the Northampton battered women’s shelter, said pornography is a factor in many cases of domestic abuse.

“People say pornography doesn’t hurt anyone. Real women are being tied up to produce this. Men seeing it think it’s all right,” Cuomo said…

Barbara Mitchell, a psychotherapist who works with women who are victims of rape or other violent crimes, said once men just see women as body parts, “once the person is no longer human, the rest is easy. That’s what ‘Playboy’ does…”

Catherine Itzin, a fellow at the University of Bradford in England, concluded after research that there is a correlation between pornography and violence. She said, as with smoking and lung cancer, there are other variables in addition to pornography which influence men’s use of violence.

But “there is certainly sufficient evidence from the experimental research to say that is highly likely that pornography is one of the factors that contributes to and causes sexual violence,” Itzin said…

Mitchell believes [violence against women] has gotten worse… “Pornography becomes more vicious as women have become more powerful,” she said. It helps “men who feel threatened to devalue and limit women.”
“Does pornography hurt women? Could be key in abuse, or outlet for men”, Union-News, 2/7/94

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An earlier article in The Republican also mentioned concerns at Necessities/Necessidades about pornography and violence against women:

Women who work with battered women say they also are convinced that pornography creates violence against women. At Necessities/Necessidades, a Northampton shelter for battered women, advocates are so convinced of the link between porn and violence that they have started asking women if their batterers use pornography.

Often, according to Gail W. Kielson, a direct service coordinator for the group, they do.

“The man will do something he has seen in pornography or ask her to replicate something he saw,” said Kielson. “Women will say they’re being forced to do things that make them feel dirty, or that they believe is wrong.”
“Debate over pornography leaves feminists divided”, Sunday Republican, 6/10/90

20 thoughts on “Northampton Shelter Coordinators: Porn a Factor in Many Cases of Domestic Abuse

  1. You can’t dismiss all our arguments as easily as that. Perhaps you have better theories for the phenomena we’re reporting, and a greater amount of evidence to back them up?

  2. You say: “You can’t dismiss all our arguments as easily as that.”

    This may be true. But you certainly can dismiss *this one* as easily as that. You need carefully gathered statistical evidence in order to demonstrate that porn causes domestic violence. This is necessary in order to determine the degree to which the anecdotes you describe are typical. Without these statistics, there’s no evidence about their typicalness.

    What’s more, it would be very interesting to know the degree to which the correlation goes the other way. That is, it would be interesting to find out how often your average everyday porno user commits sex crimes or acts of domestic violence. I’d bet that the number is low. And that would hurt your contention that porn causes all these social ills; it would be more likely that there is some third factor that contributes to porn use and sex crimes/domestic violence, but that porn use in the absence of this third factor is unrelated to sex crimes.

  3. Statistics such as you describe would be difficult to gather. I guess you could round up a large number of people (thousands), divide them into two groups matched by demographics and other important variables, and then for years shelter one group from all pornographic material, while subjecting the other group to some sort of scientific porn diet.

    More reasonable, limited experiments have suggested that porn degrades many viewers’ attitudes towards violence and women.

    Since the broad experiment you seem to desire is hard to implement, I feel it’s reasonable to give weight to the many reports of harm from porn coming from sex therapists, abuse counselors, psychologists, and serial killers (Ted Bundy, Gary Bishop). It’s also logical that some people will act out what they see and read. If no one acted on any of the material they were exposed to, why do we bother to assign books to children in school or show them educational films?

    Perhaps you might state your own credentials and experience with these issues, so people can gauge your credibility?

  4. I know that the experiments that could show the actual degree to which porn causes domestic violence and sex crimes would be hard to carry out. It sure would be interesting to have the results of an experiment like that, though. That would really help us to know whether porn causes anything or not. I don’t think that the difficulty of carrying out the right experiments means that we should just draw illigitimate conclusions from less conclusive but easier-to-implement experiements.

    Even if, as you say, many of the people who commit sex crimes and acts of domestic violence also use porn, that wouldn’t show that porn is a contributing factor to those types of acts. In order to show that porn is a contributing factor, you would need to know the degree to which the correlation goes the other way, and you would need to rule out third factors. I think (and this is just a preliminary guess–I don’t have the results of the experiments, either) that, given the ubiquity of porn on the internet, that the correlation in the other direction is quite low, and that at least one third factor would be relevant. I’d be willing to bet the farm that whether or not the offender had been sexually abused himself would be highly correlated in both directions to both porn use and acts of domestic violence and sex crimes.

    The fact that the things you would have to do in order to know that porn is a *cause* of sex crimes and domestic violence are difficult doesn’t license you to go around saying that porn causes these things without this evidence. You need evidence in order to be justified. And when the evidence that would justify your claims is hard to come by, you can’t just substitute any old, easy to get, anecdotal evidence and still expect your claims to be credible and warranted. They aren’t.

    As for my credentials, I am a High School dropout who works as a streetsweeper. So what? My “credentials” aren’t the issue. Correlation is not evidence of causation whether I went to Harvard or not. Anecdotes by themselves don’t provide evidence of typicality whether I hold a law degree from Columbia or not. And information concerning converse correlations and third factors are relevant and interesting whether I graduated from High School or not.

  5. When expert witnesses are introduced in court, the first thing they generally do is to state their credentials and expertise in the area in question. If you are going to discount the informed opinions of therapists, psychologists, academic researchers, porn addicts, police, etc., your experience and background can help people decide how much weight to give to your assertions. The real world can be far different from abstract speculations in your head.

    We have presented testimony from a broad spectrum of people about the impact of porn on workers, viewers and communities. It seems implausible to me in the extreme that they are all deluded about the role of porn in domestic violence and sex crimes. If material is encouraging you to be stimulated by rough sex and laugh at abuse, it seems reasonable to fear that some viewers are going to act this out in reality. And that’s exactly what the professionals are finding.

  6. Oh, we’re in court? I didn’t realize. I thought I was in my streetsweeper’s hovel. I didn’t realize I was testifying in court.

    My credentials might be relevant if I were advancing experimental data I’d gathered, not debunking your claims. But you surely don’t need a graduate degree in statistical analysis to know that even if A is highly correlated with B, you can’t infer that A causes B. You can’t infer it if you don’t know about the correlation of B with A (but you have a lot of preliminary evidence that this correlation is extremely tiny), and there’s a third factor that could cause both A and B staring you in the face: the offender having been sexually abused himself.

    Are you suggesting that since I didn’t go to Harvard, I’m unqualified to tell people that correlation isn’t evidence of causation? Why would I need to go to Harvard to know that? All educated people know that. So, obviously, a Harvard education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be since you have two of them between you and you don’t seem to know this very basic stuff.

    Your “experts” have only proven that there are anecdotes in which porn and sex crimes both appear, and that a lot of the guys who commit sex crimes also like porn. Those are great things to prove as long as you don’t draw illegitimate conclusions from them.

    When you go further and claim that porn is a contributing factor to sex crimes, or that porn causes domestic violence, you go further than the evidence warrants. There can be anecdotes in which porn and sex crimes both appear, even where porn comes *right before* the sex crime, but that doesn’t prove that the porn caused the sex crime. If you infer causation because of order in time, you commit a fallacy called “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” I can’t pronounce it (I’m just a streetsweeper) but I’m sure it came up when you were studying law at an Ivy League university.

    You also can’t infer that porn causes sex crimes because of a correlation between sex crimes and porn. Every sex criminal eats (and were he to stop eating, he would soon stop commiting sex crimes), but that doesn’t mean that eating causes sex crimes. Correlation alone isn’t evidence of causation, no matter how many “experts” infer facts of causation from facts of mere correlation. You have to rule out third factors, such as whether the offender was abused himself, and you haven’t done it.

    You also seem to rely heavily on the sheer quantity of evidence you’ve gathered, but if it’s all anecdotal and correlational, then it’s no good no matter how much of it there is.

    I don’t know why it seems implausible to you that a bunch of “experts” who make fallacious or unwarranted inferences, who haven’t bothered to conduct the right experiments, or who rely on anecdotal evidence are deluded. It seems very plausible that people who have those types of intellectual habits are wildly deluded. Lots of people are deluded on a wide variety of topics. Why not fake scientists with faulty, irresponsible methods?

  7. I’m sorry you refuse to state why people should give your opinions any weight.

    It is reasonable to say that people are influenced by what they see. The evidence suggests they are in fact influenced. Porn, for example, is used to train prostitutes.

    I agree that many sex offenders were themselves abused, but this doesn’t mean that porn is not a factor.

  8. I thought I had stated why people should give my opinions any weight. I thought I had thoroughly explained that I am right.

    But if you’re so hung up on “credentials” that you think that a streetsweeper could never be correct (even if he’s saying things that you really ought to have learned when you were at Harvard), then I suggest you give my opinions no weight at all. Rather I suggest that you go to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com, buy any book on informal reasoning, and turn to the chapter on “evidence.” Read the sections on correlational and anecdotal evidence.

    The authors of these books will tell you what I’ve been telling you. And they’re not lowly streetsweepers. They’re authors. Maybe you can find one written by someone who went to Harvard too, only who was paying attention.

    Maybe when that’s all out of the way you’ll explain what you think of my actual posts, instead of attacking my credibility on the grounds that I’m not Harvard man and that I have a modest profession.

    But let’s be serious for a second. Many sex offenders were abused. We both know that. And that does not mean that porn is not a factor. I never said that it *means* that porn is not a factor. But my point is this: nothing you’ve said so far means that it *is* a factor. You haven’t ruled out sexual abuse as a third factor that causes both porn consumption and sex crime. I wish you would either present evidence that rules it out or shut up. I wish you wouldn’t obfuscate the issue by attacking my personal credibility, especially now that you’ve read a book by a Harvard author that explains how right I am about anecdotal and correlational evidence. Can you do that?

  9. Throughout this series of comments, I’ve been confining my discussion to *this* article. When you run an argument up the flagpole and say, “this is why we think porn is a factor in many cases of domestic violence…” and it ends up being anecdotal in nature, it’s legitimate to criticize the argument, because that kind of evidence isn’t very strong. If you read any of the books I suggested, or were paying attention when you were at Harvard, you’d know that. You can criticize one argument for a certian conclusion without criticizing them all.

    It’s not a legitimate defensive strategy to say, “Well, you lack credibility because there are a lot of other, possibly better, arguments for this conclusion.” That’s called a bait-and-switch, and it’s an intellectual trick. Maybe you thought I wouldn’t catch on because I’m just a streetsweeper, but I did.

    So even if there is a lot of evidence linking porn to domestic violence, it doesn’t follow that *this* is some of that evidence. Even if there’s *strong* evidece that porn causes domestic violence, it does not follow that *this* evidence is strong. It’s not.

    And even if the people with all the “real life” experience in the area of domestic violence say that porn does cause it, it doesn’t follow that it is a cause. It could be that people who work in women’s shelters don’t see typical outcomes of porn-watching events. They see worst-case scenarios. There’s no way to know what the typical outcome of a porn-watching event is without doing the kind of difficult-to-run experiment I was talking about way up there somewhere.

    It may well be reasonable to think that people are influenced by what they see. But it’s not at all reasonable to think that some normal, well-brought-up, well-adjusted, thoughtful, kind person would be turned into a rapist or a wife-beater by watching porn. It seems much more reasonable to think that whatever impulses drive the wife-beater to beat his wife or the rapist commit rape would also drive him to watch violent porn. It’s the true cause of the wife-beating and rapist impulses, and not the red herring of pornography, with which we should all be concerned.

    By the way, did you get that book?

  10. I guess we’re going to have to disagree. People are influenced by what they read. Consider the Bible, the Koran, Das Kapital or Mein Kampf.

    If people aren’t affected by porn, why would considerable numbers show an addiction effect?

    You provide no evidence for your case. It’s just idle speculation that makes little sense.

    Please remind me what book you’re referring to.

  11. Perhaps people are affected by what they read. But I’ve read the Bible and I’m not a Christian (or a practicing Jew). I’ve read Mein Kampf, and I’m not a Nazi. I didn’t read Das Kapital, but I did read the Communist Manifesto, and I’m not a communist. And I’ve looked at porn, but I’ve never raped anybody, never been a serial killer, never beaten my wife, and never asked a prostitute to act out any porno scenes with me. I find the idea that porn would affect an otherwise well-adjusted man in such a way as to cause him to become a rapist or wife-beater completely unbelievable. And without the kind of statistics and experiments I was talking about in an earlier comment, you have no way of knowing whether my case is the more typical kind of case or not.

    I’ve read your little Cline article. It seems to make the same errors as the article we’re currently discussing. He sees people who are already rapists and murderers and notices that they also like porn, and he sees a lot of those people, so he infers that porn has something to do with it. But he’s never seen me, because I never raped or killed anybody. And the shelter people have never seen my wife, because I never beat her up. It seems like Cline’s article is just another case of mishandled anecdotal evidence by someone whose credentials suggest he ought to know better. Like you.

    As for the evidence for my case, I provided several examples in previous posts. These examples, contrary to what you would have us believe, make sense. They, and the princples of evidence that they illustrate, are accepted by the people who study this sort of thing for a living. And you’d know this if you were paying attention in college, or had picked up one of the books I suggested (more on that in a second).

    You seemed unwilling to accept any of my points because I’m only a streetsweeper, not an Ivy League lawyer like your wife. So I proposed that you go to the bookstore and buy any book on informal reasoning. I suggested that you open it to the chapter on “evidence” and read the sections on anecdotes and correleations. I urged you to find a book written by a Harvard alumnus (or alumna), so that you can fully accept what he (or she) says. I predicted that the information in this book, whichever one it is, would coincide with what I’ve been saying here. Because it will. That’s the book I was talking about. You should really get one.

  12. Your argument that “I’m OK so this stuff isn’t harmful” is like the following scenario:

    A bus crashes. Three people get out unhurt. You hear screams coming from inside the bus, and see smoke, but the three people discourage you from investigating or helping. “Why bother”, they say. “We’re fine. We’re proof that bus crashes are not dangerous.”

    We’re not arguing that all porn performers and viewers are harmed by porn, but that many of them are, enough that people should be concerned. Is it wrong even to ask people to look inside themselves and see what effects porn might be having on them personally?

    I’d be open to your points if they made more sense, or were backed by substantial credible evidence. Right now I mostly see a lot of armchair speculation from someone with no particular qualifications in this area.

  13. I never said, “I’m OK so this stuff isn’t harmful.” I said, “I’m OK, and you don’t know whether my case is typical.”

    You’re not entitled to compare viewing porn to a bus crash because you haven’t established that viewing porn is inherently dangerous. (Let’s confine ourselves to the topic at hand. I’m willing to concede your point about the working conditions on porn sets; But I don’t think that’s a reason to keep big porn stores out of Northampton, I just think that it’s a reason to reform the labor laws that govern porn sets.) (And what I’m saying here is consistent with the fact, if it is a fact, that viewing porn is inherently dangerous. I’m pointing out that *this argument* in *this post* doesn’t show that it is.)

    In order to demonstrate that viewing porn is inherently dangerous, as I’ve been saying, you need more than mere anecdotes. Anecdotes don’t show anything about how typical the events described in the anecdote are. That’s what I was attempting to show you by relating my own anecdote. My anecdote may not be the typical case. You need statistics that show what happens in the typical porn-viewing case. In the typical porn-viewing case, does the man do anything violent, or not? What percentage of porn-viewers end up doing anything wrong (other than viewing porn)?

    If you could show that a lot of the time, the porn-viewer does do something violent, you would be farther along to showing that viewing porn is inherently dangerous. That, rather than ridicule, would help to show that my case is atypical. But you admitted several exchanges up that you had no such statistics because they are very difficult to gather. Their difficulty does not make them unnecessary.

    You still wouldn’t be all the way there, though, because correlation by itself is not evidence of causation. You would still need to rule out third factors that could be causing both the porn-viewing behavior and the violent behavior. One possible candidate is sexual abuse on the part of the offender. There are other candidates.

    I don’t know why you think that these points make no sense. You’re an educated guy. You should know this stuff. I realize that you don’t want to take my word for it because I’m self-educated and have a humble profession. That’s why I keep telling you to go get a book on the topic. It doesn’t matter which book you get, it’ll tell you the same thing I’ve been telling you. That’s the only “substantial credible evidence” I’m in a position to provide.

    I’m not making this all up, and I’m not speculating “from the armchair.” I can’t afford an armchair. I can afford an internet connection and a library card, so I did some research. I suggest you do some of your own.

  14. OK. Here are scientific studies showing how porn changes the viewer’s attitudes. Then we recall that “At a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers,
    two-thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers who attended said Internet porn
    contributed to more than half of the divorce cases they handled.”

    The impact of porn has gone far beyond anecdotes. It’s a widespread phenomenon.

  15. First, some digressions in response to your digressions:

    Porn might fail to function as a “safety valve” in deranged, violent people without also causing violent behavior in healthy people. Porn might even fail to be a safety valve in violent people without causing violent behavior in them. Perhaps porn is merely *ineffective* at subverting violent urges, which are caused by something else. Perhaps the widespread use of porn by violent offenders is itself *caused* by the “safety valve” myth. This “scientific study” is irrelevant to our current discussion even if it’s sound.

    Also, it’s not sound: the “safety valve” post, and the webpage it links to, contain a series of anecdotes, not scientific study of the relationship between porn and violence. The site is called “One Angry Girl” and is run by someone who sells t-shirts and has no academic qualifications. Why aren’t you as concerned about her credentials as you are about mine? I count 2 stories, of 4 total, that mention porn. One is a story about a guy who’s into snuff films and necrophilia. The other concerns child porn. Capitol Video doesn’t sell that stuff. I suggest that interest in sex with the dead and in child porn are both evidence of a preexisting tendency toward unhealthy attitudes and violence.

    The “Angry Girl” page also has summaries of 11 studies of varying degrees of relevance, which you don’t mention. We can discuss them another time. Your 3,000 character limit constrains.

    About the lawyers: I need a lot more information in order to evaluate this claim. For one, how was the sample collected? If the sample was collected at random, then we could draw legitimate statistical conclusions from its responses. But it seems that the sample isn’t random because it’s a survey of people who bothered to travel to attend some convention. This calls the legitimacy of these statistics into question.

    Second, what are the statistics? What am I supposed to learn from this figure? That porn is a factor in more than half of two thirds of divorces whose lawyers go to conventions?

    Finally, what does it mean for porn to “contribute” to a divorce? Does it mean that porn caused the husband to commit violent acts, like rape or wife-abuse, that directly caused the marriage to fail? Does it mean that porn appeared near the end of a long list of more serious problems? Does it mean that the wife wanted to embarrass the husband in open court, so she mentioned porn? I can’t tell from this comment or the post it came from what “contribution” means. It could be anything. Unless I know what it means, it’s hard to know how it’s relevant to the conversation we’re having.

    Now, then. Have you read any informal reasoning books yet? Have you come to the conclusion that my earlier points are correct, backed by evidence, and not mere speculation? Are you going to stop trying to argue that anecdotes and correlation sare evidence of causation? Are you going to start being more careful about the sources you rely on?

  16. Your standard for establishing causation is unreasonably strict. As UC Santa Barbara professor Edward Donnerstein puts it, “The relationship between particularly sexually violent images in the media and subsequent aggression…is much stronger statistically than the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.”
    Not all the facts we present on the blog have come from controlled scientific studies. Some are real-world reports from people with a great deal of relevant experience. You dismiss this experience too easily.

  17. My standard for establishing causation is not unreasonably strict. Causal links are hard to prove. As the philosopher David Hume said, you can’t *see* causation as it occurs. You must infer that it’s happening. Difficulties with this inferential process led Hume to believe that we can never know facts of causation. (I don’t go that far, but you need to do a better job.) I’m not trying to be unreasonable. I’m trying to be sensitive to the genuine difficulties that surround the gathering of evidence of causation.

    As for Prof. Donnerstein’s claim comparing the relationship between sexually violent images and subsequent aggression with that of cigarettes to cancer: the link you provide is a biographical sketch, not a study. It is therefore impossible for me to evaluate his evidence or the manner in which he employs it. You do this a lot. You say you’re going to provide scientific evidence, but then the “evidence” is either not there or is an anecdote.

    His claim is difficult to take at face value. The links between smoking and cancer are relatively easy to study because it is a matter of chemistry and biology, not sociology and psychology. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can be isolated and tested on rats, taking note of the frequency of cancer compared to control groups. You can’t do that with porn, because human minds are so complex that it’s hard to isolate potentially relevant factors (such as past instances of abuse), and there are ethical rules prohibiting certain experiments on human subjects.

    It’s also important to note that aggression is not identical to violence. A person may become more aggressive w/o the aggression manifesting itself as violent behavior. If he just means that the fraction of smokers who get cancer is lower than the fraction of rapists who use porn, then, again, that’s mere correlation, not evidence that porn causes violence. It would be astonishing if the total evidence that porn causes violence were greater than the total evidence that smoking causes cancer. You didn’t provide access to the evidence used to support his claim, so I can’t evaluate it.

    Some of the studies OneAngryGirl mentions supposedly show a link between porn and aggression. But if you read carefully, the levels of porn and violence are poorly controlled. In the one study where violence is controlled, violent porn and violent non-porn are linked to aggression, and nonviolent porn and non-porn alike are *not*. That suggests that violent media, not specifically porn, is linked to aggression. These studies don’t mention how long the effect lasts.

    You say, “Not all the facts we present… have come from controlled scientific studies.” I agree. In fact, none of the facts you’ve mentioned in this conversation come from controlled scientific studies; it’s all anecdotes. You may find it unreasonably strict, but anecdotes nevertheless can’t establish causation, for reasons I’ve gone over and over. Please, please, please, buy a book on informal reasoning.

  18. I will keep an eye out for material on informal reasoning. There is a body of literature about it on the web.

    Logic, experience, and the available evidence are enough to motivate me to be concerned about porn, and ask others to be cautious. The case for passivity is much less compelling.

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