How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline (explicit language)

Last week, we pointed out that the United Kingdom represents a large counter-example to the theory that the spread of Internet porn is reducing incidences of rape. During 2000-2005, rates of Internet penetration and rates of reported rape both soared at the same time. We will now further explore why it’s risky and irresponsible to draw simple conclusions of any kind from a bare correlation of the spread of porn with reported rates of rape.

Claims that porn is cathartic have been circulating since the 1970s. However, it is easy to conceive the porn might have less benign effects on viewers and sex crimes. We can, for example, hypothesize that porn conditions women to believe
that rape is not a crime, or at least not a crime that they want to report.
Certainly a major theme of a great deal of porn is that abusive sexual
practices
are normal and should be thought of as pleasurable. We imagine this
would confuse many female victims of sexual assault as to whether they had been
treated in an unacceptable manner.

We expand on this at Abusive Relationships and Porn: The Similarities (explicit language).
Indications from books like Unhooked or Female Chauvinist
Pigs
suggest that many women in our present age, understandably, prefer to conceive of themselves
as powerful and in control, not as victims. Female members of the porn industry
like Lizzy Borden fuel this image of woman as dominator, as opposed to the
dominated. A woman acknowledging she was made to have sex against
her will, whether to police or to a survey-taker, would not be compatible with
this self-image. We observe that sexual assault is both widespread and a substantially underreported crime.

An excerpt from our review of Female Chauvinist Pigs:

Female chauvinist pigs are women who have internalized
sexist values to such an extent that they imitate the most irresponsible and
aggressive kind of male sexual behavior. They have convinced themselves that it
is feminist and empowering to have numerous casual, exploitative sexual
encounters, and they show contempt for women they perceive as too
“feminine” (meaning emotional, vulnerable and modest)…

“Women’s liberation and empowerment are terms
feminists started using to talk about casting off the limitations imposed upon
women and demanding equality. We have perverted these words. The freedom to be
sexually provocative or promiscuous is not enough freedom; it is not the only
‘women’s issue’ worth paying attention to. And we are not even free in the
sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty,
busty exhibitionist. If we are really going to be sexually liberated, we need
to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human
desire.” (p.200)

We can hypothesize that as women adopt the promiscuous,
callous lifestyle
advocated by porn, they will be less likely to report
instances of rape. This might be in part because porn trains people to expect
discourteous behavior in sex, and in part because of widespread beliefs that
‘loose’ women have little credibility when it comes to accusations of rape. A
raped woman has every reason to fear that her sexual history might be
mercilessly worked over in court (and/or public opinion) during a trial,
especially if that history is long and messy.
For reasons like these, one cannot conclude from mere correlation that porn truly reduces the incidence of sexual assault. There is no unambiguous logical connection between the two.

The idea
that porn is cathartic or harmless is hard to square with scientific studies showing that porn causes people to take rape less seriously:

In 1995, the Journal of Communication reported on a meta-analysis of 24
different studies. Researchers found that “A relationship between
pornography consumption and believing rape myths exists.
Rape myths pertain to erroneous and potentially harmful ideas regarding
rape, for example, that victims of rape are partially to blame for the
crime, rapists should not get tough sentences, or rape is not a serious
crime. This study found that violent pornography increased the
acceptance of rape myths, and nonviolent pornography increased the
acceptance of rape myths when compared to a control group.”

It is easy to see how the propagation of rape myths would decrease reporting of rape. The victim might not be sure that an actual crime occurred, or even if they did, might not feel that our legal system will recognize their injury.

Todd Kendall, author of “Pornography, Rape, and the Internet” (PDF), is critical of the lab experiments that show porn degrades viewers’ attitudes towards women and rape:

…laboratory settings may be quite dissimilar to the typical experience with pornography. In fact, by attempting to simply arouse subjects, such studies allow only for complementarity between pornography and rape, ignoring completely the potential substitutability with rape derived from the use of pornography to release sexual tension. (p.16)

Again the notion that porn is cathartic shows its enduring allure. However, plain common sense and countless reports from real people indicate that, far from being cathartic, porn motivates or instructs sexual predators and
that it hurts relationships. As Diana Russell observes, few people would think
of showing violent parents violent films in order to get them to be more gentle
with their children. Why should sexually violent films have different effects? Sure, orgasms are present, but orgasms don’t provide “release” in any lasting sense. They serve to
increase the porn viewer’s association of violence and abuse with sexual
pleasure (conditioning). The phenomenon of porn addiction certainly doesn’t suggest any notion of lasting release, only bondage and a desire for ever more extreme experiences.

Many of the lab experiments may actually
be understating the hazards of porn consumption. I doubt any lab will witness
scenes such as these:

Marchiano [Linda Lovelace] traveled to campuses to speak out about her two
and a half year imprisonment by her husband/manager Chuck Traynor. Linda’s
speech encouraged women on the campus to protest outside the
fraternity-sponsored showing of Deep Throat. She said that in this movie there
are visible bruises all over her body that attest to part of her torture. The
fraternity brothers’ response, was to shout out during Deep Throat: ‘Fuck her,
hurt her, rip her.’ Toward the other females on the screen they screamed
comments such as ‘Ugly bitch and whore.’ They chanted, ‘Bruises, Bruises,
Bruises!’ continually during the film.[25]

Testimony in Minneapolis
When I was thirteen, I was camping with the Girl Scouts
in Northern Wisconsin. It was ten years ago in November. I was walking through
the forest outside of the camp in midafternoon and came upon three deer hunters
who were reading magazines and talking and joking around.

I turned to walk away and one of the men yelled,
“There is a live one.” And I thought they meant a deer, and so I
ducked and tried to run away. I realized that there wasn’t any deer in sight
and that they meant me. And I started running and they ran away–they ran after
me. I tripped, the forest was covered with pine needles and leaves and they
caught me. And I told them that I would go away, to leave me alone, please.

And they said, “You are not going anywhere” and
forced me to get up and pulled my hair and started looking at me up and down,
calling me a little Godiva–I had long hair then–a golden girl, and making
jokes.

They told me to take my clothes off and I did. It was
very cold. It was November. I took my clothes off, and they told me to lie down
and the first man started. They told me not to say anything, that if I made a
sound that they would kill me, they would blow my head off…

All three of them had hunting rifles. They–two men held
their guns at my head and the first man hit my breast with his rifle, and they
continued to laugh.

And then the first man raped me. And when he was
finished, they started making jokes about how I was a virgin and I didn’t know
how they knew I was a virgin, but they did. And they made jokes about this, and
jokes about how they could have used something like this when they were in boot
camp, and made jokes about being in the military.

The second man then raped me. None of the men attempted
to kiss me or touch my breasts. They simply wanted to have intercourse. When
the second man was finished, the third man was not able to get an erection and
they, the other men, told me to give him a blow job, and I didn’t know what a
blow job was.

The third man forced his penis into my mouth and told me
to do it and I didn’t know how to do it. I did not know what I was supposed to
be doing. He started swearing at me and calling me a bitch and a slut and that
I better do it right and that I wasn’t even trying. Then he started getting
very angry and one of the men pulled the trigger on his gun, so I tried harder.

Then when he had an erection, he raped me. They continued
to make jokes about how lucky they were to have found me when they did, and
they made jokes about being a virgin. They started kicking leaves and pine
needles on me and kicking me and told me that if I wanted more, that I could
come back the next day.

Then they started walking away and I put my clothes back
on and it was not far from where they had set up their camp, and I looked down
and saw that they had been reading pornographic magazines. They were magazines
with nude women on the covers.

See also:

Academic Defenders of Porn Need to Engage with Reality (explicit language)
I have met hundreds of women and men who have stories to tell about pornography and the devastating impact it has had on their lives…

I have heard about what it is like to be coerced into making pornography by parents, brothers, uncles, boyfriends, husbands, and pimps. I have listened to women tell me about being raped and brutalized by men who wanted to reenact their favorite porn scene, and I have spent time with women who were gang-raped by their male “friends” after watching pornography. The women who tell their stories speak of the lasting effects that pornography has had on their lives…

In the world of scholarly discourse, these stories are contemptuously referred to as “anecdotal evidence”, first-person accounts that may make for interesting reading, but are not comparable with real scholarship. In a world cleansed of pain and passion, the realities of these people’s lives are lost in the maze of postmodern terminology and intellectual games…

The Science Behind Pornography Addiction
Permission-Giving Beliefs are a set of beliefs that imply that my
behavior is normal, acceptable, common and/or doesn’t hurt anyone so I
have permission to continue to behave in the way that I am. In all
types of violence and addiction, Permission-Giving Beliefs are
involved. Examples would include “All men go to prostitutes”, “Women
like sex mixed with violence” and “Children enjoy sex with adults”.
These particular Permission-Giving Beliefs are also common in
pornography.

Exposure to Pornography as a Cause of Child Sexual Victimization
The incest started at the age of eight. I did not understand any of it
and did not feel that it was right. My dad would try to convince me
that it was ok. He would find magazines, articles or pictures that
would show fathers and daughters or mothers, brothers and sisters
having sexual intercourse. (Mostly fathers and daughters.) He would say
that if it was published in magazines that it had to be all right
because magazines could not publish lies… He would say, “See it’s
okay to do because it’s published in magazines…”

Testimony in Minneapolis: Researcher sets out to prove angry fantasies are cathartic, finds the opposite
Nancy Steele’s study of convicted violent offenders found that fantasy
did not reduce anger or the expression of aggression, contrary to the
predictions of the psychoanalytic literature.

Testimony in Minneapolis: “Pornography in the home is insidious. Girls pick up the message, they act it out, they don’t know why they feel suicidal and crazy.”
I believe a lot of battering of young girls has to do with sexual feelings, much of what comes every time in families where there was pornography. The father feels sexual towards his daughter, wants to repress that, and instead of taking responsibility for his addiction, which is out of control, beats his daughter. It is connected many times. I have had fathers open up to this when they come to family therapy and talk about it…

Paper presented at American Psychological Society conference (PDF, 2004)
“…individuals with certain personality characteristics are attracted
to certain types of media content, and…these individuals are affected
by that content differently than are other people…. It appears that,
rather than serving a cathartic function, pornography may activate or
escalate the deviant sexual behavior of sub-clinical psychopaths.”

Statement of Rev. Susan Wilhelm: “…the sex became especially abusive after he started using pornography” (explicit language)
He exposed me to the pornography, too. Once we saw an X-rated film that
showed anal intercourse. After that, he pressed me to try it. I agreed
to once, but found the experience very painful. He kept trying
periodically. He told me my vagina had become as sloppy as an old sow’s
and he could not get pleasure any other way. He also used to pinch and
bite me. When I said “it hurts,” he would say, “no, it doesn’t.” I
became numb. I lost track of my own feelings. One time, he said in
reference to himself sexually, “it’s supposed to hurt.”

Testimony of Elana Bowman, Member of the Women Against Violence Against Women Coordinating Committee
I was working up the papers for a restraining
order at the Domestic Violence Project, when a woman began telling me
that her husband confessed to her that he had raped his daughter from
his first marriage, and that he served time for it. She asked him how
he could do that to his own blood. He answered that it was all right,
that the little girl hadn’t minded it, and that he had enjoyed it
enough for both of them. He had seen the pictures of it, and when girls
did it enough, they liked it, and that they really did like it or they
wouldn’t do it in the pictures he had seen. We talked more about that,
and I asked her if she thought that the porn he read was any cause of
what he had done. She said, “Of course,” and he had those magazines
now, and she had had enough. She had a little girl too, and she was
doing all she could to stop him from getting to her daughter.

Robert
Jensen: When Examining Complex Social Phenomena, Scientific Method Has
Limits; Listen to the Stories of the Victims (explicit language)

“I know all about you bitches, you’re no different; you’re like all of
them. I seen it in all the movies. You love being beaten. (He then
began punching the victim violently.) I just seen it again in that
flick. He beat the shit out of her while he raped her and she told him
she loved it; you know you love it; tell me you love it…” [Silbert
and Pines, 1984, p.864]

11 thoughts on “How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline (explicit language)

  1. I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at here. Are you saying this is how porn is giving the illusion that rape is on the decline, or are you saying that this is your untested hypothesis concerning how porn might possibly be giving the illusion that rape is on the decline?

    And, are you suggesting that rape is not on the decline? Are you trying to suggest it is on the rise? Do you have any figures to back this up? I always thought things were improving, not deteriorating.

    And, the language you’re using here causes me to think I should be offended by your portrayal of women. Your language makes it seem like you think women cannot be responsible for their own lives and behavior. You seem to suggest that women will automatically be taken in by the harmful lie that rape is OK, and will be unable to see it for the harmful lie that it is. Why do you think that porn has this effect that trumps free will and common sense?

  2. People have some free will, but it is not absolute. Most of us are susceptible to media influence to one degree or another. Porn, associated as it is with sexual pleasure and orgasms, is very influential media, influential enough to addict some people to the point where they lose their jobs and/or family.

    We are not making any statement about the actual level of rape today in the US or the UK. We are saying that D’Amato and Kendall have no basis to assume that if they see reported rates of rape fall even as porn consumption (or their chosen proxy, Internet access) rises, that this is because porn is cathartic. We observe that there are other qualities of porn that could cause rape reports to fall even as the real treatment of women is unchanged or even worsens. Moreover, reports from the real world suggest that porn generally encourages bad treatment of women, rather than mollifying it.

    Porn has some large effects on how people perceive certain things. In particular, one study found that porn reduces the desire of women to have daughters by over half.

  3. I’m sorry, I’m still kind of confused. You say you don’t make any claim about the actual incidence of rape in the US or the UK, and that your suggestion about how porn could give the illusion that porn is declining is merely a speculative, untested hypothesis. So you’re saying that you don’t know if rape is declining or not, and if it isn’t, you don’t know whether the spread of porn has anything to do with it? Is that right? Then, what are you saying?

    Also, I read the post you suggested, about the effects of porn on family values. I wasn’t very satisfied with it, I’m sorry to say. For one thing, it seemed to lump premarital sex together with extra<.em>marital sex. But having sex with your husband before you marry him is totally in a different ballpark from cheating on him afterwards. Also, the general suggestion seems to be that all the stuff they mention, premarital sex, extramarital sex, decreased inclination to get married, decreased inclination towards monogamy, and a decreased inclination to have children, were all intrinsically bad. But it seems to me that the “badness” of at least some of these effects of pornography, according to this study, are only bad in light of a certain conservative outlook.

    I have a sort of controversial view of these issues, but it seems to me that premarital sex is often not bad at all, and that extramarital sex and stuff are OK if (and only if) the appropriate permissions have been secured. What’s wrong with extramarital sex is that it often hurts your spouse. But if you have permission, and it doesn’t hurt him, then I don’t see the problem. And a decreased inclination towards marriage might be good if you’re not ready for marriage. And a decreased inclination to have children might be good if you’re not ready for the responsibility of raising a child.

    Although you say that both students and nonstudents participated in the study, you don’t say whether all age groups were represented. It seems plausible that younger people might be affected in ways that older, more mature people are not.

    Also, I was very confused by the claims that the “desire to have male offspring” dropped by 31%, and that the “desire to have female offspring” dropped by 61%.” What exactly dropped? The number of people who experienced the desire? The number of offspring desired? The relative strength of the desire? If it’s the strength of the desire, how were the computing desire strength? These things are notorious for being difficult to measure, but you cite some pretty precise figures with no margin of error. What is being measured?

  4. For your technical questions about how the experiments were conducted, I encourage you to contact the authors of the papers in question.

    Our claim is that D’Amato and Kendall have not demonstrated a clear, convincing, logical connection between porn and the improved treatment of women. We both disagree with their logic and found a large counter-example in the experience of the UK.

    Porn generally celebrates an extreme form of sex without commitment. I believe we’re on safe ground to say this is an unhealthy attitude, even if you aren’t rigorous about confining sex to marriage.

    Extramarital sex with the free consent of your spouse does sound less harmful than cheating without permission. However, if the couple has children, I would be concerned that bringing extra partners into the relationship could result in instability and loss of attention for the children. Debatable issues perhaps, but ones you will rarely see treated with any subtlety in a porn film. In pornoland, actions have no long-term consequences. They train people to live for the moment, as in this film:

    Wonderland

    This DVD features a story-driven title
    that mixes drama with hardcore sex. Wonderland tells the story of a man
    obsessed with his stepdaughter’s friend when she visits during
    Christmas break. Gary sacrifices everything in his traditional suburban
    existence for a single moment of ecstasy with a femme fatale.

  5. In your previous response, you made a claim that porn causes the desire to have female offspring by half. I took you to be endorsing the claim, even if you didn’t make it up. Even if you got the claim from a study, it was still your claim. You made it. I think it’s reasonable to ask you what you meant, and to expect a real answer. I don’t think it’s OK for you to pass the buck like that. What did you mean when you said, “porn reduces the desire of women to have daughters by over half”? Or, why did you say it if you don’t know what it means?

    When you say ‘we’ in, “we both disagree with their logic, do you mean both people in NoPornNorthampton, or do you mean me and you? Because you’d be wrong to include me.

    I agree with you that an “open marriage” lifestyle is risky, and that the risks increase if the couple has children. But ultimately it is up to responsible couples to manage the risks for themselves. If you’re responsible enough to rear a child, then you are also responsible enough to balance a slightly “out there” sex life with rearing a child. If you cannot balance those two parts of your life, your problem is a basic problem of responsibility.

    I don’t know why you think you’re on safe ground saying that sex w/o commitment is automatically unhealthy. Sex w/o commitment is bad when it is obtained dishonestly, or when it leads to unhappiness, or when one partner expects a commitment the other is unwilling to give. It’s a difficult, not impossible, situation to manage. If it’s managed well, honest, and happy, I have no problem with it. And if it’s not, it’s the lying, or whatever, I disapprove of.

    In fact, I am offended by your suggestion that this practice must be unhealthy. It’s one thing to say it’s not for you, it’s another to say it’s impermissible and unhealthy for everyone no matter what.

    And I still see this same paternalistic “media-determinism,” for lack of a better expression, in what you say. Suppose I am exposed to media that promotes a promiscuous lifestyle. As a responsible adult, I am capable of considering whether that lifestyle is compatible with my values, and making my decision on that basis. I think I’m capable of doing this even if the lifestyle seems fun, or the medium has good-looking people in it and is accompanied by orgasms. And if I cannot, I have no business raising a child.

    While it would be bad to act out the scenario described in the film Wonderland, I don’t agree that it would necessarily be bad just to watch the movie, assuming the person is an adult who understands the difference between fantasy & reality, right & wrong, knows his actions have consequences, and understands what those they are. So, unless we’re talking about someone who’s legally insane, I can’t agree that merely watching the movie would automatically lead to an unhealthy lifestyle or some catastrophe.

  6. I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    A couple of days ago, in one of those comments up there, you said you weren’t making any claims about the actual number of rapes in this country, or in the United Kingdom. You said you weren’t making any claims about whether the incidence of rape is declining or inclining in either country. And you didn’t say you were claiming that if the rate of rape is increasing in either country, that porn has anything to with it.

    So now, I’m confused about why you’re saying that it is increasing and that porn obviously has something to do with it. What are you saying?

    Also, I’m really confused by the link from the expression ‘sky high’ here. I thought it would take me to some article or data somewhere that says what the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence are. But it doesn’t. It leads to another article on your website that claims that porn is a lot like domestic violence. Why would you do that?

    Also, you haven’t answered any of my questions. Please answer them.

    1. If you’re not saying that the rate of rape as increased in either the United States or the United Kingdom, are you nevertheless advancing a hypothesis about why the rates of rape are increasing on those two countries? But you’re not saying that your hypothesis is correct, because it hasn’t been tested. So, my first question is, what are you saying? What is the thesis of this post?

    2. In your response of 4/23, you say that one study found that porn reduces the desire of women to have female children by over half. What does that mean? What did you mean when you said it?

    Also, I’d be very interested to know why you think that sex without commitment must be unhealthy for everyone no matter what, and why you think that porn is necessarily sexually violent. The only example you’ve provided here, Wonderland, appears to exemplify a certain irresponsible attitude, but its description hardly seems violent.

  7. So, I noticed you didn’t answer my questions, again. I was wondering why that is. Do you think they are unreasonable? I think they are as reasonable as questions could possibly be.

    If someone makes a claim about why porn may be masking the fact that rape is on the rise, I think it is reasonable to ask whether the claim should be regarded as a fact, or as an untested hypothesis.

    If someone first says he is not making any claim about what the rates of rape are in the United States or in the United Kingdom, nor any claim about whether the rates are increasing or decreasing, and then later says that the rates are “sky high,” I think it is reasonable to ask the person about it. There’s tension between the two claims, though not inconsistency. But I’m interested in knowing how you resolve the tension.

    If someone claims that the rate of rape is “sky high” in some jurisdiction, and the posts a link from the words “sky high,” it is reasonable to suppose that the link, when followed, will provide evidence for the claim that the rate of rape is “sky high.” When that doesn’t happen, I think it is reasonable to ask the person why he chose to link to the page he did, and why he made it look like he was providing evidence, when he really wasn’t.

    When someone claims that he knows of a study that proves that the desire of women to bear female offspring drops by “more than half,” I think it is reasonable to ask him what that means. I think it is unreasonable for the person to just say, ask the guy whose study it is. You made the claim. What did you mean when you made it?

    I find myself very dismayed by the direction this conversation has taken. I don’t think I’ve asked any unreasonable questions, and I think I’ve been civil and courteous to you at all times. Although I’ve been tempted to find offensive suggestions in what you say here, I’ve always given you a chance to respond.

    But now you seem to be stonewalling. Please answer my questions.

    Thank you,
    Sarah

  8. I’m sorry, but I’m pretty confused by your behavior. If you think my questions about what you’re saying in this post are unreasonable, I’d appreciate it if you’d say why. As I tried to convey above, I’m not trying to be unreasonable. I’m merely trying to understand what you’re saying and why.

    Or, if you don’t think my questions are unreasonable, I’d appreciate you trying to explain or articulate your position more clearly. It just seems to me that you couldn’t possibly mean all of the things you’ve said here; at least, you could mean everything it seems like you’re saying.

    So, please answer my questions, or please explain why you decline to answer them.

    Best,
    Sarah

  9. It’s hard for me to believe that you really have said everything you have to say on this subject. I think you’ve just been caught red-handed not knowing what you’re talking about. Allow me to review.

    You claim to say nothing about the actual rate of rape in the United States, or the United Kingdom. You give no actual numbers or statistics.

    You claim to say nothing about whether the rate of rape is going up or going down in either country. You do say that the rate of rape is “sky high” in the United States, but the evidence you cite is merely a post on your own blog that notes similarities between pornography and sexually abusive relationships. You do not cite any relevant statistics from any reputable law-enforcement or statistics-gathering entity either here or in the blog post you cite. (D’Amato and Kendall both do cite statistics, from the DoJ and the FBI, in favor of their claims, by the way.)

    You claim to say nothing about whether the speculative hypothesis you put forth here is true or not. That is, you don’t cite any evidence in favor of it. You don’t provide any reason to believe it, other than the mere fact that it sounds good to you.

    So, this post really doesn’t say anything at all. You don’t affirm that this hypothesis is true, and you don’t even affirm that the facts it’s supposed to explain are true.

    But you say it in a misleading way, that suggests that rape is on the rise in the US and the UK, and that the explanation for its being on the is porn, and that porn is masking the fact that it’s on the rise. But, according to you, you’re not really saying any of that.

    You also claim that porn reduces the desire of females to have female children by “over half,” but you won’t explain what you meant by that, and you stopped short of admitting that you had no idea what you were talking about.

    All of this, taken together, seems to be seriously dishonest. You’ve dressed up a vacuous non-assertion into something that looks like it carries real information. And you’ve made a claim for which you appear to have no evidence whatsoever in a way that suggests that you have solid evidence in favor of it. And you assert another claim in spite of the fact that you appear to have no idea what it even means.

    So, how can you have nothing more to say? Are you claiming that these issues are resolved elsewhere on your blog? If so, could you point me to the relevant pages? Or, are you hoping that I’ll forget about it and go away, because you find my questions inconvenient and embarrassing, and that’s why you refuse to answer them? Please explain.

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