Testimony in Minneapolis: Researcher sets out to prove angry fantasies are cathartic, finds the opposite

Minneapolis city officials heard testimony about peoples’ encounters with porn, those
who consume porn and those who produce it at a hearing of the Minneapolis Government Operations Committee on
December 13, 1983. This account appears in In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (p.168-170).

Testimony of Nancy Steele

For twelve years, I have worked in prisons in Colorado and Minnesota, providing direct clinical treatment services to men convicted of sex offenses, rape, incest and child molesting. For years, I’ve heard them talk in depth about their feelings about themselves, their crimes and their sexuality. These are my own personal professional opinions I have formed in listening to them over the years on the relationship between their crimes and pornography. I also want to say that some of my opinions are based on research that I did for my doctorate.

At that time, I was trying to research fantasy. This is a nonpublished dissertation. I started out with that new idea of catharsis. And I used violent offenders and nonviolent offenders in a fairly complicated design. And the net result showed the opposite of what I had predicted, and was [in]consistent with all the other literature and research I had read for my dissertation, that the angry fantasies increased anger in the offenders. What was of particular importance was that it increased it most in the most violent offenders, the most sadistic offenders.

[A footnote in the book clarifies the above paragraph: “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.”]

What I want to say about a sex offender, and what I have learned about them, is that they are a long time in the making. It doesn’t happen suddenly with no cause. There are always long-standing background reasons for their crimes and generally triggers in their current emotional environment that bring about the crimes. Pornography is both a cause and an effect of their emotional problems and very frequently plays a major part in their assaults on women and children. They generally will increase their consumption of pornography prior to sex offenses. They will get very specific ideas in reading pornography of exactly what they will do in their crimes, to whom they will do it in their crimes.

Certain types of them live years of their life in a fantasy world, isolated from real human relationships. They don’t have emotional pairing relationships with other people, they don’t have positive messages and values of sexuality, they don’t see sexuality as a loving expression of things. What they see in their homes, and what they read, and what they hear in the media, is what they tend to believe about sexuality.

One man said to me just last week in group–he had been molesting his daughter over and over and over, and he knew it was wrong, and he felt terrible and hated himself. But, he said, I read about it in a magazine, I read how the children really like this, how they want their fathers to abuse them. I knew it wasn’t right, but it gave me the excuse I needed to keep on doing it. They [turn] to pornography as a way to sort of satiate an appetite that grows in themselves. It doesn’t satiate them. It is like drinking salt water. The more they drink, the more they need, the more they have to seek to get what they believe they deserve.

For very lonely, very disturbed, angry men, pornography is a way in which they practice their crimes of sexual assault. They read stories, watch movies, and masturbate to angry destructive stories of rape and degradation. Over and over, they pair their fantasies with masturbation, ejaculation, and sexual release. Through a very basic conditioning process, their sexual response becomes conditioned to anger, violence, and shame. Some reach the point where they cannot feel sexual feelings in a loving and respectful context with women they care about. Fantasy is not harmless for many people. Certainly not all, but for many people, fantasy leads to action.

See also Porn Myths: “Porn is an outlet or safety valve for men who might otherwise do Bad Things”.

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