The Unspeakable Truth: Pornography and Violence Against Women

Excerpt republished from the ABC 29th May 2015

A young woman stands in a room with several men around her. She tells the men that she is taking women’s studies at university. They respond by grabbing her throat to silence her. They move onto slapping her and pulling off her clothes.

The scene that follows is too graphic to recount. After the men finish, they ask her: “What do you think of feminism now?”

The woman in this film later stated she was not comfortable with what happened. Apparently, though, this was not sexual assault but a form of sexual expression – pornography.

Indeed, depictions of sexual violence are often promoted as an expression of women’s rights. “You could do a porn where a girl is getting choked and hit and spit on, the guy’s calling her a dirty slut and stuff and that’s okay. That can still be feminist,” says Joanna Angel, self-described feminist porn actress.

Such pornographic violence is symptomatic of a broader, global trend. This trend ranges from the brutal opportunism often seen in the wake of economic and environmental disasters, where vulnerable women are specifically targeted with violence or coerced into sex slavery; through to the proliferation new forms of sexual objectification, such as labiaplasty, men extorting younger girls to send pornographic images, child-on-child sex assault and new technology for global sex trading; through to the ever-widening gender pay gap and the increasing feminization of poverty.

In Australia, most violent crimes have been in decline, but the rates of domestic and sexual violence are soaring. Gendered violence has escalated to the point that now two women are killed each week – twice the historical average. As at the time of writing, 35 women have been killed in Australia this year alone, the majority of them by male partners.

While this spike in murders has sparked much hand-wringing about the problem of male violence against women, not only have there have been funding cuts to women’s refuges and support services, there has also been a conspicuous refusal to address the sexist attitudes that lead to such violence in the first place.

There is significant evidence that boys today are more sexist than their grandfathers’ generation, particularly when it comes to sexual expectations. Research conducted by The Line found that one in four young Australian men think it is normal for men to pressure women into sex. This is followed by a sharp increase in underage sexual assault convictions, an issue previously unheard of.

While traditional conceptions of gender were once enshrined in law and social norms, today men and women hold more equal roles than in generations past. What then is driving this renewed and more potent sexism toward women? Paul Linossier, CEO of Our Watch, a group campaigning against domestic violence, says the fundamental problem is attitudes towards women:

“We need to go upstream and understand that behind men’s control of women and the murder of intimate partners sits two key drivers; gender inequality and holding to traditional and rigid gender stereotypes.”

In terms of broad gender equality, Australia fares quite well. Australia boasts a fairly modern and egalitarian approach to women’s political and economic participation. Yet, there is another dimension to gender inequality often goes unaddressed. Innumerable studies implicate the role of Westernised “raunch culture” in driving sexism – that is, pornography and its ubiquity in everyday life.

Access to pornography is perhaps the most marked change across these generations. Exposure now begins as young as 9 with the average age at 11 and the largest group of pornography consumers being boys aged 12 to 17 years. Gone are the days of hiding Playboy under the mattress; today, the most commonly viewed form of pornography includes verbal and physical aggression against women in nearly 90% of the films that are freely available – indeed, almost unavoidable – on the internet.

Australian law enforcement has long seen the link between pornography and sexual violence, though this connection is persistently rejected by those who argue that porn is sexually liberating. Early epistemological studies were once mixed in their findings about porn, but today the evidence is mounting. A 2010 meta-analysis reviewed all studies from the 1980s until today; it found a strong correlation between exposure and aggressive attitudes. VicHealth released the following findings in their review in 2006:

“Exposure to sexually violent material increases male viewers’ acceptance of rape myths, desensitises them to sexual violence, erodes their empathy for victims of violence, and informs more callous attitudes towards female victims … adults also show an increase in behavioural aggression following exposure to pornography, again especially violent pornography.”

Not only does the research implicate the role of pornography, but front-line service providers are witnessing this firsthand. Nathan DeGuara, manager of the Men’s Referral Service, has seen a strong correlation between pornography and domestic violence, with increasing sexual expectations directly linked to porn use. Di McLeod, the Director of the Gold Coast Centre for Sexual Violence, has this to say about intimate partner violence:

“In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender … We have seen a huge increase in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent. I founded the centre 25 years ago and what is now considered to be the norm in 2015 is frightening.”

Full article at ABC http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/05/29/4245269.htm

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2 thoughts on “The Unspeakable Truth: Pornography and Violence Against Women

  1. We have a Tory gov as well that has also cut vital funding to womyn’s services and refuses to do an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal womyn and girls.

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