Every time a murderer is found to have a stash of porn there’s a new round of the ‘pornography is evil’ debate. The fact that there’s no decent research that demonstrates a causal relationship between porn and rape, and other violence against women and girls, is completely ignored. The ‘logic’ goes because the killer had porn, the porn must have created the killer.
Every time this old chestnut gets wheeled out I get riled up. It’s a basic logical fallacy, with no more validity than the idea that global warming is caused by a lack of pirates. But if Pastafarians exist (and in this crazy mixed up world, it wouldn’t surprise me) their belief in the supreme divinity of pirates does no one any real harm. But the idea that criminalising pornography is a solution to violence against women is dangerous. It pits women against women – it’s one of the most divisive issues in the feminist community – and it diverts vital resources away from identifying and addressing the real causes of violence and rape.
This week the papers are full of articles about rape: the causes, the penalties, the definition. The narratives are all depressingly familiar. Nothing has really changed since I came of age in the 1980s. An estimated 1 in 5 women will be victims of rape or attempted rape. 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on the way to school every year. Surely no one can read those statistics and think that anything less than urgent action is necessary. How, then, can nothing have changed in nearly 30 years? By perpetuating the myth that pornography is the cause, we prevent real change from taking place.
Blaming porn for rape also perpetuates the myth that there is a link between rape and sex. In turn, this creates space for the various arguments that girls and women must suppress expressions of their sex to avoid ‘attracting’ rapists. They must dress conservatively – perhaps go the whole hog and wear the burkha. They must restrict their movements in the towns and cities in which they live and they must be schooled from a young age to refuse sexual advances. A British MP is even going so far as to say child sexual abuse will be prevented if young girls are taught to say no. This outrages me: does she imagine paedophiles never encounter children that ask them to stop? That all it takes is for a few sweet little girls (boys apparently are not affected by this) to say ‘no thanks’ and the rapist will say ‘gosh maybe I should try it on with the chicks my own age, these young ‘uns are hard to crack’?
Rape is about power. The fact sex organs are involved does not make it a sex act.
This week the UK papers are also covering two high profile child murders. John Maden of Manchester has been jailed for the murder of his 12 year old niece, Tia Rigg. In London Levi Bellfield, a convicted serial killer, is on trial for the 2002 murder of 13 year old Amanda ‘Milly’ Dowler. Porn features in both cases.
These are horrible, horrible stories. I cannot even begin to imagine the utter horror of losing a child in these circumstances. But it serves no one – least of all the victims – to blame pornography. Porn did not kill Milly and it did not kill Tia and to keep arguing that it was somehow to blame is a massive distraction. As a case in point, in the case of Milly Dowler, it seems the police were literally been diverted from investigating the real killer by the distraction of porn. The trial has revealed the lurid news that Milly’s father was a suspect because detectives found a stash of ‘extreme’ porn and bondage gear in the attic.
Milly disappeared in 2002. The murders that Levi Bellfield has already been convicted of took place in 2003 and 2004. Would Marsha McDonnell, Kate Sheedy and Amelie Delagrange still be alive today if the investigation into Milly’s disappearance hadn’t focused on her father’s porn?
The coverage of Maden’s conviction highlights the fact that he had a stash of porn that included child rape and torture. It also notes he heard voices. Perhaps our poor mental health systems are more to blame for Tia’s death than the pornography?
One thing’s for sure: as long as porn is the scapegoat, we’re not looking for the real culprit.
I don’t buy the argument that porn helps promote the idea that women want to be raped. For me, the argument falls at the first hurdle by failing to recognise that pornography is wildly diverse. For the same reason, I can’t agree that all porn objectifies women. I’ve worked in a sex shop and I’ve consumed a fair amount of porn. It’s arguable that a great deal of porn portrays women more realistically than mainstream media like fashion magazine and tabloids. That’s realistic as ‘naturalistic’, with a far greater range of body types represented, and realistic as whole and rounded, showing women as sexual beings who take pleasure in their own bodies and in sexual contact with others.
Mainstream society still finds female sexuality vastly threatening, despite the so-called sexual revolution. The debate over the Slutwalks taking place around the world is a great example (Read Suzanne Moore’s excellent piece on this topic) and porn is another. But we are sexual beings and there is a place for audio-visual representations of sex in our world. Rape is a crime there should be no place for. Let’s not confuse the two.
Sure, there’s a whole lot of porn I would never choose to watch but that also applies to the free-to-air TV schedule. And I find a lot of what goes to air under the name of broadcast journalism a damn sight more offensive than any of the porn I have watched.
The NRA like to say ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ and through this they argue against gun control. I’m not saying pornography shouldn’t be controlled. But porn does not kill and the over-simplification of arguments around porn distracts us from real debate about what might actually prevent the deaths of the millions of girls like Milly and Tia.