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The Impact of Pornography on Sexual Violence and Sex Trafficking

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Abstract

This paper aims to study the effect of pornography on sexual violence and sex trafficking. The paper attempts to explore and analyze various research studies that have tried to understand the effect of pornography content on sexual violence. Research studies have suggested that exposure to pornographic content often leads to desensitizing effect which increases the chance of people engaging and accepting sexual violence. Furthermore, the paper attempts to understand the role of pornography in sex trafficking. It has been observed that pornography increases the demand for sex trafficking and often, provides financial and psychological control to traffickers. In addition, it serves as a training manual for the victims. Thus, the paper tries to explore and understand the relationship between pornographic content and various anti-social behaviours such as the propensity to engage in sexual violence and sex trafficking.

Introduction

The vast majority of porn — violent or not — portrays men as powerful and in charge; while women as submissive and obedient. Repeated experiences with pornography can lead to conditioning, habituation, and desensitization that lower the inhibitions or psychic costs of rape to perpetrators. It sets the stage for lopsided power dynamics in couple relationships and the gradual acceptance of verbal and physical aggression against women. Research suggests that those who consume porn (even if it’s nonviolent) are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression toward women and girls. However, porn doesn’t just change attitudes; it can also shape actions. Studies have shown that consumers of violent and nonviolent porn are more likely to use verbal coercion, drugs, and alcohol to coerce individuals into sex. Also, exposure to both violent and nonviolent porn might increase aggressive behaviour, including both having violent fantasies and actually committing violent assaults. In addition, pornography increases the demand for sex trafficking as it provides psychological and financial gain to the trafficking. Thus, understanding the effect of pornography on sexual violence and sex trafficking is crucial for effective policymaking.

Review of Literature

Heather (2013) conducted a longitudinal investigation to understand the rape myths conveyed by information published in playboy. The findings indicate that Playboy depicts rape as a gender-neutral issue, disregarding patriarchal roots of sexual violence against women, and promotes ambiguous discourse, which is equally likely to endorse and refute rape myths. They concluded that not much advancement has been made over time in deconstructing rape myths promoted to men, as Playboy has consistently painted a grey picture which was unsuccessful in disempowering rape myths.

Mancini, Reckdenwald and Beauregard (2012) Used retrospective longitudinal data to study the effect of offender pornography exposure during adolescence, adulthood, and immediately prior to the offence on the level of physical injury as well as the extent of humiliation experienced by sex crime victims. Results show that adolescent exposure to pornography was a significant predictor of victim humiliation and an increase in violence. However, porn served as a cathartic or counterbalancing force, when used prior to the offence-it reduced victim physical injury. Adult pornography exposure showed no observed effects. They concluded that pornography might influence the offender’s tendency to hurt or demean the victim differentially over the lifetime.

Foubert, Brosi, Bannon (2011) surveyed 62% of the fraternity population at a Midwestern public university on their pornography viewing habits, bystander efficacy, and bystander willingness to help in potential rape situations. The findings indicate that men who consume pornography are significantly less likely to intercede as a bystander, report an increased behavioural intent to rape, and are more likely to believe rape myths.

Sociological theories of deviant behaviour have not been systematically applied to the problem of who uses and who does not use cyberpornography on the Internet. The present study contributes to the literature by providing the first systematic application of selected sociological theories of deviance to the problem of explaining the use of cyberpornography. It tests a blended theoretical perspective, which includes measures from social control and opportunity theories of deviance, as well as measures of broader deviant lifestyles, as possible predictors of use of cyberporn. A key hypothesis is that persons with the strongest ties to conventional society will be less likely than others to use cyberporn.

Drake (2004) studied the perceptions of psychiatric nurses (n = 194) concerning the effect of pornographic consumption. 72% of the psychiatric nurses accepted the possible harmful effects of pornography and 78% agreed that there are risks for young consumers of pornography. 68% of psychiatric nurses accepted that the harmful effects of pornography need to addressed by them which further supports the view that nurses should be trained to deal with pornographic consumption.

Hald, Malamuth and Yuen (2000) conducted a meta-analysis to determine whether nonexperimental studies revealed an association between men’s pornography consumption and their attitudes supporting violence against women. The meta-analysis corrected problems with a previously published meta-analysis and added more recent findings. In contrast to the earlier meta-analysis, the current results showed an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in nonexperimental studies. In addition, such attitudes were found to correlate significantly higher with the use of sexually violent pornography than with the use of nonviolent pornography, although the latter relationship was also found to be significant.

Bergen and Bogle (2000) studied the relationship between pornography and sexual violence. Data pertaining to women’s sexual violence and their offender’s consumption of porn was obtained from 100 survivors at a rape crisis centre. Respondents reported that 28% of their offenders engaged in pornography consumption while 12% of the women reported imitation of pornography during the abusive incident.

Pornography and Sexual Violence

Pornography is used to sexually arouse its consumer; this arousal may increase the demand for sex and/or for particular experiences associated with sexual violence such as rape. Moreover, repeated experiences with pornography can lead to conditioning, habituation, and desensitization that lower the inhibitions or psychic costs of rape to perpetrators. Pornography consumption may also have effects on cultural norms that lead to higher levels of rape, or lower women’s self-esteem, a well-known risk factor for rape (Parrot, 1989). For instance, the rise of internet pornography has been blamed for coarsening culture by Paul (2005) and Levy (2005), and some feminist scholars have claimed that pornography enforces a male-dominated social hierarchy in which rape is more socially acceptable.

Researchers have theorized that men learn to sexually objectify women through the use of pornographic material and that pornography plays a key role in motivating violence against women. Some of the conclusions of this extant work have been criticized prompting researchers to use an experimental methodology to test hypotheses about the impact of pornography. Research testing the effect of exposure to pornography in laboratory settings has shown support for the imitation effect, where exposure to pornography elevates aggression in males, particularly for subjects shown violent pornography, increases acceptance of rape myths, and results in shorter prison sentence recommendations for rapists by subjects exposed to pornography. Recent studies show that pornography plays a major role in separation/divorce sexual assault. It is also related to the abuse of women in ongoing heterosexual relationships such as marriage.

According to Morgan (1980), ‘pornography is the theory – rape is the practice’. In multiple studies, men have exhibited a strengthening of beliefs and attitudes regarding sexual aggression, sexual assault, and rape in association with increased pornography use. In one of the most thorough attempts to understand the association between pornography and sexual aggression, Malamuth, Addison, and Koss (2000) found that men who frequently view pornography report a stronger behavioural intent to rape. A survey research of males has shown a consistent relationship between exposure to pornography and the self-reported likelihood of committing rape or using force to obtain sex the effect was greater when the exposure involved ‘ hard-core violent ‘ and ‘ rape ‘ pornography (Boeringer, 1994). Research examining the effects of pornography on women has revealed that indeed, pornography has affected their lives in ways such as being forced to re-enact scenes from pornographic media and to pose for pornographic pictures.

The basis for predicting associations between exposure to violent pornography and aggressive tendencies, including attitudes supporting violence against women, may be viewed as in keeping with more general models of the impact of violent media on aggressive tendencies, although additional mechanisms may also be at play when images of sex and aggression are intermingled On the other hand, nonviolent pornography often portrays women as highly sexually promiscuous and frequently as being dominated and ‘‘used’’ by males. These images may prime and reinforce various sexually aggressive schemata and ‘‘rape myth’’ attitudes, e.g., that some women deserve to or enjoy being harassed, mal-treated sexually, or raped. The proposed associations may not occur for most men, but be particularly likely for men who hold hostile/power schemas associated with women and sexuality and/or adhere to attitudes that dichotomize women into ‘‘whores’’.

Despite this strand of research supporting an imitation effect, some early research finds a null or catharsis effect — where not only was exposure to pornography benign, but actually beneficial by reducing sexual violence. Consumption of pornography may reduce rape if they are economic substitutes as consumers of pornography are often already aroused, and seek to use the material to relieve arousal. Thus, Posner (1994) theorizes that if pornography is a complement for masturbation or consensual sex, then pornography consumption could also deter rapes. Thus, continuous exposure to pornographic content leads to a desensitizing effect which makes people more prone to accept and engage in sexual violence. It serves as an imitation tool wherein sex and aggression are intertwined and becomes the basis for people’s understanding of sexual behaviour and the role of ‘women’ in society. The above-mentioned strand of research suggests that pornographic content leads to the objectification of women and thereby, dictates the power play between men and women in the society. In addition, it increases an individual’s intent to rape and accept rape myths.

Pornography and Sex Trafficking

Porn consumption increases demand for trafficked women and children as the victims are often used in the production of porn. Internet webpages are filled with people who were first recruited, enticed, and coerced into commercial sex. Many pornography performers have endured abuse, rape, and other forms of violence. While pornographic content includes trafficked victims from around the world, porn consumers aren’t told anything about the performers, including which ones may have been trafficked from an early age. Thus, regular users of internet pornography are likely consuming pornography that includes adult and child victims of sex trafficking.

Moreover, pornography allows traffickers a greater financial gain as the traffickers can sell sexually explicit photos and videos of victims. It is estimated that the pornography industry’s annual revenue has reached $13 billion. In addition, this allows traffickers a sense of psychological control over the victims as it might be possible for a young women/man to walk away from sex trafficking and start a new life, but sexually illicit photos or films will always be online. Traffickers might use this as a method to psychologically control the victims, dictating that they can never escape this life. Pornography is also used by traffickers to train sex trafficking victims about various sexual acts and situations buyers prefer. Thus, it serves as a training manual of what is expected out of them. Thus, pornography increases the demand for sex trafficking and provides the traffickers a greater financial and psychological control over the victims. Also, it serves as a training manual for the victims.

Conclusion

The above-mentioned researches suggest that sexual violence in pornography can create many anti-social effects, such as increased acceptance of rape myths and violence against women and decreased perceptions of the suffering of sexual violence. Researchers increasingly agree on the desensitisation effect of porn which hampers the perception of people about sexual behaviour and leads to the objectification of women. Furthermore, it outlines the power play of men and women in the society and thereby, increases the chances of behavioural intent to rape. Moreover, pornographic content effects sex trafficking on multiple levels as it increases its demand and provides psychological and financial control over the victims. At the same time, Porn cannot be solely blamed for the society’s woes yet a responsible consumption of porn is the need of the hour.

References

  1. Bergen, R. K., & Bogle, K. A. (2000). Exploring the Connection Between Pornography and Sexual Violence [Abstract]. Violence and Victims. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12131276_Exploring_the_Connection_Between_Pornography_and_Sexual_Violence.
  2. Drake, R. E. (2004). Potential health hazards of pornography consumption as viewed by psychiatric nurses [Abstract]. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/088394179490040X.
  3. Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography Viewing among Fraternity Men: Effects on Bystander Intervention, Rape Myth Acceptance and Behavioral Intent to Commit Sexual Assault. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity,18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552
  4. Kettrey, H. H. (2013). ReadingPlayboyfor the Articles. Violence Against Women,19(8), 968-994. doi:10.1177/1077801213499241
  5. Mancini, C., Beauregard, E., & Reckdenwald, A. (2012). Pornographic exposure over the life course and the severity of sexual offenses: Imitation and cathartic effects [Abstract]. Journal of Criminal Justice. Retrieved from- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256919810_Pornographic_exposure_over_the_life_course_and_the_severity_of_sexual_offenses_Imitation_and_cathartic_effects.

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