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Does pornography cause sexual violence?

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Pornography…why this issue? Again? It’s a thought provoking topic as evidenced by the scholarly work done to investigate the effects of pornography on children and adults alike. However, most research focused on pornography as an indistinct phenomenon with respect to sexual violence. How does pornography differ across various media platforms and to what extent does it differ? And to what extent is sexual violence such as rape committed as a result of pornographic influence?
 
The porn industry
Porn industry is a highly lucrative business industry, ranging from an individual with a camera to large established media empires such as Playboy. Huffington post states that the porn industry is estimated to have made $10 billion in 2012, with more than 11000 new pornographic videos released online and in video stores. A nagging question which people fail to ask is the level of forced coercion of men and women in this industry and the level of brutality that is faced in this profession.
 
Mediatization of porn
With the emergence of fast and far reaching technologies, pornographic content has leapt out of imaginations, from reading magazines and novels. Videos, whether purchased from stores or downloaded from the internet, exceeds the sense of sight and brings sound into the mix.
 

Martin Barron and Michael Kimmel, Journal of Sex Research in 2000, state that the rental of pornographic movies rose from 75 million in 1985 to 490 million in 1992 and with the introduction of pornographic content on different media platforms, the sexual violence in some of these pornographic contents influences some people. Often in the porn industry, there is a distinction placed between soft porn (form of less sexually explicit pornography) and hardcore (a form of more explicit, obscene, x-rated, pornographic content).  

 
Robert Jensen says in his 2004 research, “Contemporary pornography will make use of any relationship of domination and subordination — a power differential between people that can be sexualized and exploited with the primary domination/subordination dynamic eroticized in pornography being gender.”
 
Violence in pornographic content includes but is not limited to:
  • Verbal aggression – using harsh and brutal words
  • Shoving – excessive pushing
  • Bondage and confinement – physical restraining by cords or handcuffs
  • Choking – physical constringent of the throat
  • Slapping, pinching, punching, biting, pulling hair, spanking and kicking – this is where physical force is used
  • Torture – inflicting physical or mental suffering
  • Mutilation – injury causing disfigurement
  • Actual/Attempted murder
 
Percentage of scenes containing sexual violence by media
Types of violence Magazine Video Internet
Any violence 24.8 26.9 42.1
Verbal aggression 7.6 12.6 15.0
Rough in otherwise normal activity 2.9 4.1 10.0
Pushing, Shoving 7.6 3.8 3.6
Pinch 1.0 3.8 2.1
Pulling Hair/Biting 4.8 8.0 3.6
Threaten with weapon 0.0 0.8 9.3
Open hand punch (i.e. Slap, Spank) 4.8 9.3 8.6
Choke, Punch/Kick 1.9 0.8 2.1
Confine, Bondage 5.7 2.7 25.7
Weapon 1.0 1.6 15.7
Torture, Mutilation 1.0 0.3 8.6
Attempted/Actual murder 0.0 0.0 1.4
 
Martin Barron and Michael Kimmel 2000 research findings  (see above table and below graphical representation for a more comprehensive comparison between types of sexual violence and the media platforms that contain them) suggest that the Internet contains the highest percentage pornographic sexual violence which was followed by videos and magazines and where sexual violence occurs in these media, it’s perpetrated by men.
 
 
 
So does pornography cause sexual violence (rape)?

So does sexual violence in porn incite sexual violence and rape? Perhaps not. People who watch pornography whether violent or not do not necessarily rape. Whilst on the contrary those that rape do not necessarily make the conviction to do so after watching sexually violent pornography. Sexually violent pornographic contents are not a necessary or sufficient influence to sexual violence according to Robert Jensen’s 2004 findings. He suggests the important question is whether particular pornographic content contributes to rape or sexual violence. The key word here being contributes.

Even though there is no proven connection porn and sexual violence, in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa people have the right to be free of violence which includes sexual violence. Therefore the study of how pornographic content is used and produced is important to ensure the sexual violence in our society is reduced by eliminating the sexual violence contained in pornographic content.

To quote Gandhi, “Thoughts become words, and words become actions”. If one constantly fills their thoughts with violent images, where the actors are seemingly enjoying the actions, this might very well become their reality and there is a real possibility they may force this “reality” on others should they choose a different stance. Food for thought?

*Image: 4ELEVEN (Flickr) 
*Table:
Martin Barron and Michael Kimmel 2000 research findings
*Resources: Michelle Solomon