September 14, 2007

Could it be that pornography prevents rape?

Article by Morality in Media President Robert Peters

August 14, 2006

Introduction

On July 6, 2006, I submitted an article to the Chicago Tribune for possible publication on its op ed page or website. The article was in response to a column by Steve Chapman, which said in so many words, “We now have evidence that pornography may prevent rape.”

The article was also published on the www.moralityinmedia.org website, and I later discovered that it had prompted a response from Mark Kernes, Senior Legal Editor at Adult Video News, a “trade publication” for pornography businesses. Mr. Kernes’ article, “Morality in Media Chief Needs a Science Lesson,” can be found at www.freespeechcoalition.com. Because the subject is important, I have re-written my proposed “op ed article” and lengthened it considerably.

‘Could it be that pornography prevents rape?’

On June 19, 2006, David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post (“Statistics Show Drop in U.S. Rape Cases”) reported that the number of rapes per capita “has plunged more than 85% since the 1970s.” The data came from the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Study (NCVS) which asks “thousands of respondents ages 12 and older about crimes that happened to them” and is “meant to capture offenses that weren’t reported to the police.” Fahrenthold also wrote, “Many…say that these numbers could be a statistical mirage…others say they have been convinced that…a devastating crime has been receding from American life.”

As defined for purposes of the National Crime Victimization Study, “forcible rape” means:

“Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object like a bottle. Includes attempted rapes, males as well as female victims and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman is among those who believe there has been major improvement; but in his June 29 column (“Tide turns against rape-but why?”) Chapman takes it one step further by asserting that the survey data have “thoroughly demolished” one theory about the causes of rape – namely, “that pornography leads inexorably to sexual abuse of women and children.” Chapman continues, “But while hard-core raunch has proliferated, sexual assaults have not. Could it be that pornography prevents rape?” On its face, Chapman’s statement makes about as much sense as the following statements:

“But while sex on TV and in other media accessible to children has proliferated, teen pregnancies have not. Could it be that media sex prevents teen pregnancies?”
“But while violence in various media accessible to children has proliferated, juvenile violent crime has not. Could it be that media violence prevents violent juvenile crime?”

“But while child pornography has proliferated, there has not been an increase in sexual abuse of children. Could it be that child pornography prevents sexual abuse of children?”

In response to the first statement, I would say that a more plausible explanation is that the decline in teen pregnancies is the result of a tremendous effort to discourage teen pregnancies, including media campaigns and school and church-based programs that promote use of contraceptives and abstinence. The AIDS epidemic (and resulting massive public education efforts) has also presumably discouraged children from having “unprotected” vaginal intercourse.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this article, a study was published in the journal Pediatrics [Volume 18, Issue 2] entitled, “ Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth,” which found that “listening to music with degrading sexual lyrics is related to advances in a range of sexual activities among adolescents.”

In response to the second statement, I would say that a more plausible explanation is that the decline in juvenile violent crime is the result of a tremendous effort to reduce such crime, including efforts to curb gang violence and hate crimes, discourage use of illegal drugs, restrict access to guns, impose curfews, and punish juveniles as adults. Schools in New York City and elsewhere have also installed metal detectors, brought in law enforcement agents to patrol the halls, and implemented zero tolerance policies for Columbine-type threats and bullying.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this article, a study was published in the journal Pediatrics [Volume 18, Issue 2] entitled, “ The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students,” which found that “for males and females, the frequency of watching wrestling was highest among students who fought with their dates when alcohol or other drugs were involved.”

In response to the third statement, I would say that a more plausible explanation is that if there is a decline in sexual abuse of children it is the result of a tremendous effort to curb such abuse, including media campaigns and school-based programs, law enforcement efforts to apprehend adults who use the Internet to sexually assault children, hotlines to report abuse, longer prison sentences, sex-offender registration, electronic monitoring, background checks for jobs that involve contact with children, and programs to treat sex offenders. [On the subject of whether sexual abuse of children is in fact declining, see J. Reisman, “Interim Report: How the FBI and DOJ Minimize Child Sexual Abuse Reporting,”2002 (available atwww.drjudithreisman.org).]

And, in response to Chapman’s question about pornography preventing rape, I would say that a more plausible explanation is that if there is a decline in “forcible rape,” it is the result of a tremendous effort to curb rape through community and school-based programs, media coverage, aggressive law enforcement, DNA evidence, longer prison sentences, and more.

Statistics, of course, can be tricky. While teen pregnancy rates have declined since 1972, the rates increased significantly from 1972 until 1990, when sex was increasing in various media and pornography was also proliferating. [See, “Teen Pregnancy Rates in the U.S., 1972 – 2000,” National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy]. Similarly, juvenile violent crime arrest rates more than tripled from 1965 to 1990, when violence was increasing in various media. [William J. Bennett, Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, p.29, Touchstone, 1994]

And according to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) [see Online Data atwww.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/], the number of “forcible rapes” actually increased more than 100% from 1972 to 2004 (from 46,850 in 1972 to 94,635 in 2004). Part of the increase was the result of an increase in population, but when the numbers are adjusted per 100,000 inhabitants, the resulting rate still increased from 22.5 in 1972 to 32.2 in 2004.

Part of the explanation for the difference between the NCVS and UCR data is that the UCR Program only collects data reported to law enforcement agencies and also defines “Forcible rape” differently, to mean: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape regardless of age of the victim are included.

Statutory offenses (no force used – victim under age of consent) are excluded.” But whatever differences there are, it still defies the imagination how one measure (NCVS) points to an 85% decline in “forcible rape,” while another measure (UCR) points to an increase of over 40%.

Furthermore, no knowledgeable person would ever say, as Tribune columnist Chapman does, that “pornography leads inexorably to sexual abuse of women and children.” Clearly, human behavior of any kind is a product of many influences, both internal and external; and individuals can always choose not to act out pornography fueled sexual fantasies, just as drug addicts can choose not get the next fix. They can also be discouraged and prevented from doing so.

Chapman’s argument that viewing pornography may prevent rape is nothing new. Defenders of pornography have argued for decades that pornography provides individuals prone to sexual violence with an outlet for their desires. Common sense, however, ought to inform us that even if viewing pornography has a cathartic effect for some, it can also arouse or “incite” others.

If the predominant effect of pornography were cathartic, sexual abuse of children should in large measure “be history” by now, because never before has so much child pornography, “pseudo child porn,” and teen pornography been so readily available to so many. Instead, we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to combat sexual abuse of children. And every day, all across America, children and adults are being arrested for molesting a child or attempting to molest a “child” who turns out to be a law enforcement agent.

According to a recent study, more than half of child pornography possessors caught by the justice system had molested a child or attempted to do so. [J. Wolak, D. Finkelhor, and K. Mitchell, “Child Pornography Possessors Arrested in Internet Related Crimes: Findings From the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2005]. See also, K. Lanning, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis,” at p. 61, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2001 (“Pedophiles almost always collect predominantly child pornography or erotica.”]

Common sense should also inform us that when persons feed their minds on “adult” pornography (often from their youth) that exploits and degrades women or depicts violence against them, their sexual “appetites” can become warped. Social science research also indicates there is a causal relationship between pornography and sexual violence. [On the latter point, see, e.g., Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, Final Report, at pp. 299-351, 1986] There is also a mountain of anecdotal evidence showing that pornography is linked to violent sexual crimes. For examples of anecdotal evidence, see the article, “Link Between Pornography and Violent Sex Crimes,” at www.ObscenityCrimes.org (Porn Problem & Solutions page).

Another valuable source of anecdotal evidence (for those who can stomach the subject matter) is Vernon Geberth’s book, Sex Related Homicide and Death Investigation: Practical and Clinical Perspectives(CRC Press, 2003). Geberth, a retired Lieutenant Commander of the Bronx, New York homicide squad and a nationally renowned homicide investigator, wrote the book to help law enforcement investigators solve sexual homicides. His book gives many examples of sexual homicides where pornography clearly had or may have had an effect. In an interview published on www.ObscenityCrimes.org (Porn Problem & Solutions page), Geberth says:

“What I was seeing in training and consultations was a drastic increase in sex-related homicides. I don’t know whether statistical data support my experience. What I do know is the levels of sexual violence in cases I was called upon to review were outrageous…

“What I was finding was that many of these pornographic depictions – and I had to go through quite a bit – were actually the road map to the offenses that the perpetrators of sex crimes were committing. In other words, the plan was in the pornography. I’ve said this before: pornography is the fuel that acts as a catalyst for fantasy-driven behavior. There’s no doubt in my mind that pornography plays an important part in violent sex crimes…”

Chapman’s article also overlooks the nature of sexual addiction. As observed by Dr. Victor B. Cline in his monograph, “The Effects of Pornography on Adults and Children” (published atwww.ObscenityCrimes.org Porn Problem & Solutions page) the fourth stage of pornography addiction is the increasing tendency to act out sexual behaviors viewed in the pornography.

While New York and Cosmopolitan magazines aren’t “scientific journals,” they can include information of interest. For example, in his article, “Not Tonight, Honey, I’m logging on,” New York, 10/20/03), David Amsden reported, “The mass consumption of cyber porn has moved… into the potent mainstream…it’s hip…Recently, a 26-year-old businessman friend shocked me by casually remarking, ‘All of my friends are so obsessed with Internet porn that they can’t sleep with their girl friends unless they act like porn stars.’” While we do not know what percentage of the males who participated in Cosmopolitan’s “annual sex survey” were “obsessed” with or addicted to pornography, we do know that in response to the question, “How would you ideally like to use porn in your relationship?” 31% of the males who responded, said, “Act out scenarios from it” (“The Sex He Craves,” Cosmopolitan, at p. 120, August 2006).

Even among supposedly hip males, however, things can go wrong, as a recent rape trial in Lewiston, Idaho illustrates. In Lewiston, the 19 year-old defendant was acquitted of raping a 17 year-old girl at a party at his apartment, “where people watched a pornographic movie and consumed alcohol” (“Jury clears Draper on rape charges,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 1/21/06). But in a written statement given to the Tribune, one juror said, “Many of us felt this girl had something horrible happen to her, but because of the way the law reads, we had to let him walk. It makes me sick to my stomach.” During the trial, the defendant had testified that ‘the story about the defendant, the alleged rape victim, and another male having sex together to imitate the porn video was true” (“Defendant in rape trial takes stand,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 1/19/06).

Prostitutes also report that men want to act out what they see in pornography. In their article, “Prostitution: A Critical Review of the Medical and Social Sciences Literature” [Women and Criminal Justice, 11(4): 29-64 (2000)], Melissa Farley and Vanessa Kelly report:

Women in prostitution have described pornography’s role in their being coerced by pimps or customers to enact specific scenes… Customers show women pornography to illustrate what they want…Thirty-two percent of 130 people in one study had been upset by an attempt to coerce them into performing what customers had seen in pornography.

Prostitutes, however, do not always consent to their customers’ porn-inspired behavior. See, e.g., M. Silbert and A. Pines, “Pornography and Sexual Abuse of Women,” Sex Roles, 10:857-868, 1984 (“The present study…was aimed at studying sexual abuse of street prostitutes…Out of the 193 cases of rape, 24% mentioned allusions to pornographic material on the part of the rapist.”); see also, M. Corwin (“Life on the Street: New Wave of Prostitution With More Violence Is Overwhelming L.A. Authorities,” Los Angeles Times, 12/8/85), where we read:

“In a room in the back of a Studio City restaurant, about 30 madams and call girls gathered to discuss a significant change in their business…[[A] North Hollywood madam told the women that a number of customers had asked her to procure 12- or 13-year-old girls. And more customers, she said, were beating, torturing and even killing out-call prostitutes.

“An increasing number of customers are requesting violent or kinky sexual service and seeking younger girls, prostitutes and call girls say…

Experts have many theories why violence and fetishism are on the rise, but few know what to do about it. Most of the women who have worked the streets for any length of time have also been assaulted and tortured. Although there are no exact statistics on prostitute killings and abductions, most law enforcement officials agree that the problem has worsened.

“The sexual revolution has contributed to the change prostitutes have seen, said Dr. Michael Grinberg, a psychiatrist, sex therapist and chairman for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex…‘Prostitutes have always been around to provide any sexual behavior that is not generally available,’ he said. ‘At one time, for many men, that could have been just intercourse or oral sex. But with a lot of sexual freedom, there is no need for those men to go to prostitutes. So many of the men who began seeing prostitutes wanted things that were considered permissible with other partners.’

“There are no definitive studies, but Grinberg is convinced that kinky sexual behavior is generally on the rise…There are several possible reasons for the change, Grinberg said. Our society is more violent now… Pornography is more graphic and readily available and some behavior displayed ‘can become incorporated in one’s sexual fantasies.’”

It is indeed much easier for a boy or young man today to have “sex” than it was decades ago. That it is easier, however, does not mean that every girl is happy about it. A recent survey found that 41% of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 “said they’d had unwanted sex at some point” (Reuters, “Many teenage girls feel pressured into sex,” 6/ 6/06). And it may well be that a one reason why the NCVS rape rate has declined is because girls and young women today give in to unwanted sex much more easily than they did decades ago. What some girls consider “pressure” may also constitute “psychological coercion” for purposes of the NCVS definition of “forcible rape,” but how would NCVS survey participants know that unless each participant (including a 12 year old) is provided with a detailed definition of “rape” and “psychological coercion?”

Another possible explanation for the declining NCVS rape rate is that “rape” may mean different things to different people. When I think of “rape,” I think of vaginal intercourse, but many rapes today involve oral sex, which many younger Americans don’t even consider to be “sex.”

One possible explanation for the high NCVS rape rates in the 1970s is that the 1970s were a time of transition when some males and females viewed the “boundaries” between consenting and non-consenting sex differently. Unlike previous generations, where most couples waited until they got married before having sex and stayed married, “boomers” had premarital sex and “broke up” or got married and divorced. Either way, males accustomed to having sex didn’t appreciate being told NO by a future “date.” Similar problems exist today, but more is being done to address them. See, e.g., A. Abbey, “Alcohol Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem Among College Students,” (Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement No. 14: 118-128, 2002).

In her 2002 “Interim Report: How the FBI and DOJ Minimize Child Sexual Abuse Reporting” (at p.3, n.18), Dr. Judith Reisman also points out that by 1976 “the rape of an adult woman was changed nationally from a capital to non-capital offense.” What message did that send?

It is also noteworthy and relevant that by the early 1970s the proverbial pornography “horse” was out of the “barn” and on the run, changing the way people view and presumably have sex. For example, the hardcore porn film “Deep Throat” was released in 1972 and became, according to the International Herald Tribune (9/7/04), the “11th-highest-grossing domestic film in 1973.”

In fact, pornography began to get out of the barn after 1957, when the U.S. Supreme Court began to both limit the reach of obscenity laws and to make it more difficult to enforce these laws. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Morality in Media was founded in 1962, after the discovery that school children had gotten their hands on sadomasochistic pornography. By 1966, the Supreme Court had made it virtually impossible to enforce obscenity laws, and by 1967 the problem had gotten so bad that Congress established a Commission to determine “effective, and constitutional means to deal effectively with such traffic in obscenity and pornography.”

As Mr. Chapman mentions in his article, the nation’s prison population has also increased greatly, taking many sex offenders out of circulation, and DNA databases have made it easier to catch rapists. He might have added that women’s groups, schools, and others have also worked for decades to teach girls and women how to avoid being raped and to make boys and young men more aware of the legal line between consenting and nonconsensual sex.

In her 2002 “Interim Report” (at p. 12) Dr. Judith Reisman states that first Rape Crisis Centers (RCCs) opened in Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Bay area in 1971 and that by 1974 sixty-one RCCs were established in thirty-nine states. By 1978 the federal government had also established a national center to study and evaluate rape assault prevention programs. RCCs, however, do not report rapes to law enforcement agencies, which may reduce the number of rapes reported to those agencies, which would affect the FBI’s UCR data (see above).

Another potential problem with the NCVS household survey is that the nature of sexual predation may be changing. With more women taking steps to avoid being raped and with more men turning to prostitutes to gratify perverse or violent sexual desires, more prostitutes (including those who are victims of trafficking, homeless, or minors) may experience rape or attempted rape more than once. Even assuming that a proportionate number of prostitutes respond to the household survey (which is doubtful), they do not report each rape.

With the sexualization of children in entertainment and advertising and with the proliferation of child pornography, “pseudo child porn” and teen pornography on the Internet, more adults may also be targeting children for sexual purposes. Children, however, are easier to seduce; and while the resulting seduction may constitute statutory rape, it would not be considered “forcible rape” as defined in the survey. Furthermore, if the victim is under 12, even “forcible rape” isn’t included in the NCVS data because children under 12 aren’t interviewed.

There are also reports that cases involving boys who rape other children are increasing. The Columbus Dispatch (T. Sheehan, “Young rape offenders on rise,” 7/12/06) reported that in Columbus, Ohio it is “not unusual to have two rape suspects in a week who are 11 and 12 years old.” If victims are under 12, these rapes aren’t included in the NCVS data. According to the article, the assistant county prosecutor Melinda Seeds “thinks easy access to pornography through the Internet and elsewhere is a factor in the number of youthful offenders.”

Concluding thoughts

Just as tobacco companies once argued that there was no conclusive scientific data showing that smoking causes cancer, so pornographers and their defenders now argue that there is no scientific data that conclusively demonstrates that exposure to pornography “causes” sexual crimes. Some even have the gall to argue that pornography is good for society.

In response to the argument that there is “no scientific data which conclusively demonstrate that exposure to obscene material adversely affects men or women or their society,” the Supreme Court (Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49) said:

“We reject this argument…We do not demand of legislatures ‘scientifically certain criteria of legislation’…If we accept…the well nigh universal belief that good books, plays and art lift the spirit, improve the mind, enrich the human personality, and develop character, can we then say that a state legislature may not act on the corollary assumption that commerce in obscene books, or public exhibitions focused on obscene conduct, have a tendency to exert a corrupting and debasing impact leading to anti-social behavior? ‘Many of these effects may be intangible and indistinct, but they are nonetheless real.’” [413 U.S. 60, 63]

Even were we to assume that there is less “forcible rape” today than there was 30 years ago and that the increase in promiscuity and proliferation of pornography contributed to the decline – after all who needs rape when you can have sex whenever you want and who needs women when porn is so accessible and affordable [on the latter point, see, N. Wolf, “The Porn Myth: In the end, porn…turns men off to the real thing,” New York, 10/20/03] – does anyone in their right mind think promiscuity and pornography are good things and should be encouraged? For a recent perspective on this, see the November 9, 2005 testimony (before U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary) of Jill Manning, “Why Government Should Care About Pornography.” Author: Robert Peters  08/14/2007

Further Reading