Disturbing School Incident Suggests Influence of Pornography
WARNING: This article contains links to sexually graphic material. Reader discretion is advised.
Angela Helm, writing for The Root, recently reported an incident of simulated sexual assault by white boys against black boys at a Henrico County, Virginia, middle school. Black members of the Short Pump middle school football team were pinned down by white students who simulated sex on them while making racial slurs in an incident that occurred in the school locker room.
At the end of the article Helm questions where these perpetrators learned this behavior and lays the blame at the feet of racist parents. While the under-age perpetrators may very well have learned despicable racist attitudes from their parents, pornography should not escape condemnation for promoting and even profiting from racism and sexual violence. The types of sexualized and violent behaviors displayed by the offending boys in this case strongly suggests they have been exposed to violent and racist pornography.
As reported in the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s “Pornography & Public Health: Research Summary,” numerous studies find connections between pornography consumption and aggression. For instance, an “Analysis of the 50 most popular pornographic videos (those bought and rented most often) found that 88% of scenes contained physical violence, and 49% contained verbal aggression.” Understanding this, it is not surprising to learn that “pornography use puts people at increased risk for committing sexual offenses and accepting rape myths.” Additionally, a 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike.
Violence isn’t the only destructive influence normalized in pornography. In 2007, Daniel Bermardi published an article analyzing two papers he’d written about online pornography and race. Bermardi states, “I saw the use of children, women, and people of color in the service of a pornographic articulation of whiteness” and “that . . . pornography in general . . . [privileges] the white male imagination.” Gail Dines, renowned Radical Feminist, writes that “pornography has eroticized and sexualized the continued oppression of women and men of color, which is played out on a daily level in the social institutions of this country.” Pornography sells racism to the next generation, and they have a big target audience in our youth.
In the U.S., a nationally representative survey found that 64% of young people, ages 13–24, actively seek out pornography weekly or more often. A recent UK survey of 994 adolescents (52% male; 47% female; 1% identified as other) found that 56% of boys and 40% of girls had been exposed to Internet pornography. Of those who had seen pornography 53% of boys agreed that pornography is realistic compared to 39% of girls. Additionally, 44% of males aged 11–16 who viewed pornography reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try. Researchers also observed a desensitizing effect, noting that rates of curiosity, shock, and confusion dropped with repeated viewing.
Additionally, multiple studies have shown that adolescent sex offenders reported a higher consumption of pornography, and that adolescents who used pornography are “more likely . . . to frequently con/manipulate others . . . to engage in coerced vaginal penetration and forced sexual acts such as oral or digital penetration, [and] to express sexually aggressive remarks (obscenities). . . .” A study of 804 Italian males and females aged 14 to 19, found that males who viewed pornography were significantly more likely to report having sexually harassed a peer or forcing someone to have sex. Adolescent sexual assailants and pornography are connected, and pornography normalizes sexual assault.
In light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, we are seeing more than ever the need to speak up for all victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation—including men. Actor and former football player Terry Crews recently revealed his own experience as a black, male victim of sexual harassment.
To help increase national recognition of male sexual abuse and exploitation, in September, NCOSE hosted the national symposium Out of the Shadows: Addressing the Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Men. In our research summary, we report that a systematic review and meta-analysis of 55 empirical studies from 24 countries, reporting on data collected from the year 2000 onward, found child sexual abuse (CSA) prevalence estimates ranged from 3–17% for boys. Unfortunately, studies show that boys’ reports are met with more distrust than girls’ in similar situations, and that mothers may be more inclined to administer physical punishment to boys than girls following a disclosure, because they hold the child responsible believing that the boy “should not have let that happen.”
The Short Pump Middle School boys who were assaulted are experiencing the same pain suffered by many men and women victims of sexual abuse and exploitation around the world. The pornography industry must be held accountable for inciting a public health crisis by promoting sexual violence, rape myths, and racism to our youth.
It is also imperative that parents and school officials recognize and work to abate pornography’s insidious influence on children. For this reason, the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Task Force sent a letter to Henrico County Public Schools, alerting them to the likely influence of pornography in the Short Pump Middle School Incident.
For more information on how to protect your children, see the resources we’ve assembled at http://endsexualexploitation.org/resources-parents/. To help ensure your child’s school is safe from pornography, review our Safe Schools Safe Libraries materials.
 Ana J. Bridges, Robert Wosnitzer, Erica Scharrer, Chyng Sun, and Rachael Liberman, “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16, no. 10 (2010): 1065–1085.
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 Paul J. Wright, Robert S. Tokunaga, and Ashley Kraus, “A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies,” Journal of Communication 66, no. 1 (February 2016): 183–205.
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[7i] Elena Martellozzo et al., “‘I Wasn’t Sure It Was Normal To Watch It . . .’ A Quantitative and Qualitative Examination of the Impact of Online Pornography on the Values, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviours of Children and Young People,” London, UK: Middlesex University (2016), https://www.mdx.ac.uk/__data/assets/ pdf.file/0021/223266/MDX-NSPCC-OCC-pornography-report.pdf.
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