DoD Must Address Porn Culture in the Military If Serious About Decreasing Sexual Assault

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Sexual assault will never end while human beings are seen as commodities. Women will never achieve equality while they can legally be bought and sold. The Department of Defense needs to understand this in order to meaningfully address sexual assault. The sad truth is that instances of sexual assault in the military have spiked despite years of efforts by the DoD to improve their sexual assault prevention program and victim reporting procedures.

Between 2016 and 2018, sexual assault in the military rose 38% with the rate for women increasing by 50%. Despite this alarming increase, prosecutions of sexual assault in the military plummeted by almost 60% in the same time frame. Why is the DoD failing to effectively address this very serious problem within its ranks? There is undoubtedly more than one answer, but we would suggest that their efforts have been ineffective because the DoD is still not addressing the military’s culture of objectification and the commodification of women through pornography use and sexually oriented business patronage by its servicemen. More training and better policies are a good thing, but they are merely a band-aid stretched thin over a deep wound when it comes to meaningfully addressing sexual exploitation.

It is naive of the Department of Defense to allow an atmosphere where servicemen may treat women as sex objects in some contexts and then expect them to be respectful and unified with their sisters in arms. If the DoD is serious about eradicating sexual assault, they will make pornography use unacceptable and sexually oriented businesses off-limits to all service members.

The Dangerous Real-Life Implications of Porn Culture

Fundamentally, pornography desensitizes viewers and conditions them to see others as objects (1), and this is especially true for male viewers. Additionally, the data (some of which we break out below) shows that those who view pornography often are more likely to believe rape myths—such as the myth that “women enjoy rape”—are less likely to intervene if they witness sexual assault, and even express a higher level of desire to commit rape if they believe they will not be caught (2). And frighteningly, frequent porn use is associated with a higher likelihood of committing sexual harassment and sexual assault (3). 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 (4).

The alarming truth is that most of today’s most popular pornography depicts violence against women. For example, in October of 2019, it was reported that Pornhub’s most popular video one week—racking up over 7 million views—was titled “My Brother Brazenly Took Advantage of My Helplessness” and depicts a young woman trapped in a washing machine and being raped by her “brother” while repeatedly saying “No,” “Stop,” “I’m afraid”, and “It hurts.” A 2010 analysis of the 50 most popular pornographic videos found that 88% of scenes contained physical violence and that 49% contained verbal aggression. Eighty-seven percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated against women, and 95% of their responses were either neutral or expressions of pleasure (5). Porn is conditioning viewers to believe that sexual violence is sexy and that women enjoy it (6).

Silhouette of a man's face in front of red neon signage
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Moreover, there is a connection to porn use and sex buying.

Men who view pornography often are more likely to buy sex than those who do not (7) and pornography fuels the demand for prostitution and trafficking (8). It is common sense that for some men the objectification of women through regular porn use will naturally lead to the ultimate objectification of women through purchasing sex, but this interconnectivity extends beyond just the buyers’ motivations.

Increasingly, strip clubs are live-streaming their dance floors on pornography websites and setting up webcams in back rooms for the girls to perform “private shows” that are streamed online. Additionally, strip clubs and other sexually oriented business are very often a front for acts of prostitution and trafficking. Furthermore, they are the hunting ground for traffickers who search for victims among the dancers and for buyers among the male patrons. The ugly truth is many women who begin dancing in strip clubs ultimately end up in prostitution in some form. And sadly, many victims of trafficking have suffered the additional trauma of their abuse being recorded and posted online as pornography.

The connections between the various forms of sexual exploitation are seamless and intertwined and they must be tackled as a whole – they cannot be addressed in a vacuum.

Examining the Military’s Culture of Porn and Objectification

With this in mind, let us examine the military context specifically.

It is no secret that porn use is rampant in the military and that strip clubs and sexually oriented business flock to military bases due to high demand. Fort Bragg, the Army’s largest military base, has a number of strip clubs located right outside the base on Fort Bragg Street. This base is located in Fayetteville, N.C. which is a small town of only 200,000 people, yet the presence of 15 strip clubs make it the third ranked city for strip clubs per capita in the nation.

As for pornography, prior to 2013, it was openly being sold on all military bases. Only after consistent public pressure by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) did the DoD stop selling pornography on Army and Air Forces Bases. The Navy, however, continued to sell pornographic magazines on their bases until early 2019. This is alarming considering the Marines have the highest reports of sexual assault. Further, NCOSE continues to receive reports of rampant porn use on Navy ships and submarines as well as reports of pornography use in military base computer labs in all branches of the military.

To see a clear example of the military porn culture in action, one need look no further than the Marines United scandal from 2017. This involved a private, invite-only Facebook group for male active duty Marines and veterans. The Marines used this social media group to solicit and share hundreds of naked photographs of female service members and veterans. This even included a female corporal being stalked at a military base by a fellow Marine who photographed her and posted the photos online. The result was an onslaught of obscene comments by members of the Facebook group including encouragements to rape her. This scandal demonstrates how pornography and respect for women cannot co-exist. These military men were making and sharing pornography of their own fellow female service members, exploiting them, deriding them, and even encouraging their sexual assault and rape.

Issue: Military -- Pentagon Watch on Sexual Exploitation

It is no wonder that servicemen who are steeped in a culture of rampant pornography use and sex buying—acts which treat women as objects and commodities—then treat their fellow women in arms in similarly dehumanizing ways. NCOSE has been pressuring and requesting that the DoD make strip clubs off-limits to all military personnel worldwide, to include pornography harms in sexual assault/harassment training, and to do random sweeps of all military computers to ensure pornography is not being used. Check out NCOSE’s Pentagon Watch page and watch an excellent explanation of the problem and the proposed solutions from Dan O’Bryant, former Air Force JAG attorney, former professor at the Air Force Academy and board member for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. As Dan O’Bryant has said, “Military members cannot exploit and objectify women in one environment without it having an impact in every area of their lives, including their military service and relationships with their sisters in arms.”

To truly change the culture in the military, and to defend the dignity and humanity of every service member, the DoD must eradicate sexual exploitation by military personnel in all of its forms—including pornography use and strip club attendance.

References

  1. Paul J. Wright and Robert S. Tokunaga, “Men’s Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence against Women,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 45, no. 4 (2015): 955–64, doi: 10.1107/s10508-015-0644-8.
  2. A meta-analysis of 46 studies reported that the effects of exposure to pornographic material are “clear and consistent,” and that pornography use puts people at increased risk for committing sexual offenses and accepting rape myths. Elizabeth Paolucci-Oddone, Mark Genuis, and Claudio Violato, “A Meta-Analysis of the Published Research on the Effects of Pornography,” The Changing Family and Child Development, ed. Claudio Violato, Elizabeth Paolucci, and Mark Genuis (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2000), 48–59. Foubert, John D., R. Sean Bannon, and Matthew W. Brosi. “Effects of Fraternity Men’s Pornography Use on Bystander Intervention, Rape Myth Acceptance and Behavioral In- tent to Commit Sexual Assault.” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention 18, no. 4 (2011): 212–231.
  3. 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. Svedin, Carl Göran, Ingrid Âkerman, and Gisela Priebe. “Frequent Users of Pornography. A Population Based Epidemiological Study of Swedish Male Adolescents.” Journal of Adolescence 34, no. 4 (2011): 779–788. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2010.04.010. See also,. Michael C. Seto and Martin L. Lalumière, “What Is So Special About Male Adolescent Sexual Offending? A Review and Test of Explanations through Meta-Analysis,” Psychological Bulletin 136, no. 4 (2010): 526–575 (In a meta-analysis of eight studies, male adolescent sex offenders reported more exposure to sex or pornography than non-sex offenders).
  4. Svedin, Journal of Adolescence 34, no. 4 (2011): 779–788. See Footnote 2.
  5. 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.
  6. Eran Shor, “Age, Aggression, and Pleasure in Popular Online Pornographic Videos,” Violence Against Women (2018): 1‒19, doi: 10.1177/1077801218804101.
  7. A Swedish study of 18-year-old males found that frequent users of pornography were significantly more likely to have sold and bought sex than other boys of the same age. Carl Göran Svedin, Ingrid Âkerman, and Gisela Priebe, “Frequent Users of Pornography. A Population Based Epidemiological Study of Swedish Male Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescence 34, no. 4 (2011): 779–788. See also, Farley et al., “Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex: ‘You Can Have a
    Good Time with the Servitude’ vs. ‘You’re Supporting a System of Degradation.’” Paper presented at Psychologists for Social Responsibility Annual Meeting July 15, 2011, Boston, MA. San Francisco: Prostitution Research & Education (2011) (An analysis of 101 sex buyers, compared to 100 men who did not buy sex, found that sex buyers masturbate to pornography more often than non-sex buyers, masturbate to more types of pornography, and reported that their sexual preferences changed so that they sought more sadomasochistic and anal sex.)
  8. Some pornography consumers use pornography to build sexual excitement in advance of purchasing sex from prostituted persons. Carl Göran Svedin, Ingrid Âkerman, and Gisela Priebe, “Frequent Users of Pornography. A Population Based Epidemiological Study of Swedish Male Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescence 34, no. 4 (2011): 779–788; Mimi H. Silbert and Ayala M. Pines, “Pornography and Sexual Abuse of Women,” Sex Roles 10, no. 11/12 (1984): 857–868; Rachel Durchslag and Samir Goswami, Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution: Preliminary Insights from Interviews with Chicago Men Who Purchase Sex, (Chicago, IL: Chicago Alliance Against Sex- ual Exploitation, 2008); Victor Malarek, The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It (New York: NY Arcade Publishing, Inc. 2009) (Some pornography consumers seek to reenact pornographic scenes on prostituted persons.)
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The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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