April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is an important awareness campaign highlighting the prevalance of sexual assault in our society. Here at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, not only do we recognize sexual assault and violence as a pervasive problem but we also recognize that pornography and pop culture – whether in the form of movies, television or advertisements – regularly normalizes and even glamorizes sexual violence. Therefore, in order to instigate a cultural shift that denounces all forms of sexual violence, we believe it is vital to address these societal influences.
The United States experienced a wide cultural shift a few years ago when the #MeToo movement began by exposing the rampant use and abuse of women in the film industry. This was only the beginning. Many thousands of women across the country began using the hashtag to signify that they too had experienced or been affected by sexual assault in their lives.
In addition to the powerful and heartbreaking stories that have come to light thanks to the #MeToo movement, research has also shown the widespread nature of sexual assault. In a national survey, statistics show that one in five women and one in 67 men will be raped at some point in their lives. That number doesn’t only represent adults. A different study found that one in six boys and one in four girls will experience some form of sexual assault before reaching 18 years of age.
These facts are harrowing and tragically, even with societal changes that have accompanied the #MeToo era, sexual assault is still happening regularly. Given the seriousness of the issue and the cultural shift in society toward recognizing and confronting the reality of sexual assault, why are there still countless pieces of media that glorify and depict sexual assault and violence so casually? The last few years alone have been full of TV shows and movies that graphically depict women (and men) being assaulted, raped, and abused. Some, like HBO’s Game of Thrones, have millions of viewers around the world.
One of our Dirty Dozen List targets for 2020 (and in years past) is Steam, the online video game platform which hosts and sells thousands of games that are available to its 90 million active users (35 million of those users being minors) with only a few clicks.
The platform hosts and sells hundreds of games that promote gratuitous sexual content, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. On Steam’s “Popular Tags” page, right along with the “action”, “strategy”, and “racing” games, users find “nudity” and “sexual content” are a constant presence in the site’s Top 25 most popular tags. One of the worst offenders is a game called “House Party.” In “House Party,” players are enabled and encouraged to choose their own “adventure”…an adventure that includes getting in fights, groping women, masturbating wherever you please, and coercing or tricking women into have sex with you.
Steam has refused to remove the game from its platform despite these many concerns and strong advocacy from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and our fellow advocates. In fact, Steam chose instead to institute an “Anything Goes” policy and roll back several protections and restrictions on their platform.
One would like to think that, in light of our society’s rightful condemnation of sexual assault, companies would have better sense than to provide material that actively promotes and encourages people to participate in sexual assault—let alone make that material available for 35 million minors to access with just a few clicks. By choosing to profit from the “gamification” of sexual assault, however, Steam has decided to be complicit in contributing to a culture of sexual exploitation and violence.
It is inconsistent for anyone to condemn sexual assault as unacceptable in one context while at the same time promoting sexual assault as entertainment in another. Steam must do better.
Use the Action embedded below to reach out to Steam executives to let them know that their stance and business practices in regards to sexual assault and exploitation are inconsistent, dangerous, and unacceptable.