Written by Jas Swilks.
Originally posted Feb 13th 2016 on ‘Thoughts from Jas’.
Trigger Warning: domestic violence, graphic discussions of violence against women, and violent pornography.
Recently the hardcore porn website ‘Pornhub’ announced they were partnering with ex-porn performer Christy Mack to ‘raise money for domestic violence‘ by selling a soft-porn t-shirt line- a revelation that had many asking, ‘Say what’?!
Aside from the obvious issues that many would have with a Porn website claiming to support an end to domestic violence, the campaign has also been a sore point with many survivors – particularly given that Pornhub host ‘domestic violence’ and ‘sexual abuse’ themed videos on their website.Yes, that’s correct. A simple search of ‘pornhub domestic violence’ brings up an entire category dedicated to the subject, with related searches including terms such as ‘crying in pain’, ’18 and abused’, and ‘extreme brutal gangbang.’
Even more perplexing however, is why Christy Mack – a survivor of brutal domestic violence herself – would choose to partner with a hardcore pornographic website in order to raise awareness of this issue. Further, people are wondering how exactly these shirts – featuring half naked images of Mack, and no mention of domestic violence – plan to ‘raise awareness’ ?
While I absolutely applaud Mack for her strength and continued passion for speaking out against intimate partner violence, it staggers me that she can’t acknowledge the hurt that this partnership causes many fellow survivors.
When asked if she could empathize with how survivors might feel triggered or insulted by Pornhub’s campaign, Mack’s responses were very disappointing and out of touch. At this stage, Mack has also not confirmed who the funds will go to and has stated she will only disclose to her nominated organization how the funds were raised, ‘if asked.’
Since many of Mack/Pornhub’s followers seemed more interested in putting their own sexual pleasure above the voices and feelings of survivors (eg. ‘I can feel awesome about using porn because I’m wearing this shirt. “Hashtag” domesticviolenceawareness), I decided to ask some domestic violence organizations and survivors – in their own words – how they felt.
Creating an anonymous survey link (for the comfort of those responding), I allowed survivors to share their thoughts and contribute to this article by answering a series of short questions. Of the 26 survivors I spoke with, aged between 18 and 40+ (and consisting of former/current sex industry workers), the results were quite varied. Interestingly, only 15% of those I spoke to considered themselves religious – a question I deliberately asked in order to challenge the myth that ‘only religious people’ would disapprove of Pornhub’s involvement.
Asking survivors to describe how the Pornhub ‘domestic violence’ clothing range made them feel, those who responded overwhelmingly expressed disgust, frustration, and hurt. Some described it as feeling like “a slap in the face,” “horrible,” and “like they’re making a complete joke out of [domestic violence].”
More responses included:
“It makes me feel sad and disturbed that they are sexualizing something that is traumatic to survivors of domestic violence.” – Cassie (AUS)
“It makes me feel sick to my gut as it goes against everything women stand for when advocating against DV. Sexualizing omen works hand in hand with demoralizing them.” – Anon (QLD, AUD)
“Disgusted. I am a survivor of 13 years of marriage to a sex addict and pornography ruined our marriage and blew apart our family. Seeing pornographic images used to ostensibly raise funds for domestic violence feels like a complete oxymoron. It makes me want to find absolutely ANY other organization to give to but this one.” – McDugal (USA)
“To sexualize the horrors of domestic violence with soft core porn and claim it as a fundraiser is not addressing the problem. Objectifying women is partially responsible for the epidemic that is violence against women. This is not appropriate and as a (barely) survivor of extreme DV, I’m absolutely gutted by this.” – Anon (AUS)
There were also those who believed porn to be completely acceptable and an appropriate way of raising funds, noting that pornography didn’t correlate with their personal feelings regarding abuse they had experienced. “I think that it is smart. This is raising awareness in an area where the bulk of the audience are potential perpetrators,” said a survivor named Cassie (USA).
“Good on them for speaking to men who otherwise would ignore ‘women’s issues’,” said another, named ‘Wils’ (AUS).
Most others however, struggled between their feelings of ‘distaste’ and trying to view the campaign as ‘a step in the right direction.’ One survivor (Juliet, AUS) described it as feeling like a ‘slap in the face to women everywhere,’ but pondered on whether it may have some kind of positive effect, or could perhaps reach a certain demographic who buy these types of shirts from everyday retailers.
“As a woman and survivor though, I don’t like it too much and think there is a more tasteful way of doing this than branding the female body,” she said.
Despite the varying feelings of survivors toward the issue, most (73%) were in agreement that domestic violence organizations need all the support they can get, and that they would still continue to support an organization even if it accepted funds from a porn site.
Interested to know whether Domestic Violence organizations would be able to accept funds sourced this way, I contacted around 15 organizations and shelters across the world to ask their thoughts. Some asked not to have their names printed, or were unable to provide an official comment, but those who did, described it as an ‘awful campaign’ and very ‘unethical’.
Speaking with an ACT based Domestic Violence Organization (Australia), an employee explained to me that a campaign such as this would be in direct ‘conflict’ with their ethical fundraising policy, and as such, they “could not accept a donation from funds sourced in this way.”
Another community group (set up by the family of an Australian woman murdered by her husband) agreed that the campaign did not send a message that fit with facts. “It’s not sending a message [that] fits with the fact that DV and sexual assault are a gendered issue,” said the website coordinator. “We need to change the way we look at women, and soft porn is not okay.”
Others shared their thoughts as follows:
“I agree that the prevention of domestic violence is complex and involves diverse strategies, however it is highly concerning to suggest that porn, which is known to depict DV and sexual assault, could somehow be part of a solution rather than the cause. Researchers, experts and leading commentators in the field of domestic violence prevention constantly highlight the role that gender inequality and the objectification of women plays in normalizing domestic violence. We wouldn’t accept funds from a porn site.” – Natalie Davidson (Domestic Violence Prevention Fundraising Manager, Australia)
“The very fact that Pornhub and other porn outlets provide ‘domestic violence’ themed pornographic content so men can masturbate to brutality and abuse of women indicates where their interests lie- with profits and with the pretense of giving a crap about women. Researchers and frontline workers know full well that sexist attitudes, sexual objectification and a culture of hostility towards women are at the roots of male violence against women. Violence against women becomes easier to justify when women are reduced to nothing more than a collection of sexual parts for men’s use, or as semen receptacles (“cumdumpsters” as they are often referred to in porn). Men who get off on our abuse and degradation can now purchase t-shirts with anti-women sentiments and give them self a pat on the back for ‘helping women’. What a slap in the face to survivors.” – Caitlin Roper, Collective Shout
“The only thing this raises awareness of is women’s subordinate status in the world. Selling images that denigrate women protects no woman, least of all those on the receiving end of physical and sexual violence. As a woman who’s experienced both, I find this cynical and insulting.” – Rachel Moran, sex-trade survivor, author and international speaker.
I ask this: What is Pornhub hoping to achieve? For their viewers to buy a nice t-shirt, feel good about ‘doing something nice for women’, and then head to their site to watch some videos of women being choked, beaten and ‘crying in pain’?
How will these shirts help to spread awareness, when someone wears them down the street? Do Pornhub and Christy Mack really believe that a random passer-by will look at Mack’s breasts and ass, and feel compelled to ponder on the issue of domestic violence?
And why should domestic violence awareness be posed as a ‘reward’ based campaign where men and women can feel ‘good’ about viewing women as sexual objects, in exchange for ‘respecting’ us?
At the end of the day, money is money. It’s what is needed to keep women and domestic violence victims safe – no matter where it has come from. But it’s also a sad state of affairs when the very websites that promote objectification and violent treatment of women – identical depictions of what many survivors have been through – are the ones promoting themselves as part of the ‘solution’.
I would like to finish this post by urging everyone to respect the distressed feelings that such a campaign can bring up for many survivors, even if you yourself are a supporter of pornography. I believe strongly in telling the stories of abused women; stories that many of them have been forced to keep quiet for many years, and I will not apologize for supporting, believing, and giving them the opportunity to have their voices heard.