August 5, 2020

The Way to Fix the Pornography Industry’s Rape Problem is to Abolish Pornography

In late June 2020, notorious pornography performer Ron Jeremy was charged with four counts of rape. Since then over two dozen more accusations against him have emerged. He is not alone in being called out in the pornography industry, as numerous other charges of misconduct perpetrated by men in the industry have come to light in recent years.

In the wake of the revelation of these abuses, VICE columnist Samantha Cole addressed accusations against performer Ryan Madison and went on to discuss a reckoning in porn in light of the Me Too movement. But her piece and others that have attempted to address the matter of sexual exploitation in the pornography industry never go beyond framing these abuses as isolated incidents and miss the real (and rhetorical) question: can pornography ever be considered “safe” when pornography itself helps create rape culture?

Pornography is dominated by images of sexual violence against women. In fact, surveys of online pornography indicate that 88% of the material depicts the use of physical violence and force against women. Worse yet, the women in these violent videos respond in neutral or pleasurable ways which indicates to watchers there is nothing wrong with this sexualized violence.¹ The consumption of pornography is strongly associated with increases in both verbal and physical aggression.²

Studies further indicate that consuming mainstream pornography contributes to users having a greater intent to commit rape, less empathy with victims of sexual violence, a greater belief in rape myths, and less willingness to intervene as a bystander when witnessing sexual assault.³

Sexual Abuse and Violence Are Not Incidental to the Pornography Industry

When the primary messages of pornography are aggressive and focus on men dominating women, it is no wonder when even the performers themselves cannot distinguish what real consent looks like anymore.

Nonetheless, VICE’s exposé attempts to defend the idea that the scourge of sexual abuse and exploitation doesn’t have anything to do with pornography itself but that the abuses that occur are isolated incidents. For example, some have tried to claim that, in cases where Ryan Madison violently strangled women, the problem was just with approach and not with the act of a man aggressively choking a woman to feed his sexual demand.

Messages like these are disturbing and dangerous. Strangulation is never safe. In fact, strangulation is a lethal form of domestic violence and a major predictor of future deadly violence. It is possible for victims to show no symptoms from being strangled and yet die later on from damage caused to the brain. The fact that pornography has attempted to turn this dangerous practice into a “normal” sexual act indicates how recklessly the industry disregards the safety and well-being of its performers as well as public health.

VICE’s pornography apologism also included another performer’s statement that the FOSTA-SESTA amendment to the CDA (Communications Decency Act) makes it more difficult for performers to speak out. But FOSTA-SESTA addressed the problem of commercial sex buying online and has nothing to do with pornography set regulations or safety procedures on set. The article from VICE attempts to claim that performers are being influenced to be afraid to speak up about these abuses because, they’re told, if they do speak up then the abuses will be used against the industry and abolitionists will argue for a shut down.

In other words, performers are being intimidated out of challenging the abusive and multi-billion-dollar industry that profits from exploiting them.

This is another way these performers are gaslighted. They are coerced into believing they can only discuss their issues within the confines of a predetermined script from the very system that exploits them, wherein they must claim that their experience was a singular bad incident rather than a predictably abusive outcome driven by a systemically exploitive industry.

The Pornography Industry Has a Long and Sordid History of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

Accusations about the abuse and exploitation that the pornography industry is rife with are not new. Pornography performers have reported these types of incidents numerous times before (Content Warning: some of these links may describe or depict disturbing details):

  • Lisa Ann discussing connections among drugs, abuse and porn;
  • Nikki Benz sues Brazzers for sexual battery;
  • Holly Madison and Belle Knox discuss manipulation and coercion;
  • Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon allege boundary violations;
  • Four performers file a formal complaint against an agent for sexual abuse among other charges;
  • August Ames complained about her treatment prior to her suicide, which occurred after she was bullied for complaining about her treatment.
  • Women in the industry talk about how they are framed as difficult or crazy to deflect from responsibility by the industry.

Pornhub, one of the largest pornography sites in the world, has been under fire for its criminal approach to user verification and content “moderation” that has allowed child sexual abuse material and rape videos to be uploaded and monetized on its platform. Apparently, videos of coercion and abuse are so similar to the usual pornography that screeners are incapable of distinguishing them.

In any other profession, a pattern of abuse this significant would lead to interventions by the law. Yet the pornography industry keeps getting a pass. It is past time to acknowledge that this business refuses to consider reform because it can’t be reformed. It is naïve to think an industry that equates acts of violence with sex and which fetishizes forced sex does not give license to these abuses. Pornography is real. The women in it are made to endure its abuse and the women outside of it are made to endure its consequences.

This should not be so.

It’s Time to Stop Ignoring the Data on the Abuse and Exploitation Correlated with the Pornography Industry

Study after study indicates that pornography is correlated with increased aggression and rape. Consumers of pornography are much more inclined to subscribe to rape myths including that the victim was asking for it. So, when these performers courageously speak up, they are often disbelieved or mocked. They are not just mocked and dismissed by the men they have worked with or have accused, but also by fans of pornography who don’t see why they are complaining because, in this harmful view, the victims “signed up” to be performers so they “asked for it.”

The Me Too movement is about addressing the harms of rape culture everywhere it occurs. It is a movement about accountability for those that perpetuate sexual violence. It is a movement that centers the voices of women so that we may know their stories and believe them. We live in a rape culture. We live in a world where rape is underreported, under prosecuted, and women are routinely disbelieved or accused of “wanting it” or “liking it” or “asking for it,” and pornography plays a heavy hand in creating this rape culture. As feminist Robin Morgan presciently said decades ago: “pornography is the theory and rape is the practice.”

It is time to abolish the industry that fosters this culture, join us in the fight.


Citations

¹ 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.

² 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.

³ John D. Foubert, Matthew W. Brosi, and R. Sean Bannon, “Effects of Fraternity Men’s Pornography Use on Bystander Intervention, Rape Myth Acceptance and Behavioral Intent to Commit Sexual Assault,” Sexual Ad- diction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention 18, no. 4 (2011): 212–231.

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