Tuesday, 26 November 2013

"Rape Porn": Why You Should Care

I should start by admitting that I don't pay for porn. I know - less people actually paying for porn pushes down wages for the people both in front of and behind the cameras, and isn't actually very ethical when you think about it. But this is how most people accessing online porn behave nowadays, in much the same way that sales of music singles are in decline and hey - anyone remember the last time they bought an actual newspaper?

The rise and rise of various 'tube' sites - RedTube, XTube, LubeTube, or the bizarrely named 'XHamster' - means that people aren't carefully sourcing the porn they watch based on the studios, directors or performers whose work they admire. instead they're making a choice based on that week's most watched, top rated or the most recent uploads. And often these videos aren't uploaded with their original titles, but rather a rough description of whatever happens in each scene. Often with questionable grammar. A quick look at today's front page on one site offers the following:

"Acrobatic sex big tits cum in mouth"
"Hot brunette gets sensual fuck"
"xxx outdoors orgy"
"From massage to a three-way"
"Big dick for lucky ladies"
"juicy nymph copulated hard in wow movie"
"Russian incest 1, brother rape sister"

It's immediately clear that the last one might qualify as "rape porn". The clue being in the title.

The video starts with a man in a bed and a woman sat on a chair reading a magazine. I don't know what they're saying as it's in Russian, but it goes on to show a simulated rape scene. It's unpleasant throughout, but the acting is in no way convincing.

The video has over a thousand views and a 99% positive rating.

I found it horrible to watch, and I didn't watch the whole thing. But in much the same way I found a particular scene from The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover quite a traumatic experience. (The scene I'm referring to is one in which a character is force-fed the pages of a book by pushing them down his throat with a wooden spoon.) Both scenes were clearly performed by actors, but knowing this doesn't change the visceral reactions we can feel when confronted with certain images.

Recently the government announced that possession of "rape porn" will become a criminal offence and those found guilty could face up to three years in jail. The definition of "possession" will be redefined to mean that at some point you watched something in your web browser. Even if you only watched it for a second. Or if you clicked it by mistake.

So here's why even if you think rape porn is awful and wrong you should think twice about supporting such a move: there is loads of poorly labelled porn out there. The idea of watching a simulated rape scene is not actually something that appeals to me, but this doesn't mean that over the years whilst looking at porn I haven't found myself clicking on the odd simulated rape scene.

I'm also not turned on by watersports or fisting, but I've still managed to accidentally click on a few videos with these in. (Potential idea for a new site - NoWaterSportsOrFistingAllowedTube.)

Enthusiastic consent should be an important thing when it comes to your actual sex life, but trying to apply the same standards to a scene where actors are playing characters doesn't make sense. To use an example from something I did actually choose to watch - what about this Ancient Egypt themed scene, in which the pharaoh chooses a new slave to be his concubine. Is it irrelevant that the concubines look pretty happy with this arrangement? If they're just slaves how can this be a free choice entered into willingly?

But all of this seems a bit meaningless when you consider the fact that the actual location they're filming in is probably a studio in California and the year, judging from the quality of the film, is probably some point in the 1980s. Or 70s.

And what defines whether or not something is porn? I've never watched an episode of Game of Thrones but this hasn't stopped me hearing people discuss all of the supposedly graphic rape scenes it features. Or what if you've got a book of Greek myths and legends? Or some Shakespeare? What this move will do is invite the state back into your bedroom. Or wherever it is you keep your computer.

And the state is already trying hard enough to police what porn people are accessing. Take this story from earlier this month:

A man whose life was ruined when he was charged with child sex offences after looking at legal gay pornography in a hotel room has accused the police and Crown Prosecution Service of a “homophobic witch-hunt” after his case was finally thrown out. The defendant endured a “two-year nightmare” after being arrested in front of his family, charged with 10 offences almost a year later and repeatedly bailed, before every charge was dropped. If convicted he would have faced jail and been forced to sign the sex offenders’ register. His father died while he was awaiting trial.
The CPS, which spent tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money pursuing the case, offered no evidence in court – in effect conceding there was no case to answer. His lawyers say they gave the CPS conclusive documentary evidence three months ago that all models featured in the pornography were of legal age.

And this wasn't the first time either. As his lawyer, Myles Jackman, wrote:
Having also represented Michael Peacock in his “obscenity” trial and Simon Walsh in his “porn” trial, it is with extreme regret that I have begun to form the view that the Crown Prosecution Service suffers from institutional homophobia.
Bearing in mind that the CPS is already accusing people of being paedophiles when they decide that the adult porn performers they're watching 'look too young', what is this government planning next?

It would be overly simplistic to blame their attitude on social conservatism, but there are authoritarian voices on the left pushing for censorship as well. It's a "feminist issue", it's about "equality".

But this of course completely drowns out the voices of women who themselves watch porn. As the academic (Dr) Jude Roberts writes:
Porn exploring women’s desires and sexual fantasies is taking precedence like never before. This includes fantasies of non-consent. The majority of studies of women’s sexual fantasies places the number of women who acknowledge having fantasies involving non-consensual sex at somewhere between 30 and 50%. Given the difficulties of speaking about sexual desire at all in our society, even more pronounced for women, and the particularly taboo nature of this fantasy it’s reasonable to assume that these percentages are on the low side, but even if they weren't, that 30% of women have this fantasy makes it something worth discussing.
Fantasies of sexual non-consent are crucially fantasies. This means that when we’re talking about porn that caters to these fantasies we are not talking about images of genuine non-consent. Images of genuine non-consent aren’t porn any more than sexual images of children are porn. In both these cases the images are evidence of violent crime and ought to be treated as such. In contrast, enjoying the illusion of a loss of control, usually at the hands of another extremely attractive and desired person or persons and being ‘forced’ to endure multiple orgasms and other sexual delights is about as far from genuine non-consent as you can get.
(By the way, this is from quite a long article that discusses a few things in depth and I'd highly recommend reading it all.)

To wrap up, there's no evidence that banning rape porn will have any affect on the number of sexual assaults. But there seems to be a lot of evidence that both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are happy to pursue ordinary people for looking at relatively innocent porn. Some people find rape porn a turn-on. Some people like watching gratuitous violence in films. It takes a peculiar type of doublethink to hold the view that watching certain types of porn will make you more likely to go out and rape, whilst not also thinking that certain types of film will encourage you to shove a book down someone's throat.