See no evil
Rampant sexual violence begins with porn use and ends in the death of women and girls
As reported on 7 September 2021, Sam Pybus was convicted of manslaughter for the killing of his “secret lover” Sophie Moss. Pybus visited Moss late into the evening on 6 February after drinking 24 bottles of lager over the course of 10 hours, and proceeded to have sex with her, at which point he then strangled her to death.
While prosecutors did attempt to secure a murder conviction, this failed due to Pybus allegedly lacking the requisite intent necessary to prove murder. Instead, he was sentenced to slightly over four years for manslaughter.
His sentencing, as well as the sentencing of other men who have been involved in so-called “sex games gone wrong” that have resulted in the death of women, have been roundly criticised by campaigners for being inordinately lenient given the extreme violence — not to mention the loss of life — that these crimes typically entail.
Despite the fact that manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 24 years, it is unacceptable and deeply concerning that these acts involving extreme levels of sexual and physical violence only attract sentences at the bottom end of the scale. But to discuss the punishment of offenders without looking at the root causes is akin to focusing on the symptoms and not looking for a cure.
For those of us working in the anti-sexual exploitation sector, as I do in my role as Head of Legal Advocacy at CEASE (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation), it is a constant battle to draw attention to one of the root causes of violent sexual offences: porn.
As campaign group We Can’t Consent to This have highlighted, porn use is a consistent theme among men who kill women during sex. Megan Bills, aged 17, was killed by Ashley Foster, who hid her body in a cupboard as he searched for “snuff films” and violent porn; Hannah Pearson, aged 16, was killed by James Morton, a man who was obsessed with strangulation; and Jane Longhurst, aged 31, was killed by Graham Coutts, a man who had an obsession with violent porn including “websites specialising in rape, necrophilia and female asphyxiation”.
These examples barely skim the surface of the endemic sexual violence being meted out on women by men who watch porn. But why does this happen? Is the link between sexual violence and porn a coincidence? Far from it.
The titles found on mainstream porn sites aren’t for the faint-hearted
Research demonstrates that porn use manifests in attitudes that are more supportive of, and sympathetic towards, violence against women and girls. Rape crisis centre workers who conducted face‐to‐face and phone interviews with sexual and physical assault survivors, and with abused woman who sought support from abused-women’s services, found “a strong association between men’s porn consumption and female victimisation”. They also found that abusers use of porn “doubled the risk of a physically assaulted woman being sexually assaulted”; and in a ground-breaking study published just this year, researchers found that: “Given our findings, this directs our attention to the role of the mainstream porn sites in producing and reproducing […] the ‘cultural scaffolding of rape’, namely the construction of cultural norms and practices that support rape or set up its preconditions.”
In 2015, a research study analysed 22 different studies from seven countries, finding that there is “little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes [supporting] sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.” Further evidence demonstrates that porn consumers are more predisposed to express attitudes in support of violence against women, and an increased likelihood of victimising the women they know in their day-to-day lives.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the violence shown in porn is being enacted onto “real women”. For many, porn is simply a fantasy, but this ignores the harrowing prevalence of violence endured by these women. For example, one study found that:
Of the 304 scenes analysed, 88.2 per cent contained physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping, while 48.7 per cent of scenes contained verbal aggression, primarily name-calling. Perpetrators of aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female.
Titles found on mainstream sites are not for the faint-hearted, with sexual violence spanning acts including: incest (“When Mom’s Mad, Dad Goes To His Daughter”); physical aggression and sexual assault (“Crying blonde bitch takes rough cock drilling”); image-based sexual abuse (terms such as “hidden”, “spy” and “leaked”); and coercion and exploitation (“Chubby Spanish Teen Needs The Cash”).
We need new legislative safeguards against porn
The links are there for all to see, so what can — and must — we do about the rampant violence and abuse that begins with porn use, and ends in the death of women and girls? One concrete step that the Government can take — particularly in light of their renewed commitment to tackling male violence against women and girls (MVAWG) — is to recognise the sheer enormity of the problem that faces them, and to tackle this with new legislative safeguards.
Specifically, porn sites must be placed in the “Category One” criteria within the new Online Safety Bill regulatory framework. This Category is reserved for sites that host “legal but harmful content and activity accessed by adults on their services”, notwithstanding that much of the material on these sites is neither legal nor accessed solely by adults. In any case, this would begin to stem the deluge of violent material including “simulated” rape and child sexual abuse.
It is imperative that this abusive industry no longer facilitates and profits from the misery — and increasingly, deaths — of vulnerable women and girls.
Failing — or refusing — to recognise the harm of the porn industry leaves any subsequent MVAWG strategy incomplete, and lacking in direction. It’s time to hold the porn industry to account once and for all.
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