Today, non-fatal strangulation (NFS) will become a defined and separate offence under the newly-inserted (by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021) s75A Serious Crime Act 2015. This new piece of legislation — a result of tireless campaigning by organisations such as the Centre for Women’s Justice, and We Can’t Consent to This — constitutes a tremendous step forward in combatting male sexual violence against women and girls.
First and foremost, by creating a new offence that explicitly names and defines the sexually violent act in question, this will hopefully see a shift away from NFS being charged and prosecuted as “just” assault. What this means in practice is that a longer custodial sentence is available to judges who hear the trial “on indictment” (i.e. in Crown Court as opposed to Magistrates’): up to five years in Crown Court compared to the hard limit of 12 months available in the Magistrates’ Court.
Creating a separate offence for NFS will also begin to provide further data in what is an underreported and misunderstood example of male violence against women and girls. As The Guardian explains, women’s charities receive an estimated 20,000 calls regarding strangulation each year, but clearly the prevalence of this specific act of sexual violence has not filtered down into public consciousness to any great degree. Certainly these violent acts are not diminishing in number.
Whilst the public consciousness around “female empowerment” has arguably increased in recent years (see the social justice behemoth that is “#MeToo”), this has been accompanied by an counterintuitive increase in, and normalisation of, sexual violence in otherwise consensual relationships. We only need to review the harrowing instances of femicide that made it onto the front pages in recent months and years to see that this violence is very specifically of a sexualised nature.
To understand why this is becoming more common and more normalised, it would be entirely myopic to shut one’s eyes to the preponderance of easily-accessible, cruel and inhumane pornography. This has inculcated several generations of men, women, boys and girls with an outlook where sexual violence is not only normal, but desired by those inflicting it, and often acquiesced to by those on the receiving end.
Porn is nothing to be ashamed of, but never to be talked about
Porn and the wider porn industry occupies an almost paradoxical space in society’s consciousness: it is all at once both normalised, but hidden; nothing to be ashamed of, but never to be talked about; something entirely harmless and fantastical, but only for adults. It is Schrödinger’s Cat taken to its absurd conclusion, with two contradictory states existing simultaneously. The clearest example of this is vocal opposition to men murdering women in increasingly sexualised ways, with simultaneous promotion of porn use as emancipatory, or as a tool that can challenge the paradigm of male supremacy-at-large.
The evidence linking porn use to “real world” sexual violence is undeniable, both empirically and anecdotally. More and more often we read stories of men committing acts of violence against women and girls. Beforehand (or during), they have been fuelled by a gluttonous diet of abusive porn and misogyny, yet we struggle to make these links in the wider conversation about how we can tackle these instances of male violence.
It helps not one iota that women and girls have been sold the lie that respect and empowerment lies in their self-objectification. They have been sold this lie by an industry that is overwhelmingly catered towards the wants and desires of men, with the veneer of “economic empowerment” applied at the final stage in order to make it a more attractive prospect for those same women and girls who are drawn into engaging with it at all.
There is a distinct and easily-predictable trajectory when it comes to analysing exactly how porn use will impact both men and women who use it, or are involved in creating it. The explosion of the gig-economy and its intersection with the sex trade in recent years has created the façade of “opportunity” for women and girls, many of whom are induced into becoming dystopian “content creators” for faceless men who see women as objects that exist to generate sexual gratification for a set price.
We are left with a marketplace of women’s bodies
This gig economy coupled with a saturated market has created a grotesque “race to the bottom”, where the aforementioned “set prices” and the sex acts that accompany them more often than not are dependent upon the whim of the viewer. What results is innumerable women who very quickly have to engage in increasingly degrading acts, as the original fees rapidly reach their peak, before becoming inversely correlated to how “vanilla” (read: not displaying overt violence or degradation) the acts remain.
What we are then left with is a marketplace of women’s bodies, economically dependent upon men who are paying them to engage in increasingly sexually violent acts, which in turn normalises this behaviour amongst men outside of the context of pornography use.
Increasingly, young girls and boys are growing up totally alien to the idea that sex can include anything other than acts of violence.
We must not stop short of shining the spotlight of moral responsibility and accountability — as we have done with public figures who have sexually abused young women in the past — onto the porn industry. It must not get a free pass simply because it is easier to believe the lie that porn can do no harm. To do so would be to condemn another generation of girls and boys to relationships built upon normalised sexual violence, and we simply cannot allow this to continue unabated any longer.
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