Why I can’t support the campaign to ban rape p0rn


5:08 pm - June 19th 2013

by Sarah McAlpine    


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Topics discussed here are of a sensitive nature, the language may be triggering, or possibly even insensitive. This post discusses rape, sexual abuse, rape apologism, BDSM, pornography, child abuse, bestiality, and consenting-non-consensual fantasies

For those of you not yet aware, various organisations took advantage of the Government’s attention on better targeting of illegal images-particularly those of child abuse-to call for a ban on pornography that is deemed to ‘promote’ sexual violence against women. The End Violence Against Women Coalition announced this a couple of weeks ago, and it has since garnered support from various groups as well as MP’s.

Let me start by saying – I wanted to be convinced.

I was actively asking for evidence and arguments to support the ban on ‘rape porn’, but the replies I received were so flimsy, vague or downright disgraceful, I find myself arguing from the other side of the fence.

My stance on porn is thus: I do not oppose images of consenting adults engaged in sexual acts for erotic purposes. There is nothing inherently immoral about it. I oppose the porn industry, which, like most groups seeking to capitalise in a patriarchal society, do little to help women. Like most institutions in the kyriarchy, I find them oppressive on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and disability. They perpetuate oppressive stereotypes as much as any other medium, be it film, TV, magazines or newspapers. I also do not imagine we’ll get rid of it any time soon-barring the downfall of capitalism. Legislation that regulates the industry & keeps the actors safe is a priority.

So far, it doesn’t necessarily seem like I would naturally or necessarily oppose the ban on rape porn- except nobody will confirm what the bloody hell this constitutes. Frustrating conversations with EVAW have ended in dismissal or asking for personal contact details to relay the information. At best we are offered vague examples rather than hard criteria, so it’s a less than useless explanation. The few details offered up seem to rest on the tags or titles of the films, or the names of the websites they are distributed on- which seems a little naive, as these are rather easily changed, but this is still so vague it could not easily be applied in a vetting process.

Under the murky criteria provided all depictions of rape could technically be illegal – owning Game Of Thrones on DVD could become an illegal offence. Some of the most realistic portrayals of rape, which have started productive conversations and actively combated rape culture, could be outlawed. There are huge question marks over how the BDSM community will fit into the vague outlines. Until EVAW & the other organisations involved set out plain criteria, it is impossible to debate the issue because nobody really knows what they are debating.

Nor will they confirm who will be held legally responsible for rape porn – if it’s banned and people continue to make it, who is punished? The people who make it? The actors filmed in it? The sites distributing it? Or, more likely, those at home who own it. Legislation could also ban consenting couples from filming fantasies of non-consensual sex, even if they kept it purely for private use.

Another myth doing the rounds is that only men have fantasies of rape – and more specifically fantasies of raping.

This is not the case. Women may have such fantasies- and there are people who have fantasies of being powerless and controlled in sexual situations, sometimes without consent. This does not mean they want to be raped. Nobody wants to be raped – that is absolutely counter intuitive. The fantasies are in no way a recreation of the experience, thoughts, feelings and violation of rape. But it is a failing of the Feminist movement that we pretend no women fantasise about sexual situations that have an illusion of non-consent, rather than target rape apologist bullshit that fantasy is a direct correlation to our desires in reality

And how will such films be regulated? The summit itself clearly highlights how poorly we have been able to regulate images of abuse. Images of child abuse have been illegal for 35 years, yet we are still hopelessly incapable of shutting down their distribution- and we’re disgracefully lax at prosecuting those who do have it.

Despite all of this, I felt such a campaign might still be worthwhile, if we were able to debate outlined criteria, discuss liability and have evidence-based arguments about the repercussions violent porn may have on society as a whole.

I might still have been convinced until yesterday. Until I saw the front page of The Telegraph: ‘Online porn: animals have more rights than women,’ the headline declared. Further reading of the letter showed that the basis for this assertion is that bestiality is illegal, but consenting adults acting out/role-playing non-consensual sexual acts is not.

Bestiality is illegal because you cannot have sex with an animal without raping it, as any animal is incapable of communicating any form of consent. Sexual activity with an animal is sexual abuse. Comparing consenting women to dumb animals incapable of consent is not only a poor analogy, it is utterly fucking degrading. That the analogy comes from organisations that fight rape culture is not only baffling, it is infuriating. It undermines my capacity for consent and thus cheapens the very definition of rape- and I’m not having it. Not in my name.

I want a discussion on violent pornography. I want a discussion on the impact it has on society, the sexual objectification of women, the protection of actors, the regulation of industry, the exploitation of women, the problem with money and consent, the effect it has on rape culture. This is not what is being offered. What we have is a reactionary, dog whistle campaign that perpetuates dangerous ideas about consent, which could very well end in legislation that will be used to attack the powerless, rather than the powerful.

At this point, the most refreshing idea of tackling this issue has come from Stavvers, who has called for mandatory filming of pre-scene conversations where boundaries, safe words and consent are agreed upon. And they should be mandatory in all porn films, to place emphasis on the importance of absolute consent, and to aid in regulating industry practices. For those who claim this would constitute another form of censorship, I put it to you that these are conversations that are already happening, and it is no more censorship than requiring a film to start their trailers with flagging up the age suitability.


Cross-posted from Sarah’s blog. She tweets from here: @sazza_jay

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About the author
Sarah McAlpine is a News Editor at Liberal Conspiracy, and volunteer Co-Editor at www.womensviewsonnews.org. Raging Feminist. She likes Politics, Smashing Patriarchy & Animal Videos - though not necessarily in that order.
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Reader comments


Good article. Kink.com are pretty good when it comes to what Stavvers suggests. They interview the participants before asking what they expect from the session and then again afterwards.

2. horsetraders

But you realise the only people who would watch these ‘pre-screen’ conversations are people like you, who would get their orgasm out of having achieved such a silly measure (through your hardwork I concede – something everyone gets pleasure out of).

The original targets of your legislation would fast forward, select chapter or more likely watch it online where it has been copied and the conversation cut out.

Utterly pointless.

Fantastic article and good dicussion of alternatives to criminalisation of possessors. Small note though:

“Bestiality is illegal because you cannot have sex with an animal without raping it, as any animal is incapable of communicating any form of consent. Sexual activity with an animal is sexual abuse”

Actually lots of acts of beastiality, as such, aren’t illegal. This makes the ban on images of beastiality bizarre as it criminalises depictions of acts that aren’t illegal. In addition, I think its hard to argue that sex with an animal is abusive if its the animal that initiates (which happens). Its also hard to argue that most forms of beastiality constitute ‘abuse’ on any scale comaparable to killing and eating an animal.

I don’t say any of this in an attempt to defend the practice morally. I just don’t think it makes sense to make public policy about it. Its so minor and bizarre an issue that its pointless making criminals out of it.

4. gubulgaria

@horsetraders

You’re mistaken about her targets.

The idea is just to ensure proper consent has been given by the performers, to prevent ‘rape porn’ from being rape.

5. Shatterface

Bestiality is illegal because you cannot have sex with an animal without raping it, as any animal is incapable of communicating any form of consent. Sexual activity with an animal is sexual abuse. Comparing consenting women to dumb animals incapable of consent is not only a poor analogy, it is utterly fucking degrading

You can’t rape an animal. Rape is committed by a person or persons upon another person or persons. It’s defined not just as an act but by the participants, perpetrator(s) and victim(s), and they’re human. You can no more rape an animal than you can rape a robot or murder an animal.

Equating sex with animals to rape is demeaning to rape victims. Male pigs and cattle don’t consent to give semen for artificial insemination but that doesn’t make farmers rapists.

“Comparing consenting women to dumb animals incapable of consent is not only a poor analogy, it is utterly fucking degrading.”

Quite. Hence my double-take upon reading this in the longer version of Rachel Coldbreath’s piece:

“women can be part of the patriarchy too, so don’t wave your kinky girls at me and say “but women like it so it must be ok”, because all that tells me is you have no concept of what collaborators are, or what Stockholm Syndrome is, or how if you keep kicking your dog it loves you even more, because it’s afraid if it isn’t your dog any more it isn’t anything at all.”

Condemning or insulting/patronising women because they admit to having sexual fantasies you find personally distasteful doesn’t exactly seem like feminism in action. Instead of policing people’s fantasies and the porn/erotica that reflects them, we should (as you say) “target rape apologist bullshit that fantasy is a direct correlation to [women's] desires in reality”.

7. Shatterface

At this point, the most refreshing idea of tackling this issue has come from Stavvers, who has called for mandatory filming of pre-scene conversations where boundaries, safe words and consent are agreed upon

This, by the way, is nonsense since it rests on the assumption consent can’t be withdrawn during sex.

8. Shatterface

I also think you also misunderstand the point of bestiality porn: when a woman gives a horse a blow job it isn’t the horse which is being demeaned..

9. Sarah McAlpine

@shatterface no, it doesn’t. You’ve quite clearly quoted me saying that boundaries, consent and safewords should be discussed beforehand- so the audience is reassured that participants can safely withdraw consent at any time. I’d also suggest including after-interviews with the cast- something porn houses in the industry already elect to so.

[deleted]

11. Shatterface

@shatterface no, it doesn’t. You’ve quite clearly quoted me saying that boundaries, consent and safewords should be discussed beforehand- so the audience is reassured that participants can safely withdraw consent at any time.

You can’t argue that boundaries and consent given beforehand are legally binding since the participant can change her mind at any piint, and safewords aren’t much use if you are wearing a ball-gag or your mouth is stuffed with cock.

I’d also suggest including after-interviews with the cast- something porn houses in the industry already elect to so.

That must be the world’s least watched DVD extra.

12. Sarah McAlpine

@shatterface that’s pretty much why you have the discussions beforehand- to ensure that consent can be withdrawn if circumstance mean that someone isn’t capable of speech, they are able to signal in other ways. I’d suggest doing a lot more research into safeguarding in BDSM etc before commenting further.

And I don’t really care if few people watch it- it’s a protection for the actors and holds porn companies to account.

Filmed before and after segments I suspect would be unworkable in terms of the global porn industry – but I question how useful it would be, even if it were.

If a woman is about to be raped, or has just been raped – in such a controlled environment as to allow a camera and perhaps lighting, it wouldn’t be surprising at all that a woman could be forced to say whatever was required.

14. Churm Rincewind

I think this is an unusually thoughtful post, given the hysteria which normally surrounds any open and explicit discussion of sexual matters.

But while Stavvers’ idea may be superficially attractive, I really don’t see how it would work. Given that the vast majority of sexually explicit films are scripted works of fiction, how on earth would anyone be able to tell whether the suggested “pre-scenes” are authentic records or whether they are themselves also scripted works of fiction?

In my view, the best approach to solving such problems as may exist and which are not covered by existing legislation would be to introduce suitable regulation (scope and content to be discussed another day, no doubt contentiously, so I won’t even start). The sort of procedural models I have in mind are the so-called 2257 regulations already in force in the US.

Unfortunately I suspect that a considered approach may be impossible in the UK, given the British public’s addiction to being outraged by sexual matters and the consequent impossibility of any Government taking any sensible course of action for fear of being seen to implicitly “authorise” pornography by way of regulation. Banning things, however, always seems to play well to the gallery.

As an (un-named) inside source wearily said of Maria Miller’s recent “summit” on internet porn: “We’re being asked to do what we do already”. But it did play well in the press and grandstanding is, as usual, the order of the day.

Stavvers, who has called for mandatory filming of pre-scene conversations where boundaries, safe words and consent are agreed upon.

Mandatory casting-couch porn for all!

16. Planeshift

“Government taking any sensible course of action for fear of being seen to implicitly “authorise” pornography by way of regulation. Banning things, however, always seems to play well to the gallery.”

I’m not convinced of that. I think it’s more the case that no politician wants to risk their career by testing the proposition that the public actually doesn’t want this banned. Politicians just don’t care enough either way about the issue, so being seen to be outraged whilst not doing anything is the safe bet. See also war on drugs.

17. Charlieman

Thank you, Sarah McAlpine, for showing good manners by returning to the debate.

From my understanding, the petition from Rape Crisis South London just seeks to change the legislation in England and Wales (Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) to bring it into line with the existing law in Scotland (Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.) The two are virtually identical except in Scotland, possession of material depicting “Rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity” is prohibited but it’s not in England & Wales.

I’m not convinced Stavvers suggestion would make any difference. Performers could still be coerced into saying they consented on camera and films can be edited out of time sequence to “look” consensual. Most folks will just skip through the “consent” sections of films, like we used to do with adverts when we taped programmes off the telly.

My issue with depictions of rape and other violence against women in porn is that an increasing number of young people, at an ever younger age, are accessing it without support from trusted adults to think critically about what they see. In my own work with young people, I’ve witnessed the encroaching idea that the sexual violence depicted in easily accessible porn is just a “normal,” expected feature of sexual relationships. I’ve talked to girls who feel pressured by boys to perform what they’ve seen in porn. Not surprisingly, many say they think sex is just “for the man’s pleasure,” and something a girl has to do to have a man, to be accepted. I don’t think this is a good thing.

Okay, changing the law won’t resolve this alone. But it would send a clear message about the social (un)acceptability of violence against women. You mentioned the appalling fact that there are so few prosecutions of those who possess porn depicting child abuse. But, surely that doesn’t mean that the law prohibiting possession shouldn’t be there in the first place. Do you think the current law on depictions of rape in porn should be repealed in Scotland?

Yes, the Telegraph headline was provocative and yes, the joint letter was over-egged with the mention of animals distracting from the central point. But surely, this is a baby and bathwater situation. Is the goal of aligning the law with that in Scotland really that bad?

Is there something in this about some of the organisations and individuals who support the petition? Some of them certainly have views on other political/feminist issues that I do not support, but I can see some common ground with them on this one at least.

19. Richard Carey

I think the whole ban violent porn thing is a red herring. I doubt there is any convincing evidence of a causal link between viewing images and committing crimes. I’m sure the rapists and child murderers who view images of such things are not corrupted by the images, but already irrevocably corrupt.

The separate issue is whether porn is corrupting the youth, and ‘teaching’ girls that they should acquiesce in things which they don’t want to do. If this is the case, I don’t think the problem lies with the porn, it seems more a moral malaise affecting the whole of society, in which we are reaping what the sixties generation sowed. For them it was fun to break the rules, but now no one can even remember what the rules were, so we drift rudderless. The change in the Girl Guides pledge seems strangely symbolic …

That’s it. I’m gonna say it. Feminism is wrong in toto. There’s no part of it the left should accept and we should repeal any law inspired by it.

I also can’t support the campaign.

Ask yourself this question:

How surprised would you be if you discovered that your husband, boyfriend, father, brother, or son had sometimes watched pornography in which rape was simulated?

Now imagine that viewing such porn was made illegal, and consider that the police apparently have access to all internet traffic.

Do you trust the police and security services always to be entirely honest about evidence?

How often do activists have their computers searched?

If the police find child porn you might believe it was a conspiracy, but what if they find “rape” porn?

McAlpine:

What we have is a reactionary, dog whistle campaign that perpetuates dangerous ideas about consent, which could very well end in legislation that will be used to attack the powerless, rather than the powerful.

Exactly. This isn’t so much an argument about women (not least because groups like EVAW Coalition never seem to acknowledge gay male porn), but about sexual behaviour and sexual choices. The sexually conservative social purity wing of feminism does not and cannot accept the idea that other people consent to sexual activities that superficially look dangerous, violent or ‘extreme’. It looks like the feminist sex wars are going to have to fought all over again.

There are, surely, two different things being talked about here – and obviously any legislation to ban one would have to be worded to exclude the other.

On the one hand, there are obviously fictional scenarios – you reference Game of Thrones, but it hardly needs said that most porn also falls under this heading.

On the other, there are videos which may in fact be set-ups featuring consenting actors, but are indistinguishable from footage of an actual rape, and which I’m told are even sometimes marketed as such.

There’s not only a moral difference here, but a practical, legally definable difference. The latter absolutely can be banned without any effect on the former.

Makhno:

On the other, there are videos which may in fact be set-ups featuring consenting actors, but are indistinguishable from footage of an actual rape, and which I’m told are even sometimes marketed as such.

There’s not only a moral difference here, but a practical, legally definable difference. The latter absolutely can be banned without any effect on the former.

And there goes the entire sub-genre of ‘mockumentaries’ in the process (you do know that Spinal Tap were a made-up band, don’t you?). This is like trying to control news broadcasts because Orson Wells convinced people that the Martians were invading.

Alternatively, the film-makers stick a disclaimer at the start/end of the ‘verité’ footage to reassure viewers. Problem solved.

Thanks for this. I’ve seen the campaign all over twitter, but not seen any meaningful discussion of the wider implications. I don’t agree with banning any porn that is created between two consenting adults. I feel a little bit disappointed in feminism over this – we should all know VERY well that some women have sexual fantasies that include rape, and for them to be shamed or patronised by other women over it is wrong. That is my biggest problem with it, but I agree that regulating it would also be a mess.

However, overall, IMO, the issue is not the rape porn, but the general degradation, misogyny, aggression and violence that appears in regular porn. These things are just as pervasive in standard ‘vanilla’ pornography and IMO much more damaging because it’s more subtle. Young people know violent sexual assault is wrong and viewing rape porn isn’t going to make them question that point of view, but the relentless undercurrent of misogyny in even the most inoffensive porn will seep into their subconscious and have a damaging effect. That’s why efforts need to be made with the wider industry rather than chasing something so obvious as a scapegoat.

I agree with Claire above.

Also, regular porn, (even if you like it), can be pretty unscrupulous in the way it’s made. How many would be happy, for young people they care about to pay for college by doing porn videos? That’s a whole porn genre. ”Coeds need cash” is one site. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but these things last on the internet forever, so there must be thousands of people who have been in these films who now regret it. Many must have thought that the folks back home whould never know about it.

Another porn genre I’ve seen is European sex tourists in Thailand and the Philippines hiring prostitutes to appear in their commercial sex videos. It’s pretty immoral I think. Just because they’re all consenting adults doesn’t make it completely alright. Even if one finds it a turn on to watch the stuff.

27. Required Name

It’s just a symptom, not the cause(s) so a ban won’t help.

Until we stop having genders compete for the same things while being held to two separate and opposing standards, we’re gonna have problems.

And the consent is irrelevant if women are rewarded more for the sexy stuff than any other physical labour they can do. Play it out on video, all nice and consensual but chances are we’re still watching a woman lie about her personal boundaries for money she can’t earn elsewhere.

but these things last on the internet forever, so there must be thousands of people who have been in these films who now regret it.

Luckily with easy access to camera phones and what-have-you today’s younger generations are being quite frequent with the old exhibitionism, where give it another 10-20 years or so, the public will likely be unmoved that a politician or whomever made a sexy home movie or had camera sex, because pretty much everyone else will have done so at some point in their lives. Regret soon gets drowned by ubiquity.

29. Churm Rincewind

@ Claire (24) “IMO, the issue is not the rape porn, but the general degradation, misogyny, aggression and violence that appears in regular porn. These things are just as pervasive in standard ‘vanilla’ pornography and IMO much more damaging because it’s more subtle.”

But what do you mean by “vanilla” pornography? Do you mean, say, Playboy and Penthouse? Or do you mean (I just googled the most visited porn websites as per Wikipedia) XHamster, XVideos, and Pornhub? Or maybe you have others in mind?

@ Damon (25): “regular porn…can be pretty unscrupulous in the way it’s made. How many would be happy, for young people they care about to pay for college by doing porn videos? That’s a whole porn genre. ”Coeds need cash” is one site.”

I also tried to find this site via google. However, it appears that it doesn’t exist – or rather, it exists as marketing device to refer the visitor to other sites. So I don’t think your point stands. I’m also reluctant to accept your remarks about “Thai prostitutes” appearing in “commercial sex videos”. I’ve been to Thailand, and even to the most casual observer the Thai attitude to sex and sexuality is markedly different to, and very much more open than, attitudes in the UK. So again I’m wary about passing judgement, especially in conection with a (very) foreign culture.

My overall point here is that porn is enormously diverse, and I’m cautious about any assertions concerning porn as if it was one indivisible phenomenon. That’s why, returning to my previous point, I’m in favour of regulation – accept the acceptable, and don’t accept the unacceptable. This seems to me to be just plain commonsense.

Oh, and @ Charlieman (17): Hear, hear.

@Churm When I refer to vanilla pornography, I am talking the non-kink variety. Standard porn scenes of oral and penetrative sex.The sites you list are just archives of content (like youtube), not porn producers. I’m talking about production companies like Digital Playground or Elegant Angels, which dominate the industry with their films. Most of their films do not fall under the banner of kink (eg. Rape), and depict straightforward ‘consenting’ sex acts, but I would wager the content is equally degrading, misogynist and aggressive as any rape porn and is the more damaging stuff overall.

“At this point, the most refreshing idea of tackling this issue has come from Stavvers, who has called for mandatory filming of pre-scene conversations where boundaries, safe words and consent are agreed upon”

I’m sorry. This just gives me cognitive dissonance. Rape is essentially the act of violently, forcefully having sex with an individual, usually female, sometimes male. The perpetrator is always male, by definition. But based on this argument, you could argue that, as long as a child is mandatorily filmed consenting to having sexual relations, safe words, etc., then it would be somehow okay. Obviously it wouldn’t, mainly because the law doesn’t allow such a thing.
The reality is, I cannot even pretend to rape someone. “there is nothing inherently immoral about it.” Well… maybe from a logical point of view. However, in many more liberal countries, people seek out help, talking, counseling, therapy, if they feel they are having such tendencies. Either that or they get busted and put through mandatory therapy such as in Norway. The big difference is that they actually treat people and heal them. In the United States we just think it’s “kinky” to have consensual rape. Please take note, there is a fine but significant line between consensual rape sex and “rough sex”. Also please take note that “rape” historically means violence. Only in recent times has rape also taken on the legal meaning of penetrating someone without their consent, such as during their sleep (I am a rapist, btw. I frequently continue to rape my fiance during her sleep because she cannot consent. Oddly enough she says she enjoys it a lot. But we don’t tell anyone since it’s obvious I would be in big trouble. I am most serious about this.)
The real point here is… Americans are sick and twisted and live in a sick and twisted culture. I’m learning this more and more through the friends I gain in more and more countries.

32. Just Visiting

Sunday Times news – 30 June:

“Net giants to restrict access to porn”

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/ireland/article1281285.ece


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