Rape porn: a ban is not the answer

Content note: This post discusses rape

There have been a fair few debates about rape porn since campaigners have called for it to be banned. It is a thorny topic, and one where, unfortunately, a lot of people are saying some dodgy shit.

One of the biggest problems with this conversation is everyone seems to be talking at cross-purposes about what rape porn actually is. As far as I can unpick from the original statements, the campaigners have been talking about porn with simulated rape scenes, rather than filmed images of rape and abuse. The latter is already highly illegal, and I cannot in good conscience refer to what that is as “rape porn”, much as I wouldn’t refer to images and video of child abuse as “child porn”. To do otherwise completely elides the nature of what it really is: a cinematic trophy of a violation. There is nothing defensible about such double vi0lations: the rape, and then the publicising it.

Rape porn, the simulated stuff, is distinct from this, as it can be consensual. I am not saying it always is, as goodness knows there can be a terrible attitude towards workers’ rights in the porn industry which is something that needs tackling (and cannot be tackled with stigma towards the work that they do. When it is not consensual, it falls under the category above). However, it can be consensual. In private life, people explore rape fantasies fully consensually. In porn, this fantasy is also explored, and porn performers are perfectly capable of consenting to the work they do, about as much as anyone is capable of consenting to anything under capitalist patriarchy.

But what of the audience? As Emily Rose points out, it’s not just rapists who get off on rape porn. And does rape porn really contribute to a culture of normalising rape more than anything else? I am not so sure: part of the way rape porn is packaged is often with the hook that this is wrong, and this is taboo, and that is what is supposed to make it sexy. And yes, of course, our culture is steeped in rape, a background drone of violence and a dismissal that any of it is a problem. I am not sure why the focus of this campaign is on porn with simulated rape: why single this out when one cannot turn on the TV without seeing rape everywhere, when one cannot load up the internet without seeing jokes about rape, when one cannot walk through Bloomsbury without seeing posters advertising a conference organised by rape apologists? I do not see why there is more of an objection to people getting off on fantasies about rape rather than laughing about it, rather than trivialising it, rather than dismissing it as an entirely normal part of sex. Sexual violence is fundamentally about an expression of power rather than the sex itself.

I am not suggesting we should ban all of these things along with rape porn. Sadly, things will never be as easy as a simple demand to ban this or that. It changes nothing, it just pushes it out of sight. Furthermore, bans on specific types of porn do little to actually stop it from happening. The first porn I ever saw, when I was wee and the internet was a newfangled thing to have in one’s house, was of a man having sex with a cow. This is illegal in the UK, but it was quite literally the first thing I stumbled upon when I went looking for porn. The way that the bans are deployed to often as a weapon against people society doesn’t much like anyway. The queers and the  kinksters and the porn performers themselves. For a fine example of this, look no further than the recent fisting trials. So I am highly dubious that a ban would do anything to solve the problem of cultural acceptance as rape, and, if anything, may exacerbate problems for those who society would rather look the other way from anyway.

So what might work instead? My ultimate solution is the same as ever, and the one which is unpopular among liberals: we need that fucking revolution. Capitalism, rape culture, patriarchy, they all need to go. I understand that this might take a while, so I also have a transitional demand.

When people play with power dynamics, negotiation is utterly crucial. A conversation beforehand about what everyone involved wants, what their boundaries are, a safeword when “no” and “stop” are to be ignored. These are measures which are vital for safety of everyone playing, but they are also pivotal in helping everyone involved enjoy the scene as such negotiation ensures that people are getting what they want. Often, BDSM porn features an interview with the participants before and after, talking about what they want and what they enjoyed about the scene. Sometimes, the process of negotiation is shown.

Showing this process of negotiation would go far to mitigate some of the problems within porn. And not just in the edgy BDSM porn, but to extend this practice to vanilla porn. To normalise the process of negotiation and enthusiastic consent by embedding it in the porn we watch. For the stuff wherein non-consent is the fantasy, this can go at the beginning. And in vanilla porn, wouldn’t it be nice to see the ongoing process of enthusiastic consent through communication during sex? The performers could decide what they would and would not like to do, and we would all be party to this dialogue and begin to use it ourselves.

And then we smash everything, because that revolution still needs to happen.

Further reading:

Rape Porn: Rapists by Proxy? (Musings of a Rose)
Is the rape porn cultural harm argument another rape myth? (Obscenity Lawyer)
Why I can’t support the “ban rape porn” campaign (TheSazzaJay)


34 responses to “Rape porn: a ban is not the answer

  • chiller

    So our options are:

    1) full-on revolution (yes, bring it on, now please. Seriously);

    OR

    2) sit around doing nothing because it’s such a big job.

    If we go option 2, all the while we’re supposed to accept that it’s ok that the participants in rape porn may NOT be consenting, and accept that, while people who get off on films of, say, gerbils being tortured are definitely horrible people, people who get off on films that MAY WELL* include a woman genuinely being abused are fine because that’s just kink?

    No.

    *away from certain well known responsible sites, for a given value of “responsible” where that word includes “getting off on the idea of violating and dominating people, usually women”, which hello, IS patriarchal reality.

    • stavvers

      I take it you didn’t read the transitional demand, then, something which is a lot better than “sweeping problems under the carpet and probably exacerbating them because that’s usually what bans do”.

      I’m genuinely worried that you find normalising enthusiastic consent “nothing”.

      • chiller

        I haven’t said that. My problem lies in this:

        “Rape porn, the simulated stuff, is distinct from this, as it can be consensual. I am not saying it always is, ”

        Wait. So rape porn may be a woman actually being raped AND YOU THINK THAT’S OK, in the name of people getting off? < My problem. Right there.

        You are 100% backing rape culture here, and 100% backing people who like watching women getting raped who may ACTUALLY be getting raped, and 100% throwing survivors and the rest of us who don't want "fun rape" everywhere (which it is), whether because we're dealing with PTSD or because we actually prioritise people not getting raped over people having orgasms, under the bus.

        What the hell, Stavvers? I think you're cool as fuck, but you're defending a really, really bad thing if rape porn available online "CAN be" – but is not necessarily – consensual.

        • stavvers

          I… what?

          Link me to the sentence where I say that’s OK. Show me where I say it’s OK.

          I mean FFS, you are literally grasping at straws by grabbing a random sentence without acknowledging the paragraph above where ACTUAL RAPE IS ACTUALLY BAD and the bit below on consent. This suggests to me you are actually unwilling to engage in good faith.

    • thesazzajay

      Did you read the post? She quite clearly offered up a third option.

      • chiller

        The third option of watching someone who may already be being coerced or forced to make a rape porn movie also be coerced or forced to film a “negotiation” and an interview where they say they’re fine with it? This isn’t a solution. I have no beef with people getting of on whatever they get off on, but this stuff CANNOT be watched in the 100% knowledge that the participants consent freely, unless one knows the participants.

        • Cel

          If it became a cultural thing it would be much harder to fake/coerce. Porn stars do have voices and this would enable them to speak out/potentially sue.

          And it’s hard to fake enthusiasm. It’s distressingly difficult to always ensure 100% consent, whether in porn or reality.

  • Sarah_Woolley (@Sarah_Woolley)

    Like many, with the End Violence Against Women coalition led me to believe there was a loophole letting footage of criminal activity be shared, I was distraught.

    But, the PR for #bantherapeporn left me confused. They also mentioned ‘porn’ marketed under taboo titles, sometimes mentioning rape. Did this include role-play between consenting adults? If so, is that going to be banned? What about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? It leaves many questions about how this material will be assessed and regulated.

    The response from EVAW to me, and many others who shared our concerns on Twitter was very dismissive. They told us to read the PR, read the websites and a ‘study’ that simply concluded porn is very easy to access ergo DAMAGE.

    How disappointing to be fobbed off when, for all I know, this campaign needs my voice. Until they give a straight forward answer to simple question, I cannot back this campaign.

    There are problematic aspects to these fantasies that should be part of our dialogue about sexual imagery, but we can’t have this discussion when EVAW won’t *SAY* what they’re talking about. I don’t think censorship of non-criminal activity is the answer and again I’m reminded why we needed MPs to vote #Yes2NC20 for statutory sex ed that would help young people understand consent.

    EVAW’s response to be indicated they’re not interested in conversations that help women and their comms are deliberately obtuse. I feel that they’re gathering support simply by asking “Are you against rape? Do you want to fight violence?”

    I will be posting a storify of my conversation with the EVAW to share.

  • Anonymous please

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22643862

    What do you think of that? The same happened to me 3 years ago when I was raped by a guy obsessed with rape porn. We were both teenagers and I’d never been with a man before and similar to the case in that article he got me to watch rape porn and went on about how all girls he’d been with fantasise about being raped so I thought that was sex, that was normal and that I was weird for not fantasising about being raped so I should change myself. I remember crying after it and being ashamed that I didn’t like it…after all I’d seen all the porn and he’d told me about how all girls liked it so why didn’t I…but I hated it and thought I hated sex. I don’t even blame him rape porn was all he’d been watching for years and how he thought sex was too just like in that link. I’m still recovering and only just managing to be with another man after being scared ever since that’s what sex is. I don’t know how I feel about bans or what the solution is but I know how rape porn is taking over kids minds and so maybe because of my experience I’m not balanced but I think it should be banned.

    • stavvers

      I am sorry to hear about what happened to you. I experienced something similar when I was young

      This is why, so much why, that I feel as though consent needs to be incorporated across our culture as a matter of urgency, that people need to see asking for consent and respecting yeses and noes as something which happens all the time.

      Sadly, bans won’t work, they’ll just make it a little harder to keep an eye on it. Making sure that negotiating consent is incorporated into all of our porn will help denormalise the assumption that consent is always there.

      • Anonymous please

        But rape porn being so common and watched by so many kids means they think even if they know about consent that girls all fantasise about it so mean yes even when saying no as that’s what they’re seeing in the porn. So many guys really believe that pretty much all women fantasise about being raped and think that when they’re in bed with them if they say no it’s part of the fantasy. Then they’re being harmed too because they think they need to be rough and force girls as that’s what sex is so boys think they have to play the part of the rapist. Rape porn is so common and I think most kids will be watching it a lot. It’s not the effect on people who fantasise about it themselves or whatever it’s making kids think that’s what sex is and girls like me are not alone this is happening all the time. If you don’t ban it it’ll stay out there and kids will keep watching it. A ban might not be perfect and have problems but isn’t that better than girls being brought up having to deal with that? Or are a few girls not worth anything compared to people who want to watch rape porn? It makes me so upset because I’m still not over it.

        • stavvers

          I hear you, sister, and you’re being awesome for talking about this publicly. The issue here is it isn’t just the porn that’s the problem: this attitude you’re describing is ubiquitous. It’s on our TVs, it’s on our radios, it’s in films–oh my fucking god, there’s so much awful shit going on in films. And unfortunately, that’ll still be there, normalising it and going unremarked upon. If we’re going to ban stuff that normalises rape, we’d have to go a hell of a lot further than porn, and this all entails powerful men deciding what is and isn’t rape, because these are the ones who make the laws.

          And so the boundaries shift slightly, and little changes because it’s powerful men who are deciding what the problem is. I don’t trust them at all, but this is who is responsible for bans, because this is who is in charge of the law.

          I’m not so concerned about the people who watch rape porn, but, rather, for the people whose job it is to be in porn. Driving their work underground will make it less safe for these people, who already face a lot of occupational hazards. I’m also worried about collateral damage from this ban: people who are consenting to doing various things and stigmatised and criminalised.

          I’m sorry you’re still not over it. Healing can take a hell of a lot of time, and it’s OK to feel fucking furious and hurt and every single negative emotion you can think of. Take care of yourself, and do what you feel you need to x

        • stavvers

          P.S. Take it from me, it’s a fucking slap in the face when you realise that there’s so much to be done to ensure that nobody ever suffers like you did again, and that the simple solutions are woefully inadequate. I am offering you hugs in advance for this😦 xx

  • mandasiefert39

    Reblogged this on Amanda's Words / starfire8me and commented:
    I HATE, HATE, HATE THE THOUGHT OF THIS!! IT DOES NOT NEED TO EVEN B ON THE WEB, WHERE ANY YOUNG MAN CAN SEE IT!!!!!THEY MIGHT GET THE SO CALLED “BRIGHT IDEA” TO DO IT THEMSELVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • thesazzajay

      I think the problem Stavvers is pointing out is that our society is so enitrely saturated in rape culture, banning porn that depicts non-consensual sex will be a little too late if you’re worried about boys getting the same idea. It’s on the TV, the radio, the papers, everywhere.

  • Ginger Drage (@Safarazzz)

    I find it really worrying that people think a simple ban will be the answer to the problem. Not that I support banning images of legal acts, but in the age of the internet, how do proponesnts ever think this ban be effective?

    It also leads me to ask who deems what is “rape porn” and what is then “acceptable porn”? Will it be up to judges and juries in individual cases? will it be very simple flat out rules which can be twisted to ban lots of stuff? Also what happens if people consensually engage in this sort of activity at home and film it themselves? are they now criminals for doing this as we saw in the “fisting trials”?

    Also this discussion is coming just after the government voted to not make teaching consent compulsory in schools. I think that this is a legal change which would do a whole lot more to combat rape culture than any ban of images which people have decided is a problem.

  • Cel

    I agree so much with this post. Showing negotiation would help so much.

    Feels like another feminist conversation where we’re all a bit triggered. Both having been in an abusive, kink/poly shaming relationship and really struggling to help more against Violence Against Women when it’s illegal for me to work in a DV shelter and I worry about triggering other women.

    Such a difficult topic. Very well done for unpicking it some.

  • Zebs

    I don’t think I need to say that the whole polemic is massively problematic on all sides.

    Firstly, I think there is a lot of confusion between kink and rape porn and that’s not ok because kink /is/ ok, ditto confusing ravishment fantasies with “rape fantasies”.

    Also, I think there is a lack of scope of what rape porn can include. For example, whilst some people in consensual and mutually fulfilling relationships can totally get off on waking each other up with sex, porn that depicts having sex with sleeping people (A REALLY COMMON TYPE OF RAPE, NEVER DO THIS WITHOUT FULL PRIOR CONSENT, READERS OF THIS COMMENT) is both common and often completely normalises and (obviously) sexualises it, in quite the same way that the latest Almodovar film does.

    Many people need their “off-beat” fantasies depicted to show them they’re not weird as well as to get them off and this needs to be underlined. However, at the end of the day, I care more about people affected by NCV and CNC porn being normalised and sexualised and who have traumatic experiences because of it than people who are “into” rape porn yet are not rapists.

    I mean, I think killing rapists and continuing to fight rape culture and expressions of patriarchy will have more of an effect than banning rape porn, I don’t actually want to ban rape porn because the antis would love that and quite frankly sex workers need more people on their side.

    Basically (tl;dr) I don’t think that people who want to ban rape porn are necessarily all liberal fem SWphobic wankers, I think we need to be aware of how a campaign against it would minimise the experiences of sex workers, BDSMers and LGBTQ ppl BUT I think a lot of those coming out as totally in favour of rape porn even if they don’t watch it have massively minimised the experiences of survivors and especially those who faced long-term sexual abuse within relationships with people who were fixated on rape fantasies and porn that depicts violence.

    • stavvers

      Aye, I agree there’s definitely been an uncritical eye in support of it. So often, nuance is lost, and there is a hell of a lot to critique in porn from a better perspective. While I touched on it somewhat, at the end of the day, we need that fucking revolution😦

  • kimberlyakinola

    A lot of things that we do all in the name of making some cash just doesn’t make sense but we do it after all and some people enjoy it while other suffer for it. I see no sense why they should be anything such as a rape porn – we’ve seen what women & girls alike suffer from countries like Indian, and someone still wanna put such a vulgar thing out? We need God and love in our life. May God help us all.

  • oddbodd13

    There does seem to be some idea that if you ban something, it goes away completely. Stavvers, you have this exactly right when you point out that a ban would simply push it out of sight. Granted, a ban might make it harder to find, but someone who wants to find it will.

    Another misconception that seems to prevail is the idea that porn is almost an internet/top shelf only thing – and that mainstream media is blameless. That’s not the case. Mainstream movies are not usually as explicit as what we usually define as porn, but we don’t need to, er, “see it going in” to be faced with a depiction of rape that glorifies or trivialises it. Take A Clockwork Orange. There’s a rape scene in that some may consider pornographic due to nudity, and the nature of the scene may be considered by some to glorify the crime. Do we ban this movie, too? For the record, I’m no fan of the film. But we do need to be aware, when we deicde that something might be worth banning, what the full scope of that would be.

    • stavvers

      Interesting you mention A Clockwork Orange, as it was banned in the UK for 27 years after a rape case where the defendant blamed having watched it.

      I liked it, but then I’m a behavioural psychologist by training and it’s a very good critique of that. Also, unrelated to rates of rape in the UK, incidentally.

  • Wendy Lyon

    I am deeply cynical about this campaign, and this is because many of those behind it seem to have as much of a problem with non-rape porn. I have seen, for example, anti-pornography feminists say that the problem with porn is that women are shown as always consenting; they never say no. So, the porn in which women consent is a problem, and the porn in which women don’t consent is a problem. Kind of makes you think they really just want to ban all porn, doesn’t it?

  • sarah

    What about people who also believe the rape joles, eroticised rape on tv and rape apologism you mention is wrong too? How does the production of simulated rape imagery for consumption not feed into rape culture? Isn’t it a legitimate target for criticism like all of the above? This is from someone who isn’t linked to the campaign but can’t believe as a feminist I’m supposed to see rape porn as ok because kink or something.

  • unfeatheredowl

    I’m kinky, but when I was first trying to get those desires met I hadn’t seen any kink porn of the type you describe with negotiation and consent made explicit. Actually, I hadn’t seen any porn at that stage. All I had to go on was the messages I got from society, books and other media. I had no idea about the amount of consent and negotiation I should expect as standard from a kink interaction. But I still wanted to get those desires met. This led to me experiencing a lot of abusive situations partly because my partners didn’t know any better than I did. Kink porn depicting clearly consenual ‘play rape’ has a purpose, that of helping people like me who are just inherently kinky of finding a way to do that safely rather than accepting less consensual situations from the belief that’s the only way to get kinky experiences.

    • stavvers

      Aye, and this is why I feel so strongly that negotiation and discussion should even feature in vanilla porn. When I learned negotiation from kink, it improved the vanilla stuff about a millionfold. Also, there’s a crappy attitude to consent in vast swathes of the vanilla community.

  • Phil Hartup (@LevelTwoRogue)

    What annoys me the most about this debate is that nobody has at any stage shown a legitimate grounds for porn even being a problem. Why should we be debating ways to change or even ban a thing that so far has no demonstrable harm associated with it?

    Being a nerd I remember when we had to deal with this debate about violent video games. Before that it was horror movies. Here’s the thing though, horror movies, violent games, much more violent media in general, all these things happened, they washed over our society, and yet nothing really changed- except of course that violent crime declined.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that where things cause demonstrable damage to the fabric of society we ought to be looking at getting rid of them. But until that damage is proven, until it is quantified on a little graph with dots and annotations and spelled out, then leave things be.

    The really scary thing is that this issue is being debated by a government who have shown themselves to be perfectly happy with the idea of universal surveillance yet haven’t the first idea how normal people live or what the Internet actually is and how it works.

  • matt blissett (@mattblissett)

    I agree entirely that the discussion of consent, safe words etc is a simple thing to script, film and incorporate into the work without removing the taboo nature of the work itself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: