What is the influence of pornography on rape?

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Here are two articles published at the end of 2009 with the opposite conclusions about the influence of pornography on sexual assault.

While in a 2009 article in the journal Aggression and Violence Behavior, Ferguson and Hartley argue thatit is time to discard the hypothesis that pornography contributes to increased sexual assault behavior” the 2009 article ePublished in the journal Child Abuse Review author Michael Flood comes to a very different conclusion: “especially among boys and young men who are frequent consumers of pornography, including of more violent materials, consumption intensifies attitudes supportive of sexual coercion and increases their likelihood of perpetrating assault.”

What research, evidence and resources do you find useful to understand the influence of pornography on rape? How do you address pornography in your rape prevention program?

Below are the full abstracts and citation of the articles.

The harms of pornography exposure among children and young people

Flood, M. Child Abuse Review 2009 18 (6): 384–400, ePublished November 2, 2009

Click here for a link to the article on the journal’s web site. Click here for full text on Michael Flood’s web site XY Online.

(Copyright © 2009, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.)

Exposure to pornography is routine among children and young people, with a range of notable and often troubling effects. Particularly among younger children, exposure to pornography may be disturbing or upsetting. Exposure to pornography helps to sustain young people’s adherence to sexist and unhealthy notions of sex and relationships. And, especially among boys and young men who are frequent consumers of pornography, including of more violent materials, consumption intensifies attitudes supportive of sexual coercion and increases their likelihood of perpetrating assault. While children and young people are sexual beings and deserve age-appropriate materials on sex and sexuality, pornography is a poor, and indeed dangerous, sex educator.

The pleasure is momentary…the expense damnable?: The influence of pornography on rape and sexual assault.

Ferguson CJ, Hartley RD. Aggression and Violence Behavior 2009; 14(5): 323-329.

Click here for a link to the article on the journal’s web site.

(Copyright © 2009, Elsevier Publishing)

The effects of pornography, whether violent or non-violent, on sexual aggression have been debated for decades. The current review examines evidence about the influence of pornography on sexual aggression in correlational and experimental studies and in real world violent crime data. Evidence for a causal relationship between exposure to pornography and sexual aggression is slim and may, at certain times, have been exaggerated by politicians, pressure groups and some social scientists. Some of the debate has focused on violent pornography, but evidence of any negative effects is inconsistent, and violent pornography is comparatively rare in the real world. Victimization rates for rape in the United States demonstrate an inverse relationship between pornography consumption and rape rates. Data from other nations have suggested similar relationships. Although these data cannot be used to determine that pornography has a cathartic effect on rape behavior, combined with the weak evidence in support of negative causal hypotheses from the scientific literature, it is concluded that it is time to discard the hypothesis that pornography contributes to increased sexual assault behavior.

David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project Prevention Connection, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 29 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John D. Foubert, Ph.D. March 19, 2010, 10:19 AM

    It can be tempting to write about “both sides” of many issues, or put out “both perspectives” to appear unbiased on various issues. It is important for all of us to read what people who deny the link between pornography and all forms of sexual assault have to say, just as it is important for us to understand the statements of people who deny historical events like the holocaust. We need to understand evil and its roots. Manufacturers of porn and the sex traffickers who feed them with 12 and 14 year old girls from within the US and abroad so they can be raped and sold repeatedly are evil. Does anyone want to deny that? The “other side” of the porn issue comes from those who promote violence. “Our” side is the prevention of violence. It is time for us to wake up.

  • abyss2hope March 19, 2010, 10:43 AM

    A major flaw in the Ferguson and Hartley article is their comparison of overall porn consumption rates to overall rates of sexual violence as evidence that porn may reduce someone’s likelihood of committing sexual violence. These parallel changes cannot be assumed to be related even on a speculative basis simply because they happen in parallel.

    Before someone makes this speculative claim they need to consider if other possible protective factors were present on a societal level which could explain the reduction of sexual violence. For example, better prosecution of sex crimes and longer sentences for convicted sex criminals and lower rates of acceptance of rape enabling myths.

  • Merryn March 19, 2010, 12:35 PM

    There’s another issue at stake here as well and that is the complexity of ‘violence’. As pointed out by John, although I do not agree with the term ‘evil’, pornographers do perform acts of violence against very vulnerable women and girls in the first instance. But I think what is really important to drive home is there is no scientific way to quantify sexual violence. Any woman or girl will tell that the existence of pornography is a part of masculine culture that is ‘really’ physically, symbolically and psychologically damaging, intimidating, dangerous and deadly to woman and girls. Men and boys use the language and visual imagery of pornography to intimidate women and girls in a form of cultural violence, let alone embodied violence. Scientific positivists refuse to acknowledge any other forms of violence apart from violent stranger rape. The traditional scientific paradigm is totally unable to grasp the socio-cultural affect of gendered power and violence that is perpetuated through symbolic and discursive acts of violence. I am sure these guys would also struggle with ‘quantifying’ the affects of symbolic and discursive acts of racism as well. If they can’t count it then it doesn’t exist. What we need to be vigilant about is producing counter narratives to these academics that do show the psychological and cultural effects of pornography because these scientific models are used to dismiss peoples experiences and to stop funding for research and projects etc. Of most concern is the way these scientific studies are used by pornographers to justify their actions, including brothel owners and pimps and other men who seek to exploit women and girls for their own gain. It is indeed a very dangerous thing to say ‘if the numbers don’t add up, it’s not real’….

  • POrnography Is Extremely Sexist,Woman-Hating & Damaging! May 6, 2010, 6:35 PM

    I know sadly all too well the effects of even “soft-core” pornography’s sexist ojectification of women,because I was repeatedly treated as nothing but a sex object,and grabbed at in my crotch and breasts as a big busted beautiful girl by many teen boys,2 of the many who treated me this way repeatedly, used pornography but this was in 1979 so hardcore wasn’t mainstreamed and accessible like now. One of these 15 year old boys made 2 verbal references to the women in Playboy and another shoved a pornographic magazine into my face and said,Here is a picture of a girl fingering herslf! Not that it ever justifies it in any way,but I just wanted people to know that I wore no make up and never wore any provocative clothes.

    When I was 25 in 1990 (before pornography was even on the internet and not nearly as mainstreamed) I spoke to Rhea Becker at the now sadly former feminist Women’s Alliance Against Pornography & Education Project .I spoke to her off and on until January 1993 and I asked her to send me any information on the harms of pornography and she sent me a lot. I told her that when a lot of men come to my house to fix or deliver things,they made sexist and inappropriate sexual comments and stared at me which made me uncomfortable and that I never wore provative clothes and had little and sometimes no make up on.I told her they were treating me like I was just someting to F*ck,and she said yes and that all comes from pornography.I had so many experiences like this even when I was as young as 13 by some men even and it really was sexual harassment.Rhea also told me that my experience of being sexually abused by boys or men who use pornography is very common and that she knew quite a few women who had similar experiences.She also always said we live in a society that hates women. And she once said most men hate women and then they marry them. And women give birth to sexist woman-hating pornography users! A woman having a son is the same exact thing as a Jew giving birth a to a Nazi or a black person giving birth to a Klu Klux Klan member or any other racist! I feel sorry for any kind women or geunine feminists who have sons!

    I couldn’t walk down the hall without some sexist degrading comments made by many other boys as well about how big busted I was and they also grabbed at another big busted girl who wasn’t even pretty. But it wasn’t just teen boys,when I was 14 I was sitting on the artroom steps with a boyfriend and the artroom teacher who was at least in his late 20’s early 30’s said to a whole room full of 15 year old boys that the boy I was sitting with said it was his turn after his.I’m sure he was a porn user too and got the attitude I was just a thing for boys and men to use for sex and take turns with! I actually am in some way a little “lucky” that this was in 1979 when images of men ejaculating on women’s faces and bodies wasn’t mainstreamed and all over the place,(back then women were just things to feel,f*ck and forget,now we are nothing but things to feel,f*ck,ejaculate all over on,call woman-hating names and forget! we have really come a long way baby!)because then they wouldn’t just have grabbed at my breasts and crotch,but would have ejaculated or at least tried to on my face and breasts!

    When I was 17 a school evaluator said that a lot of guys are going to want to get down my pants! Where do we think the teenage boys learn these kinds of sexist,woman-hating dehumanizing attitudes towards women from,the whole sexist,woman-hating male dominated sick society,the pornography that came from it,and the adult men who use it and are influenced by it all.Dr.Michael Flood said to me in an email back in 2002 after I told him about my experience,that he has no doubt on the connection of young men’s pornography use and their sexual abuse of girls and women.And there is plenty of research and testimonies of girls and women about this.

    • anom February 15, 2012, 11:35 AM

      To- POrnography Is Extremely Sexist,Woman-Hating & Damaging! That can not be true as this form of pornography at the time you stated was not published! And you contradict yourself later on in your statements!

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