If we are serious about eradicating violence against women, we cannot be lax about eradicating the production and distribution of pornography in our society.
To eradicate violence against women and children, too often in the form of sexual violence and often resulting in the death of the victims – one must address the root causes and not merely the symptoms.1 As we have seen in the past months, no one in society is immune from this scourge – it devastates and destroys without discriminating on ANY basis.2 One of the root causes and drivers of sexual violence is sexual exploitation of women,3 which takes many forms, including prostitution,4 sex trafficking and pornography.
Pornography as root cause
Probably the most prevalent way in which sexual exploitation of women is promoted in and to our society is through pornography.
If we are serious about eradicating violence against women and children, we cannot be lax about eradicating the production and distribution of pornography in our society.
Government Policy – problematic
Government policy to date is that children must be protected from exposure to pornography, but that adults should be able to view what they want, no matter the consequences. The inherent problem, however, is that the consequences – that is, acting out in sexual violence in response to exposure to pornography – is not mainly perpetrated by boys, but rather by men (male persons age 18 and older). It is disingenuous to expect that once a boy turns 18, he will become immune to the misogynistic and devaluing influence of pornography.
South Africa’s pornography use
According to Pornhub.com, one of the largest hard-core pornography video sharing websites in the world, based on their 2016 user statistics, South Africa broke into their top 20 of all countries in the world. In addition, South Africa has the highest percentage in the world for accessing hard-core pornography via a mobile device.5
Research evidence: How Pornography Harms 6
- Research by Dr Walter Dekeseredy has shown that pornography teaches men to think of women as objects, not as people. A similar study found that the more men view pornography, the more they think that women are lesser creatures who they can dominate.7 […] in a study with over 20,000 men Dr Wright conducted with Dr Robert Tokunaga, they found that the more men view media where women are treated as objects rather than as people, the more they thought that women really were merely things that existed to sexually please men. In addition, the more men thought of women as objects, the more they also supported violence against women.8
- An analysis of recent data on pornography use and sexual violence from 22 studies and 7 different nations – found that in correlational, cross-sectional, and longitudinal studies, pornography use and acts of sexual aggression were directly connected. This connection held true for both men and women, and for verbal and physical aggression. Violent pornography was even more strongly linked to sexual violence.Moreover, after viewing over 500 studies to determine whether consumption of pornography caused gender based violence, Dr Max Waltman of Stockholm University concluded that the weight of the evidence shows the direction of the connection clearly. He noted that the available research shows that pornography causes gender based violence through most every methodology imaginable, using experimental and nonexperimental studies, quantitative and qualitative studies, and samples of specific groups and samples of the general population. Dr Waltman describes the effects as not only statistically significant but robust.9
- Researchers found that men who believed more strongly in impersonal, promiscuous sex and were hostile toward women were more likely to sexually assault a woman if they frequently used pornography. … In short, frequent pornography use by itself is not a singular, direct cause for sexual assault. However, if a man has other risk factors for committing sexual violence, for example, hostile masculinity or a preference for impersonal sex, adding frequent pornography use makes it significantly more likely that he will commit sexual violence”.10
Addressing the scourge of violence against women and children, especially sexual violence against women and girls, is everybody in South Africa’s responsibility. Parliament and its Portfolio Committee on Communications are currently considering the Films and Publications Amendment Bill’s proposals to decriminalize/legalise the online distribution of pornography in South Africa. In the light of the weight of the available research, we urge proper consideration of the root causes and the consequences:
- Why would we, as a matter of principle, support the production and distribution of material that exploits women in the production thereof and through its message to viewers promotes the sexual exploitation of women?
- How can we, knowing that exposure to pornography results in men perpetrating sexual violence on women and girls, support the distribution thereof into our society as a matter of state policy?11
When asked how to improve the conditions in pornography for women, Noam Chomsky replied:“Just like child abuse, you don’t want to make it better child abuse, you want to stop child abuse.”
(Image by endsxualexploitation.org)
1 In an article a couple of months ago on theconversation.com, author Professor Amanda Gouws points out:
People come to think that the solution to gender based violence lies in greater incarceration and retributive justice, rather than interventions with society at large that produces violent men.[Responses like] “all rapists must rot in jail” … individualises the challenge of violence. It focuses on individual perpetrators without attempting to understand the very complex social conditions in South Africa that contribute to men’s violent behaviour. Gender based violence will only diminish if men and women unite to fight against it. Men have an important role to play in this struggle. Men will have to speak out to other men who are contributing to rape culture. They must start to address other men’s perceptions and stereotypes about women’s sexuality. They must call out men who believe women can be beaten to “discipline” them, or who refer to women as “sluts” when they do not like their behaviour. Without intervention, the problem of sexual violence will not stop. Karabo Mokoena’s name will be joined by hundreds more on a never-ending list of loss and brutality.
3 Apart from specific instances of person-on-person sexual exploitation, the scourge of sexual exploitation also has a wider societal impact as a pervasive way of valuing, portraying and perceiving fellow human beings, especially women. The magnitude of this influence cannot be overstated. It is fundamental to all societal life and human interaction on every level.
4 Mr John Jeffery, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development – Media Briefing on the SALRC Report on Adult Prostitution (26 May 2017):
The report indicates that exploitation, particularly of women, is inherent in prostitution and depends on contingent external factors related to gender violence, inequality and poverty; and that such exploitation does not arise merely in response to the legislative framework. Therefore, it concludes that changing the legislative framework could create an extremely dangerous cultural shift as juxtaposed against the high rate of sexual crimes that are being committed against women and may render them even more vulnerable than at present.
The first option which is the Commission’s preferred option is to retain a totally criminalised legal framework. This option is coupled with an opportunity for people in prostitution to divert out of the criminal justice system so that they can access supportive resources and systems in order to exit prostitution if they should choose to do so.
6 A summary of the most up to date research is available at http://endsexualexploitation.org/wp-content/uploads/NCOSE_Pornography-PublicHealth_ResearchSummary_8-2_17_FINAL-with-logo.pdf
7 “How Pornography Harms” (2017) Dr John D. Foubert, PhD. (Foubert), page 48.
8 Foubert, page 65.
9 Foubert, page 57.
10 Foubert, page 53. “[…], there are over a hundred (100+) studies showing that pornography use is both correlated with and is the cause of a wide range of violent behaviors; about 50 studies show a strong connection between pornography and sexual violence. (Foubert, page 44.)
Researchers have also found that pornography use increases the likelihood that a man will commit sexual violence against a woman, particularly if the man has other risk factors for committing sexual violence like being impulsive, and if his use of pornography is frequent.” (Foubert, page 45.)
11 In a Media Statement on 10 March (earlier this year), we pointed to the fact that current state policy is placing women and children at risk of becoming victims of sexual violence (http://causeforjustice.org/media-briefing-online-distribution-of-pornography-in-sa/). Hardly two months later, the issue was thrust squarely into the public eye due to a number of grotesque incidents, to the point that the National Assembly held a plenary session to debate this scourge in South African society.