Porn and Rape, Part 2

A new flawed rape study concludes that porn reduces rape, because greater Internet access is correlated with lower rape rates in the United States. The study in question is built around the substitution effect: watching violent movies is a substitute for murder, watching violent porn is a substitute for rape, and so on.

Naturally, the feminist blogosphere is aghast. The study itself is flawed. How can it not be? It has a limited timeframe (1998-2003), it’s restricted to within the United States, it doesn’t explain the plummet in American rape rates between 2000 and 2004, and it doesn’t control for such crucial mediating variables as inequality and median income, both of which are higher in states with better net access and correlate with less crime.

But too little of the criticism on the feminist blogosphere revolves around these boring issues. None of the the three above-linked blogs is anti-porn, but none of them is explicitly sex-positive, either. The two sex-positive blogs on my blogroll haven’t said anything about the study. The comment threads became hornets’ nests of misguided sentiments about what pornography is.

First, Evil Fizz at Feministe tries rebutting with a supply-side argument,

Now, without diving straight into the quagmire which is porn and feminism, let’s establish that some porn is, in fact, rape on video tape. Some of it is a damn convincing approximation. The fact that there is a porn star whose signature move is attempting to push the head of the woman he’s fucking into a toilet is prima facie evidence of the erotization of sexual assault. Not an open question.

Whenever people start going off about how extreme porn is, I ask the same question, courtesy of Avedon: “how do you know what porn features?”. I’ve looked at some fairly hardcore stuff, and none of it was ever rape. Even the damsel-in-distress pictures were clearly faked, encapsuling the difference between rape fantasies, which most people of both genders have, and real rape, which most people of either gender don’t commit.

Googling porn rape yields a first page with several articles about the correlation between porn and rape and several porn sites I’ll bet dollars to donuts don’t feature a single model who didn’t consent and don’t portray a single act that more than superficially resembles rape. For a while it even included my previous post about porn and rape, but not anymore.

Samhita, whose post about this is still far better, asks,

Furthermore, whether this decreases rape or not, does the use of internet pornography change the culture of rape, or does it justify sexual fetishization to an even greater degree. Don’t get me wrong, the less rapes the better, but is this a solution?

But social science is not public policy. A good rebuttal to “here are the facts” is not “the consequences of these facts are bad so I choose not to believe them” but “no, these facts are wrong.” Nobody is seriously suggesting increased porn use as a way of fighting rape.

As far as I can tell, the only reason researchers look into negative correlations between crime and media violence is as a way of rebutting arguments based on equally flawed studies saying that media violence causes crime, which are then used to justify censorship.

But as I said, the real gems are from the comment threads, especially on Feministing. There, one commenter brings up Susan Brownmiller (whose book has a lot of empirical arguments that suggest rape is no different from other violent crimes, and a factless theory that all of the world’s evils stem from the prehistoric discovery of rape). Another objects that some porn includes rape, so obviously porn must be about rape; presumably, since there exist Muslim terrorists, Islam is a terrorist religion.

Worse, too many commenters subscribe to an argument from personal incredulity. They can’t believe porn is a substitute for rape; hence, it can’t be. Their theory says porn equals rape; hence it must be true, and any conflicting data must be a lie. They’re afraid that any approach but the ineffectual “just say no to rape” strategy diverts blame from rapists; hence no social factors cause rape except the patriarchy and no social factors reduce rape except feminism.

I have fairly concrete ideas about what causes rape, none of which marks it as materially different from other violent crimes; I’ll post more on this later, since I’d rather talk more about factors influencing rape other than porn, which is a red herring.

Like other violent crimes, rape is influenced by several factors – poverty, law enforcement, alienation – none of which ever justifies it. Nobody is saying murder is justifiable because if the US had real gun control, its homicide rate would be 2 rather than 5.5. It’s understood that we must blame the perpetrator first and the social system underlying him second. It’s possible to accept a study that says rape has causes exogenous to sexism without blaming victims.

20 Responses to Porn and Rape, Part 2

  1. ballgame says:

    I’m not sure it’s fair to characterize the study as “flawed”. If you read the original study (and I think in this case it’s worthwhile to bypass the Slate article and go directly to this source study which inspired it), Prof. Kendall is quite clear about the limitations of his methodology. He also isn’t shy about spelling out the caveats with which one needs to take his study (rhetorical precision which earned him the epithets of “vacillating” and “wishy washy” from evil fizz over at Feministe).

    In short, Kendall advanced a theory, did a study which controlled for a reasonably extensive number of conflating variables given the limited tools he had available, and found the evidence tended to support his theory. I don’t even think Kendall himself would say his theory is “proved”, but the evidence is not trivial, and it is now up to others to come up with stronger evidence and/or better theories to explain the phenomenon he uncovered. As cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris once said, “Purely negative criticism does not kill a research program.”

    Which on some level is simply echoing the latter part of your post, in which I think you’re basically on point.

  2. Katie Kish says:

    Just because I make a study studying saying that Alon is a woman based on his mannerisms yet make clear my limitations of the study having never seen his genitalia doesn’t mean the study is not flawed – which it obviously would be. There are a multitude of variables which aren’t included in the study which alon pointed out in the beginning of the post.

    In a 29 page paper, looking only at internet usage in a small section of time, we can’t make an appropriate deduction on the reason behind the decrease of rape.
    The logic behind the formula he is trying to prove is so off. Any 2nd or 3rd year logician can tell you that ” X (per capita rapes) = β[internet usage] + αX + η + γ + ε ” literally will not give you a logical conclusion. It is an illogical implication…

    X β ⇒
    F F T
    F T T
    T F F
    T T T

    Already the first set implies that if there are no rapes – there is then no internet usage, and is again false because if everyone in the world were to start watching internet porn daily – there wouuld still be rape. I know, I’m taking each side to the very extreme, but its a clear indicator of why his statement “The results above suggest that potential rapists perceive pornography as a
    substitute for rape.” can not be held up without knowing it is false on the some ends.
    This is why the study if flawed by using only a few variables. With other variables, internet usage may be able to be in correlation wtih rape …somehow, but not on its own.

    (To any logician that may read this – be nice. I’m a humanities major.)

  3. Alon Levy says:

    (To any logician that may read this – be nice. I’m a humanities major.)

    Your comment makes that quite clear.

    I’m doing a post about the statistical nitty-gritty of the study.

  4. Katie Kish says:

    yeah so next time I say ‘i fucked up, delete it’ do me a favor and delete it.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    I replied before I received your email.

  6. evil_fizz says:

    Whenever people start going off about how extreme porn is, I ask the same question, courtesy of Avedon: “how do you know what porn features?”.

    Actually, by watching it in my role at the Army JAG, where we prosecuted people for that sort of thing. I’m not idly speculating, and the comment about the guy trying to push a woman’s head in a toilet? That would be from the product description at Blowfish. (Scroll down to Rocco: Animal Trainer 5). Most porn is not rape in the strict sense of the word, but some of it is, and just because you haven’t seen it personally doesn’t mean it’s not real.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Oh, I’m not saying there’s no porn that depicts rape. There is. I’m saying that most porn doesn’t depict rape, most porn that does depict rape takes the form of obviously fake Russian websites promising real teens and real rape, and most of the rest is staged only a little more intricately. In particular, lurid descriptions of violent porn are a misrepresentation of what most pornography is.

  8. evil_fizz says:

    Oh, I’m not saying there’s no porn that depicts rape.

    So what exactly did you mean by “I’ve looked at some fairly hardcore stuff, and none of it was ever rape. Even the damsel-in-distress pictures were clearly faked, encapsuling the difference between rape fantasies, which most people of both genders have, and real rape, which most people of either gender don’t commit.”?

    Because that sounds like you claiming that you don’t believe some porn does depict rape. You’ve never seen “real rape” and the rape porn looks fake by your standards. Of course, this begs the question: how do you know that what you’re seeing is consensual?

    (Also, where are you getting this data on most people of both genders having rape fantasies?)

  9. Alon Levy says:

    I got the data from Wikipedia, which at one point said 70% of people had rape fantasies. On the other hand, the current article gives a much lower figure, 24% for men and 36% for women.

    What I meant by the part that you’re quoting is that if rape porn exists, it’s hard to find. At one point I looked at some BDSM-themed porn (my verdict: it’s really bad, and I’m open to an argument that it should be censored on quality grounds along with Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and romantic comedies). I followed around links quite a lot, and still didn’t find anything that seemed nonconsensual.

    A good analogy is to antiracist blogging. If you start at a blog like Daily Kos and follow around links, you’ll likely never find a single antiracist blog. It doesn’t mean the antiracist blogosphere doesn’t exist, but it does mean it’s insignificant compared to the much larger mainstream Democratic and liberal blogospheres.

    There are two ways I know almost certainly that online rape porn is fake. First, porn sites apparently have to report information about the owners and the models to their respective governments. One of the sites I checked had nothing but a page explaining that it had shut down after its owner refused to tell the government who she was. If rape porn exists, it’s likely not on fixed websites, but circulated on forums and email where it’s less traceable. And second, the forced scenes I saw were more like the popular belief of how rape must be than like the descriptions I’ve read of real rape.

  10. evil_fizz says:

    Kiddie porn is also hard/impossible to find on mainstream sites, but this is immaterial to its general existance and use. The deciding factor here cannot be your assessment via google of what exists and what doesn’t.

    If we posit that some porn (not even necessarily rape porn) is actual documentation of a crime, i.e., rape, then I’d say there’s a problem with the study. If overall rapes decrease via a method which itself produces rapes, I’d say we have a problem. The actual magnitude of the problem is an open question.

    Incidentially, you have a tremendous amount of faith in porn producers. It’s not like even the mainstream sites are all on the up and up regarding documentation, i.e., Joe Francis and Girls Gone Wild.

  11. evil_fizz says:

    Sorry, ignore the repetitive sentence structure.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    Actually, kiddie porn is a pretty instructive example. There’s relatively little of it, far less than an amount that would justify the subsequent government invasions of privacy, which are comparable to those of the Patriot Act.

    Besides, presumably porn actresses who were raped would answer “yes” to government surveys. So assuming the study is sound – which is obviously counterfactual – it’s comparable to the Lancet Study, in a way. Would Saddam and the sanctions have killed some more people if the US hadn’t attacked Iraq? Definitely. But at the same time, the US invasion and occupation have ended many more lives than they saved.

    And I don’t have faith in porn producers. I have faith in a government that’s obsessed with sex and is probably fairly competent when it comes to finding reasons to shut down porn sites. A study showing a significant number of porn starlets have been raped on stage would shatter that faith, but so far I haven’t seen any such study.

  13. The “how do you know what porn features?” thing is of great interest to me—I’m desperately curious about the content of what’s most viewed, by who, and what sells the most. What sells the most is troubling, but as I’ve said before, I think people who actually spend a significant amount of money on porn are a small subset of viewers.

  14. I’m curious about how a “rape fantasy” is defined, not that I think it would change the numbers of men who have them. On the alt.erotic forums, there were a massive shitload of “sex with a sleeping/unconscious woman” fantasies, which is legally rape but a lot of people may not really think of it that way.

  15. anon says:

    What does porn feature? Maybe a good way to check this out Amanda is to go to emporium.us or puretna. These free torrent sites have a very large number of users and are probably representative of mainstream consumption of porn. I use them. They allow everything except bestiality, underage models, real rape, necro and snuff films. They do allow fake rape. They also have statistics and lists of the most snatched porn clips, most active and most appreciated.

    Btw, rape fantasies are not just popular among men. Violent rape fantasies are common among women. In this case the women like to imagine they are being raped. Just google it. I wonder what a feminist like you Amanda makes of something like that.

  16. [...] In the last 38 hours, I’ve gotten 29 hits from Google on rape porn and 6 more on raped porn. And the porn/rape post of mine they all hit is only on Google’s second page on the former search phrase. [...]

  17. Mikle says:

    “[…] In the last 38 hours, I’ve gotten 29 hits from Google on rape porn and 6 more on raped porn. And the porn/rape post of mine they all hit is only on Google’s second page on the former search phrase. […]”
    baaa :)

  18. [...] Ever satisfying the desires of the tens of people who find my blog every day by Googling for porn and rape, I suppose I should write about rape porn specifically and rape generally. I haven’t looked at any, but I’ve read a few stories, and all I can say is, they’re bad. It’s not necessarily that the writing is bad, although I would like them more if they didn’t use a euphemism for “penis” once per three sentences; rather, it’s that it gives me the impression that the writer hasn’t ever been raped or heard or read a real rape account. [...]

  19. horny bastard says:

    well guess what? i just googled porn rape and saw a bloody vagina!

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