Why I Can’t Support The Campaign To Ban Rape Porn

Cross posted to Liberal Conspiracy.

Before I begin I want to make it clear that I am hyper aware that the topics discussed here are of a sensitive nature. The language I use may be triggering, or possibly even insensitive- I’ve tried very hard to express myself clearly without doing so, but I may have gotten it wrong in some cases. The purpose of this post isn’t a manifesto by any means- it’s an exploration of my concerns and a call for a better, wider debate than the one currently being offered.

 Content Note: This blog 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 (FYI if you’re campaigning for legislation, private emails is an extremely questionable method of outlining your aims.) 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.

A myth that seems to be 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.

9 responses to “Why I Can’t Support The Campaign To Ban Rape Porn

  1. This is great, thank you. You’ve highlighted everything that makes me extremely uncomfortable about this campaign. Bizarrely, it seems to be in favour of moving AWAY from focusing on consent, and just assumes that anything which some people find icky, is inherently evil (which will of course have great implications for kinky, queer, poly communities etc.).

  2. Pingback: Liberal Conspiracy: Why I can’t support the campaign to ban rape p0rn | moonblogsfromsyb·

  3. Sarah, I popped a reply at the end of the Liberal Conspiracy article and didn’t want to chew up bandwidth posting again. I just wanted to add that I don’t think the goal of bringing the law in England & Wales into line with that in Scotland is motivated by prudishness or being offended, at least not for most folks. It’s certainly not for me. Night night.

    • I don’t believe I ever implied that it was- the critique isn’t on the intentions of the campaign, but their campaigning techniques and the short sightedness of it.

  4. A very brave piece hitting many of the good reasons to oppose groups like EVAW. Owing to the prowess of the Shapiro Group Craig’s List closed down their adult personal ads, because of the outrageous incidence of under-age prostitution. How did they establish this? A group of unnamed ‘experts’ looked at the pictures used to promote escorts/massage and decided the females there represented were under age. The fact that most pictures used in such ads aren’t actually the advertiser didn’t weigh in their determination.

    Groups like EVAW exist to profit off the loss of the women they claim to champion. They advance prohibition as the solution to violence against women, real or depicted, but reason and abundant evidence reveals that prohibition only escalates violence while entrenching police and state powers at the expense of the citizens.

    If we as a society really wanted to help women, we’d see to it that they had educational and employmental opportunities so the sex trade wouldn’t be the only way they could support themselves. We would promote reason and tolerance and non-violence which would improve all of our relations at home and abroad.

    If we really wanted to…

  5. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean that I thought you suggested the campaigners were motivated by prudishness. Some of the other commentators on the Lib Con piece did seem to suggest this. It’s a pretty common claim levelled at feminists who campaign on sexual violence, sexual objectification, etc. It seems to come either from folks who genuinely don’t understand, but more often I think as an effort to discredit and derail.

    I totally agree the campaign itself is problematic and would be more effective if it lost the flannel and focussed clearly on bringing the law into line with that in Scotland. It could cite how the law has influenced wider policy and culture here. For example, contrast the Lothian & Borders campaign against rape http://www.wecanstopit.co.uk/ with similar police efforts elsewhere in the UK. And no, there haven’t been mass arrests of folks for having illegal stuff on their laptops!

    Perhaps it’s a question of whether it’s possible to support an ill-judged campaign because one agrees with its end goal.

    I’m aware there were feminists who didn’t back Lucy Holme’s “No More Page Three” campaign because they thought the, “we’re asking nicely” approach was too wet and sidestepped the wider context of sexual objectification as a function of patriarchal oppression. Interestingly enough, I believe some of them DO support the current campaign to halt rape porn which other feminists (like yourself) feel THEY can’t endorse.

    Perhaps it’s a bit of a tangent, but I’m aware this campaign is happening against the background of what seems to be increasing polarisation between the radical feminist and liberal/libertarian camps with the expectation that you can follow the orthodoxy of either one or t’other. There seem now to be few spaces and few people willing to engage in that dialogue you’ve called for – on the impact of violent pornography, objectification, et. al. in the context of continued institutionalised sexism. As @anywavewilldo said on Twitter, it’s like feminism is eating its own head with the goals that feminists DO share getting lost in the process. Depressing.

  6. Pingback: History Lesson: what happened when Canada enacted a feminist anti-porn law? | A Glasgow Sex Worker·

  7. I don’t necessarily agree with banning Page 3 and Lad’s Mags in law but is there not some merit to targeting organisations themselves, to pressure them into stopping? While I know this post is about porn, there has to be some change in societal attitude and the continued existence of things like this prevents that in my opinion. Very open to criticisms of this view!

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