The Campaign to Ban Rape Porn is Far Too Broadly Drawn

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I have been campaigning, and will continue to do so, for the Sentencing Council and the law to reflect the severity of possessing and distributing child rape images.

Women must also demand far tougher sentencing guidelines on rape and trafficking into rape.

As a reminder, to own large numbers of images of children being sadistically tortured or forced into bestiality, the starting point is one year.

For many women gang-raped daily in brothels in the most serious case, the traffickers got eight years. Out in four.

That’s the landscape on which British law operates, and which we must rise against.

However, over the last week or so campaigners I normally support and whose natural ally I am have launched a petition which makes me nervous and which I could not, in conscience, sign.

They want to ban all depictions of rape in acted pornography.

There is already a requirement in law that such depictions be obviously staged with “production values”. If that sounds comical, it isn’t – it’s designed to catch youtube videos of women being actually raped and assaulted.

Campaigners say they want to prevent or ban the following things; “extreme” rape scenarios featuring torture, pretend incest scenarios, scenarios where actresses who are eighteen are dressed or digitally altered to look far younger.

I think there is a case for banning at least the latter two categories. The law in Britain already makes it illegal to own digitised or altered or traced or drawn images of child rape/abuse (distinguishing itself from the US). This is because of the harm that could arise to children by feeding such fantasies. On the same basis, actresses pretending to be far younger or in incest scenarios are feeding the precisely same harm as traced or altered images of child rape or abuse. So far, an important addition to the law.

But to ban all images of rape itself goes far too far.

Campaigners already say that art or fantasy depictions in movies, books etc would be exempt. Consider many scenes from “Rome” for example. If classified by the BBFC they are not porn.

However, campaigners against rape – which I hope we all are – MUST be aware of free speech and where the line of incitement is truly drawn.

Not too long ago, a most dignified man, the barrister Simon Walsh, 50, was put through a disgraceful obscenity trial for owning pictures of violent pornography consenually taken, including “fisting”. He was cleared, but not before public humiliation at having his private life and sexuality exposed.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/aug/08/boris-johnson-aide-extreme-pornography-cleared

This is not a scenario feminists should campaign for as it affects other men and women. Pornography of rape that is clearly dramatized, and consensually made and shot, and does not involve imagery of children or incest, is not necessarily an incitement to actual rape. This campaign would criminalise all those indulging in consensual BDSM pornography. Yes this is embarassing to blog and talk about, but it is a lot better than having somebody like Mr. Hughes go through the dreadful national humiliation of his pornography trial.

Rape fantasy is an incredibly common female fantasy. It is VITAL that we distinguish this fantasy from rape apology, rape excuse, or anything to do with real rape. Psychologists have various explanations for the prevalence of rape fantasy in women, from its being a way for strong women to surrender control to the simpler variant of the woman who wishes to think of herself as a quote-unquote good girl, a virtuous woman, and in her dreams is simply overpowered so that sexual activity is not “her fault” and her “virtue” remains intact. In these fantasies the rapist looks like Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones and the woman finds it an enjoyable experience – it could not be more different from supporting or wishing for an actual rape in real life. Women are not stupid, and they can draw a perfectly clear distinction between fantasy and reality. The women who purchased 50 Shades of Grey – and no, I am not one of them – did not really want to be hurt by an aging billionaire.

It is important that in protecting women and children we are quite clear about what actual rape is and what incitement to hurt children is. Legislation to criminalise a community of fetishists is not right. I may not share their fetish nor am I in the same boat as Mr. Hughes, but adding ordinary, filmed, and consensually dramatised rape scenes – even involving, as in his case, some consensually undertaken depictions of pain – the government should NOT ban it, and as a feminist and one who will be concentrating on rape sentencing and the judges and quangoes who minimise it, I cannot support the campaign as it is written. It is illiberal and wrong and tramples on sexual rights.

photo by Rocketeer

22 thoughts on “The Campaign to Ban Rape Porn is Far Too Broadly Drawn

  1. Pretty much wholeheartedly agree on almost everything. I do have a couple of… talking points though.

    Why do we assume that drawn images (not traced, because to trace you need an actual image and that involves an actual child) of child abuse will cause people to hurt children but images and films, real or drawn/animated, of adults being sexually abused won’t cause people to sexually abuse adults?

    Why is incest considered separate from, er, non-incest? Why is depicting rape okay, but not incest? Both are considered by most to be abhorrent. What makes incest worse than rape?

  2. I agree with the thrust (no pun) of your argument, and applaud you for taking the stand and swimming against the ‘moral panic’ tide. But I’d raise a couple of points… first:

    “For many women gang-raped daily in brothels in the most serious case, the traffickers got eight years. Out in four.”

    The flaw there is not in sentencing but in charging. If women are being forced to do this, then the traffickers should be charged with aiding, abetting, or procuring some appropriately large number of rapes – something which would most assuredly result in a severe sentence upon conviction. Instead, illogically, the current law seeks to criminalize the *client* of the brothel, even where (indeed, especially where) they have no knowledge of the true situation and believe the sex to be consensual. This is utterly bizarre; create a new law to make an unknowing, innocent ‘criminal’ of the client – but fail to use the existing law to charge the brothel owners and traffickers appropriately.

    Second:

    “I think there is a case for banning at least the latter two categories.”

    Well, consensual incest fantasies and ‘age play’ fantasies are as much a legitimate part of the BDSM spectrum as consensual rape fantasies. Sex is playtime for adults; so long as it is all truly based on informed consent we should absolutely refrain from criminalizing the actions, or the depictions.

    As someone – probably Heinlein, it should have been! – wrote “Some people try to work around their inner demons. We harness ours up and take them out for a ride”

  3. Mike,

    they were – they were charged with “incitement to rape”. It got them eight years for all the hundreds of rapes they were responsible for. It’s not the nomenclature, but the punishment, that is off.

    Shard Aerliss,

    Because there is plenty of evidence that paedophiles act out fantasies, whether that is abusing a child themselves or abetting in the abuse of a child by creating a market for child rape images. There is no such link between rape fantasy and rape itself; psychologists estimates on the amount of women who fantasise about rape hover between 40 and 50%. Look at the millions who bought 50 Shades and ask yourself if they all wanted to be raped.

    The link IS there with child rape imagery and is not there with rape fantasy.

    Again, abusers who seek out genuine rape imagery want just that – you tube footage of actual assaults. That is why the law demands “production values” to make it clear the events are fictional and staged.

  4. Louise,

    Fair enough; from the way it was phrased it sounded like the conviction was for trafficking only with no mention of rape. I’d still question whether incitement was the right charge, but either way I now agree: the sentencing was definitely inadequate, and not by a small margin.

    With regard to the images, a couple of points. ‘Production values’. I’m a cinematographer as well as a fireman; I have my first feature in post at the moment. That could get *very* messy. How do you distinguish handheld cinema verite style work? Does that have ‘production values’? And frankly, from conversations I’ve had with partners who have this ‘interest’, some of the most arousing and enjoyable pornography in this area is entirely amateur home videos of ‘real’ couples playing their games; high on realism and eroticism, big fat zero on production values. No. I understand what you’re trying to accomplish – but distinguishing between ‘professional-looking’ productions, versus professional productions in cinema verite style, versus amateur recordings of consensual play, versus crime scene footage of real rapes… I don’t know how you do that. But doing it on the basis of some half-baked notion of ‘production values’ seems bad and wrong to me.

    This whole area is terribly tricky to legislate in. Huge props to you for citing Walsh – but if we go ahead and attempt to criminalise “scenarios where actresses who are eighteen are dressed or digitally altered to look far younger” you *know* what will happen; the law will get misused as per Walsh, and sooner or later some poor guys will be browbeaten into accepting cautions because the police found images of ex-girlfriends playing dress-up in their old school uniforms…

  5. I also must applaud your moral courage to stand against the trend. I found this article on the link, or lack thereof, between pornography and actual violence extremely informative: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/2032762/. I can also add to the findings that rape and attempted rape have continued to closely mirror the rise and fall of the overall violent crime rate in the years since 1984, even as the internet made pornography of all types readily available to any and all. Which also brings up the futility of trying to police the internet. Only a fraction of a percentage of the sites hosting the offending images will be in the UK, so how will a ban work? Will streaming a video violate it, or is it only a crime if I download something? What if I download it to my cloud but not my hard drive? As a watcher of the situation from afar I am curious to see if the legislation of morality works better on your side of the Atlantic. It has never done more good than harm over here.

  6. Just because some people in the population want to watch rape porn (and this includes women with rape fantasies) doesn’t mean therefore it has to exist or be made available.

    The argument that this type of imagery should be kept available because of potential limitations of free speech is really unfortunate. Why do we really HAVE to protect these images of violence against women? What good do these images actually provide? Why should it be ok to want to watch men engage in violence against women? Perhaps you could answer this question? Without referring to the free speech logic but actually explain to me why you think men (lets face it the vast majority are men) should have the right to watch men engage in physical and sexual violence against women? And I am talking about rape porn here where the sole purpose is simply for the ‘enjoyment’ of watching a man raping a woman

    I am not convinced that your answer to this question is more important than attempting to create a society where we work to decrease violence against women by decreasing the amount of (real or unreal) depictions of this. I don’t think that a man’s ‘right’ to watch rape porn outweighs a women’s right not to be raped. If some people’s liberties are limited by this law then so be it, is that really a bad thing?

    Please. Try to convince me why we should protect the right to watch rape when violence against women is something that we are trying to decrease in every other aspect of our society (and I assume that you do not support violence against women?)

  7. In terms of differentiating between rape fantasy and the abuse of children, you’re making the judgement that rape fantasy is OK because women have rape fantasies. But that doesn’t take into account that a lot of rape pornography isn’t for women; pornography for women is treated as a niche product, so we have to assume that, like child abuse images, rape pornography is more often for the benefit of the fantasy of raping rather than of being raped. The consent of the rape fantasy isn’t there because the abused women are still being positioned as objects rather than active participants.

  8. What a stupid rationale, people who fantasise about being rapped need therapy not porn.
    .
    And what of men who “fantasise” about commiting rape? Are we to protect their “right” to access rape porn also?

    Can see this defence being very popular in a place like India, well done (not).

  9. Large numbers of women fantasize about rape. Those women don’t actually want to be raped. Fantasies are just that, fantasies. This is a good argument, or at least half of one…

    You see, large numbers of men fantasize about rape too and, just like the women, the vast overwhelming majority of these men would never actually want to rape someone or be raped themselves.

    As disturbing as it is to here people enthusiastically supporting this kind of thought police, I’m equally troubled that the only people opposing the new law do so only in the context that it would infringe on women’s rights (I.e. those who have rape fantasies). Does this mean that there wouldn’t be a problem if only the fantasies of men were being persecuted and fetishized?

  10. Louise, you didn’t answer Shard’s question over why incest fantasy should be banned over rape. Unless the former is implicitly using children, how does it rank above rape in censorship value?

    Also, the apparent fact that rape fantasy does not incite the actual act whereas child fantasy does is based on what exactly?

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