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August 30, 2006

Government bows down to moral panic

by Feòrag

United Kingdom: The government has confirmed that it plans to make the possession of violent pornography an offence in response to a moral panic over the killing of Jane Longhurst by a man said to be obsessed with images of women being strangled. That man won an appeal against his conviction in the House of Lords last month.

As you might expect, many religious groups were involved in lobbying the government to change the law this way. The proposed new law would ban pornographic images which are also "acts that appear to be life threatening or are likely to result in serious, disabling injury", plus necrophilia and bestiality, with exceptions for documentary films, news and works of art. BDSM organisations such as The Spanner Trust are worried that such a law will serve to criminalise interest in consensual, but minority, sexual practices.

Everyone supporting the proposed legislation seems to agree that it will cut violent crime, but this seems unlikely and recent research suggests that it might even increase it. Anthony D'Amato of the Northwestern University School of Law recently published his findings on the link between access to pornography and rape. In particular, he was interested in the rape figures since porn became widely available on the internet. His statistics might surprise some: he found that a rise in access to porn correlated with a dramatic reduction in the incidence of rape. In his discussion of why this might be, he refers to the Reagan Commission on Pornography's conclusions and what might have happened if they were right:

For if they had been right that exposure to pornography leads to an increase in social violence, then the vast exposure to pornography furnished by the internet would by now have resulted in scores of rapes per day on university campuses, hundreds of rapes daily in every town, and thousands of rapes per day in every city. Instead, the Commisioners were so incredibly wrong that the incidence of rape has actually declined by the astounding rate of 85%.

But why would porn have such an effect. D'Amato thinks it's quite obvious—we're all a bunch of wankers.

Correlations aside, could access to pornography actually reduce the incidence of rape as a matter of causation? In my article I mentioned one possibility: that some people watching pornography may get it out of their system and thus have no further desire to go out and actually try it. Another possibility might be labeled the Victorian effect: the more that people covered up their bodies with clothes in those days, the greater the mystery of what they looked like in the nude. The sight of a woman’s ankle was considered shocking and erotic. But today, internet porn has thoroughly de-mystified sex. Times have changed so much that some high school teachers of sex education are beginning to show triple-X porn movies to their students in order to depict techniques of satisfactory intercourse.

I am sure there will be other explanations forthcoming as to why access to pornography is the most important causal factor in the decline of rape. Once one accepts the observation that there is a precise negative correlation between the two, the rest can safely be left to the imagination.

So, why does the government seem so keen on increasing sexual violence against women?

Possession of violent porn to be criminal offenceThe Guardian, 30th August 2006; D'Amato, A., 2006. Porn Up, Rape Down, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 913013, 23 June 2006 (Link to abstract. Free registration required to download the paper). The other paper of his to which Amato refers is D'Amato, A., 1990. A New Political Truth: Exposure to Sexually Violent Materials Causes Sexual Violence, 31 William and Mary Legal Review. 575. [PDF]

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Posted in Willies at 15:14. Last modified on March 05 2009 at 08:36.
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