Sex and Modern Slavery: Strangulation as sexual gratification in porn may desensitize it for youngsters

Study shows that choking or strangulation is likely to be one of the very first sex acts a child sees when they view porn for the first time which normalizes or desensitizes it for them


                            Sex and Modern Slavery: Strangulation as sexual gratification in porn may desensitize it for youngsters
(The Montecito Picture Company/Metro Godwyn Mayor)

Strangulation has been subjected to sexualization through various mediums like pornography and mainstream movies that deem consensual asphyxiation as a sexual desire. A segment of the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) online summit hosted by the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) provided coverage on this topic. Kelsey McKay, a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault with a specialty on strangulation, spoke about the aspects of asphyxiation, how to recognize non-visible injuries and understand the dynamics of those who strangle. The CEO and president of RESPOND Against Violence, a consulting firm, McKay also touched up fatal, non-fatal and sexually motivated asphyxiation crimes.

Strangulation or its broader term asphyxiation is anything that causes dysfunction or death within your organs by loss of oxygen being delivered to those cells, McKay explained. "Strangulation is placing an external pressure on someone's neck," she added. It can essentially reduce the blood or airflow within your body. This can also include suffocation, like being smothered by a pillow, or aquatics, in that, holding someone's head underwater. Something that McKay and her partner have been seeing more often is what they 'co-occurring criminal asphyxiation'. According to her, the reason a lot of criminals resort to this kind of asphyxiation is twofold. "One, it very rarely leaves visible injury, and so it can be difficult to investigate, identify, and prosecuted," McKay elucidated. "But on the other hand, it provides a benefit fit in the sense that it can be torturous and terrifying for the person who is the victim of this occurring."

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And so what we see as a very disproportionate response to what is some of the most dangerous types of assault, sometimes homicidal. Co-occurring criminal asphyxiation refers to offenders who use different methods of asphyxiation and what one should look out for is if one method is a red flag for another. "If you have an offender who has used strangulation, you should be asking about whether this is someone who has also used aquatics because we tend to see an overlap quickly," said McKay. Because asphyxiation is an internal injury, cases from this cause of death often got minimized in the past. Some research also showed that many intimate partner abusers were using strangulations within themselves as a method of control. They were strangling them to instill fear and the fear would control them.

Over the last 20 years or so, there has been a passage of laws, not just nationally in the US, but all over the world, to make and create laws that are on a par with the seriousness of strangulation and other types of asphyxiation. But the only problem with these laws is that it hasn't followed through with a lot of implementation, McKay elaborated. "While the laws now make it so that you don't have to have a visible injury to prove this crime, there hasn't been a lot of training for people to understand what other evidence they need to collect to prove it," she added. Another drawback of these laws is that it wasn't universalized, or it only looked at intimate partner violence and abandoned other sex crimes, child abuse, human trafficking, and homicides where strangulation and other forms of asphyxiation create a barrier.

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McKay also draws focus to the fact that victims tend to get arrested, Victims who tend to fight back end up inflicting superficial injuries on their offenders, resulting in an arrest. Even in cases where they have had to kill their abuser, they have gotten arrested for homicide. There a quite a few reasons as to why the world isn't seeing strangulation. "The first is that we silo it out and we aren't looking at strangulation and asphyxiation in its own lens," McKay stated. "We don't always see it. And because we don't physically see the evidence of it, it's something that we will often miss." By understanding that there is evidence we can be looking for beyond just a handprint on the neck.

Another reason is that there is no recognition for the overlap that indicates that it is not limited to non-fatal violence toward an intimate partner. "This is something we see in sex. This is something we see in things unrelated to sex, like course of control," said McKay. The presence of strangulation is rampant in many homicides as well. This also includes misunderstanding and misapplying concepts like BDSM (Bondage Dominance Sadism/Submission Masochism) and autoerotic asphyxiation. The community that responds to crime like this doesn't understand what BDSM or autoerotic asphyxiation is. When the defense brings that to the investigative agency of the prosecution, it is very easy to pass it off as "rough sex." Now that pornography is easily accessible, we see a prevalence of sexual asphyxiation on pornographic content. 

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The existence of strangulation and the escalation to that type of violence is significant and preventable. This is a pattern that needs to be identified with child abuse which is something that is still missing. This is the overlap of sexual violence with children that is amiss at the moment. There is also negligence, especially when people engage in the choking game all the time. In a non-sexual setting, teenagers and pre-adolescents play the choking game and don't realize the consequences of it. And then there is punishment. Asphyxia is used as a physical discipline. It instills a type of fear, a taste of death. And then finally, it is used not so much for the course of control, but for sexual gratification. Some offenders are sexually turned on by the power and control they feel by asphyxiating someone. This term "being turned on" by asphyxiation is something that we can identify in almost every serial killer case that you come across. 

There is a difference between strangling to get control over their body and raping them and the difference is someone actually being aroused through the act of asphyxiation. Strangulation or the asphyxiation itself is part of what helps to arouse the person. "Either you're being aroused through instilling fear, torture, or feeling the power of holding their life in their hands. This can even occur without a sexual assault," said McKay. Choking is increasingly seen in pornographic videos and it is getting more and more violent in the UK. According to a study, half of the boys aged 11 to 16 have seen online porn, and only 4% of them said it gives them ideas of what type of sex they want to try. "What's terrifying is that the type of sex they want to try is what they see, and we know that that includes strangulation," McKay added. The same study shows that choking or strangulation is likely to be one of the very first sex acts a child sees when they view porn for the first time which normalizes or desensitizes it for them. Once you have incorporated asphyxiation into your sexual gratification, that will escalate.

Disclaimer : This is based on sources and we have been unable to verify this information independently.