Violence Against Women: How pornography desensitizes viewers and promotes sexual aggression against women

In recent years, the depictions of violence and abuse in pornography have been rampant and studies have shown that the abusive acts in these videos have been carried on into the real-life scenario


                            Violence Against Women: How pornography desensitizes viewers and promotes sexual aggression against women
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Violence against women is a global issue and one that has been ongoing for centuries. In the 21st century, there is more awareness, yet, every year 66,000 women are violently killed globally, accounting for approximately 17% of all victims of intentional homicides. MEA Worldwide's (MEAWW) Violence Against Women campaign will examine different aspects of the issue and society's role in addressing it.

With the internet readily available at our disposal, it is only natural that people get acquainted with everything that the domain has to offer. In particular, the internet has eased access to online pornography, and the fact of the matter is that people as young as 11 have viewed it because it is free and unfiltered on the digital platform. While most users turn to pornography as a means of adult entertainment, others have had their perceptions shaped by what they have seen unfold on the screen, be it scripted or unscripted.

Frequent and consistent consumption has a way of altering our cognizance, and pornography is no different. In recent years, the depictions of violence and abuse in pornography have been rampant, and numerous studies have shown that the abusive acts in these videos have been carried on into the real-life scenario. Research statistics show that in the US, approximately 36 percent of men aged 18 years and above, and 34 percent of women aged between 18 and 30 watch pornography at least once annually.

By the time youngsters reach 14 years of age, 66 percent of males and 39 percent of females have viewed pornography through print or digital media at least once in a year, either deliberately or accidentally. There is a rather palpable relationship between pornography and aggression, where certain types of the former can influence the latter and also contributes to asocial attitudes or behaviors towards women.

It fosters a level of miseducation, impacts the psychological, physical, emotional and social developments of youth. The portrayal of hardcore violence in pornography, particularly against women, has desensitized viewers and only increases their appetite for more and similar kinds of violent, degrading content. This in turn also facilitates sexual aggression that manifests itself offline.

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According to a study by Ana Bridges et al titled 'Violence Against Women' that analyzed 304 scenes from best-selling porn videos, almost 90 percent contained physical aggression while 50 percent contained verbal aggression, mostly name-calling. Those at the receiving end of this aggression overwhelmingly comprised of women that showed pleasure or neutrality as a response.

Some studies that have shown nearly 90% of pornography depicts violence while others have placed the prevalence at only 2%. But one troubling fact about the commonness of violence in porn is that everyone's perception of what they consider as violent content differs. However, the result is distinctively clear, and women bear the brunt of the ill effects from watching porn.

Pornography increasingly portrays women as sexualized creatures in various situations either enjoying or being victimized by sexual violence. Furthermore, porn websites have specific genres and sections dedicated to these types of porn and what this does is dehumanize women as a sex class deeming them not worthy of the same rights as men.

It is important to comprehend the intersectionality of pornography with violence against women. A majority of the porn consumer base comprises of men who stick to watching consistent themes with endless scenarios ranging from male dominance to female insubordination. Furthermore, pornography promotes a shaming culture where thumbnails receive lewd captions with words like "sl*t", "wh**e" and "b***h" used to describe the woman portrayed in the videos.

In addition to this, pornography also functions as a form of "cultural violence", per sociologist, Johan Galtung. The culture incorporated within the stories says it is “an aspect of the symbolic sphere that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence.” Given the prevalence of pornography and pornified visuals in this image-saturated culture, it efficiently provides an unlimited flow of narratives with women being violated, treated, and portrayed as objects.

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Growing evidence only goes to show that the consumption of these extreme genres of pornography are also manifested in some of the most heinous cases of sexual violence, rape, and murder. The aggressive content in pornography is a major contributor to the violence perpetrated against women. The sexually explicit material portrayed in pornography is increasingly evident in the partnership and intimate partner abuse.

Young people internalize the violent and aggressive images and sexual scripts in pornography. There is also coercion by partners to act out the things they see in pornography. In a study of adolescent dating abuse victims, 50 percent of respondents revealed that they had been forced or threatened to do a sexual act that their partner had viewed in pornography. 

Besides pornography, some sexual content portrayed in mainstream media is also a contributor to these aggressive perceptions. A recent study surveyed college women who had read one or more installations from the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy and found that the exposure to sexually explicit material was associated with having an abusive dating partner. The first book in the series 'Fifty Shades of Grey' sold 100 million copies in its four years, clearly having entranced millions of women.

The author of the study made a significant argument that being in an abusive relationship and reading the fictional smut that glamorizes abusive relationships may have reciprocal influences. Reading such books may also increase a woman's vulnerability to being in an abusive partnership, and the sexual content may make coercion seem sexy and teach women that they should enjoy non-consensual sex. 

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Another study found that 48 percent of German teenagers experienced at least one form of non-physical sexualized violence. They were three times as many girls than boys reporting that they were sexually harassed and propositioned online. There is also the concept of revenge porn, or non-consensual image sharing, where nude or sexually explicit images of a person are disseminated without their consent, often after a breakup as a means of getting back at them.

However, it is crucial to note that identifying or experientially classifying the content of pornography is not akin to indictment, and neither does it press for any particular regulation or public policy. On the contrary, understanding the content in pornography can enable in contextualizing the present public health crisis with regard to violence against women, specifically intimate partner abuse.

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