Inconvenient Facts: Why Would the ABC Airbrush Porn's Complicity in Sexual Violence?

While it may not be as readily accessible as porn, the research on porn is nonetheless abundant.

Just last week, while the ABC ran a panel discussion on Australian attitudes toward pornanother new study implicating porn made headlines: "Anal sex study shows climate of painful coercion affecting young girls."

The study found "the main reason that young people also cited for engaging in the act is that boys 'wanted to copy what they saw in pornography'."

There are hundreds more studies like this one. So many, in fact, that studies are being combined in meta-analyses to assess the overall trends across thousands of pieces of data: sexual assault study shows link to pornography use; pornography use linked to higher rape acceptance attitudesnearly half of all young women have been sexually coerced; and so on.

Yet, according to Australians on Porn host Tom Tilley, "How many people end up in extreme situations? ... there isn't a lot of research out there to prove that."

Tilley's failure to look at relevant research was the foundation of the entire Australians on Porn program, and was replicated in the panel's refusal to discuss or even take seriously any of the research on the topic. Little more than a week after airing the groundbreaking and evidence-based domestic violence series Hitting Home, the ABC has failed women with a blatant denial of the harms of pornography.

Promoted as a "brutally honest conversation," the show kicked off with a number of men sharing their stories of sneaky masturbation paired with giggling and scenes from background porn clips. This was perhaps unsurprising after the "impartial" host posed alongside semi-naked pornstars in lead up to the show.

As the panel began, Tilley took 23-year-old campaigner Laura Pintur to task in an interrogation-style series of questions. Pintur was repeatedly challenged and cut off when she explained how porn is negatively shaping young people's attitudes toward girls and sex. "I was sexualised at the age of 15," Laura stated. "That wasn't my experience" was the panel's sharp response, leading Pintur repeatedly to apologise for her views.

When the typical genres of rough sex, anal and other violent forms of porn were mentioned, Tilley quickly dismissed the notion by asking one porn-user, "But is that the kind of stuff you're looking at?" The issue, of course, is not what one porn user is watching, but what the majority of porn is depicting.

Research shows upward of 80% of porn depicts name calling, choking, slapping and spitting on women. Though judged the "extreme" end of porn that "not many users watch" by Tilley, a quick Google search of the word "porn" demonstrates that indeed "gaping assholes," "gangbangs" and "bukkake" are all standard fare. In fact, facial abuse is a viral joke on Twitter: a compilation of women struggling, gasping and crying to free themselves from being choked has been retweeted tens of thousands of times, paired only with a laughing emoji.

One of the rare moments of balance of the evening came when Di McLeod, director of the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence, was quoted by panellist Melinda Tankard Reist, saying:

"The biggest common denominator of the increase of intimate partner rape of women between 14 and 80 is the consumption of porn by the offender ... We have seen a huge increase in physical injuries, torture, drugging, sharing photos and film without consent and deprivation of liberty."

Sadly, McLeod's words were only dismissed by the panel. "I'd rather we didn't [hear this]," stated one panellist. "It's just irrelevant."

Making sexual assault survivors irrelevant is exactly what the ABC achieved with its Australians on Porn special. By inviting a panel of majority porn users and porn supporters, the ABC ensured there was not one individual who could speak to the role of porn in harmful sexual experience.

Far from inviting a panellist to speak on the effect of porn in normalising harassing behaviours, sexual coercion, non-consensual filming or sexual violence, the ABC instead hosted a number of pornographers to promote their product, and even aired a full pornographic scene filmed in Australia. And instead of considering the harm committed in the production of pornography - the children, women and men who face physical or emotional injury due rough sex, choking, facial abuse and so on - the panel focussed on so-called "ethical" porn that can "make a positive impact on sex education" according to Tilley. Tilley obviously missed the recent headlines of women reporting being raped during porn production, including by "ethical" pornographers.

It soon became apparent that a balanced and in depth examination was not in the offing. Little wonder, given the fact that the panel consisted of a majority of individuals in various stages of denial regarding porn's harm, dotted with a few critical voices that were near drowned out.

The majority of panellists, in collusion with Tilley, agreed that changes are occurring in attitudes and behaviours due to porn, and yet those changes are apparently liberating rather than harmful. This was evidenced by one happy couple who spoke about the "new ideas" they had gleaned for the bedroom.

One member of the panel insisted that "porn can be used for good ... there's nothing wrong with gaping assholes, it's all about how you use it." But this is not what consistent research has shown. Apparently violent pornography that does physical and emotional harm to those used in its production can somehow constitute a positive influence on society.

The discussion ended with one porn user shouting "stop talking about facts" - which in itself effectively summarises Australians on Porn.

Even in follow up to the panel, Tom Tilley continued to press the idea that porn is healthy, saying, "the personal experiences [expressed by the panel] weren't extreme, it was just the broader generalisations and the theories people were making that got extreme." Tilley apparently sees empirical data as theory and anecdote from half-a-dozen porn users as fact. With a sample size of one couple, the show seems to have concluded that porn is changing sex lives, and only for the better.

After watching the show, Di McLeod had this to say:

"There is a cost in the trickledown effect that some of us bear witness to every day ... Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence has experienced a 56% increase in referrals from emergency departments of local public hospitals in the past year. Women have been hurt, sustained vaginal, anogenital and other physical injuries in the perpetration of forced sexual contact ... Despite the sexologist saying rape and sexual assault are not relevant it is central to the women and young women whose lives have been negatively impacted."

After a careful, nuanced and sensitive approach toward domestic violence on Hitting Home, the ABC has shown all the nuance of a train-wreck in examining the role of porn in sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence, including the many performers harmed in the production of pornography, deserve better from the national broadcaster.

Laura McNally is a psychologist, researcher, author and PhD candidate. Her doctoral research examines the political and social implications of global corporate social responsibility. She is the chair of the Australian branch of Endangered Bodies.

Originally published on ABC Religion and Ethics

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