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Last week was Triple J’s ‘Porn Week’, with a special focus on stories about pornography and “discussing all things porn”, promising to examine “every facet of pornography”.
Perhaps a thorough examination of every facet would include a discussion about sexually violent content in pornography, including frequent acts of aggression, cruelty and humiliation of women, the normalisation of a male dominance/female subordination paradigm, or a critical look at the sexist and racist tropes that are commonplace in porn.
Maybe it would include accounts of mistreatment from female pornography performers, citing abuse and exploitation within the industry and being raped during production or high rates of suicide among performers.
It might also include a conversation about the experiences of women and girls growing up in a ‘porn culture’, with growing numbers reporting sexual coercion in their intimate relationships with men and boys, and pressure to submit to unwanted, painful or degrading sex acts.
Maybe a segment would be devoted to the potentially devastating impacts of children’s early exposure to hardcore pornography and how it shapes their attitudes and sexual practices. The quadrupling of child-on-child sexual assaults attributed to pornography, reports of girls as young as twelve requiring medical treatment for sex-related injuries, or more recently, the sixteen-year-old girl forced to get a colostomy bag after rough group sex
But there was no meaningful discussion of any of this.
Rather than engaging with legitimate criticisms of the pornography industry, or a growing body of research documenting how pornography harms women, children and men, Triple J instead promoted pornography use with articles like “How porn can be a positive force in your relationship” and “Porn, kinks and kink-shaming: You're not weird for watching the porn you watch”, just weeks after publishing a piece entitled “So you want to book a sex worker”, with instructions and advice on the ins and outs of purchasing sex.
What could have been a frank and much-needed examination of pornography felt more like a week of free PR for the sex industry.
Viewing rape porn "nothing to be ashamed of"
The article “Porn, kinks and kink-shaming” reassures readers that it is both normal and acceptable to masturbate to rape and incest porn- that these are “kinks” and “nothing to be ashamed of”. Masturbating to the physical abuse of women is framed as a matter of individual preference, and kink advocates quoted in the article warn against “kink-shaming” or “demonising” consumption of this material. Porn is, we are told, “only a fantasy”.
But it’s not just a fantasy. Fantasy occurs in the mind. When acts of sexual violence and cruelty are carried out on the bodies of living women, this ceases to be a fantasy and becomes reality. A porn scene featuring a woman being choked cannot be produced without an actual woman being choked on camera. That’s not fantasy, that’s a man’s actual hands around a woman’s actual neck, actually choking her.
It’s also not merely fantasy when it happens to women outside of pornography. A recent US study found a quarter of women surveyed have felt scared during sex. A number of these said their partner had tried to choke them without warning. Researchers in London studying heterosexual anal sex among teenagers found a climate of coercion, and that young people rarely spoke about anal sex “in terms of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”.
Eurydice Dixon’s killer Jaymes Todd was this week sentenced to life in prison for her rape and murder. The court heard that Todd watched violent pornography before and after raping and killing the young comedian, and that Todd was addicted to a fantasy of coercive rape, including fantasies of death, and searched for snuff films online, in which people are killed. Was Jaymes Todd’s preference for pornography depicting rape and extreme violence against women, even murder, a mere “kink”? Was it a coincidence that a man who was obsessed with porn depicting the sadistic rape and murder of women carried out these same acts against a real woman?
Triple J promotes "ethical" porn
Another segment was dedicated to ‘ethical’ porn, with a visit to a Sydney porn set. So-called ethical or feminist porn is often positioned as a positive alternative to run of the mill misogynist and male-dominated pornography. But the bar for what constitutes ‘ethical’ porn is very low, and typically only refers to conditions of production, such as fair compensation and labour conditions, representation of diverse body types and sexualities, consent and authenticity.
The actual content in ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ porn may be indistinguishable from violent and abusive mainstream porn. Rather than showcasing more egalitarian or non-violent content, degradation and acts of physical violence against women such as slapping, gagging and strangulation are still found in ‘ethical’ porn. Does this sound all that ethical? And if ethical porn truly exists, is anyone interested in watching it?
Dr Meagan Tyler, Senior Lecturer at RMIT, argues that the notion of ethical porn is a cynical attempt to make porn companies look like good corporate citizens.
“It’s a marketing ploy and an exercise in obfuscation,” she says.
"It's for a small segment of consumers who would like to think that their pornography consumption is unproblematic and they would like to think that what they are doing is totally different from what others are doing when, in reality, it all feeds the same commercial sex industry."
“It speaks volumes about how much pornography has colonised our understandings of sex that we can only imagine the possibility of a (potentially) slightly less harmful pornography, not a happy life without pornography at all.”
Were any researchers who have analysed the harmful impacts of pornography, especially in young people in their sexual development, consulted? Or was it only those in favour of porn consumption, including those with vested interests in the industry? ABC is a publicly funded broadcaster, and Dr Tyler says we need to ask questions about who commissioned this discussion, and under what circumstances.
“Triple J ‘Porn Week’ [is a] week long advertorial for why porn is great - we can’t ignore the intersections of men’s violence against women and intimate violation of women and the multi-billion dollar global pornography industry.”
We need to have honest conversations about the realities of pornography and our engagement with it. Porn Week was a platform for pro-pornography indoctrination, and many more women and girls will suffer as a result.
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The panel considered that the relevant audience for this advertisement would be broad and include children.
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Most people recognise sex trafficking as a serious human rights violation, but what about prostitution?
There is sometimes a perception of sex trafficking and prostitution as two separate and unrelated issues, with trafficking being viewed as forced, and prostitution as freely chosen. However, the two are intrinsically connected- the demand for prostitution fuels sex trafficking.
A study of 150 countries found that legalised prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking, and that on average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger human trafficking inflows. Essentially, legitimising and normalising the sex industry leads to a rise in trafficking, as women must be brought in to meet increased demand.
German Detective Superintendent Helmut Sporer described the devastating impacts of legalising the sex industry in Germany, including worsened conditions for women, greater power to pimps and organised crime gangs and a significant increase in trafficking:
“What is very important here is the awareness of the fact that prostitution and trafficking are a joint phenomenon. There is no such thing as clean, good prostitution on the one hand and quite separate from this the bad trafficking with pimping on the other.”
One prostitution survivor highlighted some of the commonalities between supposedly ‘forced’ and ‘free’ sexual exploitation:
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are intrinsically linked: you have one because of the other. For the last 18 months of my time on the Burlington Road, I stood alongside a trafficked woman. She became my closest friend, and I have never seen a human being so broken down. The conditions in which she lived were inhumane, and, although we had arrived at the same place through different means, we were connected because we were bought, used, exploited, humiliated and raped by the same offenders. One night I would be bought, and, a few nights later, the same man would buy her. On a couple of occasions, we were bought together. That connection can never be broken by anyone at any time in any country.”
In 2003 Dorchen Leidholdt, Co-Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International summed up the connection between prostitution and trafficking as follows:
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are the same human rights catastrophe, whether in local or global guise. Both are part of a system of gender-based domination that makes violence against women and girls profitable to a mind-boggling extreme. Both prey on women and girls made vulnerable by poverty, discrimination and violence and leave them traumatised, sick and impoverished. Both reward predators sexually and financially, strengthening both the demand for criminal operations that ensure the supply.
“The concerted effort by some NGOs and governments to disconnect trafficking from prostitution- to treat them as a distinct and unrelated phenomena- is nothing less than a deliberate political strategy aimed at legitimizing the sex industry and protecting its growth and profitability.”
Pic: Dorchen Leidholdt
Sweden’s solution to prostitution and trafficking, the ‘Nordic model’
The Nordic model was implemented in Sweden in 1999 after extensive research, and it is based on the view of prostitution as a form of men’s violence against women.
The Nordic model criminalises the demand for sexual exploitation, decriminalises those exploited, and provides exit pathways for individuals in prostitution who wish to leave the industry. As Swedish lawyer Gunilla Ekberg explains:
“One of the cornerstones of Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings is the focus on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to flourish and expand.”
Various human rights organisations, academics and prostitution survivors advocate for the implementation of the Nordic model, which has been adopted in a growing number of countries around the world, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France and Ireland.
Progress under the Nordic model
Since Sweden's legislation criminalising the buying of sex, considerable progress has been made. According to research out of the Nordic Gender Institute, the number of men buying sex has decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. Street prostitution in Sweden has halved while in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Denmark it is estimated to be three times higher. Police have intercepted phone correspondence between pimps and traffickers who now regard Sweden as an unattractive market and suggest Denmark, Germany or Holland (where prostitution is legal) as more profitable alternatives. Reportedly, there has been a cultural shift in Sweden where it is no longer considered acceptable to purchase another person.
As proponents of the Nordic model attest, we cannot oppose sex trafficking of women and children and simultaneously support the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution. Sex trafficking would cease to exist if men stopped buying women. There can never be gender equality while women are commodities to be bought and sold.
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Last week, in a ground-breaking win, the UK High Court ruled that forcing sex trade survivors to reveal past convictions was unlawful.
The ruling was handed down after a claim brought by three sex trade survivors who argued that the legislative scheme requiring them to disclose their convictions for prostitution discriminates against women and is contrary to the UK’s legal obligations regarding the trafficking of women.
All three of the claimants had been forced into the sex industry as teenagers, and as a result had multiple criminal convictions of soliciting and loitering. Claimant Fiona Broadfoot, who waived anonymity, recalled:
“I met a pimp aged 15 and two weeks later I was thrown into the violent and abusive world of prostitution. Rape became an occupational hazard but I was arrested, charged and criminalised for loitering for the purposes of being a common prostitute. After more than twenty years out of prostitution, I am still having to explain my criminal record to any prospective employer. It feels like explaining my history of abuse.”
Another survivor reflected on how the criminal convictions had impacted her life:
“It doesn’t matter what it is – trying to help out at my kids’ school or the local brownies’ coffee morning, trying to be a governor or a councillor, applying to education or training or employment – even volunteering in so many fields – with children, with the elderly, in care, with vulnerable people, with youth work, with social work – all need a DBS and then you get treated like some sort of pariah or sex offender! But it’s not fair – I never chose that life and I fought hard to get out of it but I’m always being pulled back to it as though that’s who I am but it’s not who I am.”
While the women forced into prostitution had spent their lives enduring the consequences of being sexually exploited, including the indignity of having to explain their convictions, the men involved were never arrested, Broadfoot pointed out.
“When I was arrested, the police referred to my pimp by his first name. Well, why didn’t they arrest him?” she said.
“Not one of those men who bought and used and abused me – even the ones who knew fine well I was a child when first put on the streets – has ever had to face the consequences of his actions.”
Karen Ingala Smith, the CEO of women’s charity nia, said,
“We feel strongly that these women should never have been convicted in the first place. Prostitution is symptomatic of women’s continued inequality and discrimination and a form of violence against women. These women were exploited and coerced and yet it is their lives, not those of their buyers and pimps, that were blighted with convictions. They should not have had to take up this fight, but they did and it is to the benefit of all those exploited in prostitution”.
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Considering the abundance of platforms that are available for campaigning against the exploitation of women and children, it stands to reason that the mission of one campaign may not always correspond with another. Particularly in the age of social media, conflicting messages between campaigns are often overshadowed by the resounding chorus of advocates and protestors who, on a surface level, are united in saying ‘no’ against the exploitation of women and children.Read more