[Trigger warning: graphic description of sexual abuse]
‘Amy’ was a victim of sexual abuse by her uncle as a child. He uploaded images of the abuse on to the internet, they became known as the ‘Misty Series’. These images have been globally trafficked since the late 1990s and are the most widely viewed in the child pornography world, according to the New York Times.
Amy is now 24; she gets notifications through the US Justice Department every time someone views the ‘Misty Series’ video. So far she has 1800 notifications and the video has already featured in 3200 criminal cases. Next month in a landmark case, the US Supreme Court will decide how much a child porn victim can demand from the people who viewed a video of her being abused.
This is Amy’s victim impact statement:
I am a 19-year-old girl and I am a victim of child sex abuse and child pornography. I am still discovering all the ways that the abuse and exploitation I suffer has hurt me, has set my life on the wrong course, and destroyed the normal childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood that everyone deserves.
My uncle started to abuse me when I was only 4 years old. He used what I now know are the common ways that abusers get their victims ready for abuse and keep them silent: he told me that I was special, that he loved me, and that we had our own ‘special secrets’. Since he lived close to our house, my mother and father didn’t suspect anything when I walked over there to spend time with him. At first he showed me pornographic movies and then he started doing things to me. I remember that he put his finger in my vagina and that it hurt a lot. I remember that he tried to have sex with me and that it hurt even more. I remember telling him that it hurt. I remember that much of the time I was with him I did not have clothes on and that sometimes he made me dress up in lingerie. And I remember the pictures.
After the abuse he would take me to buy my favourite snack which was beef jerky. Even now when I eat beef jerky I get feelings of panic, guilt, and humiliation. It’s like I can never get away from what happened to me. At the time I was confused and knew it was wrong and that I didn’t like it, but I also thought it was wrong for me to tell anything bad about my uncle who said he loved me and bought me things I liked. He even let me ride on his motorcycle. Now I will never ride on a motorcycle again. The memories are too upsetting.
There is a lot I don’t remember, but now I can’t forget because the disgusting images of what he did to me are still out there on the internet. For a long time I practiced putting the terrible memories away in my mind. Thinking about it is still really painful. Sometimes I just go into staring spells when I am caught thinking about what happened and not paying any attention to my surroundings. Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognise me and that I will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them – at me – when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle.
When they first discovered what my uncle did, I went to therapy and thought I was getting over this. I was very wrong. My full understanding of what happened to me has only gotten clearer as I have gotten older. My life and my feelings are worse now because the crime has never really stopped and will never really stop. It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it. It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.
I find myself unable to do the simple things that other teenagers handle easily. I do not have a driver’s license. Every time I say I am going to do it, I don’t. I can’t plan well. My mind skips out on me when I think about moving forward with my life. I have been trying to get a job, but I just keep avoiding things. Forgetting is the thing I do best since I was forced as a little girl to live a double life and ‘forget’ what was happening to me. Before I realise it, I miss interviews or other things that will help me get a job.
Sometimes things remind me of the abuse and I don’t even realise it until it is too late. For example, I failed anatomy in high school. I simply could not think about the body because of what happened to me. The same thing happened at university. I went to a psychology class where we watched a video about child abuse.
Without even realising why, I just stopped going to class. I failed my first year of university and ended up moving back home.
It’s easy for me to block out my feelings and avoid things that make me uncomfortable. I don’t know when I will be ready to go back to university because I have huge problems with avoiding anything that makes me uncomfortable or reminds me of my abuse.
I am always scared that people can look at me and tell that I am a victim of sex abuse because my abuse is a public fact. I am worried that when my friends are on the internet they are going to come across my pictures and it fills me with shame and embarrassment.
I am humiliated and ashamed that there are pictures of me doing horrible things with my uncle. Everywhere I go I feel judged. Am I the kind of person who does this? Is there something wrong with me? Is there something sickening and disgusting about who I am?
I am embarrassed to tell anyone what happened to me because I’m afraid they will judge me and blame me for it. I live in a small town and I think that if one person knows then everyone will know. I am just living in fear of the day someone sees those awful pictures of me and then ‘the secret’ about me will be out. It’s like my life is on hold for that day and I am frozen in time waiting. I know those disgusting pictures of me are stuck in time and are there forever for everyone to see.
I had terrible nightmares for a long long time. I would wake up sweating and crying and go to my parents for comfort. Now I still get flashbacks sometimes. There are thoughts in my head that are memories of the things that my uncle did to me. My heart will start racing and I will feel sweaty and then a stronger picture will pop up in my head and I have to leave the situation I am in. I have heard the voice of my uncle in my mind still talking to me saying, “don’t tell, don’t tell, don’t tell.” Thinking and knowing that the pictures of all this are still out there just makes it worse. It’s like I can’t escape from the abuse, now or ever.
Because I’ve had so many bad dreams, I find it hard to sleep when it’s dark. I like to keep the lights on thinking that will protect me from bad dreams. I hate scary movies and sometimes have nightmares for days.
Sometimes I have unreasonable fears that prevent me from doing the normal things that other kids do. My friend once asked me to go with her and her uncle to an amusement park. I could not get it out of my head that I would be abused. In the end I just couldn’t go. I kept wondering if my friend’s uncle had seen my pictures. Did he know me? Did he know what I did? Is that why he invited me to the amusement park?
Trust is a very hard thing for me and often people just make me uncomfortable. I had to quit a job I had as a waitress because there was a guy who I thought was always staring at me. I couldn’t stop thinking, did he recognise me? Did he see my pictures somewhere? I was simply too uncomfortable to keep working there.
I have trouble saying ‘no’ to people since I learned at a young age that I really don’t have control over what’s happening to me. I am trying to learn to get better at this because I know that not saying ‘no’ makes it easier for someone to hurt me again.
Because of the way my uncle bribed me to perform sex acts on camera, I have trouble taking gifts from anyone. I always feel that people will expect something from me if they give me a present. This makes it difficult in my relationship with friends.
I want to have children someday, but it frightens me terribly to think about how I could keep them safe. Who could I possibly trust? Their teacher? Their coach? I don’t know if I could ever trust anyone with my children. And what if my children and their friends see my pictures on the internet? How could I ever explain to them what happened to me?
I am very confused about what love is. My uncle said he loved me and I wanted that love. But I know now that what he did to me is not love. But how will I be able to tell in the future if it is real love or just another person trying to exploit and use me?
The truth is, I am being exploited and used every day and every night somewhere in the world by someone. How can I ever get over this when the crime that is happening to me will never end? How can I get over this when the shameful abuse I suffered is out there forever and being enjoyed by sick people? I am horrified by the thought that other children will probably be abused because of my pictures. Will someone show my pictures to other kids, like my uncle did to me, then tell them what to do? Will they see me and think it’s okay for them to do the same thing? Will some sick person see my picture and then get the idea to do the same thing to another little girl? These thoughts make me sad and scared. I blame myself a lot for what happened. I know I was so little, but why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I stop my uncle? Maybe if I had stopped it there wouldn’t be so many pictures out there that I can never take back or erase. I feel like now I have to live with it forever and that it’s all my fault. I feel like I am unworthy of anything and a failure. What have I been good for except to be used by others over and over again. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t been able to get a job or stay in school. I’m tired of disappointing myself. I’ve already had enough disappointment for a lifetime and just don’t want any more failure. To me this brings back all the terrible feelings and shame of abuse and exploitation.
Sometimes I deal with my feelings by trying to forget everything by drinking too much. I know this isn’t good, but my humiliation and angry feelings are there with me all the time and sometimes I just need a way to make them go away for awhile.
I feel like I have always had to live a double life. First I had to lie about what my uncle was doing to me. Then I had to act like it didn’t happen because it was too embarrassing. Now I always know that there is another ‘little me’ being seen on the internet by other abusers. I don’t want to be there, but I am. I wish I could go back in time and stop my uncle from taking those pictures, but I can’t.
Even though I am scared that I will be abused or hurt again because I am making this victim impact statement, I want the court and judge to know about me and what I have suffered and what my life is like. What happened to me hasn’t gone away. It will never go away. I am a real victim of child pornography and it effects me every day and everywhere I go.
Please think about me and think about my life when you sentence this person to prison. Why should this person, who is continuing my abuse, be free when I am not free?
A world without rapists would be a world in which women moved freely without fear of men. That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent … Rather than society’s aberrants or ‘spoilers of purity’, men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas in the longest battle the world has ever known.
—Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975, p. 15)
Living in a rape culture means adjusting to being hyper-vigilant about male violence to the point where risk management becomes second nature. It means living with the continuum of male sexual violence on a daily basis, from creepy and threatening looks and comments in the street, home and workplace, to online rape threats, attempted assault and actual assault. It means inhabiting a paradoxical space where the rape and murder of women is prohibited but everywhere eroticised and the object of laughter.
To take just one example of rape culture, the globally popular American fantasy series Game of Thronesfeatures a blond child bride being continually raped by her warlord husband. “But it’s all ok because a prostitute slave teaches the thirteen-year-old princess super sexy sex skills, and she proceeds to blow the warlord’s mind so throughly [sic] that they fall in love,” notes feminist Laurie Penny (2012)
Many men, when asked a simple question about why male domination exists, reply that it is because men are stronger than women. This answer seems innocuously simple-minded, but the explanatory statement that ‘men have power over women because they are physically stronger than women’ also means ‘men can rape and kill women if they want to’. There is no point replying that it is illegal to rape and kill women. The law does not come into it at all. It is as though the legal prohibitions against male sexual violence are little more than the sales pitch of a corporation eager to hide its criminal intent behind images of satisfied customers.
The majority of victims do not report, and the majority of rapists walk free (Miller et al., 2011; Fayard and Rocheron, 2011; Belknap, 2010). As the title of a 2013 articleby Nigel Morris in The Independent puts it: ‘100,000 assaults. 1,000 rapists sentenced. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed. Latest statistics also show difficulties in persuading victims to report attacks’. Although media attention on particular rapes occasionally stirs up public debate, these rapes are the exception to the norm simply because victims have broken their silence and the criminal justice system has been involved. One cannot but wonder how many people know of, or are friends with, men who have sexually assaulted women and children, and yet do nothing about it.
It has only been since the 1960s and 1970s that most western women have been able to work outside the home without needing permission from their husbands/owners. It is only in the last few decades that marital rape has been recognised in some nations as a human rights violation. In Australiamarital rape was outlawed as late as 1991 (Temkin, 2002). As late as 1993 the United Nations published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In many countries young girls are still forced to marry their rapists.
Raping women and children continues to be a lethal form of oppression in advanced neo-liberal democracies. Victims of male sexual violence continue to be branded as ‘damaged goods’ and re-abused in the criminal justice system to such an extent that the majority of victims simply give up and opt out of the legal process (Fisher et al., 2000; Fisher et al., 2003). Lawyers are often reluctant to take on rape cases because they know they are difficult to win. Child victims of male sexual violence are subjected to ritualistic humiliation in courts (Taylor, 2004). Child pornography victims are subjected to malicious attacks by bourgeois academics in high-ranking American legal journals (Lollar, 2012).
Young women, who sustain the majority of sexual assaults, not only endure court-licensed abuse, but they are now also bullied online for daring to speak out. Raped girls are urged to kill themselves by pack verbal abuse that is all too often uttered as mocking jokes (Salek, 2013). Victim-blaming has become lethal.
In a novel by feminist academic Yvette Rocheron, Double Crossings (2009), a mother decides to commit suicide after she is brutally raped by a cousin, knowing that, if she lives, the crime will destroy her family and her life. “For her loved ones, a sublime act of love … She would go down knowingly … [T]he vitriolic defacement of women, the misguided abortions, the rapes. She was a thousand years old” (p. 271). There is no humour in this novel as the mother leaps to her death, merely a solemn awareness of the barbarism of a crime against women that leaves the murderous poison of social death in her body.
I have lost count of how many women—friends, students, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances—have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred, or shunned by their families for daring to speak out about male relatives who raped them. The stories involve horrendous child sexual abuse, rape at knifepoint, abductions in vans, group rapes, women being drugged and raped, rapes by colleagues, partners and ex-partners. A woman who was raped by her grandfather told me recently that it took her 30 years to understand that her body belonged to her. Another woman, a feminist activist and journalist, after going public about being raped at knifepoint, was subjected to online abuse along the lines that she should be ‘raped with a box cutter’. When I read the comment about the box cutter it took a few moments to sink in that the man who had posted the comment was saying that he wanted to butcher her vagina with a knife. Not surprisingly, many women keep quiet about being sexually assaulted. And all of this occurs in a world in which women who speak out about male sexual violence, or any form of male domination, are routinely subjected to online rape threats (Lewis, 2011). Again, the majority of threats never result in prosecution and women are often told to ‘get over it’, ‘toughen up’ or ‘lighten up’ or have sex with a man. ‘She just needs a good fuck’, is how the all too familiar saying goes … Oddly, having sex with men is meant to dispel fear of being raped, as though women who have an accurate assessment of the dangers of rape culture are hysterics who just need sex. The idea that women enjoy being raped still persists (Suarez and Gadalla, 2010); and if women are assumed to enjoy being raped then their protests about being harmed by rape can easily be reduced to a farce.
More about Abigail’s book and how to order can be found here.
Recent publicity for abortion drug RU486 has given women assurances of its safety. The drug is promoted as do-it-yourself, easy, private and ”more natural”. In this pro-RU486 spin, the voices of women harmed by the chemical cocktail have been drowned out.
”Rose”, 27, from South Australia, shares her experience in the new preface of RU-486: Misconceptions, Myths and Morals by Renate Klein, Janice Raymond and Lynette Dumble. She was told it would be easy and quick. ”The worst part … was the sheer amount of time it took for me to ‘terminate’ my baby: every large clot of blood – which I could literally feel passing through my insides … was a reminder of the fact I was terminating a baby, for which I felt hugely saddened.
”It was three days of nausea, high temperature, sweating, cramping, lots of blood, distress and swirling emotions. I would never ever go through that again.” Rose bled for another three weeks.
An unnamed 25-year-old American woman described her experience after taking RU486 at six weeks. ”I was in excruciating physical pain for at least 12 hours straight and I was bleeding through my pants, but I was in so much pain I couldn’t even clean myself,” she says. ”I vomited continuously … I couldn’t speak, eat, drink, sit up, and had difficulty breathing … I thought I was going to die …
”I was told I would have emotional instability for a few weeks because of the hormonal chemical imbalance that the drug causes. I have experienced severe emotional fluctuation ever since … I would never have taken this had I been properly informed.”
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel’s story ”I was betrayed by a pill” was published in Marie Claire in 2007. ”Nothing prepared me for the searing, gripping, squeezing pain that ripped through my belly … For 90 minutes I was disoriented, nauseated, and, between crushing waves of contractions … racing from the bed to the bathroom with diarrhoea,” she wrote.
”The next night, I started bleeding. I bled for 14 days. A follow-up ultrasound confirmed I’d aborted.” She developed ”huge cystic boils that soon covered my neck, shoulders, and back” and suffered ”an utter lack of ability to do anything more strenuous than sleep or lie on the couch”.
Since the death of his 18-year-old daughter Holly in 2003 from an infection after an RU486 abortion, Monty Patterson has lobbied the US Congress to pass ”Holly’s Law”, calling for the suspension and review of the drug.
In Australia, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has agreed to a request from Marie Stopes Health, a subsidiary of Marie Stopes International, to list Mifepristone Linepharma (RU486) and the misoprostol GyMiso on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for termination up to 49 days gestation. From August 1, both drugs are available on the PBS.
Marie Stopes’ record in following up women who have been prescribed the abortion drug is questionable. On March 19, 2012, it was reported that a woman had died sometime in 2010 at a Marie Stopes clinic. In a study by Marie Stopes’ staffers published in the Medical Journal of Australia (September 2012), this death was callously attributed to the woman’s own negligence because she didn’t ”seek medical advice” and died of sepsis.
Where was the follow-up by Marie Stopes? There was no coronial inquiry.
In May 2012, the Therapeutic Goods Administration told a Senate committee it didn’t collect information on RU486-related deaths of women overseas. Perhaps it doesn’t think it important enough? As at April 30, 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration had held detailed reports on 14 US deaths and five deaths elsewhere, with two further deaths reported since then.
Noting that only one in 10 adverse events is reported, the FDA has recorded 2207 adverse events, including 612 hospitalisations, 58 ectopic pregnancies, 339 women who experienced blood loss requiring transfusions and 256 infections, 48 of which were ”severe”.
Here, the TGA has been informed of 132 cases of ongoing pregnancy requiring surgical abortion, 23 cases of haemorrhage requiring blood transfusion and 599 cases of incomplete abortion requiring surgery. This means about 1 in 30 women will need a second termination procedure. Other negative outcomes include cervical tearing and uterine perforation.
A South Australian study found women undergoing ”medical” abortion had more symptoms, reported higher pain scores and had higher rates of emergency admissions. After discharge they had more nausea and diarrhoea. According to an earlier British study, women who saw the foetus were most susceptible to psychological distress, including nightmares, flashbacks, and unwanted thoughts related to the procedure.
While Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says that the drug will be an advantage for women in remote and under-resourced areas, the lack of nearby emergency facilities is a reason not to use it, medical bodies say. Regardless of one’s views on abortion, pushing this drug combo as simple is disrespectful of a woman’s right to know what she might face.
Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice. Today we are talking to Melinda Tankard Reist, co-editor of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. Melinda is also the co-founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation.
How did you become interested in researching pornography?
There were a few things that came together around the same time. Women started telling me their stories of being hurt and harmed by a partner’s compulsive porn use. In my talks in schools, teen girls shared with me the pressure they felt to provide a porn-style performance, to act, essentially, as a sexual service station for men and boys. They were expected to provide naked images of themselves, to provide sexual services. As well, the sex industry was dominating and colonising every public space and was rarely brought to account. I began to talk to my publishers about what I was hearing. Spinifex had published an earlier book in 2004 titled Not for Sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography edited by Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant. It was a powerful book. But so much had happened since then, especially with the internet being used to globalise and spread pornography. We felt that a new book on pornography was needed. It also seemed to be a natural progression from my previous book Getting Real: challenging the sexualisation of girls, published by Spinifex in 2009.
There seems to be an overall consensus in the book that pornography is the same (or similar to) prostitution. Can you explain the similarities?
Yes, the writers in the book would mostly argue that pornography is filmed (or graphically depicted) prostitution. Melissa Farley uses the term ‘infinite prostitution’. The pornography industry has many of the features of the prostitution industry–it needs to procure women through trafficking, it relies on pimps to mediate transactions with the women who will be used, and the women it procures generally have histories of sexual abuse, poverty and homelessness. Pornography is advertising for prostitution and normalises the sexual exploitation of women. As well, men often want to act out what they see in porn on ‘live’ women. Pornography is often used as a form of initiation into prostitution. It’s also the case that women in pornography are concurrently being prostituted off-set, or go on to be used in systems of prostitution and stripping. The overlap between the prostitution and pornography businesses is so great that we might see them as operating in parallel, or perhaps as one larger sex industry. However, I think it’s also important to understand the differences between the pornography and prostitution sectors of the sex industry, and Big Porn Inc highlights these differences for pornography in particular. Firstly, the abuses that women undergo in pornography have a permanent or semi-permanent record made of them in the form of film, etc. This record causes many women great hardship and stress, because they feel they can never escape their past, and suffer anxiety at the prospect that anyone they meet throughout their lives has seen the pornography. They are also vulnerable to blackmail over it. The permanency of pornography causes particular suffering for women whose childhood sexual abuse was filmed as child pornography and shared by their abusers. Another aspect of the pornography industry that might distinguish it from the rest of the sex industry is the culture of ‘celebrity’ and ‘glamour’ that has developed around the industry in the last ten years. Jenna Jameson and Sascha Grey have been central to the promotion of the idea that pornography is a way for poor girls to escape their lives and become rich and famous, but of course the reality of the industry for the overwhelming majority of women/girls is that they are used up in around three months because of the extremity of the abuse and degradation of contemporary pornography. However, this culture of celebrity is very attractive to poor girls, and unfortunately draws them to the industry in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen for prostitution businesses. It means that the pornography industry is able to attract particularly young women, and in increasingly large numbers. The industry is normalised among younger generations to an extent that prostitution is not, because of widespread consumption of pornography among this generation, and the celebration of pornography by the popular media and culture. A third difference between the pornography and prostitution industries is the diversity of forms pornography takes–it is possible for women/girls to be sold as pornography through being used by their ‘boyfriends’ in front of home-based webcams, for example. While it is also common that ‘boyfriends’ pimp women through their homes, in the case of pornography this pimping is made difficult to recognise as illegal because of technology and the glamorising of pornography. There are businesses dedicated to the pimping of women through pay-per-view webcams, as well as pornography made of women being used through brothels. This diversity in the mode of business that pornography takes means that the industry is able to expand with very little scrutiny and opposition, let alone government oversight. The industry essentially operates in unchartered, frontier space in the absence of any controls whatsoever. Governments and societies worldwide are overwhelmed by the diversity of the sex industry, and so far haven’t managed to enact any governance frameworks at all that might curb its expansion and domination over culture and the economy.
What is your overall message about pornography that the book also highlights?
I think a major theme of the book is that the first and most egregious harm of pornography is to the women and girls who are used to make it. While the harm of pornography does extend to women much more widely, when we think about pornography we must think about the women who are harmed in its production first. This is because women/girls used in pornography are perhaps the most vulnerable and exploited population in our society. They are often racially marginalised, as well as victims of childhood sexual abuse, homelessness, and addiction. Their life chances are very poor, and even more so after they have been through the pornography industry. The writing in Big Porn Inc against the pornography industry mostly prioritises the interests of these women/girls in the way it does not make distinctions between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ pornography, or ‘better’ and ‘worse’ forms of pornography. For the women and girls used in the industry, these distinctions are often meaningless, because the same women are used in both types of pornography production. Often they start out in ‘soft’ production, but then must be used in more violent and degrading productions to be able to make money and stay in the industry. For these women and girls, the chance to lead a life of quality and dignity depends on our efforts to dismantle the sex industry and create social services and facilities that will allow them to recover from childhood sexual abuse, to escape homelessness, and escape pimps or exploitative ‘boyfriends’. In addition to these women, of course, pornography harms many others, including the children who are sexually abused through perpetrators showing them pornography, as well as wives/girlfriends who are pressured to ‘act’ out scenes in pornography, and girls and boys who grow up seeing pornography as a ‘model’ for sexual relationships and never have a chance at understanding what true physical affection and tenderness looks like. Average age of first exposure to porn is 11. This is distorting and warping young people’s views of their bodies, relationships and sex. I believe it is an unprecedented assault on the healthy sexuality young people.
The trend in pornography seems for “sex” to be increasingly violent and aggressive. Can you explain why that is?
Yes, as Gail Dines and others show, the pornography industry over time has definitely escalated its violence against women and the level of degradation and humiliation it inflicts. Researchers have gathered empirical evidence that the more popular forms of pornography are the ones that are more violent and overtly degrading of women. Torture porn has become increasingly popular, rape sites, live S&M and bondage in which women are brutalised in whatever way the viewer requests. And it’s all becoming more and more mainstream. For example the documentary film Kink is about to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. The Kink website shows images of women in extreme positions of pain and torture. It seems it’s not even about ‘sex’ anymore – it’s about how much brutality and degradation a woman can cope with. And this is where many young men take their cues for relating sexually to women.
What is your response when people state that there are no victims in porn (just consenting adults)?
Linda Boreman’s (Lovelace) account of her time in the pornography industry where she was brutalised and forced into its production shows this claim to be untrue. Traci Lords’s use in pornography as a sixteen-year-old also shows that the industry does not always use adult women. Even women who glamorise their time in the pornography industry sometimes describe aspects of its brutality, such as Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale in which she describes being incapacitated for six hours after a sex scene in which she was injured internally. The notion of ‘consent’ that proponents of the sex industry use to justify their moneymaking activities is an extremely impoverished one. The idea that young women surviving childhood sexual abuse who are homeless and being pimped by a ‘boyfriend’ are making a ‘choice’ to enter the pornography industry is laughable. The ‘consent’ invoked for women used in pornography is nothing more than a legal ploy to allow the filming of prostitution and sexual abuse (and sometimes overt physical torture) without the threat of arrest and prosecution. These activities are allowed to take place in society only because the cover of ‘sex’ makes them somehow different from what they really are, which is rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and exploitation.
When did you first consider yourself a feminist and what influenced that decision?
It is difficult to identify one key moment. There was a dawning recognition about the global maltreatment of women. It was, I suppose, recognising the second-class status of women pretty much everywhere. I have travelled a lot and witnessed the abuse of women in so many parts of the world. You just have to look at the raw statistic on violence, ‘honour’ killings, dowry deaths, female genital mutilation, child brides, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, female foeticide, female infanticide, the systematic elimination of women and girls in so many ways. I recall being in a shelter in Hyderabad, India. On the bottom level were the abandoned baby girls; many plucked from rubbish heaps, with bruises and broken bones. On the second level were the abandoned pregnant girls and women. On the top level were the abandoned widows. Three layers of discrimination against women, all in that one home.
What does feminism mean to you?
It means working to change the second-class status of women. To addressing the real, felt needs of women (I was privileged to help set up a supported accommodation and outreach service for women and girls pregnant and without support in Australia.) To advocating for women and girls everywhere and all the time. It means trying to make the world better for my three daughters and the daughters of other women as well. It means engaging in grass roots activism and empowering other women to speak out, through movements like Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation (www.collectiveshout.org) It also means working in solidarity with the best people I have ever met.
‘The pornification of culture and the normalization of (increasingly violent) porn is contributing to a society where pornography, even the most brutal forms, are in many ways sanctioned, defended as well as protected’
By Hennie Weiss
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry is a compilation of essays by researchers, experts and activists concerning the harms of pornography. All and all there are 40 written pieces divided into five categories; pornography cultures, pornography industries, harming children, pornography and the state and resisting big porn inc.
Overall, the notion is that pornography has found its way into everyday cultures all over the world. The pornification of culture and the normalization of (increasingly violent) porn is contributing to a society where pornography, even the most brutal forms, are in many ways sanctioned, defended as well as protected through legislation. For example, in the United States the notion of freedom of speech (also called freedom of expression) helps protect the production, distribution and purchasing of porn. The stronghold that porn has tends to be contributed to the enormous profitability and influence of the porn industry. As noted in the book, it is difficult to resist and battle the porn industry as a whole, even though small grassroot movements opposing pornography have made significant gains over the last few years. Yet, more knowledge about the industry, the way it harms women and children (as well as men), and the lasting effects of the pornification of sexuality and culture are important (many articles discusses how porn is the same as prostitution).
Even though the many different contributions tend to deal with various aspects of pornography (within the five categories), there are some statements that are generally agreed upon and reiterated throughout the book. In one way or another all contributions contest the notion (most often used by those in the porn industry and those who are pro-porn) that porn does not cause harm and is a form of fantasy. When discussing prostitution, strip clubs, PTSD, sexual and physical assaults, rape, intrafamilial rape, the sexual objectification of women and the spread of child pornography, it should prove to be difficult for anyone to look at porn like mere fantasy, especially since real women and men are involved in the making of pornography. What the different categories of Big Porn Inc brings to light is the fact that the porn industry is not glamorous, as high-paying as many believe, and that women are sexually objectified, dominated, demeaned and degraded. Pornography has also become increasingly violent, and most scenes or movies include physical violence, rape, or the threat of violence. The notion that women are sex objects who like to be degraded and thrive on physical violence is based on a patriarchal backlash to women’s overall gains towards equality.
Besides stating that pornography is mere fantasy, proponents of pornography also often refer to a lack of evidence, or link between pornography use and overall behavior. But the book has that too. Pornography does not only lead to an increase in acceptance of rape culture, but people who watch pornography are less likely to view sex as an intimate act and more likely to engage in gendered violence. Diana E.H Russel writes in the article “Russel’s Theory: Exposure to Child Pornography as a Cause of Child Sexual Victimization”, that watching child pornography can help cultivate sexual interests in children in several ways. It predisposes men to objectify children, it intensifies already existing desires, undermines social inhibitions and internal inhibitions as well as undermines children’s abilities to avoid, resist, or escape sexual victimization.
It is important to note that many of the contributions include explicit language, profanities and words that describe various ways in which women are demeaned, humiliated and abused when discussing different aspects of pornography. Many contributions also discuss notions of rape, group rape, incest or intrafamilial rape, sexual assault, violence and even the killing of animals. Therefore, readers should note that the material might be triggering to some. Even though the language is often explicit in nature, it is easy to understand the links between harm, prostitution, the degradation of women, patriarchy, power and sexual assault made by the contributors. The personal accounts of Stella and Amy (Stella was a stripper and Amy the victim of intrafamilial rape) contribute to a greater understanding and awareness of the harm of pornography and how women are mentally, physically and emotionally impacted by porn culture.
The intended audience could be anyone, both women and men, who are interested in the consequences and harms of the global pornography industry. With its sharp analysis and research, the book can also contribute to changing, or challenging legislature in terms of discussing the harms of pornography, especially when using the findings that makes connections between watching pornography and overall behavior. The book can also be used in the classroom (even though it might be more suitable for students that are a little older) in gender studies, men and masculinity studies, women’s studies and sociology.
What the book does so well is to capture, discuss, analyze and provide evidence for the many ways that pornography is harmful to women and children. We know that pornography is based on profit, capitalism and a patriarchal worldview and is therefore complicated to combat, but when reading the book it becomes difficult to understand why pornography is legal in the first place.
Last Thursday, the 2012 Australian Educational Publishing Awards were held in Melbourne. Big Porn Inc. was one of three shortlisted entries in the category of Secondary Reference Resource.
The winner of the category was announced as Cookery the Australian Way, 8th edition, by Shirley Cameron and published by Macmillan Education Australia. Big Porn Inc. was Highly Commended in the category which was a fantastic result. (It is always hard to compete against a cook book!)
In the award booklet, the judges had this to say of Big Porn Inc:
“An edgy, modern and refreshing approach to content that is challenging and confronting. Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry is engaging and well-written, offering a variety of ideas, values and confronting issues that can be used across a diversity of subject areas within the curriculum.”
Congratulations on this result which took place after a rigorous judging process, headed by chief judge Dr Mike Horsley of Central Queensland University.
Spinifex Press was represented on the night by Helen and Pauline and they report that there was quite an audience reaction when the book title was read out and displayed on the screen. The fact that there were many audible sniggers throughout an audience of professional publishers underscores a couple of things: it was truly a great result to be shortlisted and receive a high commendation, and secondly that education about pornography and its harm is sorely needed even in so-called educated circles.
You know the one thing that’s more insulting than blatantly sexist/misogynistic advertising?
Advertising that touts pseudo-feminism but sends the exact same bigoted message, only cloaking it in women’s liberation to soften the blow.
Take the new ad from Triumph Lingerie Australia, for example. The ad’s tagline reads ‘Welcome to the Republic of Triumph’ and asks women to declare themselves. The associated image is rather epic – featuring lingerie-clad women marching and waving Mao-ish red flags while holding protest signs aloft. One of the signs reads “It’s my right to have a career and a baby” while another declares “It’s my right to smash the glass ceiling.”
Except the ad’s attempt at appealing to our feminist souls is an epic fail, because the women featured are not only perfectly perky and seriously skinny, they’re also airbrushed to the nth degree and look decidedly plastic and flawless. They are entirely, disturbingly unreal.
The Triumph ‘feminist’ message that sits alongside its contradictory content is awful, but by no means is it the first time a company has hidden misogynistic agendas behind pseudo-feminist armour.
Take the Dove real beauty campaign, for example. The toiletries company claims to be about advertising images of women with real bodies, of all ages who are ethnically diverse. An admirable effort.
But their ‘real beauty’ campaign is utterly hollow, when Dove is owned by Unilever who sell such patriarchal products like ‘Fair and Lovely’ skin-lightening cream (which is particularly popular in India where women are made to feel that the lighter their skin, the more beautiful they’ll be).
Or how about everyone’s favourite (insert sarcasm) athletic company, Nike? For a little while there they actually churned out some (surprisingly, begrudgingly) good and powerful ads that portrayed famous sportswomen not as sex symbols, but as the tough athletes they are in the feminist ‘Rock Victorious’ campaign of 2010.
But any ground Nike gained with women has been lost after their EPIC FAIL in releasing a Gold Digging t-shirt to ‘celebrate’ the fact that female athletes bought home 29 of Team USA’s 46 gold medals at the London Olympic Games.
If that t-shirt was Nike’s attempt at showing support for their female athletes, then we’d prefer they Just Not Do It.
But, back to the Triumph Australia ad and its ‘Declare Yourself’ feminist message alongside contradictory models. The height of irony is that one of the models is waving a sign that says “It’s my right to feel good about myself” – so we hope women looking at this ad take a moment to note the wrinkle-free, no-bulge-in-sight, big-breasted (airbrushed) models in their bras and undies and Declare themselves unimpressed with this faux-feminism marketing campaign.
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry (Spinifex Press, edited by Dr Abigail Bray and me) is now appearing on bookstore shelves in the UK and North America. Host and producer of The F Word radio show and the executive editor of feminisms.org, Meghan Murphy interviewed me recently. It was good to talk to Meghan because I’d re-run her work a few times on my blog but we hadn’t spoken before. (If you want to get a taste of her writing, check out this thoughtful and detailed analysis of Slutwalk ).
You can listen to Meghan’s interview with me here.
Since the publication of Rachael Hills’s article “Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist” (and see her reflections two weeks later) at least ten on-line and print media articles have joined in a public dissection and commentary along the lines of, “she’s a conservative religious fundamentalist” and “she’s pro-life and can’t be a feminist.”
The subliminal context of the attempts to bring Melinda Tankard Reist to her knees and destroy her work is of course the elephant in the room: if her considerable impact on educating the public about the harms of the sex industry could be reduced, the pornography and prostitution promoters and profiteers would rejoice.
As her publishers at Spinifex Press, Australia’s only feminist publishing house (and secular), we take issue with these portrayals of Melinda Tankard Reist. It is easy to try to dismiss someone by smacking on a “fundamentalist” (whether Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish) label and thereby dismiss the arguments that a person makes. What is less easy, but more ethical and intellectually rigorous, is to examine Tankard Reist’s views – which are shared by many feminists and other advocates for social justice and human rights – and to see what the factual arguments for those views are. Read more>
The fourth and final launch of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry took place in the Jubilee Room, Parliament House, Sydney, last Thursday.
One hundred people attended and heard seven contributors speak about their chapters in the book: myself, co-editor Dr Abigail Bray, Spinifex Press publishers Dr Susan Hawthorne and Dr Renate Klein, Dr Helen Pringle, Nina Funnell and Melinda Liszewski. Julie Gale, founding director of Kids Free 2B Kids was MC and also launched the book. Julie said:
“Big Porn Inc is a brilliant expose of how the porn industry has sold us big fat lies about sex and sexuality. No previous generation has had to navigate such a flood of porn inspired imagery and concepts. Essential reading for everyone, especially the deluded defenders who remain willfully blind to the harmful impacts. I hope Big Porn Inc helps to create the seismic shift humanity needs”.
Special thanks to the contributors, my Collective Shout colleagues (especially Kate), Greg Donnelly MP for hosting the event and his staffer Tammy for all her help. Here’s some photos:
This is the speech Dr Helen Pringle delivered to the Sydney launch of Big Porn Inc October 20. I wanted to share it with those who couldn’t be there.
Dr Helen Pringle
My chapter on The Porn Report concerns the ethics of research into pornography. Abigail Bray has helped me to understand the ways in which pornography is marketed by the industry as a radical or cool political gesture. In turn, there is a great deal of academic work that seeks to provide a defence of this multinational industry and to guarantee a continued supply of cool and harmless pleasures to the hip consumer.
As critics of porn culture, we are often asked for evidence of the harm of pornography. Academic research in support of pornography looks for that evidence in the voice and practices of those who use it. My concern, our concern, is with listening to the voices of those against whom it is used, those whose body and spirit it maims and kills.
Women like Heather Horne and Gail McIntosh, who complained of sexual discrimination in employment, and victimization, in Western Australia in 1994. Heather and Gail had taken jobs in a heavily male-dominated workplace. Their duties included cleaning the amenities and crib rooms of the workers. When they complained to their union and to the company about the pornographic ‘wallpaper’ in the amenities, men in the workplace just put up more of it. A poster of a man and a woman having anal sex, the property of a union shop steward, appeared on a crib room wall. The women found about a dozen posters on one wall, including a statue of a panther performing cunnilingus on a woman, two women having sex, and a woman placing a banana in her anus. One full-length nude poster, of the soft porn variety, had been used for dart practice, and it had also been violently stabbed through the heart, head and genitals. Heather and Gail saw the use of pornography in their workplace as a threat to their dignity and to their standing as equals in the workplace. They described the effect of the use of pornography in these terms: ‘Degrading; we felt total lack of respect; we felt threatened; we felt that these people didn’t consider you as a part of their workforce – you were treated as someone totally different. You were alienated from them and it made me want to be sick; fear, because every time one went up it was an attack on me, a personal attack.’
Or listen to the voice of Amy, who was sexually assaulted by her uncle, who then uploaded the pictures of her abuse and assault to the internet, to be downloaded by tens of thousands of men, each of them a participant in the harm done to her. Amy wrote: ‘Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me and that I will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them – at me – when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle…. It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it. It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.’
The power of the pornography industry asks us this question: whose side are you on? and whose voice are you going to listen to? I’m with Heather and Gail, with Amy and Masha, and with every other woman who has been harmed by pornography and who has lived to tell the tale. And I’m with those who didn’t survive.
But Big Porn Inc is not simply what our friend Rebecca Whisnant calls ‘atrocities r us’. It is a witness to the unsilenced voices of these courageous women, like Heather, Gail, Amy and Masha, who know that you can’t fight against this industry on your own, and that only with others do we have any hope to make a culture based on dignity and equality.
My next book
I shared plans for my new book Puppies, Kittens and Fluffy Bunnies with the Sydney crowd. Dannielle Miller, Director of Enlighten Education, has generously produced the artwork for the book and scored an early endorsement from Julie Gale. I’m sure you will agree it is a charming and delightful cover.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Ruby Who? book and DVD plus Too sexy too soon MTR DVD in one bundle for $120 saving 22% on the individual price.
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.