Is Pornography a Catalyst of Sexual Violence?

Recent research suggests the opposite is true.

In the 1980s, conservatives and feminists joined to fight a common nemesis: the spread of pornography. Unlike past campaigns to stamp out smut, this one was based not only on morality but also public safety. They argued that hard-core erotica was intolerable because it promoted sexual violence against women.

"Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice," wrote feminist author Robin Morgan. In 1986, a federal commission concurred. Some kinds of pornography, it concluded, are bound to lead to "increased sexual violence." Indianapolis passed a law allowing women to sue producers for sexual assaults caused by material depicting women in "positions of servility or submission or display."

The campaign fizzled when the courts said the ordinance was an unconstitutional form of "thought control." Though the Bush administration has put new emphasis on prosecuting obscenity, on the grounds that it fosters violence against women, pornography is more available now than ever.

That's due in substantial part to the rise of the Internet, where the United States alone has a staggering 244 million Web pages featuring erotic fare. One Nielsen survey found that one out of every four users say they visited adult sites in the last month.

So in the last two decades, we have conducted a vast experiment on the social consequences of such material. If the supporters of censorship were right, we should be seeing an unparalleled epidemic of sexual assault. But all the evidence indicates they were wrong. As raunch has waxed, rape has waned.

This is part of a broad decrease in criminal mayhem. Since 1993, violent crime in America has dropped by 58 percent. But the progress in this one realm has been especially dramatic. Rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the last two years, when the FBI reported upticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.

Nor can the decline be dismissed as the result of underreporting. Many sexual assaults do go unreported, but there is no reason to think there is less reporting today than in the past. In fact, given everything that has been done to educate people about the problem and to prosecute offenders, victims are probably more willing to come forward than they used to be.

No one would say the current level of violence against women is acceptable. But the enormous progress in recent years is one of the most gratifying successes imaginable.

How can it be explained? Perhaps the most surprising and controversial account comes from Clemson University economist Todd Kendall, who suggests that adult fare on the Internet may essentially inoculate against sexual assaults.

In a paper presented at Stanford Law School last year, he reported that, after adjusting for other differences, states where Internet access expanded the fastest saw rape decline the most. A 10 percent increase in Internet access, Kendall found, typically meant a 7.3 percent reduction in the number of reported rapes. For other types of crime, he found no correlation with Web use. What this research suggests is that sexual urges play a big role in the incidence of rape -- and that pornographic Web sites provide a harmless way for potential predators to satisfy those desires.

That, of course, is only a theory, and the evidence he cites is not conclusive. States that were quicker to adopt the Internet may be different in ways that also serve to prevent rape. It's not hard to think of other explanations why sexual assaults have diminished so rapidly -- such as DNA analysis, which has been an invaluable tool in catching and convicting offenders.

Changing social attitudes doubtless have also played a role. Both young men and young women are more aware today of the boundaries between consensual and coercive sex. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, thinks the credit for progress against rape should go to federal funding under the Violence Against Women Act and to education efforts stressing that "no means no."

But if expanding the availability of hard-core fare doesn't prevent rapes, we can be confident from the experience of recent years that it certainly doesn't cause such crimes. Whether you think porn is a constitutionally protected form of expression or a vile blight that should be eradicated, this discovery should come as very good news.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  • ||

    I arrived at the same conclusion after pro-bono research into pr0n0graphy.

  • ||

    This is part of a broad decrease in criminal mayhem. Since 1993, violent crime in America has dropped by 58 percent. But the progress in this one realm has been especially dramatic. Rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the last two years, when the FBI reported upticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.

    This surprised me. For me, it's countr-intuitive. I'm glad to be wrong. Standard libertarian caution #4 (correlation ≠ causation) goes here.

  • ||

    hehe. pro-boner. heheheh

  • ||

    Unfortunately, those who want to ban the pr0n can fall back on the unprovable to counter statistics: "Sure, rape numbers are down, but they'd be down even further/eliminated altogether if that nasty filth hadn't been inciting people!"

  • ||

    Uh, SM, Sonny Bono is dead.
    And he was an anti-porn Republican.
    I didn't want to be the one to tell you.

  • ||

    Now if we legalized and set healthy standards for prostitution (the gongeria testing and specific areas where it could be openly sold i.e. red light districts), maybe then there would be even less rape.

  • thoreau||

    Steve Chapman takes a look

    I'll bet he does!

  • ||

    I for one haven't sexually assaulted anyone since I got broadband. Downloading to keep the social compact.

  • ||

    Another factor may be the advent of DNA testing that makes it more likely the rapist will be caught and convicted. This is in turn makes it more likely victims will report the assault, further discouraging the crime. In addition, there has been a general downward trend in violent crime due to the aging of the population. Any assumption of a link between the two has to be tempered with the knowledge that correlation does not imply causality.

  • ||

    Hedley Lamar: What are your credentials.

    Thug: Rape, murder, cattle rustling, and rape.

    Hedley Lamar: You mentioned rape twice.

    Thug: I like rape.

    Paraphrased from Blazing Saddles.

  • ||

    One Nielsen survey found that one out of every four users say they visited adult sites in the last month.



    And the other three are liars.

  • ||

    I don't think I buy that more porn equals less rape. In order for their to be a connection between declining rape rates and access to porn, you would have to show that someone who would otherwise have raped someone did not do so because he had access to hard core porn as an outlet for his desires. Rape is an incredibly vile and violent act. I can't imagine that exposure to porn is going to prevent someone sick enough to rape someone from doing so. The declines in rapes seem to have more to do with the points Bill Pope made above. Thanks to DNA testing it is pretty hard to get away with rape.

    What it does show is that there is no connection between rapes and porn, which I thought was always ridiculous anyway. The idea that a normal male would somehow be driven to become a violent rapist because he was exposed to porn was always one of the more vile feminist fantasies.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I don't know !

    My favorate position is facial humiliation

  • ||

    The idea that a normal male would somehow be driven to become a violent rapist because he was exposed to porn



    Some "feminists" seemed to espouse the idea that normal males were always a few brief thoughts from becoming rapists.

  • Episiarch||

    Some "feminists" seemed to espouse the idea that normal males were always a few brief thoughts from becoming rapists.

    All I know is "ball" and "good" … and "rape."

  • ||

    "you would have to show that someone who would otherwise have raped someone did not do ... I can't imagine that exposure to porn is going to prevent someone sick enough to rape someone from doing so."

    But imagine these violent people exist on a continuum. Somewhere on that continuum is a person just barely not vile and violent enough to commit rape, followed immediately by an individual person who is just barely violent enough to commit rape. Remember large data sets and trends are discovered by seeing the effects of what transforms one of these two people into the other. IE, at the margin, the world is not black & white.

  • ||

    This confirms what I have suspected for a long time: rape IS NOT about sex, it is about control, violence and a hatred of women. I like women. I have had many women friends. A shocking number have told me they have been raped. I have been appalled and angered to learn how many! The governemnt wastes its resources chasing harmless pornography. These expressions of affection or pleasure or fantasy are considered criminal, in a world of war and the exaltation of violence in video games, television and movies. Teach men to admire women, and respect their independence. Teach them it is their duty to listen when a woman says "No." Teach them it is NOT okay to force a woman to do anything, and they do NOT have the right to beat up a wife or girlfriend just because they are upset about something. We should be doing even more to stamp out the disgraceful abuse of the human rights of women in this country and elsewhere.

  • Erizot||

    I'd just like to say that in a better world, we could just focus on teaching both males and females to admire and respect each other, not only for our similarities, but more importantly our differences. Men don't have any more right to do any of these things to a woman than women do to men...but I will say that if a woman came at me swinging, I would defend myself...so now feel free to call me a misogynist.

  • ||

    I think Frank's nailed a position down.
    On Venus.

  • Episiarch||

    I think Frank's nailed a position down.
    On Venus.


    Or did he nail Venus, in a certain position?

  • x,y||

    I didn't RTFA or the research behind it, but I suppose this also depends on how broadly "rape" is defined.

  • ||

    This trend doesn't show that pornography does not cause violence against women. The increase in violence against women caused by more pornography may have just been offset by a larger decrease caused by some of the other factors discussed.

    What it does show is that if pornography does sometimes cause violence against women, the correlation is pretty weak.

  • src||

    The article says areas with increased internet access corresponded to areas with a decrease in rape.

    To me, that doesn't immediately point to the salutary effects of porn. A simpler explanation might be that more internet access and less violent crime are both connected to increases in wealth or employment.

  • ||

    You're all forgetting that porn is a gateway sexual violence. Its not that porn DOES lead to rape, its that it COULD lead to rape.

  • Anonymous Bastert||

    No, the connection is:

    PORN = RAPE

  • ||

    Or it could be that dudes whacking off with visual aids has nothing to do with rape in any statistically significant way. To put it another way, you can strap be down and make me watch cupchicks.com all day long, but I still will not be sexually aroused by defecation.

    That's option B.

    Personally I don't really buy into the aging population explanation. I mean, we aren't aging THAT much over a decade. And if increased catch % because of DNA is the root cause, it's pretty clear that we have a small population of serial rapists doing the majority of the crime. Which also argues against Johnny Pureheart getting corrupting into rape by watching too many skin flicks on the internet in any significant numbers.

    At the very least this evidence would indicate that whatever the ultimate reason for the drop in rapes and sexual assaults is, those who would claim hard core porn creates rapists have a tough row to hoe.

  • ||

    The only worry I'd have about porn is if they were going against the "'No" means 'No'" idea--showing women insisting refusal, getting "raped" and then "loving it."

    Have heard that a lot of the hard-core porn out there is pretty misogynistic and degrading. As long as guys can watch that stuff realizing it's only a movie and not real....

    Has anyone shown any link either way towards violent porn and attitudes of the viewer towards women?

  • Steve Verdon||

    To me, that doesn't immediately point to the salutary effects of porn. A simpler explanation might be that more internet access and less violent crime are both connected to increases in wealth or employment.


    So....rap is now actually about wealth disparities and unemployment? Disenfranchised males sticking it, literally, to rich and employed women? Somehow, I don't find this suggestion answer all that compelling.

    This trend doesn't show that pornography does not cause violence against women. The increase in violence against women caused by more pornography may have just been offset by a larger decrease caused by some of the other factors discussed.

    What it does show is that if pornography does sometimes cause violence against women, the correlation is pretty weak.


    Whoever suggested that the prudish opponents to porn would argue that rape would be even lower if we also got rid of porn were quite right.

    By the way, the trend here shows a decline in rape overall, with the largest declines in those states getting faster access to the internet.

    I'd also bet the author of the study controlled for income and employment. Kind of takes the wind out of the employment/wealth argument. In fact...*a little googling*...yep, the author uses variables on:

    poverty,
    income,
    a measure of alcohol consumption,
    a population density variable,
    unemployment,
    a measure of human capital.

    Remember, google is your friend.

    By the way, poverty has a negative impact on rape, but is statistically insignificant (i.e. is not distinguishable from zero), and unemployment has a postive, but statistically insignificant impact. The log or per-capita income has a positive and statistically significant impact.

    And the next bit of advice, read the f*cking paper next time.

    Have heard that a lot of the hard-core porn out there is pretty misogynistic and degrading. As long as guys can watch that stuff realizing it's only a movie and not real....


    What it isn't real? Next you'll be telling me Johnny Quest wasn't real either!

  • Shoover11||

    Yes, rap is very often about wealth disparity and unemployment. Not sure how you haven't noticed that, if you've ever listened to rap.
    Reading the whole paper helps, but that doesn't make it illegitimate to to question the conclusions of an article based on the information used in the article. It was very nice of you to clear that up though, thanks.
    Nope, Johnny Quest isn't real either.
    The concern that misogynistic porn inspires misogynistic behavior is absolutely a legitimate one, even if it's generally overblown. You average adult can differentiate between fetish porn and "normal" porn, but an adolescent with prudes for parents and abstinence-only sex ed or adult with developmental or mental health challenges won't always have that same capability. Does that "cause" rape? Absolutely not. Does it teach misogynistic behavior/ideas? Yeah, sometimes. The porn isn't the problem, (bad parenting and inadequate sex ed is the problem, for the most part, most likely), but you can acknowledge that porn can be detrimental in some circumstances without wanting porn or certain types of porn to be banned.

  • Paul||

    Is pornography a catalyst of sexual violence?

    No, but according to researchers, violent tv is.

    So the question really becomes: how do the things we watch influence our behavior in general?

  • ||

    PROSTRATE CANCER DECLINES WITH INTERNET PORN

    A recent study of male DOJ employees who monitor internet porn confirms a recommendation by the AMA that more sex reduces prostrate cancer.

    The DOJ group was compared to males who watch the same porn.

    Prostrate cancer went down for both groups compared to males who don't have internet and watch tv commercials for hair loss and erectile drugs.

    Post-study interviews revealed the DOJ group increased procreational, unprotected, monogamous sex after marriage inspired by god to have more children without spilling any seed upon the ground.

    The co-hort group said it increased recreational, anonymous, unprotected, and self-abusive sex for filthy, shameful purposes caused directly by looking at the same images.

    Both groups recommended a follow-up study.

  • Erizot||

    So, are you saying people get cancer from something as simple as laying flat? This is horrible news, because I do this at least 6 hours a night! I guess I'll have to run to the doctors and get my prostrate checked. I'll have to start sleeping sitting propped up in bed! Whew! Thank God I saw this comment, it may have saved me from "Keemo". As long as this study didn't say anything about the prostate...that would be different!

  • ||

    Date rape is equivalent to violent rape in the same way shoplifting is equivalent to armed robbery. Both are crimes, to be sure, but one should have a significantly lesser penalty than the other. And of course, there are different degrees of date rape, from "on recollection I think I might have mumbled 'no' when he was out of earshot", to "I was drunk and told him 'yes'", to "I was drunk and passed out", to "he forced me".

    The increased availability of pornography is reducing "rape" because it offers guys an outlet for sexual release without the immense legal risk of having a girlfriend.

  • Shoover11||

    Date rape is equivalent to violent rape in that in both cases the rapist penetrated (or forced the victim to penetrate) the victim without the victim's consent.
    If having a girlfriend is a legal risk for you because your odds of her reporting you for raping her are so high, by all means, please utilize pornography and avoid interacting with people.

    It's really not hard to NOT rape people. It's really not.

    If porn has done anything to decrease rape, it's been by giving us the gift of creative dirty talk and evidence that explicit consent can definitely be sexy.

  • src||

    Steve Verdon: thanks for bringing the facts. It does make a difference that the study controlled for those variables (poverty, unemployment, alcohol consumption, and so on.)

    I'm not sure what you're saying about rap.

    I think some doubt still remains, in that the correlation is between internet use and rape, rather than porn and rape. It's a big inference to make.

  • Anonymous||

    The article mentions that the US alone has over 244 million web pages, which is more than the adult population of the US.

    This could mean, that there is literally a porn site for every single person out there.

  • ||

    Frank:

    "This confirms what I have suspected for a long time: rape IS NOT about sex, it is about control, violence and a hatred of women."

    I don't understand why this study confirms your belief.

    For the record, I think rape is about sex AND control. Considering that it is an explicity sexual act, it seems absurd to deny that rape is about sex.

  • Shoover11||

    I was totally confused by that comment too...

    But on the sex & control thing- I know it doesn't seem logical, but rape really isn't "about" sex, it really is about power and control, even in seemingly gray situations.

    When sex is about sex, both parties are concerned with the desire and pleasure of both parties. When sex is about power and control, the desire and pleasure of the other party is irrelevant.

    In some "gray rape" situations, power and control might only be factors in a completely understandable subconscious way; some people are just self-centered partners who don't understand consent issues and have been taught that asking before doing will "kill the mood." But, regardless, not obtaining consent puts the desire to perform a sexual act above the will and consent of their partner, and is a means of asserting power and control in the situation.

    When people talk about "rape culture," those are the things we are referring to; we have to teach ourselves and each other to talk about sex, to seek and give consent explicitly (and sexily!), because these gray situations hurt EVERYONE.

  • Dave||

    Thanks to DNA testing it is pretty hard to get away with rape.

    Meh. I prefer the theory that "thanks to concealed carry, it is pretty hard to get away with rape." Also phrased as "no means FUCK NO, shithead!"

    After all, self-defense is a human right.

  • Shoover11||

    ...you do realize that both of those arguments are clearly, undeniably false, right?
    DNA testing only helps if somebody TESTS the DNA, you know, EVER, instead of putting it in a storage locker and ignoring it.
    Conceal and carry only makes it harder to rape someone if the person being attacked is actually utilizing conceal and carry, and is able to reach and fire their weapon... and it does NOTHING for OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of rapes and assaults, which are committed by people close to the victim. They just have to wait until the victim's guard is down or weapon is in another room or some other such opportune moment.

  • ||

    saw a study the other day where a dr. put an erection detector on men including violent offenders. they all lstened to porn, violent porn and pure violence with no porn. the normal dudes got hard with the porn, the violent ones ONLY got excited with the pure violence. sex did nothing for them.

    244 million pages of porn. On wednesday next week I will have been to every one of them!

  • ||

    All heterosexual sex is rape, period, end of discussion. Women are brainwashed by the evil hierarchical patriarchy to think they want sex. If a women says yes, but the next day decides it was not a good idea, it should be prosecuted as rape.

  • Erizot||

    Well, that saves time. Luckily, being the moderator, you get to end this discussion. I'll be suing my girlfriend for rape, since through porn I've been brainwashed into thinking I want sex. Thank you for this very flexible rationalization that I can exploit for my own financial gain!

  • Shoover11||

    Websites need a "flag as troll" option. Not like spam flagging that gets deleted, just flagging that lets other readers know somebody is clearly a troll and not to waste their time.

  • ||

    Looks like Juanita changed her handle....

  • ||

    0.5/5 for that trolling effort, Cindy Lou. A tip for the future, if you want to be a successful troll, don't go so far over the top. Good luck trolling in the future though!

  • ||

    Maybe we can get the "correlation is not causality" pedants to acknowledge that the evidence at least supports the argument that pr0n does not promote rape. I'll leave it to another study to debunk the remainder of their biases against pr0n.

    It would have been helpful if the study had also addressed any changes in the arrest rates, conviction rates, and average sentences. The anti-pr0nners above do have a point in that enforcement-related issues are usually the starting point for criminal economy studies.

  • Shoover11||

    I'm a pretty big fan of porn, and sex-positivity in general, and I support legalizing other forms of sex work- but the people pointing out correlation does not equal causation (and leave it at that- not the ones trying to loop back around claim porn causes/leads to rape & SA) are right. This article DOES do a good job of disproving the idea that pornography promotes/leads to/etc rape, but it still doesn't demonstrate in any way that porn reduces rape.

  • ||

    Cindy Lou,

    You hurt my feelings. :(

  • ||

    brotherben, do you recall any information that could lead me to the study? Or can you find it and post the link? I'd be interested to find out more. Thanks.

  • Steve Verdon||

    I'm not sure what you're saying about rap.

    Sorry, that was a typo--i.e. rap = rape.

    I think some doubt still remains, in that the correlation is between internet use and rape, rather than porn and rape. It's a big inference to make.

    To be sure, it simply could be that if being on-line is addictive would-be rapists have less time to commit rapes since they are on-line chatting...maybe living out their violent fantasies in an on-line setting during said chat sessions. Creepy, but obviously better than the alternative.

    Looks like Juanita changed her handle....

    Really, I thought that was Amanda Marcotte in disguise.

    Maybe we can get the "correlation is not causality" pedants to acknowledge that the evidence at least supports the argument that pr0n does not promote rape.

    Careful there, I'm one of those pedants and I happily acknowledge the above. Also, I have no problem with pornography. I'm quite far from a Nanny state type I assure you.

  • R C Dean||

    Maybe we can get the "correlation is not causality" pedants to acknowledge that the evidence at least supports the argument that pr0n does not promote rape.

    Indeed. The corollary to "correlation is not causality" is "lack of correlation negates causality."

  • ||

    How much is the reduction due to demographics? If the typical rapist is young, then wouldn't a smaller cohort of young men in a population reduce the rape rate? In this case, I'd expect rape rates to rise and fall with demographics.

    Has anyone shown any link either way towards violent porn and attitudes of the viewer towards women?

    Don;t know about porn, but rap music seems to contribute to a mysogynistic outlook

  • bingo||

    boooooooooooooobs woot hahaha

  • LarryA||

    For the record, I think rape is about sex AND control. Considering that it is an explicitly sexual act, it seems absurd to deny that rape is about sex.

    When a rapist looks at a woman and thinks, "The worst way I can hurt her is to rape her," rape is not about sex, and the rape itself is a violent act, not a sexual one.

    Women are brainwashed by the evil hierarchical patriarchy to think they want sex. If a women says yes, but the next day decides it was not a good idea, it should be prosecuted as rape.

    Women are brainwashed and indecisive? Cindy Lou has a very low opinion of them.

    All heterosexual sex is rape, period, end of discussion.

    Explain that to my cat when she's in the mood. Trust me, she is neither brainwashed nor indecisive.

  • ||

    Prostate -- ProsTATE -- TATE TATE TATE TATE TATE ... AAAAAAAAH I can't stand it. Once is a typo -- through the whole damn post is a crime against humanity.

    Look, one more time OK. Prostrate is what we all are before the tyranny of the IRS. ProsTATE is the organ in the pelvis that gets cancer.

    Sorry, it's a peeve. Can't get my mom to stop saying it that way either.

  • ||

    Hey, BladeDoc, the guy said he was and economist not an English Professor. Sheesh.

    He needs to spend as much time at the urologist's office as I do. There's no way he'll ever misspell the word again.

  • SocraticChrist||

    Strawman, and logically you're committing the same fallacy as the argument you're rebutting.

    How about a half a dozen ad hominems to go with all the self-congratulatory male blogging that will occur in T-5...4...3...2...1

  • ||

    "When a rapist looks at a woman and thinks, "The worst way I can hurt her is to rape her," rape is not about sex, and the rape itself is a violent act, not a sexual one."

    OK, but you're supplying a one-dimensional motivation for the sake of argument. Perhaps there are rapists whose motives are that clear and simple. But even so, it can't always be so simple. If a man is sexually aroused by violence, it seems to me that violence and sex are somehow linked for him, and his arousal still needs to be accounted for in any explanation of his behavior.

  • ||

    The question it all raises for me is: Given this new information, will be feminist- and religionist- collectives now NOT ONLY halt their counter-productive efforts to interfere with free-men's access to pornographic materials, but further re-focus their efforts to make that same material available to men everywhere? It would be 'for the good of the children'...

  • Shoover11||

    Feminist does not equal anti-porn.
    This study did not demonstrate that porn decreased rape, it demonstrated that internet access correlated to a decrease in the rate of reported rapes.
    There's no evidence here that pornography use by adults would have any benefit for anyone.

  • Legman||

    Why is porn getting all the credit? Don't the RealDolls deserve some credit too?

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