Rape as titillation is already an established porn category, how do we deal with it?

Violent porn is here to stay How do we stop our children from confusing fantasy with reality
Voices Society Monday, August 08, 2016 - 15:41

Alarming reports on the free availability of gang-rape videos, not staged porn but ones of actual crimes, have been trickling in for a while now. As The Hindu reports, this trend is not really new. Last year, activist Sunitha Krishnan ran a #ShameTheRapistCampaign after a gang-rape video featuring six smiling rapists who were at the act went viral on WhatsApp and found its way to her phone.

Rape as titillation is already an established porn category. You don’t even need to go to a porn site to watch rape videos – YouTube has enough of these bits, carefully edited from mainstream films, featuring female actors (not porn stars) as subjects in acts of violation. These videos have garnered millions of views. Porn sites have similar content with more graphic violence and ‘imaginative’ sub-categories.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference between these videos and the ones from real life. One is staged with the consent of the actors involved and the other is, well…a crime.

One can argue that this is a blurry line for consumers who really don’t care either way since the video, to them, is a ticket to a few minutes in fantasy land…but if it is indeed a blurry line, why are people taking the effort to get these real videos, when staged pornography of every conceivable kind – from granny porn to snuff porn - is freely available?

Porn and social science

Studies are inconclusive about the effect that porn watching has on violence against women. Does it make men more violent towards women? Does it incite rape? There is some evidence to suggest that criminals who have committed brutal acts of violence against women are also enthusiastic consumers of porn. There are also some studies that indicate that exposure to violent porn has the short-term effect of increasing brutality in men towards their female sexual partner.

However, though sociologists and psychotherapists agree that porn can be problematic, they are hesitant to jump the gun and state that it is THE reason for violence against women.

And of course, we’re forgetting that women watch porn too! According to PornHub, the largest pornography site on the Internet, Indian women were the third largest female consumers of pornography in the world in 2015.

Porn, feminism and childhood

The anonymity and easy access offered by the Internet seems to have helped the average Bharatiya naari, who usually pretends that she has never heard of masturbation, to finally explore her sexuality and desires.

The feminist position on porn is divided. While some feel that porn is all about the degradation of women, others think this is a prudish and unrealistic view to take. Some others speak of alternative porn that has a better appeal to women – where, you know, the whole focus is not on the all-important blowjob or the all-towering phallus.

For many young people in India, porn was and is our first exposure to a sexual education. Typically, Indian schools limit sex education to a few lessons on what the reproduction system looks like and this is of little help considering we cannot see our ovaries and have very little emotion towards them. Most Indian parents are also busy pretending that they became parents by eating blessed mangoes and not through any other ‘unholy’ method.

The Internet, then, becomes the precocious cousin who knows-too-much and to whom you can confide your deep, dark desires.

Not surprisingly, PornHub states that at 49%, India had the highest percentage of people in the 18-24 category (the youngest category for which the stats are available) watching porn last year. Mexico comes a distant second at 36%.

Children in India – people below 18 years - watch porn too. We don’t quite know how many or the effect that it has on them. We don’t know the average age at which the first exposure to porn happens either. Research on the subject is fraught with difficulty – how do you ethically show adult content to a child to study its effect, for instance? It’s all the more complicated because the adults around the children do not want them to have sexual knowledge of any kind.

However, we do know that people don’t wait till they are 18 to pay heed to their raging hormones, as this six-year-old report and your own honest memories will tell you.

Why parents need to step in

While we outrage over rape and sexual violence against women every now and then when a particular case sways the nation, we remain woefully behind when it comes to debates and discussions on what sexual consent, or even romantic consent, is all about. Especially in schools and colleges. Pornography is meant for an adult audience, for people who are supposed to know that what they’re seeing is fantasy, for people who have the mental equipment to traverse that landscape. Even there, it’s not as if the fantasies have no impact on reality.

Banning porn is a simplistic and impractical solution. Doing so will also close a much needed avenue for sexual release in a closeted country like ours. Besides, there is no need to be alarmed by porn watching as yet – the top search term in 2015 entered in PornHub from its Indian viewers was touchingly patriotic…just ‘Indian’. Internationally, as well, the more violent categories are less popular than the somewhat vanilla ones.

However, we cannot deny that the rise in popularity of real crime videos of violence against women is worrisome. It not only shows the confidence with which rapists operate in the country, it also shows how apathetic and dehumanized the voyeurs, (though a minority) are.

This becomes all the more problematic when we see it in conjunction with the age demographics of porn consumption in the country. And the fact that mainstream portrayals of love and sex – the constant representation that the consent of a woman is a non-issue - in visual media only reiterates what is taken to an extreme in pornographic representations of rape.

Adults remaining ostriches with their heads in the sand and refusing to take sex education seriously, in schools and at home, are not helping the situation. A refusal to get your hands dirty in these circumstances is anything but a moral stance to take. Which is why, parents have to step in to speak to their children about sex and also tell them that the violence that they may see online as 'sex' is either staged or criminal.

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