“You’ve come a long way baby!”
Or at least that is what a cigarette advertising campaign of a few years ago would have us believe. Today’s women need not stoop to secretive smoking, was the message. The feminist movement has put women on an equal par with men. Cigarette smoking is a personal behavior to be enjoyed by both sexes.
Personal behavior … to be enjoyed … not harmful … just natural.
For many years this view of smoking was held by a majority of Canadians, until medical research reports began to unfold an entirely different tale. Cigarettes harm the individual who smokes them. Not only lung cancer, but heart disease was found to be linked to this “personal habit.” And habit it was, for further studies showed nicotine to be addictive. Giving it up was no easy matter. But the bad news didn’t stop there. Smoking affects others from the unborn child in the womb to the co-workers in the office to the family at home. Exposure to nicotine, tars and high levels of carbon monoxide affect non-smokers’ health to the same extent as the smoker’s. The “personal behavior” of smoking is no longer seen as simply that. Slowly attitudes are changing. Smoking is no longer acceptable. Pressure is being applied to designate vast areas of work and recreation as smoke-free environments. And society in general is becoming increasingly unwilling to bear the cost of this “personal behavior” which does so much harm.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for pornography. Like the consumption of cigarettes, the “personal behavior” of viewing pornography has been accepted within our society for a long time. Many do not see pornography as a threat to the spiritual, psychological and moral health of those who consume it. Nor do they see it as an assault on the basic human rights of the individuals portrayed in it.
Pornography takes many forms – from the sexually explicit novel to the grisly pictures of sexually assaulted bodies in detective magazines; from the bare buttocks, breasts and genital is of the centerfolds in Playboy and Penthouse to the scenes of bondage, torture and mutilation in X-rated movies and videos; from the gratuitous female nude scenes on public television to the obscene telephone messages of Dial-a-Porn. But there is one thing that all forms of pornography have in common. They degrade and dehumanize the participants. “Pornography does not recognize or celebrate the holistic reality of our humanity, the integration of body, mind and spirit. Pictures and descriptions reduce women to sexual parts, mindless bodies to be played with, poked or even mutilated.” (United Church of Canada).
Dr. Judith Reisman of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the United States conducted a survey of the images of children, crime and violence in Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler magazines. Her results showed that of the some 70,000 images in the 683 issues examined, approximately 10 per cent depicted children while over 20 per cent were found to be associated with crime and violence. Not surprisingly, Reisman concluded, “These (easily available, “soft-core” pornographic magazines) have paired adult female nudity with images of children, crime and violence, for millions of juvenile and adult readers for over three decades.”
The danger in this pairing of adult female nudity with children is that it portrays the child as a “normal sexual target, suggesting that adult-child sex/violence is fun and harmless physically and emotionally for even the youngest of children.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In her book Pornography’s Victims, Phyllis Schlafly brings home the full consequences of pornographic portrayals of children. In case after case, pornography was used to lower the child’s inhibitions so that touching, fondling, masturbating and finally penetration could be accomplished without detection. By using pornography “he led me to believe that this was normal behavior,” recounted one sixteen-year-old who had been sexually abused from age 10.
As the number of reported cases of incest and child abuse in the country rise, one cannot help but wonder at the underlying cause. For Dr. Simon Miranda, a clinical psychologist in child-abuse, the answer is very clear: “Child pornography and child abuse go hand in hand.
If the pairing of child portrayals with violence in pornography leads to sexual violence against children, then it would seem the pairing of adult female images with violence should lead to sexual violence against women. While extensive statistical evidence proving this link is still lacking, anecdotal reports tell a chilling tale.
A study by Lorenne Clark and Debra Lewis in the early 1970’s showed rape is increasing at an alarming rate. (Later statistics showed this trend to have continued through the 1980’s). At the judicial level rape is serious crime, but at the social level, Clark and Lewis argue, “rape is thought to be only an unsophisticated seduction; at most, it is a minor breach of our social standards.” They cite as evidence of this two-faced approach the reluctance of rape victims to report the offence, the relatively few offenders who are arrested, the even fewer who are convicted, and the relatively light sentences handed out for a crime which carries a stiff penalty in the law books. Most rapists themselves “do not see their behavior as morally wrong”, some even went to “incredible lengths to see their behavior as `normal’ and `acceptable’, they found.”
This view of violence in obtaining sexual fulfillment is what pornography is all about. “The person exposed to pornography is being conditioned to think that not only is violence socially acceptable, but that it is sexually stimulating and that the person who is unwilling to be the recipient of the violent act will enjoy it if forced to submit.” Thus, “exposure to pornography leads to an increase in violent sexual crimes and aggressive anti-social behavior.” (Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, St. John’s Newfoundland).
Police forces in both Canada and the United States would wholeheartedly agree. Their files bulge with reports of individuals who were found in possession of pornographic material when arrested for violent sexual crimes.
Detective Sergeant Bob Matthews heads the Joint Forces Pornography and Hate Literature Section of the Ontario Provincial and the Metro Toronto Police. The 21-year veteran has seen a lot. “There was a recent case in which the girl almost died. . . . When the suspect was apprehended he had [pornography] everywhere, in his car, in his home, so I’d say there was a connection between pornography and violent crime.”
Canadian police forces do not keep statistics on the role of pornography in sex-related crimes, despite the fact that this was a major recommendation of the federally-sponsored Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution in 1985. Neither, for that matter, do law enforcement agencies in the U.S. However, an extensive FBI study of sexual homicide showed that 81 per cent of the offenders ranked pornography as their primary sexual interest. This association of convicted sexual offenders with the use of pornography is echoed in a Canadian study by Dr. William Marshall. He found that 33 per cent of rapists had used “hard-core” pornography during adolescence; that 83 per cent were still using it; and that in 35 per cent of the cases pornography had been used as an instigator.
In her introduction to Pornography’s Victims, Phyllis Schlafly notes that the testimonies in her book indicate that “pornography is addictive and that those who become addicted crave more bizarre and more perverted pornography, and become more callous toward their victims. Pornography changes the perceptions and attitudes of men toward women, individually and collectively, and desensitizes men so that what was once repulsive and unthinkable becomes not only acceptable but desirable. What was once mere fantasy becomes reality. Thus conditioned and stimulated by pornography, the user seeks a victim.”
Conditioning by pornography was an integral part of the life of the U.S.’s infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy. Bundy’s exposure to pornography began at an early age. Even as a young child he was allowed access to the pornography his grandfather owned. His sexual fantasies were fueled during adolescence by the “soft-core” pornography available at local grocery and drug stores. Afterward came exposure to the sexual violence portrayed in detective magazines. In Bundy’s own words, “An intensely secret fantasy life evolved within me.” It was “fed, aroused, reinforced and strengthened by the material I was exposed to in the (adult) bookstores and theatre”. Later, written and pictorial fantasies were insufficient to gratify this “entity” which lived within Bundy, and he began a period of voyeurism, a classic early route for rapists and serial killers. “Finally, inevitably…this entity made a break-through, not a major break-through, but a significant [one]; a point had been reached where the pressure, demands and expectations of this entity could not be controlled,” he recalled. Not only did Bundy recognize this gradual development but he was aware that it had made him what he was “bit by bit and step by step and day by day.”
Ted Bundy’s admission to being fatally addicted to pornography should be a warning to us all, especially in light of the chilling prophecy he left: “When I consider that today children and teenagers are being exposed in their own homes to material more graphic, more violent and salacious than what I was exposed to at that age, I am truly frightened by the prospects…On the basis of statistical probability alone we would expect to see record numbers of these kids begin to act out their depraved sexual fantasies and aggressions as they move into young adulthood.”
Early statistics show Ted Bundy to have been correct. In the U.S., Dr. Victor Cline, a University of Utah psychologist, has presented solid evidence that violence, especially among ages 15 to 24, is the nation’s number one health problem. In Ontario, a study by Central Toronto Youth Services showed that nearly half of Metro teens convicted of sexual assault are only 14 or 15.
The evidence against pornography is steadily accumulating. It is not simply a “personal behavior,” but a habit, an addiction which consumes the user, causing him to spend both time and money to feed it. Pornography affects those around the user. So altered and desensitized do the perceptions of the user become that they interfere with his ability to relate to his girlfriend or his wife or even his children. Families have been torn apart as Dad forces his deviant sexuality on Mom, who, in turn, flees with the children to escape from the violence in her own home.
It took decades before the true nature of cigarette smoking came to light. Many long-term studies had to be conducted before people were convinced. But when it comes to pornography, can society afford to wait that long? How many more sons will become like Ted Bundy? And how many more daughters will be raped and murdered?
Janet Smith is a mother and Executive member of the Newmarket Right to Life Association.