Monday, 10 June 2013

Rape Porn: Rapists by Proxy?

I was moved to write this blog because I saw the following tweets from @ThunderAtSea on my Twitter timeline.  It gave me pause for thought.  And my own thoughts on this subject are conflicted.

Menschkin missing the point. Filmed*simulated*rape not illegal, but when it's portrayed as anything less than ABHORRENT,then it's rape porn>

<and indistinguishable when actual rape is filmed for entertainment. It carries the suggestion that rape is within normal sexual mores.>

<and this, along with the general rapey direction porn is taking, debases erotica and warps sexuality.

And if that's not frightening to you, you're not *liberated*, you're a rapist by proxy.

(Tweets re-posted with kind permission from @ThunderAtSea)

These series of tweets gave me pause for thought because I enjoy reading & watching porn that involves ‘rape’, forced sex.  I know many who also enjoy this.  To me, this particular fantasy *is* within the ‘normal sexual more’ of how I define my sexuality.  I do not agree with the statement that I am a rapist by proxy, and neither are my friends.  But, I *am* uncomfortable with the objectification of women in society, and the pornification of our culture; I believe the way women are objectified is a contributing factor to so many men seeming to not quite ‘understand’ what is rape, and what is consensual.  @CratesNRibbons wrote a piece for HuffPostUK today, which says this much better than I can.  I agree with everything she says.  Is, therefore, my desire to watch/read this kind of porn contributing to what I characterise as rape culture? 


Many of you will have come across me through my blogs about my experience of rape, being a rape survivor and a sufferer of PTSD.  You may be reading this and think I’m an oxymoron; a rape survivor who ‘gets off’ on rape fantasy.  (Some of you may be reading this and think that I therefore ‘wanted’ or ‘deserved’ what happened.  Not true.  And I will try to explain the difference later).  Many others of you will have come across me through the kink scene.  Some of you may have come across me as a feminist.  And some of you are spambots.

I was raped 5 years ago.  I have been on the kink ‘scene’ for about 6, but I’ve always had kink running through my veins.  I am a feminist, in the sense that I see no conflict with my agency to choose my kink (and sometimes submission) and my agency to choose the other things in my life; how I choose to make my living, who I choose to love, what I spend my money on, what I wear, what ‘hairstyle I choose to have (both ends) ;-) 

I was raped on 10th April 2008.  Less than a month later I was at the CJIB Demo on 8th May, protesting against what was to become known as the ‘Extreme Porn Act’.  On that day, a few of us were sitting outside Coffee, Cake & Kink and came up with the name of the Consenting Adult Action Network which is committed to protecting the right of all consenting adults to do what they wish with each other – and to have & to view pictures of ‘extreme porn’ which involves consenting adults.  I do not believe that people who watch porn will become rapists or murderers.  I do believe some people who want to be, or are, rapists or murderers will seek out that type of porn, but I do not believe in the causality aspect.  I may be wrong.  I am not an expert in this.

I don’t believe we should censor our fantasies.  We simply cannot.  Ever since I can remember masturbating, before I even knew what masturbating was, I have fantasised about kink.  And, being forced by a stranger in a dark alley (actually, it was usually the local park) was a common fantasy.  When I came across the kink scene later in my adult life (the internet wasn’t around in my formative years) I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one, that I wasn’t a strange fucked up deviant, but ‘normal’ (at least by the standards of kink.  I recognise that if you’re anti-kink, you’ll still think I’m a fucked up deviant).  There is a very common myth, which is part of the rape culture which permeates our society, that women do want to be raped.  And, it is a common female fantasy (see this Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_fantasy).  But, rape is not the same as the fantasy.

When I was raped, I felt that I no longer had agency to enjoy those fantasies anymore.  It was one of the things he took from me.  On the boards of Informed Consent (now, sadly, no more), I was vocal in my opposition to ‘rape play’, a term used to describe a scene in which one participant consensually cedes the right to consent to what happens, otherwise known as ‘consensual non-consent.’  I objected in most part to the term ‘play’ juxtaposed with the act of rape.  To me, rape was horrific, it had lost me my job, many friends, my family relationships (now mending), and most of all, my sanity.  How could people be seeming to enjoy this, how could they call it play?

I now practice consensual non-consent (CNC).  The very special friend who I have enjoyed (yes, enjoyed) that with has given me back my fantasies; it’s probably the biggest, most significant gift anyone has ever given me.  In some ways, it’s been therapeutic (but I’m not saying I recommend it for rape survivors, that’s just a very personal observation).  The difference between CNC and actual rape, to me, is the mutual respect.  The hugs afterwards.  The knowing that what we’re doing (what he’s doing) is for our mutual pleasure.  But, during, it is not something I want.  It is non-consent, but it isn’t rape, because it is consensual.  (I expect many of you will be thinking, oh, that makes him a rapist.  I know he is not.  When we talk (and we do talk about this), he is mortified by the idea that he could be.  He never could be, he never would, unless he was absolutely sure, beyond all doubt, that it was something I wanted, craved, needed, desired).  Now, I understand why it is often termed ‘rape play.’  It is as akin to actual rape as children playing doctors & nurses is as akin to being an actual surgeon.

So, today, Louise Mensch has done what she seems so good at doing, and created controversy.  She has written this article which defends her position (and I’m in the uncomfortable position of pretty much agreeing with her) that to ban all images of rape goes too far.


She says, ‘campaigners against rape – which I hope we all are – MUST be aware of free speech and where the line of incitement is truly drawn.’  I agree.  She also writes this:

‘Pornography of rape that is clearly dramatized, and consensually made and shot, and does not involve imagery of children or incest, is not necessarily an incitement to actual rape. This campaign would criminalise all those indulging in consensual BDSM pornography. …. Rape fantasy is an incredibly common female fantasy. It is VITAL that we distinguish this fantasy from rape apology, rape excuse, or anything to do with real rape. … In these fantasies the rapist looks like Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones and the woman finds it an enjoyable experience – it could not be more different from supporting or wishing for an actual rape in real life. Women are not stupid, and they can draw a perfectly clear distinction between fantasy and reality. …. It is important that in protecting women and children we are quite clear about what actual rape is and what incitement to hurt children is. Legislation to criminalise a community of fetishists is not right. … filmed, and consensually dramatised rape scenes …– the government should NOT ban it, … It is illiberal and wrong and tramples on sexual rights.’  [some text removed*]

Does ‘rape porn’ contribute to rape culture?  Does it de-value women?  Does it normalise violence against women?  If rape is eroticised, whither our sexuality in general? (paraphrasing @ThunderAtSea).   I do not know the answers to these questions.  I only know that *I* have been eroticising the act of rape since an early age.  But I did not enjoy rape, on any level whatsoever; it is not erotic in reality.  The fantasy, however, can be eroticised, and it is for many.

So, should our rights to access the visual (or written) depictions of our fantasies be curtailed even when the people in those videos are consenting adults?  Does the ‘greater good’ of destroying the evidence of rape culture mean that we should ban this kind of porn?  (I want to make clear that anything that records *actual* rape is abhorrent.  What was done at Steubenville was abhorrent.  That is not porn.  That is criminality.  Porn, to me, involves consenting adults only).   I do not believe we should restrict our freedoms to enjoy the visual depiction of our innermost fantasies.  The mind can be a dark place (just read any de Sade – although I should admit I actually haven’t, beyond a few paragraphs that others have quoted sometimes).  The vast majority who view, and enjoy, this kind of porn I know think that rape is abhorrent.  We enjoy ‘edge play.’  We enjoy that it is wrong, dangerous, psychological.  But we enjoy those things in full knowledge of the consent.  Personally, I prefer the porn where you have the girl (or boy) videoed at the beginning telling you, the viewer, that they consent, that they’re looking forward to it, and that afterwards you also see their perspective of what happened, how much they enjoyed it (kink.com is very good for this).  When I’m reading porn, I like the warning upfront as to whether it will depict acts of non-consent (rape), or CNC.  I don’t always want to stumble upon something that might trigger me.  If I’m searching for it, I want to be reassured it’s consensual.  Then, when I’m watching, I can get hot watching what looks like it isn’t, but knowing, somewhere at the back of my turned-on mind, that it’s ok really.  If there is going to be legislation dictating how we view our porn (and I don’t think there should be; adults are adults), then the only thing I could get behind was the before/after shots to know it had the ‘consent’ tick, and the warning of what was to come.

[@ThunderAtSea made what I think is a very valid point in our Twitter exchange this evening – when the actors in the porn are coerced into it through the need for money.  I agree.  I believe that for some women (and men) sex work (of any kind) should be their right to choose.  It is when people don’t really have full agency (or none) to choose that I am very uncomfortable and would not support this.  @ThunderAtSea has also asked me to make clear that she also does not believe in a causal link between porn & rape.  Also that she agrees with the difference between CNC and actual rape.  If I've implied otherwise up to this point, I apologise profusely]. 

To recap.
Rape is horrific, abhorrent.  Rape is not fun, it is not enjoyable.  I am a rape survivor and it is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.
The objectification of women in our culture, and the pornification of women, is wrong, needs to be fought & challenged wherever & whenever we see it, and contributes to rape culture.
But, we can’t censor our fantasies – and should have access to visual and written depictions of those fantasies, where those depictions involve consenting adults.
Because there is not a link of causality between porn and rape – although I admit there may be causality in the objectification of women, and hence to rape culture.  And that is still the bit I’m not sure about, even after writing this….

I would like to thank @ThunderAtSea for permission to re-print some of our Twitter exchange this evening, and for the simple fact of engaging with me in debate on this subject.  I would also like to thank @CratesNRibbons for allowing me to link to her blog.



(* I removed from the Louise Mensch piece, amongst others, the excerpts relating to the Simon Walsh ‘extreme porn’ trial on which he was acquitted.  I have had the honour to meet Simon.  A nicer man you could not meet.  If this campaign, about Louise Mensch writes, were to succeed it would mean that many others (and perhaps myself?)  I am privileged to know could find themselves in a similar scenario).  

11 comments:

  1. thank you, as a fellow rape survivor who writes non consent stories, and is in a total power exchange relationship you said all the things I could not find the words for.

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  2. You write very well about a subject that is very controversial, your view is expecially important as you have been raped yourself. In my eyes I see the main difference as follows. Non consenting rape is where the man takes or strips something from the woman. With CNC the man is giving the woman something that she has craved.

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  3. This is an exceptional reasoning out of a very difficult subject. There are some things that get easily tangled together in this subject that I think need to be teased apart for the sake of rationality.

    Any culture in which people are not required to be responsible for their own desire and how they act upon it is with others problematic. We end up back at Aristotle's insistence that people cannot think rationally in the face of sexual desire. This is patently false. Otherwise everyone would rape, if they could; no one would ever think clearly enough to put a condom on; and most children would be victims of sexual abuse, etc. The majority of us can and do think rationally in the midst of desire.

    When it comes to the difference between rape and rape fantasy, I believe the issue of agency is paramount. As you pointed out, many women have rape fantasies. A good recent study has put the numbers at about 40%. But a person (whether male or female) who has rape fantasies is the agent of the fantasy. The writer, director, casting agent, the editor. It is a little disingenuous to say that rape fantasies never look anything like real rape. There are women who have extremely realistic rape fantasies, with all the brutality and the lack of any sexual arousal that entails. Nonetheless, the woman having that fantasy is still the agent of it. And it is worth adding that many men have rape fantasies too.

    I think it may be an issue of us having such a poor cultural semiotic vocabulary that we resort to rape as a metaphor for being desired or desiring transgressively. Hell, there are people who fantasize about vore - about being erotically cannibalized. A very literal fantasy of being 'devoured' in the act of pleasure.

    There is a kind of momentary annihilation we seek in moments of intense eroticism. The metaphors we use for how to get to that annihilation are often clumsy. I think it is repressive and shameful of us to try and impoverish that vocabulary further by saying that certain fantasies are simply not okay.

    I can't personally defend rape porn, because I can't defend porn. Not because it goes to far but because it doesn't go far enough. By necessity, it has been a marketized venture which needs to appeal to as many people as possible and therefore must dumb-down its imagery, its erotic vocabulary to encompass as many punters as possible. Where are individual fantasies might be intricate and nuanced and packed with wild imagery, porn is its very poor, stuttering cousin.

    Rape porn isn't new. The Rape of Lucretia is a classical theme reproduced by Rembrandt, Ficherelli, Bernini... literally hundreds of artists, composers, playwrights, etc. It's just untruthful to say that those works have no erotic undercurrents for most of us. But not, I think in their representation of violence; rather in their representation of desire.

    That statue, those painting... did they give permission to some idiot to go out and rape? Personally, I think that someone with the capacity to rape will find any excuse to do it and they certainly have not needed rape porn in the past. The women being horrifically and violently raped in the DRC or those that were so terribly abused in the camps in Bosnia were not victimized by people who consumed rape porn. So I think the argument that it is causative is spurious.

    And although it is a concern that porn actors/actresses might be pressured into participating in certain types of porn because they need the money, I think agency again applies. There are lots of people who are pressured into doing a lot of unpleasant things for money, but there are also lots of people who chose to walk away from the proposition, no matter how much they need the money. If we get into a discussion of how capitalism deprives us of agency, we'll be here all day.

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Seriously excellent stuff. Been writing some erotica myself and had problems trying to justify a rape scene. You've perfectly articulated what I myself feel. It's tricky to try and balance BDSM and feminism, a very tricky subject to cover.

    An excellent read!

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  6. Agreed on all points. Very well said.

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  7. Disagree. Having someone say verbally before a "consensual rape scene" that this is a "consensual rape scene" does not alter the fact that this could be a "non-consensual rape scene" as at anytime someone can feel pressure to go along with something or someone. The idea that you have been raped can happen well after the fact, as any police officer will tell you...and it's probably why there are so many dang unsolved rape kits. Strangers move on, just like ideas.

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  8. You need to define rape as apart from stupnum, and porn from prostitution. In Roman times a prostitute could not claim stupnum, whereas in todays times anybody can. A porn actress is not a prostitute, since they are having sex for the benefit of the viewing public rather than having sex one on one for money.
    You repeatedly express interest in stupnum which was illegal anyways in Roman days along with rape, but you repeatedly call it rape. I would call your idea of rape different than my idea of rape, but you never give a solid definition. Rape has/had a real definition (before people mucked around with it...just like hell--just like the word marriage!) at one time. While it is true a father no longer takes care of his daughters chastity concerns and choice of suitors these days, not all of us are so sure he shouldn't play a part, feminism be damned, a parent should be looking out for your best interests, even in the worst arranged marriage in India. I have no clue why you wouldn't want to be objectified, and have dim understanding of why this was submitted to hey ephoria, a sex blog for perverts who objectify CONSTANTLY.

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  9. It gets even more complicated if you have an unusual fetish that's not att all related to rape but almost only exists in rape porn.

    One of my fetishes is clothes with an opening at the genital area, for example cut open with a pair of scissors or ripped up. I know of exactly two porn clips that have this without any rape part, everey other (to me) known clip with cut/ripped openings are also rape porn. Therefore I "must" watch rape porn to fulfil my not rape related fetish...

    :(

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  10. Pretty much all of my sexual fantasies (when it comes to masturbation) are about rape. The level of it varies each time but it is the thing I fantasise about most often. I don't actually watch porn - or, rather, I don't watch porn with real people in it - as that just doesn't work for me. I don't think I'm hurting anyone in the way I express my desires. I don't think people who like CNC or rape porn are hurting anyone either. I find it exciting to engage in CNC with my partner as it helps us have a power exchange.

    One of the things you didn't mention is that with CNC or rape porn, the people involved have had the option to choose who they are interacting with. They have had the right to say yes or no and what happens is clearly consensual. This is extremely important as in real life you don't get to choose who rapes you. Even if it was someone very close to you and you would opt to have sex with them, that doesn't mean you'd choose something harder. I'm sure you know that better than most and I needn't preach to you about it.

    I never feel guilty about having the fantasies I do. I never feel guilty about the CNC I engage in. These things are personal. They harm no one and the fact that others try to make people feel bad about it disgusts me. While there are some people who are capable of committing rape with or without an excuse there are also those who use these types of porn to stave off their desires. This may be a controversial thing to say, but I think banning this kind of porn will make it far more difficult for those who wish to hurt no one. Repressing people and taking things away from them never works well. I don't see how it could help in this case either.

    Thank you for writing this post. I understand that it will have been difficult for you and I appreciate your bravery in being able to both write and post it.

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