Dec 082013
 

In a recent Salon article, “In Defense of ‘Rape’ Fantasies,” Tracy Clark Flory cites statistics on the prevalence of rape fantasies and rightly suggests that having such a fantasy “does not make a person a rapist or a rape victim, or mean that he or she actually wants to rape or be raped.”

Flory is 100% correct on this, and it’s worth repeating: having a rape fantasy doesn’t make someone a bad person, and it doesn’t mean a person wants to rape or be raped.

But the article’s title, “In Defense of ‘Rape’ Fantasies,” is misleading. Flory’s ‘defense’ of rape fantasies is in service to her larger purpose — defending the rights of UK citizens to consume pornographic materials that depict rape, simulated rape, and the maddeningly oxymoronic ‘consensual non-consent’ media. (The filming of such materials is already a criminal offense, and the UK Prime Minister aims to ‘close the loophole’ on the consumption these materials.)

In essence, the title (“In Defense of ‘Rape’ Fantasies”) and subsequent text (much of which is not a defense of rape fantasies, but a defense of citizen’s rights to consume pornographic materials depicting rape) conflate rape fantasies and consumption of pornographic materials that depict rape. The two are not the same, nor are they mutually dependent. A person can fantasize about rape without viewing pornographic materials depicting rape. Alternately, a person can view pornographic materials depicting rape without fantasizing about rape. They’re two different things.

Unfortunately, Flory isn’t alone in her conflation. In a recent blog post on Molly’s Daily Kiss, “Do Not Consent”, I believe Molly also (unintentionally) conflates the two concepts, essentially combining them into one and writing as if they’re the same thing:

“The UK government wants to criminalise my fantasies.”

It’s a dramatic, rhetorically effective statement, but it’s also somewhat misleading. While I applaud Molly’s bravery in writing about her own rape fantasies, I appreciate her perspective on these issues, and I understand her passion, her suggestion — that the government wants to criminalize her fantasies — falls short of faithful representation. Her rape fantasies — the ones she conjures in her mind — aren’t being criminalized.

A ‘rape fantasy’ is a fantasy about being raped or about raping someone else.

A ‘rape fantasy’ is not a fantasy about watching rape pornography.

What the UK aims to criminalize is the consumption of rape pornography, not people’s fantasies about rape or people who have rape fantasies. It’s an important distinction, as conflating the two (unintentionally, hyperbolically, or otherwise) misrepresents what will be an actionable offense if/when legislation passes. While I do not argue that “thought policing” is a motivation for the PM’s efforts, the proposed legislation will not, in practical terms, make people’s thoughts into actionable offenses for which they can face criminal prosecution. It will not result in the imprisonment of people who have thoughts about rape, being raped, or raping others. What will be an actionable offense is consuming media that depicts rape, and while that’s an issue that deserves discussion, criminalizing the consumption of media is not the same as criminalizing people’s thoughts.

I agree with most of what Molly says here:

“Bringing these laws in is not going to stop me, or anyone else from having these thoughts, ideas and fantasies. Nor is it going to safeguard me, or any woman from, sexual assault. The best way to do that would be to encourage an open and honest educational conversation about the issues surrounding consent, a conversation that should be a key feature of any sex education program for young people.”

The laws won’t stop people from having fantasies, but they also won’t criminalize those fantasies either.

For the sake of a responsible debate, by all means, argue the UK aims to criminalize certain ways of exploring rape fantasies, or argue that criminalizing rape pornography limits self-expression and free speech. Argue that the best way to protect women is through education and conversation. But don’t suggest that the government wants to criminalize what goes on in people’s heads or suggest the government will imprison those who have rape fantasies, because it isn’t true.

In my mind, arguing ‘slippery slope’ — suggesting that criminalizing consumption of materials that depict particular fantasies may eventually lead to future criminalization of those who possess such thoughts and fantasies — is somewhat more responsible, but still problematic for reason’s I’ll outline in part 2.

 


Flory, Tracy Clark. “In Defense of ‘Rape’ Fantasies.” Salon. 20 Nov. 2013.
Moore, Molly. “Do Not Consent.” Molly’s Daily Kiss. 20 Nov. 2013.

 

  21 Responses to “part I: criminalizing fantasy”

  1. I find it interesting that Tracy Clark Flory references the following, from a NY Times article: “The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85 percent over a period of 25 years while access to pornography has increased…”

    This would seem to imply that the increased availability of “pornography”, (not RAPE pornography) was a contributing factor in the 85% reduction in rape in the US. Yet, at the same time, the laws prohibiting child pornography have been strengthened over that same period off time. As it is a common trait for pedophiles to keep child porn, does the same thing hold true for rapists, and if that is the case, would it not follow that rape porn should be made illegal too?

    As you correctly pointed out, having a fantasy is not the same thing as turning that fantasy into an actionable offense, so my question concerns the relationship between rape pornography, and the actual commission of the crime.

    One thing for certain, is that neither rape porn nor rape fantasy take into account end end results of such a violent assault. I seriously doubt that anyone fantasizes about having PTSD, or suicidal thoughts, nor is it depicted is the unreal world of rape pornography.

    I am looking forward to reading the next installment.

    • This would seem to imply that the increased availability of “pornography”, (not RAPE pornography) was a contributing factor in the 85% reduction in rape in the US. Yet, at the same time, the laws prohibiting child pornography have been strengthened over that same period off time.

      That’s a good point, Slapshot. That comparison is something a couple of bloggers have mentioned, and it’s something I’ll address soon.

  2. If the videos are filmed consensually, and the people watching are doing so consensually, I fail to see why any of this should be of interest to the government, period. Is there a correlation between rape pornography and actual rape? Many studies point to this being true. But many studies also point out a link before pornography in general and mainstream media as well, as much of those things carry the message that women are objects to be used, abused, and discarded at leisure (speaking strictly to the raping of a female, of course).

    If that is true, then why not use the same brush and color the entire picture? Why limit the ban to rape pornography and not the myriad hypersexualized images that flow from television, movies, music, magazines and any other medium you can think of?

    • “a link between pornography in general”

      Middle of the night typo, sorry.

    • Is there a correlation between rape pornography and actual rape? Many studies point to this being true. But many studies also point out a link before pornography in general and mainstream media as well, as much of those things carry the message that women are objects to be used, abused, and discarded at leisure (speaking strictly to the raping of a female, of course).

      I haven’t read all the studies, but from what I’ve seen, there’s not even a way to gather statistics on such a thing. So, I don’t think there is a direct correlation, and if there was, it would be impossible to find.

      • This, right here, sums up my problem with this law. I am 100% against any law which proposes to restrict peoples freedoms with out concrete evidence that the law will provide a real and significant benefit. No one has yet provided any evidence, and you are saying here you don’t believe there an be any evidence, that this law will benefit anyone. If we can’t even prove correlation how the fuck can we prove causation?

        Its an easy win for the government, they get to appear to be ‘doing’ something, dismiss anyone who opposes them as “Well who but pervert and rapists would defend rape porn anyway,” and get additional power and precedent for further power grabs, all in one go.

        It is not up to the people being affected by a law to prove that they have the right to their activities. It is up to the proposers of the law to prove that those activities need to be restricted. So far the conversation has been dominated by proponents of the law demanding proponents of rape porn defend their right to watch or produce it, with the assumption that they need to justify themselves. This is the exact opposite of the debate we should be having.

        • It is not up to the people being affected by a law to prove that they have the right to their activities. It is up to the proposers of the law to prove that those activities need to be restricted.

          Honestly, I haven’t read up on what the PMs actual reasoning is, or if there was a commission, etc. My interest has been in the conversations happening since the whole UK censorship thing came to my attention in July (or thereabouts).

          In the US, Reagan put the Meese Commission together in ’86 and they came up with the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography report. That’s was the impetus for a lot of subsequent anti-obscenity legislation here.

          Interestingly, there’s a loose connection between the Meese Comission and the current UK debate. The statement being copied all over the place recently (India bans porn, has lots of rape, while in the US, porn access is increasing while rape is decreasing) eventually links back to a paper by a guy who seems to have had a beef with the person who drafted the Meese report, Frederich Schauer. His claim is that while the Messe Commission showed correlation, they didn’t show causation, and the simple existence of the assertion seemed to be enough for everyone to take the report at face value and move on to crafting legislation based on it’s ‘findings.’

          (I plan to address that in the next post later today or tomorrow…I’m still editing. That won’t be the focus, per se, but it’s in there. I fell down a Meese Report rabbit hole).

          Anyway, leaving the PM out of it for a moment, I think it all depends on what we will accept/reject as ‘proof.’ There are studies to suggest violent pornography increases subjects self-reported likelihood of committing sexual violence, others that suggest violent porn makes users less sympathetic to victims of sexual assault, and still others which suggest rape porn increases subjects endorsement of rape myths.

          Of course, there are lots of problems with these studies. The first is based on self-reporting and conducted in a lab setting, the second doesn’t even address subjects likelihood of committing violence (it’s about trials involving victims), and the third links rape porn to rape myths, but doesn’t address the question of whether endorsing rape myths makes a person more likely to actually commit rape.

          While the studies are problematic, I don’t know if it’s possible to conduct a study (or study statistics) in such a way that would show direct, (cause –> effect) causation. Even if researchers gathered a bunch of rapists and got stats about their porn usage (and I think they have), there are myriad other factors that could contribute to a person’s act of violence. In other words, if you found a convicted rapist that watched violent pornography, but you also discovered he was bullied in school, was a green party member, and had high levels of vitamin D, how do you know which of those factors, if any, (and/or which combination of factors in what proportions) contributed to his committing rape?

          So far the conversation has been dominated by proponents of the law demanding proponents of rape porn defend their right to watch or produce it, with the assumption that they need to justify themselves. This is the exact opposite of the debate we should be having.

          For the reasons I suggest above, coupled with actual statistics on rape (the staggering numbers of women who have already experienced sexual assault), I disagree that it’s clearly a case where opponents need to justify denying people’s rights instead of the other way around. In theory, sure, this is the way it should be. But what if that’s not possible? In the absence of credible evidence either way (and the likelihood that evidence is impossible to gather), and in the presence of evidence of rape statistics, I’m not ready to say that it’s more one side’s or the other’s responsibility to prove their case.

  3. Like the majority of women in Western culture, I am in favour of realistic feminist objectives. They include things such as equal pay, equal rights, and equal opportunities. But like many women, I don’t care for those “evangelistic feminists” who still see men as aggressive Neanderthalers who [only] want to abuse, rape and manipulate women. I don’t care for feminists who are peddling “social frustration” much in the same manner some tele-evangelists are selling Jesus. I only support politicians who endorse equality, and not activists who endorse female superiority.

    Crime is crime. Fantasy is fantasy. And there is a lot of money being made in the filming of criminal fantasy – because we find this entertaining for the most part.

    The argument that banning rape porn will reduce actual rape is just a bogus as the argument that banning the next episode of CSI will reduce all crime in general. At the end of the day, the evangelistic feminists will have achieved another objective on their political agenda – not in that they have actually saved more women from being raped. They want to eliminate pornography altogether, particularly BDSM pornography, because they believe pornography is demeaning to women.

    What’s next on their agenda? Ban BDSM in all forms? Send us all back into the closet? Or will the move on and argue, no more horror films, gangster films or films about espionage, war or terror? Will banning World War II films actually reduce the chance of war? The arguments are the same when they talk about banning BDSM porn, because BDSM porn is for the great part ‘rape porn’. Or how would you describe a film depicting a woman in bondage being spanked? A romantic comedy?

    True, rapists use the argument, “The victim wanted to be raped, because that’s how it is in BDSM porn films.”

    Why settle for that argument when prosecuting criminals? It’s like bank robbers saying, “But the bank was tempting me with all that money, and in the Bonny & Clyde film it was okay…”

    • The argument that banning rape porn will reduce actual rape is just a bogus as the argument that banning the next episode of CSI will reduce all crime in general

      I don’t think the two are comparable, nor do I think the connection between a culture that excuses rape and medias that depict rape should be so quickly dismissed. Saying there’s no link is just as ridiculous (in my mind) as saying there’s an absolute and direct link.

    • Are you saying that David Cameron and a plurality of the rest of the Tory government are evangelistic feminists, or perhaps some other kind of feminists? They are the ones behind this legislation, and I’m a bit surprised to see you arguing against some subset of feminists in this context. Maybe I don’t understand your point?

  4. Yer smart! (We knew that, but it bears repeating.)

    I’m enjoying this series a lot, and look forward to its continuation.

    Thank you for talking good sense on a topic that invites much silliness, and more laziness.

  5. If I can play devil’s advocate for a moment…

    It’s reasonably certain that most of the people reading this blog are capable of making the necessary moral distinctions if and when they consume rape porn. That’s because, unless we are collectively suffering from severe sociopathic personality disorder, we are able adequately to contextualise the rape thus depicted within an overarching set of moral principles that involve a strong sense of the importance of genuine consent.

    However, part of the UK government’s moral panic, and the key to selling the proposed measures to the public, involves the availability of such porn to children. Children do not acquire an adequate moral compass until they become adults. That’s why we treat them differently when they do bad things that land them in court. That’s also why we revile warlords who use child soldiers.

    Given that most kids now have devices that enable them to access all sorts of ‘adult’ material, and given the way in which they can be influenced by what they see, there is a real problem here that libertarians don’t want to talk about too much.

    The difference between porn and movies that depict violent behaviour is that movies to some extent attempt to create a moral framework within which such violence is set. Such a framework may frequently be defective, but it exists.

    Rape porn does not attempt to do this. It simply invites the viewer to sit back and enjoy what it portrays. As a parent, I feel that to the extent that it decontextualises violence against women, it should not be accessed by children for the same reason that I would not have considered giving my children, now adults, access to drugs or alcohol.

    The issue of what we allow children to access and whether porn should be part of their sexual rites of passage is something that all those of a libertarian bent have to address. I don’t claim to have the answers, but it is a matter of legitimate concern.

    • Good points, GOS.

      This sounds awful to say, but up until now, children’s access isn’t something I considered at all (which is strange, considering that is one of the reasons I’ve seen tossed about.

      The difference between porn and movies that depict violent behaviour is that movies to some extent attempt to create a moral framework within which such violence is set. Such a framework may frequently be defective, but it exists.

      I was going to mention something like that in response to PhareDuFour’s comparison above:

      “The argument that banning rape porn will reduce actual rape is just a bogus as the argument that banning the next episode of CSI will reduce all crime in general”

      (But I’m obviously already longwinded, so I refrained) Pornography is very different from other medias for the reason you mentioned above — there’s little context for the sex and/or violence being shown. It’s designed to arouse, which (I guess) is still entertainment, but a much narrower type than we see in other mediums.

      The issue of what we allow children to access and whether porn should be part of their sexual rites of passage is something that all those of a libertarian bent have to address. I don’t claim to have the answers, but it is a matter of legitimate concern.

      Interesting point. And while I haven’t given this much thought, my guess is that the argument “I’ll take care of my kids, you take care of yours” doesn’t necessarily work here, because sex and violence aren’t things that happen in a vacuum. We’ll end up teaching people how not to be raped instead of teaching people not to rape.

      • GOS’s point becomes valid when you consider the number of cell-phone filmings of real rape/assault incidents filmed by teenage gang criminals, who document their assaults in metros and subways and post them on the internet or share them in school to impress or shock their peers.

        This is my personal concept of what rape porn constitutes, and there are valid reasons why it should be banned. The victims are real victims of criminal assault who not only have to survive the trauma of being assaulted, battered and raped, but have to survive the shame and humility of voyeurs in their community watching such material for entertainment and/or pleasure. If this is what activists and government officials mean mean by “rape porn”, please, by all means ban this material. It is criminal and contemptable.

        GOS also makes a valid point that children, being emotionally immature, do not yet possess the experience or capability to decide what is normal sexual behavior and what is only sexual fantasy, and porn films of any kind may severely distort their understanding of what acceptable behavior is like in real life. However, I don’t believe banning pornography/erotica on the Internet to compensate for irresponsible parenting is a useful solution to prevent rape.

    • Regarding providing a framework, I would point to kink.com, whose porn (and all it’s subsidies) include before and after interviews with the actors, so it is clear that everything was infact consensual, negotiated before hand etc. I’d say this provides a much better framework than action movies, which tend to present ignoring the law and killing people as the way to solve just about everything (but it’s okay b/c they only killed bad people!

      • Regarding providing a framework, I would point to kink.com, whose porn (and all it’s subsidies) include before and after interviews with the actors, so it is clear that everything was infact consensual, negotiated before hand etc.

        My hunch is that isn’t quite what GOS meant by “framework.” But regardless, the before/after interviews in some pornographic films/clips aren’t the same, nor a substitute. While I haven’t thought this through, is it possible that before/after interviews might actually do some harm?

        An admittedly reductive hypothetical here:

        Pre-interview: Woman indicating consent to simulated rape. She wants to be the “rape victim.”
        Porn clip: woman is ‘raped’
        Post-interview: Woman indicating that she’s fine and/or suggesting she enjoyed it.

        That could be problematic, right? (For the record, I’m not saying it is problematic, but I can see how it could be)

        In non-pornographic films, when rape is depicted, most of the time, some sort of ‘aftermath’ is depicted too — the woman doesn’t pop up immediately after (out of character) smiling and suggesting she’s fine. And that’s another difference, too — in most rape porn (I imagine), there isn’t much ‘character’ or ‘plot’ or ‘context.’ Those are what I believe when GOS mentioned context. I hope he’ll correct me if I’m wrong.

        • If I try, I can twist my head around to kind see the mind set where “displaying pre-sex negotiation and establishing consent” can lead to “she said she likes being raped, if women like being raped what’s the big deal?”
          If we are talking about influencing and fighting against rape culture, then the clear depiction of negotiation and consent, the very blatant, “this is a fantasy and consent is import” is critical to any porn, but especially porn depicting anything which might appear to be non-consensual
          If we are talking about, “Some individual idiots may take this as a license to go rape women, because one woman said she liked it,” I can’t rule that out as a possibility. After all, there was an idiot who put on a superman costume and jumped off a room believing it would give him the ability to fly. Idiocy, clearly, has few limits.
          Overall (and this is a personal judgement) the need to overturn rape culture is more of a concern for me than the reactions of individual idiots, because ending rape culture is the only thing I can see that will eventually end the epidemic of rape and sexual assault.

          A different side to this, which only occurred to me now, is the type of rape depicted in rape porn. I have never watched rape porn, decidedly not my thing. But the impression I have been given is that the majority of rape porn depicts violent, forceful rapes, and in particular stranger rape. If that is the case, then I would say that banning rape porn to prevent encouraging people to rape is evening more of a waste of time. Throwing efforts into stopping a kind of rape that is actually extremely rare is, in my opinion, just another aspect of rape culture, right along with talking about rape in terms of ‘rape rape’ ‘real rape’ and ‘well she changed her mind half way through, so it wasn’t REALLY rape.’

  6. Dee, I think, and I don’t want to misrepresent your argument here, that actually the finer distinction between a rape fantasy and rape porn is only that ‘rape porn’ also involves what people discuss, where as fantasies remain in your head- they become impossible to prosecute except with the invention of telepathy so it’s not the sense people are talking about their fantasies in.

    Fantasy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A lot of us kinky folk had our sexuality nurture in the influences of our environment- for example there were obviously no bondage enthusiasts before the invention of rope. Now I write explicitly supposed to be rape porn- these start as ‘fantasies’ locked in my head…

    But as soon as you start depicting them, they move into porn. For whatever reason, my sexual kinks landed on the ‘violent’ end of the spectrum. This means that my bedroom sports also occasionally do fall in this category and one portion of the autobiographical blogging we’re doing here is creating material that titillates. It’s not all informing people for the good of our community, people are getting off on our stuff.

    Similarly if I want to get off on my own, I will generally be facilitated by something by amnesty international would frown at. And they will be someone else’s recorded rape fantasies. Banning the porn effectively bans the fantasies except as some sort of dark secret you can’t talk about.

    >”There are studies to suggest violent pornography increases subjects self-reported likelihood of committing sexual violence, others that suggest violent porn makes users less sympathetic to victims of sexual assault, and still others which suggest rape porn increases subjects endorsement of rape myths.”

    On the other hand, the common thread of basically all the ‘showing porn to people’ studies is that aroused people (and by people, the subjects have generally been men) have impaired judgement regarding consent (as well as are more easily bilked in money deals), and that goes for vanilla porn too. It doesn’t need to be ‘rape porn’- Functionally speaking what these studies tell us is that arousal makes people kinda stupid.

  7. I think, on balance, MissPearl is right that you’re wrong to draw a bright line between ‘thinking’ and ‘watching’ – clearly the law does not directly criminalize the ability to imagine rape, but equally clearly any act of imagination exists in constant conversation with the inspiration it draws from the outside world. I’m not sure that leads us to a definite conclusion about whether images should be criminalized,* but it is worth considering.

    —————

    * The argument might run: preventing access to rape fantasies does not stop people who currently have rape fantasies from having them. Instead, it makes it less likely that people in the future will have such fantasies. This is a) Good, because rape fantasies are deeply morally compromised, as even the fantasists would agree, and are ultimately a curse to be avoided if possible or b) Bad, because it prevents the fully autonomous development of a person’s sexuality. Rebuttal: what the hell is a fully autonomous development of one’s sexuality when it is clearly so influenced by porn, by MTV, by sex ed, by society. Counter-rebuttal: There’s a difference between vague social pressures and direct government interference. Counter-counter-rebuttal: Isn’t it time to go to the pub yet?

    • You won’t remove the cultural influence of sexual (and non-sexual) violence on media consumers unless you completely avoid talking about even real violence. To be precise my sexuality developed under such perverted influences as Disney (Sleeping Beauty- prince tied up and in chains), kid’s picture books (life in the middle ages w/dungeon), true unvarnished reporting from WWII, and so on.

      The context of the sexuality means that I bipased a lot more explicitly vanilla things- IE all the other media, and now I write rape porn. All banning expressions of my fetish does is inform a large number of people that their sexuality is wrong and criminal- which is regressive and especially sad in that consumers of rape porn are also having fantasies of victimization.

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