Does Pornography Lead to Sexual Assault?

08/26/2016 02:28 pm ET
Some people believe Internet porn is responsible for many of our social ills, but what doest the research show?
Photo – Flickr/ Ed Ivanushkin
Some people believe Internet porn is responsible for many of our social ills, but what doest the research show?

About a week ago, I noticed Elizabeth Smart popping up in my CNN news feed with the headline “Porn made my living hell worse.” I remembered her story. As a father of daughters, I couldn’t imagine going through anything worse. Thankfully, Smart has found her voice in the tragedy and is speaking out. But pornography was not her perpetrator.

Smart’s abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was mentally ill. In fact, it was seven years after his arrest before he could be found competent enough to stand trial. No doubt, her experience with Mitchell was traumatic.

The anti-pornography group, Fight The New Drug, capitalized on Smart’s statements, indirectly drawing a line between her abuser and his use of porn. On FTND’s website, they state matter-of-factly:

Study after study has found that watching even non-violent porn is correlated with the user being more likely to use verbal coercion, drugs, and alcohol to push women into sex. And those who consistently look at non-violent porn are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression of both women and girls.

Yet, in the CNN video, Smart says she could not say for sure that her perpetrator would still have assaulted her if he wasn’t involved with porn. A statement from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, also shown in the video, says, “After two decades of research, there is little consensus, not only as to that answer, but as to the definition of the terms, appropriate methods of investigation, or even how to frame the question.”

In the very same statement from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, the researchers state emphatically, “’Does pornography cause rape?’ ― the answer is clearly no.” The website points out that men who commit rape and men who don’t commit rape both view pornography.

Milton Diamond, the director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, says, “There’s absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative.”

What we do know is that pornography viewing has skyrocketed in the United States with the proliferation of the Internet. Though the statistics vary, depending on who you ask, one report said 77% of Americans view pornography at least once a month. At the same time, sexual assault has decreased by 45% in the last 20 years. With a population adjustment, that number shows a decrease by 55%.

Additionally – and disturbingly – there is a large body of research that suggests rapists are not necessarily anymore “sick” than the rest of society at large, according to professor Todd Kendell. Kendell cites research that shows 51% of college men stated they would commit rape if they knew they could get away with it without punishment.

In 2007, researcher Alan McKee, designed and sent out a questionnaire to determine sexist tendencies. It was enclosed in shipments of pornographic material, and posted online. He found that the amount of pornographic consumption did not dictate sexist attitudes toward women, except in the cases of politically conservative, less educated, older men, living in rural areas.

Sexuality Journalist, Michael Castleman, noted, “If porn is a significant contributor to social harm, we would expect to see substantial increases in sexual irresponsibility, divorce, and rape since the late 1990s when the Internet suddenly made X-rated material much more available to those who might instigate sexual mayhem, overwhelmingly men.”

Instead, as Castleman states, sexual irresponsibility has declined, with abortion rates dropping by 41%, and syphilis by a whopping 74%. The teen birth rate dropped by 33% and divorce has decreased by 23%.

Why so much polarity between camps? Often, religious ideologies drive the anti-pornography agenda. Fight The New Drug, though claiming to be “presenting it as a public health issue, rather than as a moral, political or religious argument,” have a staff of Mormons operating the organization in the heart of Salt Lake City. Their reported director of research, Dr. Jason Carroll, is a professor at the Mormon-run Brigham Young University. The Daily Beast reports Carroll, and another BYU professor, filed a brief in 2014 in support of banning same-sex marriage because “same-sex marriage would harm children by ‘weakening the connection of heterosexual men to marriage and fatherhood.’”

It is difficult to talk about pornography without infusing the conversation with personal opinion and conjecture. Even the way researchers view and interpret the data can be influenced by their own biases and agendas. Most people who view pornography are not sexual predators; most sexual predators would be sexual predators, regardless of whether or not they viewed pornography. Statistically speaking, pornography does not lead to sexual assault.

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