“Murder Porn”

By Esther

At a press conference in Atlanta this past weekend the rapper Killer Mike bravely used the phrase “Murder Porn” to describe the filmed killing of George Floyd and the indifference the police officer responsible displayed to the making of a permanent record of his involvement in it.

There are numerous examples internationally of the eroticisation of violence by state and non-state actors, including:

  • acts of extreme violence carried out by “lynch mobs” in many countries;
  • the use of rape as a weapon of war;
  • stage-managed executions shared widely on social media;
  • the castration of Israeli athletes held hostage during the 1972 Munich Olympics;
  • the use of sexualised torture and punishment carried out in almost every era, including by colonial administrations nominally advancing “virtuous”, “civilising” missions and by the US Government at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

The era when “snuff” movies were the subject of rumour and speculation is long gone. With the internet and social media filmed acts of extreme violence can be shared within seconds around the world, encouraging men who wish to compete with others in the horror stakes to “up their game”.

Online porn competes for clicks in the same arena, promoting increasingly violent and hazardous acts against women for global consumption. It depicts black men as rapist- predators and uses racist and sexist generic labels stereotyping the sexuality of women of colour (“Asian Street Meat”, “Ghetto Gaggers”) while reserving elite status for white, English-speaking performers who earn significant sums from personal encounters with private male clients for whom they are trophies. The current occupant of the White House is one such trophy hunter.

More generally online porn reflects the same colonial, classist mindset many of the men who view it profess contempt for in public, as does the world of prostitution. Every woman who is or has been involved in prostitution knows this. You are the object of racism, classism and both conscious and subconscious, reflected in the commodity value assigned to you. The more you appear to transgress racist and classist assumptions men have about female sexuality and promiscuity, the higher your commodity value will be. The reverse is equally true.

Inequality is a built-in feature of the sex industry, as is the hierarchy men who profit from women’s bodies rarely acknowledge while reciting the “sex work is work” mantra. The owner of a strip club in north London fighting the loss of its licence broke with sex industry protocol recently when he told a local newspaper, “Our dancers, they’re not hustlers….They are ordinary kids that want to make a living and they want to do it in such a way that they can go home and look in the mirror afterwards”.

The Freudian hypothesis that the drive towards death and destruction sits in opposition to the creative, life-giving, sex drive is less evident in the violent colonisation of life that the untouchable, global, online porn companies have brought about.

Porn directors promote the connection between sex and violence, which is why expressions of fear, discomfort and pain are a routine feature of their output, one of the few aspects evidencing harm not edited out of the final, uploaded versions.

Human rights organisations, which stoke indignation amongst their supporters with graphic accounts of the torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of protesters and detainees, frame the depiction of identical violence in online porn and its infliction on the bodies of prostituted women as “work”. They have nothing to say about this “mission creep”.

The “theatre of cruelty” is everywhere.

Law enforcement officers investigating online depictions of the sexual abuse of children tend not to be involved in that line of work for long periods because the effect of being witness to such abuse is numbing and corrosive.

What is the explanation for the silence of human rights organisations who know very well the human cost of the sex industry, both to those within it and to others? To what have they become inured?

“The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” as the song goes. A man, who was a forensic psychologist advising police about the dangerousness of offenders, funded and was the male performer in the most sexually violent film I performed in.

My response to a burly, white, American policemen forcefully restraining a teenage, African-American girl, throwing her around like a rag doll in full view of a camera, would be to imagine what might be on his hard drive.

Racist assumptions about the sexuality of women of colour and their dehumanisation as generic, interchangeable objects (“Asian Street Meat”), and the click-bait terms on online porn sites, ensure no equivalent benefit for the women and young girls depicted in them. These women and young girls will, however, make up the majority of women globally who die or suffer serious physical injury and psychological harm as a result of their involvement in prostitution.

Cognitive dissonance is on display when human rights organisations deplore the sexual exploitation of migrant women and women refugees at the hands of traffickers taking them to destinations in Europe and America, but also insist that the same exploitation of women in their destination countries for a financial reward, much of which goes to pimps and traffickers, is “work”, which must be legalised.

The dangers of strangulation, suffocation and “rough sex”, carried out by men who feel emboldened by porn and prostitution to claim superior knowledge of “modern sexual practices” without acknowledging the role money, rather than desire, played in their “learning”, are now increasingly in the public eye.

In 60 court cases involving the deaths of UK women the perpetrator claimed their injuries were an accident resulting from a consensual “sex game gone wrong”. Two thirds of these women were killed by strangulation. A survey by the UK charity Refuge found that 48% of women using its domestic abuse services had been strangled, choked or suffocated by their abusers. In a survey by the We Can’t Consent To This campaign in the UK, 38% of women under 40 reported having been non-consensually choked, slapped, gagged, or spat on by sexual partners during otherwise consensual sex.

Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2014 revealed a culture around heterosexual anal sex which involved pain, risk and coercion, particularly for women. Young people interviewed by the researchers provided some explanations:

  • Pornography
  • Competition between men
  • The claim that “people must like it if they do it” made alongside the expectation that it will be painful for women
  • Normalisation of coercion and “accidental penetration”
  • Men being expected to persuade or coerce reluctant partners

Similar factors underlie the normalisation of rough, painful and dangerous sexualised violence in real life through the vector of online fantasy torture porn. Defending yet another death or serious injury with mantras like “the submissive is always in control” and “use your safe word” demonstrates an alarming lack of understanding of coercive control, power dynamics and inequality, as do arguments about “choice” in prostitution.

Is it not self-evident what phrases like “pushing boundaries”, references to “increasing pain thresholds” and the preference “dominant” men have for “novices for training” are?

My own experiences with BDSM as a novice with men with significant “experience”, whether “trained” or not, were very much like those of the women who responded to the We Can’t Consent To This survey.

Serious violence was inflicted on me from the outset as if it were a form of branding or marking of territory. The experience those men had was in brutalising women. The much-vaunted “subspace” was indistinguishable from the state of dissociation which is a common response to trauma.

Some drugs used recreationally during sex anaesthetise users to the levels of harm being inflicted on them during acts of sexualised violence. Some, like cocaine, can also impede ejaculation and drive men to more extreme acts as they attempt to resolve this. Those rare women who are truly sexually aroused by serious pain, rather than numbed by it, tend to avoid intoxication, or the use of large quantities of recreational drugs which are also anaesthetics. Advocates of BDSM practices know this, but seem to shy away from lending assistance to devastated families seeking justice for women killed or seriously injured during “rough sex”.

Psychological effects of exposure to sexualised violence include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, self-harm, substance use and dissociation, mental health challenges with which many women in prostitution are familiar.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is stereotypically associated with combat veterans, but rates of PTSD in women in prostitution are higher than they are for combat veterans, particularly if the women are involved in street prostitution.

In England the group most likely to screen positive for PTSD is women aged 16-24 (12.6%). Only in the ages 55-64 category are men in England more likely to screen positive for PTSD than women. There seems to be little concern about what might lie behind this sex-based difference and what role being on the receiving end of the relentless march of sexualised violence from porn sites into society might play in it.

Many of the clients I had when I was involved in prostitution mentioned that their sex lives had ended after their wife or partner gave birth. This is not only the result of exhaustion that comes from looking after young children and performing most of the domestic labour at home.

Birth trauma is a form of PTSD and there is a huge mismatch in the resources devoted to helping women who experience it compared with the resources spent on prostitution. In developing countries women who develop fistulas, which are relatively inexpensive to treat, are shunned and cast out by their families and communities.

Around 90% of first-time mothers who have a vaginal birth will have some sort of tear, graze or episiotomy. Having a Caesarean can also be traumatic. Women whose experience of childbirth differs significantly from expectations they were given deserve better than to be told that their feelings about this are inappropriate, or that they demonstrate a lack of attachment to their child.

Young women have reported feeling pressured into “rough sex” through fear of being labelled “prudish”. Women who dislike receiving anal sex have also been dismissed as “Victorian prudes” on social media. This is a familiar, misogynistic, coercive tactic.

The label “prude” is not directed at:

  • “dominant” heterosexual or bisexual men for whom receiving anal penetration, or “rough” sex, would be an act of submission violating their self-perception
  • gay or bisexual men who are “top”
  • The directors of Hitachi, who withdrew a “back massager” from sale after finding out that women were buying this “medical device” because its design made it one of the most effective vibrators

It is not prudish to be concerned about the way that activities which strain the meaning of the word “sex” spread into intimate life through online porn and prostitution.

Prostitution “services” involving faeces, urine and vomit, which were niche and attracted a high-reward ten years ago, are now very much less so. Online porn has made them a more mainstream expectation.

Prior to their closure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some legalised brothels in Germany required women working in them to provide oral-faecal contact as part of very low-cost, “all-inclusive” packages. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has been identified as a global threat to the future of humanity by the World Health Organisation. A bacterium or virus is indifferent to complaints about “kink-shaming”.

BDSM and “rough sex” contribute to an inversion of understandings of reward and sanction where receiving pain and violence during sex is seen as a “reward” for good behaviour and the withholding of it as a punishment for poor performance.

Where there are financial rewards, even declining ones, for receiving pain, violence and potentially hazardous body fluids during sex, while poverty, lack of housing, unemployment, sexism, racism and other forms of inequality persist if you do not do so, this inversion of reward and sanction is amplified in society.

Childhood is the final frontier in online porn’s colonisation of intimate life. In the UK increasing numbers of young British men are known to be looking at child abuse images online and becoming online paedophiles after becoming “desensitised” through growing up on a staple diet of online porn. The UK is already the third biggest consumer of child abuse images online. This is the direction in which click-driven porn is heading.


Esther will be speaking at our webinar on 14 June 2020. For more information, see Events.

3 thoughts on ““Murder Porn”

  1. I’m absolute gutted that this is the direction our world is going in. These men have lost their humanity. They’ve become monsters not only to women, but to men as well. The end of the world is truly upon us.

    Like

  2. “The UK is already the third biggest consumer of child pornography online”

    It’s a pity you don’t provide the source of information or the numbers one and two.

    However, writing from Germany I’m quite sure this country tops the UK when it comes to consuming whichever kind of porn.

    Like

  3. All initiation of force is a violation of someone else’s rights, whether initiated by an individual or the state, for the benefit of an individual or group of individuals, even if it’s supposed to be for the benefit of another individual or group of individuals. — Ron Paul

    Like

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