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Ending violence against women requires curb of pornography – expert

Online Safety
7 October 2021

Curbing internet porn is central to ensuring that women are protected from sexual violence in the years to come, an expert has said.

Fiona Vera-Gray, an assistant professor in sociology at Durham University, spoke of endemic porn use among young people and called for tougher regulation of porn sites, which host disturbing videos glorifying sexual violence.

In an article for The Guardian newspaper, she wrote: “It’s almost impossible to comprehend just how much internet traffic is directed at accessing porn. It has been claimed that porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

“We know that men are the majority of consumers (and producers) of online porn, but my own work has found that women’s use may be much higher – and more complicated – than we think. Research from the UK suggests that porn use begins during the early teenage years, though first-time viewing can be much earlier. And the kind of porn that everyone is seeing should be worrying us all.

“Recent research conducted by myself and others at Durham University found that one in every eight titles on the front pages of the UK’s most popular porn websites described sexual violence against women and girls. This isn’t sexually violent porn hidden in some dark recess of the internet, only accessed by a few bad men. This is mainstream pornography on mainstream sites with the mainstream message that sexual violence is sexy. And there are companies behind it making millions.

She added:

“The fact we found so much of it on the front pages shows that these companies have no real intention of regulating their own platforms. This is just one of the reasons why the amendments to the online harms bill currently being campaigned for (such as ensuring the big porn sites are within the scope of the bill), are so important if we’re to hold porn companies to account.”

Last week, it emerged that Wayne Couzens, the disgraced ex-police officer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered Sarah Everard, viewed “brutal pornography” in the years before he committed his crimes.

Judges considering the Everard case heard evidence from an individual who worked with Couzens before he joined the police force in 2002. At the time, the colleague noted “his attraction to brutal sexual pornography”.

The revelations raise questions about the role pornography plays in inspiring sexual violence and whether access to pornographic websites should be curbed.

CARE campaigned successfully for legislation to curb porn sites and restrict access by children. However, the measures were scrapped by the UK Government in 2019. A spokesman for CARE said:

“We worked on legislation – Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act – that would have punished sites that host extreme content and blocked access to pornography by children. These vital measures were supported by women’s groups, child safety campaigners and endorsed by parliament. But Ministers delayed implementation of Part 3 for two years and, in 2019, they inexplicably scrapped it.

“The case of Wayne Couzens is an unspeakably awful example of what porn obsession can lead to – brutal sexual violence in the offline world. Couzens enacted what he had seen dramatized on screen in videos that are easily accessible to any person with the click of a button.

“If we want to avoid more ‘Couzens’ in the years ahead, the government must stop men accessing content online that glorifies rape and violence, and fuels deeply sinister ideas about women. They must curb the porn industry and stop children accessing porn sites.”

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