New Internationalist

India, porn and sexual violence

David Cameron [Related Image]
David Cameron has called for a filter on internet porn DFID under a Creative Commons Licence

Pornography seems to evoke instant interest. And the responses, predictably, in most newspapers, to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposed default filter on porn sites are prolific. I’ve thought more about porn in the last year, than I’ve had reason to ever before. The April Jones case haunted me. As did the Tia Sharp tragedy. The police reported both killers had images of child porn on their computers.

I’ve had many young people insist that porn is not the reason behind rape or child abuse. Admittedly there are additional factors. But over and over again, evidence points to the fact that porn is playing a pivotal role in both adult and child rape crimes.

In India, we are facing a horrendous daily dose of women and child rape and murder than has ever been recorded in our history. We have always been a child friendly country. An English friend told me how she loved Air India, because the crew, including male pursers, picked up her baby and held it to allow her to eat her meal in peace. Yet we are witnessing an unbelievable surge of sexual violence in India which threatens the very fabric of this society. It’s more dangerous for a woman or child to be alone in our cities currently, than it was 20 years ago.

Yesterday I read a story about a two-and-a-half year old toddler who was kidnapped from beside her sleeping, homeless grandmother soon after midnight. A few hours later, the child’s body was found raped, killed and dumped not far away. The mother was mentally unsound said the report. With a penniless, homeless mother and grandmother, the chances of this story making the headlines of the Delhi media are remote. On 23 July, a 6-year-old child was raped by a 14-year-old boy, a police constable’s son.

The rates of juvenile crime are shooting up. Analysts, including a Tamil Nadu judge, talk about porn leading to deviant behaviour with men demanding their wives perform like the porn stars. But even worse is the fact that in several cases the prelude to rape was men watching porn on their mobile phones. In the recent case of a 5-year-old Delhi girl, two men watching porn on a drinking binge then went out and lured the child into their room where they raped her. They didn’t merely rape her but shoved a bottle up the child. Links can be seen between all of these ideas – the terrible violence inflicted on the victims –  and the scenes depicted on the perpetrators’ downloads

A friend in adivasi Jharkhand told me that teenagers and even boys as young as 10 years old were watching violent porn on mobiles. The old video and mobile phone shops are now called  ‘download’ shops and kids can buy filth for as little as 2 rupees a download. A few days ago a group of young men broke into a boarding school at night and kidnapped four tribal schoolgirls, all between 12 and 14 years old. The girls were gang-raped. Rape was unheard of in adivasi India a few decades ago. Violent porn is changing the face of even rural India.

I hate the thought of Big Brother watching us. But if I could save one child from the horror of rape and sexual torture, I would try anything. People have criticised David Cameron. But there are experts, hackers and computer geeks who can stop the rapists, child abusers and, paedophiles accessing this material with ease. More effectively and easily than slow moving, unimaginative bureaucrats, politicians or police.  Paedophiles and perverts have a closely knit network to exploit kids. Can the internet community band together to fight the depraved and protect our children? Take a look at April Jones’ angelic face. Please let’s start an international movement to save our children.

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  1. #1 david cohen 24 Jul 13

    In each of our countries we are required to find ways to delegitimize verbal, emotional and sexual violence. Porn is inextricably intertwined with that. That is why the Thekaekara blog is so important. On violence with words that lead to abusive and hurtful and harmful actions, there is in Martin Luther King's words, ’a fierce urgency of now.’ We shouldn't wait to determine what works and what practical steps we can take in each of our communities and countries.

    Civil libertarians--at least in the US-- create a terrible trap of equating political speech, literary writing, commercial speech and making it all equal.

    Political ideas should be an incitement to think, organize, act.
    Placing requirements of informing people-- that liquor and pregnancies do not mix or tobacco (including gutka and bidis) kills-- are reasonable requirements of disclosure.

    Just as tobacco companies target young people to get them addicted, with the effect that it shortens their lives, so must we recognize the connection between porn and violence including, but not limited to, rape.

    Civil society, organized and direct, must speak out. Its members can draw distinctions between why we do not ban Nabokov and D.H. Lawrence and porn.

    We need our psychologists, parents, pediatricians and lawyers
    to step up and begin to suggest practical steps, legally and within the society that we can take.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    July 24, 2013

    --
    David Cohen,
    Senior Advisor, Civic Ventures
    Senior Congressional Fellow,
    Council for a Livable World

  2. #2 david cohen 24 Jul 13

    In each of our countries we are required to find ways to delegitimize verbal, emotional and sexual violence. Porn is inextricably intertwined with that. That is why the Thekaekara blog is so important. On violence with words that lead to abusive and hurtful and harmful actions, there is in Martin Luther King's words, ’a fierce urgency of now.’ We shouldn't wait to determine what works and what practical steps we can take in each of our communities and countries.

    Civil libertarians--at least in the US-- create a terrible trap of equating political speech, literary writing, commercial speech and making it all equal.

    Political ideas should be an incitement to think, organize, act.
    Placing requirements of informing people-- that liquor and pregnancies do not mix or tobacco (including gutka and bidis) kills-- are reasonable requirements of disclosure.

    Just as tobacco companies target young people to get them addicted, with the effect that it shortens their lives, so must we recognize the connection between porn and violence including, but not limited to, rape.

    Civil society, organized and direct, must speak out. Its members can draw distinctions between why we do not ban Nabokov and D.H. Lawrence and porn.

    We need our psychologists, parents, pediatricians and lawyers
    to step up and begin to suggest practical steps, legally and within the society that we can take.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    July 24, 2013

    --
    David Cohen,
    Senior Advisor, Civic Ventures
    Senior Congressional Fellow,
    Council for a Livable World

  3. #3 billtong99 24 Jul 13

    > evidence points to the fact that porn is playing a pivotal role in both adult and child rape crimes

    The plural of anecdote is /not/ data. And correlation does not imply causation. For example, a huge number of serial killers are inspired by the Bible. From this you could conclude that the Bible causes serial killing and ban people from owning it. Or you could say that there was a correlation for some subset of people and research that correlation.

    What you don't do is divert all your energy away from preventing murders into establishing the machinery of mass censorship to stop people reading the Bible!

    When the state acquires the the machinery of mass censorship it will start using it. How long do you think it will be before other material becomes illegal? They will start with porn, then ’terrorist’ literature, then ’extremist’ political literature (we've advocated non-violent direct action on this website and that would eventually fall under the definition of extremist).

    > there are experts, hackers and computer geeks who can stop the rapists, child abusers and, paedophiles accessing this material with ease.

    Factually inaccurate. Please read the literature before making such assertions . Stopping people using the internet to share data is a very hard problem. One which computer scientists have been struggling with for years. And one which the scheme that Cameron is introducing will do precisely nothing to address. Though it will make using the internet in the UK less convenient and more expensive for all users, create a de-factor database of people who watch legal porn (blackmailers will have a field day), and criminalize a whole subset of perfectly legitimate material (eg. ’50 shades of grey’ was last year's bestseller in the UK and ’portrays rape’).

    What is needed is thoughtful and effective action on sexual violence not backwards, non-evidence based vitriol about ’filth’ leading to kneejerk legislation.

  4. #4 Leslie 24 Jul 13

    Mari, you argue a very strong case for the rape effect of porn. I would agree to a large extent. The kids in our club are downloading ’stuff’ and passing it around through bluetooth. Too bad the parents see fit to give them i-phones and tabs complete with 3G data cards and an allowance to manage the costs! It's a difficult thing to fight but I'm going to forward your article to my internet-savvy techies who might be able to help. Thanks, Leslie.

  5. #5 Niel Hirjee 24 Jul 13

    You are convinced that there is a direct correlation between the consumption of porn and incidents of rape. I think you are over simplifying the issue, ignoring a number of other relevant factors and jumping to conclusions. Further, you urge experts, hackers and computer geeks to abuse the very principles the net was built on.

    All civilized nations have laws against rape and access to age appropriate content, yet you advocate taking the slippery slope of internet censorship and restrictions on content to reduce incidents of rape: was it not Jefferson who said that those who are willing to surrender their liberty for security, deserve neither?

  6. #6 Niel Hirjee 24 Jul 13

    The actual quote is: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. This was written by Franklin, sometime shortly before February 17, 1775 as part of his notes for a proposition at the Pennsylvania Assembly, as published in Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818).

  7. #7 Ludwig Pesch 25 Jul 13

    This is a tricky issue in more than one sense. The ongoing discussion this timely post has triggered shows the dilemmas faced by parents, teachers, legislators and law enforcement agencies face in the age of the internet.
    As with other forms of 'addiction', hard handed or populist interventions tend to harm the victims/addicts rather than discouraging profiteers and predators. And addition surely is a factor with the obsession discussed here too.
    The only sensible to alternatives to ineffective bans (i.e. being easy to circumvent) are known to be painfully slow while shocking incidents, sadly, will continue to occur and attract public attention.
    Alternatives and antidotes to the corroding effects of 'media abuse' – the issue we are talking about besides the underlying social and cultural forces at work – must include (1) creating an awareness that this is a problem that won't go away on its own nor by legal means alone; and (2) creating an educational environment where parents and children learn to know how to act effectively in terms of prevention of child abuse, harassment of women, rape (all too often within families); and (3) provide an atmosphere where early correction of undignified behaviour is possible and a decent life can be resumed by all concerned (i.e. new syllabi and public events jointly mobilizing teachers and parents).
    In other words, the task involves helping people to stay clear of any manipulation that undermines their self-respect and respect for others; and most importantly, doing this without fear, never getting carried away by novelty and the lure of all that's forbidden (even if banned for all the good reasons).
    The 'forbidden fruits' always have been and will remain the domain of impressionable young minds whom criminal organisations and dubious companies seek to exploit. It is the latter that stand to gain most from merely repressive action (i.e. not supported by any constructive agenda). Experience in Europe shows that it would merely raise the profits made in their shady deals. Even worse, mindless repression and ineffective internet censorship would seem to legitimize their dealings as if 'they' were upholding 'our' liberty, something they surely don't deserve.
    Let's not forget here that all these issues may have been aggravated by the rapid spread of internet access; yet in India I know that they arose over twenty years ago with the spread of video cassettes, dvd's and amateur video tape. The earliest press report I do remember as it seemed so absurd: an Indian reporter's visit to a remote village where the main attraction was an 'explicit' imported video watched by three generations of one family. Other reports covered the patronage of local police officers in illegal screenings.
    So clearly there is a confluence of social, economical, legal and moral issues that need to be disentangled. The protection of children must be put highest on the agenda and remain foremost on the minds of parents for many years to come. Keep them alert without wasting time such as waiting for (largely ineffective) measures from 'above'; instead helping them to make informed choices that work for them wherever they are.

  8. #8 TT 25 Jul 13

    I don't entirely agree that stopping porn will automatically drastically reduce rape and sex crimes - i think its a lot more complex than that. Also, there is a big difference between pedophilia and porn. The majority of porn users are NOT rapists, child molesters or peados.

    The bigger challenge for me is the chain of exploitation that the porn industry perpetuates, particularly of young women and girls who are often abused/ trafficked or forced into becoming porn actors. Banning porn and making it more difficult to obtain will not necessarily stop this exploitation, and infact might just make it worse as the whole industry goes (even more) underground.

    What is required is a more holistic intervention - to raise awareness of what the reality behind those porn clips are, to sensitize porn users to the way they are contributing to the exploitation, and to start changing our attitudes to sexuality - to strive to eliminate the gender based double standards and shame associated with female sexuality.

  9. #9 Sarah 29 Jul 13

    I totally agree that there is a direct link between violence, sexual or else, on the internet and 'real world' violence. The process through which this happens is called 'normalisation'. It has become normal for people to watch porn and act upon it. You should only listen to my upstairs neighbour. 20 something, fake lashes, blond dyed. A typical teenager. Where else would she learn to fake scream like that outside of watching porn and mimicking? And will she ever learn to make love?

  10. #10 Sarah 29 Jul 13

    The above is only half of my comment. The rest was refused by the Internationalist because it contained ’spammy sounding words’. How is it possible that internet spreads ch..d abuse and that we cannot freely talk about stopping it???

  11. #11 Sarah 29 Jul 13

    Societies build themselves around taboos. Inc-st is a taboo. Rap--g a ch-ld is definitely a taboo. In some places, mastur--tion is still a taboo. Personally, I think that some taboos should be broken, and others, like inc-st and chi-d ab-se, should not be.

    Stories can be told, in fact, tales have a function of informing on what a society considers taboo. Think Donkeyskin here. What's the function of int--net p-rn showing r-pe/ch-ld ab-se/se--al violence? Certainly not teaching what should not be done. Making money? Satistfying one's own pulsions? Artistic expression? Well I think we could all live without it.

    I totally support the idea of introducing a filter on internet porn, which in fact only presupposes that one doesn't want to access it instead of presupposing that one does.

  12. #12 Aloke Surin 29 Jul 13

    It has been proved time and time again that paedophiles operate internationally, distributing, downloading, producing disgusting levels of porn. The freedom of information should not extend to such content and governments all over the world should enact Big Brother type of policies and filters to screen such things ever seeing the light of cyberspace. I agree with David Cameron completely.

  13. #13 John Denis Horo 30 Jul 13

    Yes, easy access to pornographic world, to adult and child alike, is one of the main causes of today’s unprecedented growth rate of juvenile sex crime in India today. Slowly and steadily, it is damaging and eroding the very fabric of human mind. I have witnessed it myself while doing a ‘personal survey’ in some remote villages, not very far away from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. It was worrying and frustrating to watch school going kids (leave alone the adults!) carrying mod mobiles and listening to absurd and distorted so-called tribal mod music and watching ‘downloaded semi-pornographic videos’. I have been trying to know and understand (since last three years or so) – why tribal rural youth is not making expected literacy growth? Central and State Governments are doing their bit i.e. opening schools with/ some/ without teachers! Even if there is/are teacher(s) – they are busy with mid-day meals, construction or building expansion activities, fulfilling mandatory governmental formalities, distributing books and uniforms etc. It’s very difficult to assess – what is their total daily teaching hour(s)? In simple question – when are they teaching and even if they are – how? Whether their teaching is making any positive impact in ‘student fraternity’- is a million rupee question? Now, one cannot scold, beat or fail a student! Well, most of the students come only for meal because that’s the only constructive activity happening in Government schools. The quality of food – let this matter be left alone!
    The crux of the problem – there is lack of an appropriate atmosphere for study available to children/ students and also limited parental concern. Even if the guardian/ parents are concerned – they are too ignorant or incompetent to have ‘control’ over their wards. If they don’t give mobile to their children – they retaliate and revolt – and do not study OR they have ‘friends’ who have access to these ‘pornographic world’! Some herculean tasks and challenges for US – the Elders, Parents, Teachers…… Care-Takers of ‘Younger Generation’ of today! Some brain-storming sessions required by all concerned – there has to be a way out. May be – Each One, Teach One! We have to undertake personal responsibility more seriously and constructively!

  14. #14 Chrs C 11 Aug 13

    I absolutely agree with the author that the explosion in (increasingly violent) on-line pornography is having far reaching and deeply troubling impacts on people’s sexuality in societies across the globe. However, I must say I find the article extremely poorly researched or thought through. I'm currently living in Madhya Pradesh, a state with the highest levels of reported violence against women in India, and working closely with rural communities. As far as I can see sexual violence is not increasing, it is reporting of sexual violence that is increasing. Up until the very recent past(and indeed in many, if not most, cases today) a victim of rape in rural India did not go to the local authorities and bring their case to court. Communities in which lower caste women and girls are dehumanized and devalued have a long and deeply sad history of extreme sexual and gender based violence. That is not to say it’s universal and each community and family is different, however, in many areas, subjugation of, and violence against, women is all too common.
    Does internet pornography influence many men and boys in their acts of violence against women both in India and elsewhere, undoubtedly, but this article seems to paint gender based violence in India as somehow a product of internet pornography, which is absurd. Letting loose your frustration and anger through abusing and denigrating women is simply a cultural norm in many communities, both rural and urban, throughout the country, and has been for a very long time. In seeking to change this reality a first step is meaningfully engaging with both men and women’s world view in communities where such violence is seen, and often accepted, as the norm. To that end, this article does little to engage with the real issues that drive the on-going war being waged against women and girls in many parts of India today.

  15. #15 Elysabeth 25 Aug 13

    While I think it's desperately important to address violence against women and kids, and that sexualized violence is of particular concern, I am very wary of creating moral panic around ’porn.’ I don't think that arguments for shutting down sexual expression and representation actually forward women's or children's rights in the end.
    First, I want to point out that the term ’pornography’ covers an incredible breadth of material. I very much enjoy some of the recent work by feminist pornographers and some queer porn is of pivotal importance in assisting lesbians, gay men, trans folks and bisexuals to understand their options ’in bed’ as it were.
    Rape and sexual assault are about power -- not sex.If we want women to have sexual pleasure, it is important to remember that sex itself -- consensual sex -- is not in and of itself violating or diminishing. That said, rape and sexual assault are often used as tools to enforce the sexist order of things, and misogynist porn can be similarly deployed as a way of keeping women/children/others ’in their place.’
    The problems of rape and sexual assault are deeply rooted in social structures, social relations and material conditions. Vilifying pornography does nothing to address sexual assault. I am troubled by the easy moralizing and anti-sex arguments deployed in this analysis.

  16. #16 Neil 15 Sep 13

    Porn isn't the problem that has resulted in most of the cases represented above. It's the depravity of those who are willing to rape another human being. A lot of people watch the same videos and images and don't even consider raping people. It's only those with the capacity to force and hurt a man or woman into servitude that can do these things. Plus, it is only expected that they would watch porn while raping someone, or demand that they do something they enjoy watching on the internet. They are in the act of forcing a man or woman to do their bidding, why not force them to do something more interesting or watch something to get them to climax earlier. My guess is it's a matter of efficiency, you climax faster, you get away faster, not to mention it probably feels better too. I have also seen someone else give a valid point. This person said that people are spurred on by the bible and other religious texts in order to validate their crimes, does that mean that David Cameron is going to filter out the rape, murder, torture and other miscellaneous and criminal acts of vengeance and anger in these religious texts? No, because you can't judge an entire population of people based on those who catch your attention by doing terrible things. Just as you can't blame porn for the acts of these depraved people. Although the lack of evidence for porn actually being a part of rape in the United Kingdom confuses me. I mean, I know that these people are evil and all, but it's in India. If India is so bad, why not implement these filters where they can be more useful instead of restricting the everyday man or woman from acts that are sexually healthy and assist in the development and exploration process involved in the younger years of puberty.

  17. #17 Rebecca Cowden 20 Mar 14

    Mari and David Cohen are absolutely right. It seems so obvious to me that porn makes people objects and dehumanizes them. It is so abusive, hiding behind ’free speech’ or ’liberal sexuality’. Living in the US as Mr. Cohen does, he quote really resonates with me,

    ’Civil libertarians--at least in the US-- create a terrible trap of equating political speech, literary writing, commercial speech and making it all equal.’

    Thank you Mari and David. I feel like your comments took me out of the ’Twilight Zone’ place where much discussion on this issue remains.

    Hello phoney money grubbing people who make money by dehumanizing and abusing people. People are not objects and your slimy abuse hiding under the noble umbrella of free speech is a gross and nasty joke. Your porn is sad and yucky. Your abuse of our precious right of free thought and speech is pornographic.

  18. #18 biswanath 10 May 14

    very good

  19. #19 Anonym 13 Dec 14

    Unfortunately this article conflates two modern ideas of porn: legal internet porn, and criminal porn which Western nations already ban and few people have seen or care to see, e.g. child pornography, non-simulated rape, bestiality, etc.

    I'm not sure what the attackers were watching, but it should be addressed for clarity. It doesn't affect my opinion about custodianship in the porn sphere either way. I grew up with easy access to what by today's standards was tame California/European industrial porn through dial-up internet, and my childhood and sexuality were affected by it. Today any child can easily access hardcore ’rape fantasies’ on the front page of any tube site. It's perfectly legal under the law. So for the sake of human development I'd like to see regulation on tube sites that forces them to employ a hoop for users to jump through.

  20. #20 Kristy Leandra Fernandez 07 Nov 16

    I wish I could share this easier on Google Plus...This is an amazing story......................I agree, and that is why I am going for a degree in Cyber security...even to keep my own business safe. Child Rapist hacked me, ran with my designs, murdered my mother, kidnapped my child, then tried setting me up with their crimes. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle of Cheyenne Wyoming run the Child Trafficking Ring.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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