Prof. Anthony D’Amato argues that porn has decreased rape.

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Glenn Reyolds proposed this thesis at Instapundit a while back. Now law prof Tony D’Amato has posted a short law review article, “Porn Up, Rape Down,” with the same thesis; it is downloadable at SSRN here. Below is the abstract:

The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults. The Nixon and Reagan Commissions tried to show that exposure to pornographic materials produced social violence. The reverse may be true: that pornography has reduced social violence.

D’Amato also published essentially the same article here at Jurist. It isn’t just porn but Internet porn he seems to credit with reducing rape, even though the decline in reported “forcible rape” started in 1992 (which the WaPo article he cites says the FBI stats show as a peak year for rape), at least 4 years before Internet porn was realistically available in a widespread and socially meaningful way.

I am not an expert in the social science research related to the causes of rape, but there are some things his paper doesn’t address that would seem relevelant, such as:

1. The thesis relies in part on the assumptions that a higher proportion of people are consuming increasing levels of porn over time. Is there evidence of this?

2. There is some evidence that watching violent acts increases acts of violence among spectators. I know there are concerns about these studies too, as with most social science research, but assuming for a moment that this is true, why would rape be so diametrically different? Why would watching people hitting each other lead to increased hitting, but watching penetrative sex lead to less pursuit of penetrative sex? Is there any evidence that watching performance of violent acts leads to less violence by observers?

3. Can all porn effect people the same way? Some porn depicts consensual sex, other porn depicts forced sex. If porn does effect behavior, wouldn’t different kinds of porn have different kinds of effects?

4. How exactly does porn lead to fewer rapes? By increasing instances of masturbation? By increasing acts of consensual sex? By altering brain chemistry?

5. What about prosititution? Has it increased along with porn? And if so, wouldn’t that effect rates of reported rape?

6. Other crimes have decreased along with rape (DOJ stats are here) but surely porn did not bring the murder rates down, so aren’t there likely to be other factors at play? One data table D’Amato cites can be accessed here. It does not seem to support in any dramatic way either claims that there was a drastic decrease in rape correlated to the increasing availability of porn beginning in the early 1970s, or the claim that the increasing availability and accessibility of Internet porn substantially reduced rape post 1996. Note how the rape and murder rates seem to rise and fall together.

7. To extend the “porn equals less rape” thesis in a logical but very unappealing way: Would an increase in the availablity of child porn lead to less pedophilia? Any evidence of this? And if not, why would porn decrease some undesirable sexual behaviors but not others? D’Amato theorizes as follows:

Correlations aside, could access to pornography actually cause a decline in rape? In my article I mentioned one possibility: that some people watching pornography may”get it out of their system”and thus have no further desire to go out and actually try it. Another possibility might be labeled the”Victorian effect”: the more that people covered up their bodies with clothes in those days, the greater the mystery of what they looked like in the nude. The sight of a woman’s ankle was considered shocking and erotic. But today, internet porn has thoroughly de-mystified sex. Times have changed so much that some high school teachers of sex education are beginning to show triple-X porn movies to their students in order to depict techniques of satisfactory intercourse.

He seems to assume that watching sex and “de-mystifying” the “techniques of satisfactory intercourse” decreases a person’s urges or propensities to rape, as if sex and rape are the same thing, a rather questionable claim, shall we say.

–Ann Bartow

Update: (Query from an e-mail) Anyone think Reynolds or D’Amato could argue with a straight face that the sexual assaults at The Citadel noted in the post below were due to a lack of porn?

Update 2d: See related posts at Abyss2Hope and Alas, a Blog.

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0 Responses to Prof. Anthony D’Amato argues that porn has decreased rape.

  1. Patrick Seamus says:

    You ask many of the right questions here.

    It seems elementary that correlation does not amount to causation. And if there is a causal connection, the causal mechanisms at work must be made explicit. The questions you ask begin to bring this out. Professor D’Amato concedes, ‘Yet proof of correlation is not the same thing as causation.’ All the same, after wondering if perhaps ‘pornography reduces rape,’ he proclaims ‘just released rape statistics provide the necessary evidence.’ That’s quite a stretch. He offers some wildly speculative explanations:

    ‘one possibility: that some people watching pornography may”get it out of their system”and thus have no further desire to go out and actually try it. Another possibility might be labeled the”Victorian effect”: the more that people covered up their bodies with clothes in those days, the greater the
    mystery of what they looked like in the nude. The sight of a woman’s ankle was considered shocking and erotic. But today, internet porn has thoroughly de-mystified sex.’

    The first possibility sounds like an early Freudian ‘pressure’ account of libidinal energy, but without further elaboration, it’s hopeless vague as to how it works (your mention of masturbation is plausible and probably what he had in mind but was too prudish or Puritan to say so). The second explanation sounds implausible to me, as I doubt sex is ‘de-mystified’ until or unless one physically explores sexuality in practice, not just in one’s head (i.e. by viewing porn). In any case, I can’t help but suspect some forms of porn have de-eroticized and de-humanized sex, regardless of whether or not it plays a causal role in rape, although I have no evidence whatsoever for this.

    The assumption here is that rape is first and foremost about sex, which is of course arguable: it may be first and foremost about domination, power, violence, etc. Indeed, I think that is what some feminists have argued. Sex, or the act of rape, then becomes a variable in a larger equation, and no less horrific for all that mind you.

    Finally, it still may be the case that those with a predisposition to act on their darkest desires and fantasies, or who have an inclination toward sexual violence, or who tend to treat other human beings as merely as objects and not as subjects, are the very sorts of individuals who are prone to using porn as a motivational mechanism to act on their dispositions, to act out their fantasies, and so forth. It seems there are so many accounts these days of sexual predators and those accused of sexual violence in possession of pornography. Perhaps it’s the availablity heuristic at work here and, once more, correlation does not equal causation, but it leads me to be highly sceptical of this thesis without further and convincing social scientific elaboration. Thus porn may negatively affect some individuals, others may be more or less immune to its effects (as in the case of viewing violence on tv, playing violent video games, etc.).

    In short, I agree with you.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    Wow, what a wonderfully thoughtful comment – thanks! Of course the fact that you basically agree doesn’t hurt either :>)

    There are a lot of different kinds of porn too, which D’Amato ignores. I don’t have any interest in cataloging it all, but some of it glorifies rape, some of it does not. There is fetishist porn, bestiality porn, group sex porn, snuff porn, even what is described by some feminists as feminist porn. Different porn would likely have different effects on people; we certainly don’t assume all books or movies or television shows effect people the same way, we pay attention to content.

  3. Patrick Seamus says:

    Excellent point about the varieties of porn (an argument, incidentally, used by a dear relative who for a time kept tempting me to watch porn products from his burgeoning library [e.g.: 'look, there's all kinds, and some of it I'm sure you'll like']; eventually a woman he was dating persuaded him to give up most of his collection; I’m not sure what criteria were used to determine what few titles he could keep).

    Anyway, I just wanted to mention that this post prompted me to look up some things in Richard Posner’s Sex and Reason (1992) (despite the fact that he usually rubs me the wrong way [no pun intended]. There’s an interesting section, ‘The Social Consequences of Pornography,’ that addresses SOME of the more important issues, in particular, a section on rape germane to D’Amato’s paper. See pp. 366-382. Of course his book does not reflect any empirical work done since its publication. I’m not well-versed enough in the literature to intelligently comment on his conclusions.

    And have we mentioned the possibility that there’s a genre called erotica that may have porous boundaries with pornography? Or does that fall under the rubric of ‘soft porn?’

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    Via e-mail a reader suggested this link:
    http://www.nationallawcenter.org/education/education/the-harm-of-illegal-pornography.html
    There are a number of studies referenced there which address the connection between pornography and sexual violence. I’m not sure if it is a browser problem unique to me or a more general problem with the site, but the footnotes don’t seem to link anywhere. You can find at least some of them elsewhere via Google, though.

  5. pearlg says:

    You may be too quick to judge whether 1992 is a reasonable starting point. It is true that the http/html ‘Internet’ cannot reasonably be tied to ’92 starting point, but before the Internet started to catch on outside of a few niche environs, online services had already started to proliferate. e.g., Compuserv and AOL. The latter I recall had 1M members around ’94. These were not ‘Internet’ services in the least, but they did provide interfaces to USENET servers (by way of the Internet, you just didn’t know that as a user).

    Well before pay-for-porn websites, USENET had substantial collections of _FREE_ and anonymous porn.

    Before then porn was available by connecting via modem to special telephone numbers or passed-around on floppy disks and tapes at computer conferences. But it was hard to learn about/get into these avenues.

    Conversely the online services had USENET access (standard) and the content was easy to find in the USENET archives.

  6. Ann Bartow says:

    The FBI data says rapes peaked in 1992, after porn had been widely available for more than 20 years, but at least 2 and I would argue more like 4 years before the percentage of the population that had online porn access was significant. Even in 1996 most people has to pay for Internet access by the minute, and I think it was only after the big ISPs switched to flat monthly rates that Internet porn consumption really grew.

    At least some of the early “online porn” was simply photos scanned from magazines like Playboy, and they probably took took a while to download using the very slow modems etc. then in use, and I doubt the picture quality was very high. How looking at them would reduce rape frankly mystifies me.

  7. Pingback: Porn and Rape « Abstract Nonsense

  8. Via e-mail, D’Amato replies as follows:

    Ann Bartow’s point # 2, above, states that”there is some evidence that watching violent acts increases acts of violence among spectators.” This is rather amazing proof of the proposition that if your lie is big and prominent enough, many people will believe it.

    The Meese Commission lied when it concluded that”Substantial exposure to sexually violent materials as described here bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence and, for some subgroups, possibly to unlawful acts of sexual violence.”

    This conclusion was what I called”a new political truth”in my 1990 article in the William & Mary Law Review. http://anthonydamato.law.northwestern.edu/Pages-papers2/sexual-violence.pdf The Commission, unable to come up with any rape statistics that would support its conclusion, decided to paint in broader strokes. By using the term”antisocial acts of sexual violence”so as to (possibly) include rape. It brings to mind General (later President) Eisenhower’s comment:”If a problem can’t be solved, enlarge it.”

    My article has been widely read and never refuted nor even directly answered. One person who has studiously avoided answering my article is Profesor Frederick Schauer, the drafter of the Meese Report.

    The way to test the above-quoted conclusion of the Meese Commission is to see if the proposition can be falsified. The proposition could be falsified if you exposed many people to sexually violent materials and then found that none of those people went out and committed antisocial acts of sexual violence. Professor Schauer was aware of this Popperian test of the Commission’s core conclusion. How did he get around it? By arguing that (a) such a test would be unethical because it could lead to acts of sexual violence, (b) we cannot engage in unethical tests, and hence (c) acts of sexual violence must be presumed.

    Of course, given this presumption, the Meese Commission’s conclusion follows.

    Professor Schauer’s trick is better than the proverbial law-school professor’s”hiding the ball.” Schauer is hiding a non-existent, invisible ball. If you find it hard to believe that a Presidential Commission can base its conclusion–one that it knows the press will pick up and magnify-­on an”ethical”reluctance to prove it by falsification, allow me to close by quoting in full Schauer’s explanation (from his notes at the end of the Meese Report):

    “The researcher would have to expose people to a factor that
    was hypothesized to cause sexual violence, and would then
    have to sit back while members of the stimulus group, if the
    hypothesis were correct, actually committed acts of sexual
    violence. No responsible researcher could allow this to
    happen.”

    Q.E.D.

  9. Ann Bartow says:

    I’m not clear on whether I’m being called a liar specifically, but the studies I was referring to relate to violence generally, not rape particularly. I am sure they are not perfect, and maybe they are completely flawed, and in fact watching violence does not lead to increased violence. However, I have never seen a study that suggests that watching violence leads to LESS violent behavior. Maybe they are out there, but D’Amato has not offered any.

  10. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » No, Porn Doesn’t Prevent Rape

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  12. NoPornNorthampton.org provides a variety of rebuttals to arguments such as Professor D’Amato’s:

    How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline (explicit language)
    Indications from books like Unhooked or Female Chauvinist Pigs suggest that many women in our present age, understandably, prefer to conceive of themselves as powerful and in control, not as victims. Female members of the porn industry like Lizzy Borden fuel this image of woman as dominator, as opposed to the dominated. A woman acknowledging she was made to have sex against her will, whether to police or to a survey-taker, would not be compatible with this self-image. We observe that sexual assault is both widespread and a substantially underreported crime…

    We can hypothesize that as women adopt the promiscuous, callous lifestyle advocated by porn, they will be less likely to report instances of rape. This might be in part because porn trains people to expect discourteous behavior in sex, and in part because of widespread beliefs that ‘loose’ women have little credibility when it comes to accusations of rape. A raped woman has every reason to fear that her sexual history might be mercilessly worked over in court (and/or public opinion) during a trial, especially if that history is long and messy. For reasons like these, one cannot conclude from mere correlation that porn truly reduces the incidence of sexual assault. There is no unambiguous logical connection between the two…

    It is easy to see how the propagation of rape myths would decrease reporting of rape. The victim might not be sure that an actual crime occurred, or even if they did, might not feel that our legal system will recognize their injury.

    United Kingdom: A Glaring Counter-Example to the Theory that Internet Porn is Cathartic
    Law professor Anthony D’Amato, and more recently Todd Kendall of Clemson University, have attempted to correlate increased Internet penetration with decreasing rates of rape. Since the Internet is a major vector for porn, they suggest that more porn in the home means fewer people will rape. In short, they claim that porn is cathartic.

    We have already discussed some of the flaws in this argument, the origins of which go back over 30 years. A new counter-example has recently come to our attention. Between 2000-2005, the number of Internet users in the United Kingdom increased from 15.4 million to 35.8 million (InternetWorldStats). During this time, the overall population only grew from 58.8 million to 59.9 million, so the proportion of Internet users in the population grew from 26% to 60%.

    If the D’Amato/Kendall theory was correct, you would expect a measurable decrease in the number of reported rapes. However, the opposite trend was seen. In the period 1999-2000, just under 8,000 rapes of a female were reported in England and Wales. This level then increased every year until by the 2005-2006 period, over 13,000 rapes of a female were reported (Home Office Crime Statistics). This was during a time when the overall population increased by just 2%.

    In Scotland, the trend of recorded rapes is similar. After dipping slightly between the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 reporting periods, rapes recorded by police increased every year through the 2005-2006 reporting period (Scottish Executive). Overall, recorded rapes increased from just under 600 in 1999-2000 to just under 1,000 in 2005-2006.

    Government officials in the United Kingdom believe that some of the increases in recorded rapes are due to improved reporting of crimes. Factors like these underscore the risks of drawing simple conclusions from apparent correlations between changes in reported crime rates and changes in other phenomena. The challenges are especially great when discussing heavily underreported crimes such as rape and domestic assault.

    When combined with personal testimony and scientific experiments, the balance of the data suggests that porn stimulates rape and confuses people about what’s acceptable behavior (such as whether to take no for an answer during sex). It certainly cannot be concluded that porn reduces rape.

    Porn and Sex Crimes in Other Countries: The Historical Experience
    Porn advocates are usually quieter about the results of studies of Sweden, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia, where “”as the constraints on the availability of pornography were lifted…the rates of rape in those countries increased.””[35] For example, “in two Australian states between 1964 and 1977, when South Australia liberalized itÂ’s laws on pornography and Queensland maintained its conservative policy…over the thirteen-year period, the number of rapes in Queensland remained at the same low level while South Australia’sÂ’ showed a sixfold increase.”[36]

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