On March 3, 2021, a 33-year-old woman named Sarah Everard who lived in London left a friend’s house at 9:30pm to walk home—but she likely never got there. She disappeared, only for her body to be found in a wooded area in Kent, quite a ways away from where she disappeared.
Wayne Couzens, an elite officer with London Metropolitan Police’s diplomatic protection command, has been charged with her kidnap and murder.
While the search for Everard was underway, thousands of women shared stories online about the abuse and fears they have experienced on streets in Britain, where more than 70% of women have been sexually harassed in public, according to a 2019 United Nations study.
This case has brought to life the fears many women face in their everyday lives, and the conversations around her disappearance and murder have shed light on the lengths women go to in order to avoid being harmed, or killed like Sarah Everard was.
For anyone who might dismiss Sarah’s case as an anomaly, the unfortunate reality is that violence against women, especially sexual violence perpetrated by men, is not rare at all. In fact, it’s much more commonplace than many may want to believe.
This 2019 study on the prevalence of rape in sexual encounters has shown just how true that is.
According to the study, more than 3.3 million American women ages 18 to 44 were raped the first time they had a sexual encounter.
The study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAWA), a peer-reviewed medical journal that publishes original research, reviews, and editorials covering all aspects of biomedicine, noted that “all demographic groups reported substantial roles of forced sexual initiation.”
Sexual initiation as rape
Based on the definition of sexual initiation provided by the World Health Organization, or the specialized agency of the United Nations charged with protecting international public health, this means that 6.5% of women experience “an unwanted first sexual intercourse that is physically forced or coerced.”
It’s a sad fact that sexual assault cases seem way more common than any of us would like to think. When you crunch the numbers, the 6.5% we talked about earlier equates to about 1 in 16 women having been raped the first time they had sex.
Let us repeat: that’s 1 in 16. That’s a huge number.
She’s the girl who sits next to you on the city bus as you head to school, the barista at the Starbucks you just ordered coffee from, the girl you watched hit the game-winning three for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team—all situations in which you find yourself in close proximity to about 16 women and girls on a regular basis.
Sadly, the trauma these women face long surpasses the rape itself. They face increased rates of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, and menstrual problems. Additionally, more than 30% said they had an unwanted first pregnancy—a higher percentage than those whose first experience of sex was voluntary.
Mainstream entertainment still normalizes rape
While gender equality is becoming a priority for many companies and individuals everywhere, and sexual violence is becoming less stigmatized thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, countless people are still consuming content every day that glamorizes, normalizes, and even fetishizes rape.
What forms of entertainment might this be, you ask? Porn, of course.
FTND note: we don’t believe that porn is directly responsible for the rape these women have faced, and research would not support that porn is solely responsible for this sexual violence. Rather, we want to acknowledge that fighting the toxic fantasies of the porn industry needs to be part of the larger fight against rape culture in general.
The rape 1 in 16 US women have faced is normalized in porn scenarios
With just a two-word search on Google, we pulled up these top titles in less than 10 seconds:
4 men shut this girl up strip and rape her hard
Ebony girl stopped at the wrong road to take a pee and gets brutally raped in the bushes
Housewife gets raped by the repairman
Forced sex action starring real rapists and their victims
Virgin gang raped (anal bondage rape)
Met girl at party, but she does not want to f—? Call friends and organize forced gangbang with this b—!
Father rapes his sexy daughter in the bathroom
Read through that list one more time. Those are real porn titles that portray scripted versions of horrific incidents that over 3.3 million US women have been through. But it doesn’t stop there—there are thousands, if not millions, more just like these videos.
What’s more, rape porn titles, like those above, aren’t the only type of porn that includes some of the most traumatizing aspects of rape. In fact, all porn does—and it doesn’t casually include those violent aspects, but sells them as the main attraction.
Here’s what the research shows.
One study shows that 88% of porn scenes include some sort of violence, whether verbal or physical, generally toward a woman depicted in the scene. And, in 95% of those instances, the recipient of the violence was shown enjoying the violence or, at the very least, not objecting to it.
Those include the behaviors found in the JAWA study. The rape survivors surveyed were verbally pressured by men in 56% of cases. The study also noted that 46% of those surveyed had been held down, 26% had physical threats made against them, and 25% had been physically harmed. Another 22% of the women were even drugged.
Or, let’s look at this 2020 study that entailed a large-scale content analysis and coding of a sample of 7,430 pornographic videos taken from the two most popular free porn sites, Pornhub and Xvideos. The study found physical aggression against women present in 44.3% of Pornhub and 33.9% of Xvideos scenes. In fact, the study found that physical aggression was substantially more common in online pornographic videos than verbal aggression. Specifically, women were the target of nearly 97% of all physically aggressive acts in the samples from both sites.
Fantasized versions of these real characteristics of the assaults are available to view for free on the main front pages of porn sites all over the internet.
When our collective society allows media, such as porn, to normalize and fetishize rape and violence like it, it ends up affecting our relationships and sexual expectations in massive ways.
Porn destroys empathy
As Sam Carr, education and psychology lecturer at the University of Bath puts it, “…empathy and sexual objectification are incompatible.” And porn is definitely objectifying, as exhibited by the data regarding the prominence of violence within the toxic material.
This is where desensitization comes in. As a consumer watches porn, their brain will become more and more accustomed to the images and scenarios acted out in videos. Because an estimated 88% or so of those images include violence in a sexual context, the consumer will unconsciously learn to connect sex and violence. In some cases, this newfound tolerance may mean watching more extreme porn. However, in other less common cases, someone with a porn-desensitized brain can fuel existing violence issues in society—mainly against women.
Empathy is what allows us to feel what another feels. It shows us that being verbally pressured, held down, physically assaulted and more do not fit with a healthy concept of sex. But porn and its numerous proven harmful effects can get in the way of such an understanding because they destroy empathy. This is a measurable fact.
Why This Matters
Carin Goldstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist, describes empathy as what “is truly the heart of…relationship.” Goldstein is basically saying that relationships die without empathy.
When you think about the lack of empathy the survivors of the JAWA study experienced, and the long-term consequences those women still face on a daily basis, it’s no wonder why Goldstein says what she does.
It’s also no wonder why we should ditch porn and embrace love. In a society that fights for gender equality and the eradication of sexual assault, collectively recognizing how porn normalizes and reinforces toxic mindsets is just another step forward.