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1 in 16 U.S. Women Reported Being Raped During Their First Sexual Encounter in This Study

According to a 2019 study, more than 3.3 million American women ages 18 to 44 were raped the first time they had a sexual encounter. 

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Trigger warning: Trigger warning for explicit descriptions of porn videos and sexual assault.

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.

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

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.

Related: The Porn Industry Doesn’t Just Sell Sex, It Sells Violent Abuse Of Women

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.

Related: “Why Was The Rape Victim So Upset?”—Why Teen Boys Need Better Consent Education

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.

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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.

RelatedThis Anonymous Performer’s Reddit Post About The Realities Of The Porn Industry Is Chilling

What forms of entertainment might this be, you ask? Porn.

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 fewer 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

Related: “They Raped Me At Gunpoint”: True Stories From A Former Escort And Porn Performer

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.

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Here’s what the research shows.

One team of researchers analyzed hundreds of the most popular porn scenes and found that 88.2% contained physical violence or aggression while 48.7% contained verbal aggression.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

Another study estimated that nearly 40% of videos analyzed on Pornhub contained visible aggression or violence, while 25% contained verbal aggression.Shor, E., & Seida, K. (2019). 'Harder and Harder'? Is Mainstream Pornography Becoming Increasingly Violent and Do Viewers Prefer Violent Content? Journal of sex research, 56(1), 16–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1451476COPY  And yet another study suggested that 45.1% of Pornhub videos and 35.0% of videos on XVideos depicted violence or aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  And as each of these studies agreed, women were almost always the targets.

Related: Is Rape Culture Real? Let’s Take A Look At The Evidence

While some studies have examined violence in porn by analyzing the content of porn videos, others have estimated the prevalence of violence in porn by asking porn consumers how frequently they see certain types of behaviors depicted in the porn they watch.

For example, a recent Australian study found that 70% of young people reported frequently seeing men as dominant, 34% frequently see women being called names or slurs, and 11% reported frequently seeing violence or aggression toward a woman that was nonconsensual. Another 13% of young people reported seeing aggressive nonconsensual sex “occasionally” when they watch porn, so together the study found that 1 in 4 young people have had repeated exposure to depictions of violent, nonconsensual sex within the last year of their lives.Davis, A. C., Carrotte, E. R., Hellard, M. E., & Lim, M. (2018). What Behaviors Do Young Heterosexual Australians See in Pornography? A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 310–319. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1417350COPY 

While the amount of violence shown in porn is troubling, what is perhaps even more disturbing is the portrayed reactions to that violence. One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or appeared to respond with pleasure.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

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.

Related: Does The Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

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Why this matters

As Sam Carr, education and psychology lecturer at the University of Bath puts it, “…empathy and sexual objectification are incompatible.” And porn is the epitome of sexually objectifying, as exhibited by the data regarding the prominence of violence within the toxic material.

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.

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.

Related: The Porn Industry Doesn’t Just Sell Sex, It Sells Violent Abuse Of Women

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.

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.

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