Source header image retrieved from NBC News.
The recent murder of Sarah Everard has sparked a public outpouring of anger, grief, and demand for change.
In case you missed it, here’s what happened. At about 9 p.m. on March 3rd, 2021, the 33-year-old British marketing executive went missing while walking home from a friend’s home in central London. She was last seen on security camera footage walking through a well-lit park wearing a bright green raincoat, patterned blue pants, a beanie, facemask, and headphones.
Everard’s boyfriend reported her missing on March 4th, kicking off a week-long search. When her body was found and her murder confirmed nine days later, shockwaves spread throughout the U.K.—sparking global conversations about women’s safety and gender-based violence.
Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old police officer from a neighboring county in London’s Metropolitan area, has since been arrested and is now in custody for her suspected kidnapping and murder.
After Everard’s body was found, London-based movement Reclaim These Streets planned a public vigil to honor Sarah and all victims of gender-based violence and police brutality. London officials cancelled the event in light of current COVID-19 restrictions.
About 1,000 protesters still gathered, and many were forcibly removed by law enforcement with videos and images capturing the event. One viral image shows a woman wearing a T-shirt with the words “abuse of power comes as no surprise” while being restrained by an officer.
Everard’s death fuels a global movement
Sarah Everard’s murder struck a cord with women across the world. As the investigation continues, many women and girls have shared their own fears and personal experiences of harassment and abuse by men using #TextMeWhenYouGetHome. Above all, activists are holding both men and police forces accountable for crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls.
Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum shared, “I think the reason why the killing of Sarah Everard has shocked us all is because it could have been any one of us. Women have constantly been told how to keep safe, but actually the onus should be on men. It is men who are killing women.”
In looking at the details of Everard’s case, she did all the things women are advised to do while walking alone: wear bright clothing, stay on a public route or busy street, avoid poorly-lit areas, and call someone while you walk. Even so, many people’s first reaction to her horrific story is, “Why was she walking through a park alone at night?”
But here’s a question that’s been asked throughout time, and brought more so to light because of Everard’s case: Should the blame ever be placed on any victim for not doing enough to prevent their own abuse, mistreatment, or murder?
Is victim-blaming ever okay, or justified?
Victim-blaming and shaming is often part of the narrative around women who have been harmed: “What was she wearing?” “How much was she drinking?” “Did she flirt with him before he abused her?”
But is any of that helpful in truly addressing the root cause of gender-based violence?
Consider that, in a recent poll, 80% of U.K. women reported having been sexually harassed. Another poll found that 77% of white women feel safe when walking alone at night, whereas 67% of Hispanic women, 63% of Asian women, and 51% of Black women felt safe. Clearly, the issue of violence against women is one that impacts many women’s every day lives and the choices they make and actions they take to keep safe. But is their abuse truly their fault if they don’t take enough steps to protect themselves?
Think of Sarah Everard and everything she did to make it home alive.
Victim-blaming has undoubtedly also been a part of the conversations concerning Everard’s case, but a cultural shift is also taking place. What happened to Sarah Everard has also sparked conversations about how men have the primary responsibility of changing their behavior toward women and the part they have to play in stopping the epidemic of men perpetrating violence against women.
Instead of the call only being to women to keep themselves safe, international conversations have also centered around men committing to stopping a normalized culture of violence against women. And part of that conversation has included what ultimately fuels and normalizes gender-based violence.
Porn and gender-based violence
The same conversations about gender equality, women’s safety, and what in our culture normalizes and excuses violence against women do not often include an acknowledgment of how today’s mainstream porn plays a part.
The fact is, the porn industry fuels, perpetuates, and at the very least normalizes the abuse of women for entertainment and profit. Can we as a society truly address the issue of violence against women without also acknowledging how porn perpetuates the very same issues we’re trying to combat?
Don’t mistake what we’re saying, here. Not every porn consumer will turn into a perpetrator of violence, and not all sexual violence comes from porn consumption. Even so, decades of studies from respected institutions have shown how porn can significantly impact individuals, relationships, and society, and does have clear connections to sexual violence.
Sex sells. But in today’s porn culture, sexual violence sells more. Take, for example, evidence from just a few of the many recent studies on porn and sexual violence. And consider that the porn industry that so often claims to empower women does anything but.
In one recent study, researchers analyzed 304 popular porn films and found that 88% of them contained physical violence and 49% included verbal aggression. The majority of victims in the firms were women—who were depicted as having no response or responding with pleasure to their abuse.
Another 2020 study included a large-scale analysis of 7,430 pornographic videos taken from Pornhub and Xvideos—two of the most popular porn sites. The study concluded physical aggression against women was substantially more common than verbal aggression in online porn videos, and was present in 44.3% of Pornhub and 33.9% of Xvideos scenes. Women were the target of nearly 97% of all physically aggressive acts in the samples from both sites.
In her renowned study, Dr. Gail Dines found that 90% of porn videos contain some combination of degrading physical and verbal aggression toward women. Other research has shown that consuming this type of content can lessen empathy in consumers and teach the consumer’s brain that the degradation of women is not only normal, but desirable.
A new study just released in April 2021 found that 1 in 8 titles shown to first-time users on the first page of mainstream porn sites describes sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence.
Calling for real, lasting change
With this understanding that so much of mainstream porn is violent and degrading, particularly toward women, consider the fact that there are billions of visits to porn sites every year. If we as a society want to address all the factors that fuel and normalize violence against women, we need to address the role pornography plays.
So how can we use the momentum of Sarah Everard’s tragedy to call for change? It hinges on a change in our culture, a change in conversations. It includes acknowledging every facet of the issue of violence against women.
It’s very clear that the porn industry has contributed to the desensitization of violence and degradation of women on a global scale. There’s no evidence to suggest that Sarah Everard’s case has anything to do with porn’s effects, but in conversations about her and how we can address factors that normalize the mistreatment of women, the harmful effects of porn need to be acknowledged.