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Is pornography rape?



Pornography is in the news again, and it has me thinking about how to classify some new media. There are various forms of pornographic media available, including magazines, videos (DVD or online media), and online subscription-based websites. It's basically easily available to anyone who wants it.


The question over the morality of pornography has to do with the mistreatment and abuse of those who engage in the sex acts that are the subject of the pornography. Of course, a disproportionate amount of those who are abused are women. Given that those who engage in such acts are mistreated or abused, I began to wonder whether any form of pornography is morally acceptable or permissible. It may be that all forms of pornography ought to be morally prohibited.


Traditionally, and perhaps wrongly, we've thought of pornography as sex acts which are consensual between the people involved in the sex act itself, as well as between those people involved in the sex act and the person who purchases the material. One of the first rules learnt in business school is that a purchase is a contract between the purchaser and the seller. If what is sold is a product, then whoever built or assembled the product is also part of the contractual agreement with the purchaser. In this instance, then it seems that purchaser of the pornography and people engaged in the sex act in the pornographic media are closely connected.


Rape is any form of nonconsensual sexual intercourse and usually involves force or deception. Some cases of rape occur at random. Likewise, the threshold for rape is lower than one might expect, which does come as a surprise to many people. A man takes advantage of a vulnerable woman - perhaps he sees her walking in a dimly lit alley - and forcibly has intercourse with her. That's rape. A man gets "handsy" with a flight attendant and penetrates her, whether with his digits or his penis. That's rape. More often than not, we hear of cases of "date" rape. "Date" rape involves a person who though trusted by the other takes advantage of that person by forcing him/her to take a drug. Once the drug takes effect, the person rapes the drugged person. Still, it's rape. Now for two even more surprising cases of rape. Two people are married, sleeping next to one another, and one rolls over and penetrates the other, either with their digits or with something else. Yup, that's rape. Even if the two people are in a stable relationship and one of them says that they want to have intercourse or want to be intimate, it still could turn out to be rape if one of the two involved in the act hadn't explicitly consented to having sex.


(What I am trying to drive home here is how low the bar is for meeting the definition of rape. People tend to think only of instances where one of the party forcibly assaults the other as a case of rape. That just isn't the case. Rape is far more ubiquitous than we first believe.)


Let's now extend what we know here to pornography. I want to challenge the idea that pornography is consensual at all. If it can be proven that a woman or man does not consent to her image being used for pornographic purposes, then s/he has been raped and pornography as a mere vehicle is an act of rape.


Pornography involves taking pictures or videos of one person or a couple. Picture-taking and video-making are commonplace in today's society. On any given day, one can see pedestrians taking a picture of a monument in town or taking a video for a child's birthday party. When some activity becomes commonplace, it is hard to distinguish between common occurrences in life and something that requires careful consideration before engaging in the activity. For instance, television sets were once very expensive and required a great deal of consideration before a family purchased one. Nowadays, it is common for families to purchase a television without due consideration. So, we could say that in the case of photographs and videos the situation is analogous to purchasing televisions: though it was once a novelty to be photographed or videoed, today with the greater accessibility to high-tech cameras and video-cameras taking photographs or videos is commonplace.


Taking something as commonplace fails to see the activity as significant. Having your picture taken for all to see is a significant because of the wide distribution of the photographs. But nobody will be able to recognize the picture taking as significant because it has become commonplace. So, something significant is dismissed as commonplace.


Suppose a man or woman was approached by someone who asked if they wanted to have their pictures taken for money with the one side-note that they had to be photographed naked. Since today we don't see taking photographs as commonplace, they will not consider the consequences of their decision before accepting the proposition. A part of consent is to fully understand the implications of one's actions. Since the man or woman has not understood the consequences of the act, s/he has accepted without consenting. So, taking pornographic photographs of someone is a kind of rape.

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