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Effects of Pornography on Perceptions of Women & Sexual Violence

[Contributed by guest blogger Katherine Broendel]

Before I begin writing about what my research has found regarding the framing of sexual violence in the media, I'd like to take a moment to define some of the parameters of my research. I focused my attention on sexual violence committed against women. I recognize that approximately 10% of sexual violence victims and survivors are male, and I do not discount their experiences. However, considering the vast majority of the violence is aimed at women and girls, I chose to focus my study on women. In addition, I'd like to note that I did not include any news articles in my qualitative review that described prison rape, sex crimes against children, or sexual assault committed as a hate crime against GLBT individuals. I hypothesize that the study of male victims/survivors, as well as child and GLBT victims/survivors, would be vastly different regarding the news media frames in use.

Given more time and resources, I would like to pursue the studies listed above, and perhaps even a study on the different frames that exist in coverage of sexual violence in developing countries. My feminist & gender theory course briefly discussed this latter topic in class one evening. I will try to remember to post some points from class discussion as well as some resources and further reading.

When I first started out in my research, I was interested in exploring the arguments surrounding the effects pornography has on society. There are some feminists, among others, who argue that viewing pornography has negative effects on women, including societal perceptions of women. These effects can contribute to the disconnect that exists between media coverage of sexual violence and the social problem in reality.

The studies regarding sexually violent media that I reviewed for my research had mixed findings. Interestingly, the types of effects found and the varying degrees of their severity depended on factors such as the level of violence shown and the amount of education and/or debriefing subjects had prior to or after viewing.
Research in this area by Intons-Peterson in 1989 found that audiences viewing pornographic films tend to feel more aggressive toward women; however, if the audiences are debriefed afterward, their likelihood of aggression toward women decreases. This is an interesting finding because educating people about the emotions this type of media may instill is a tool for individuals or organizations working to stop sexual violence.

A later study in 1997 by Krafka, et al. found that viewers of sexually violent material were more likely to become desensitized to violence and even feel ambivalent toward the victims. However, the study conducted by Linz et al. in 1988 found that while audiences remain aware of the sexual violence that exists and is present in the film, they are more likely to be sympathetic and sensitive toward perceived victims.

These studies show that one of the things needed to help mitigate sexual violence in society is to educate and provide more context for it. In addition, the numerous effects sex crimes can have on the survivor as well as a citizen reading about it in the newspaper need to be addressed in this larger context. Deeper understanding and awareness of the issue, especially its status as a violent trend in society, may have its effects on public perceptions and policies. The findings of my research do not focus purely on re-framing or counter-framing sexual violence, but on the shift that's needed in sex crime coverage to provide more information and context to audiences.

For a list of further readings -- including the full citations for the studies noted here -- please leave a comment below.

-- Katherine Broendel, Guest Blogger
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