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MS DWORKIN: No, that is not the case. If it meets the definition, if it meets the definition, and it's trafficked in, the idea is that it creates bigotry and hostility and aggression towards all women. The Indianapolis definition--which I have here if you want me to read it at any point, I know you are all familiar with it--the Indianapolis definition would probably not include the scenario that you describe, because it's all violence-oriented. The definition is oriented toward the violation of women, violence against women, the commission of rape, the creation of pain and pleasure; and as a result, because it's violence-oriented, none of those particular scenarios fall under its reach. Now, in some cases, that is extremely unfortunate, because if you look at a film like Deep Throat, it is very hard to find in the film the kind of sexual violence that allows this law to be triggered. Yet somebody was coerced into making that film through the most reprehensible and extreme violence, so some choices have got to be made here about what are our priorities.
Dorothy Stratton was coerced and raped in the Playboy system. There is a history of the exploitation of women through sexual harassment, through coercion in the Playboy system. Do you want that material to be covered or not? I do. Because I think the women who have been hurt are more important than the existence of Bunnies in society for men. All right? But when we are talking about the prototype for this legislation, when we are talking about the Indianapolis definition, it focuses on sexually violent material.
DR DIETZ: I take it from your response to other questions that you believe it does not occur that a woman voluntarily poses for pictures for Penthouse or Playboy.
MS DWORKIN: No, that is not true. I believe that it does voluntarily occur. Playboy is the top of the ladder and it's all downhill from there. It's the highest amount of money that a woman gets paid for posing in pornography; it consistently involves the exploitation of extremely young women who have very few options in society, although Playboy has certainly made it part of its major publicity goal to do everything that they can to target professional and working women for sexual exploitation and sexual harassment; and it's not that I don't think that women ever voluntarily are part of pornography. I think that the fact that women sometimes voluntarily are part of pornography should not stop us from doing something about the women who are coerced.
I think the fact that most women who are in pornography are victims of child sexual abuse is probably the most telling point about what the pornography system is all about.
DR DIETZ: I have a question on that one.
MS DWORKIN: Okay. I think if you look at the pornography, what you see is the slick stuff; you see Playboy has pictures of Asian women with needles in them throughout their body. There is plenty of violence in Playboy. So you see that kind of violence legitimized.
DR DIETZ: I think we have just slipped off the topic of consent.
MS DWORKIN: Part of what I want to say is a lot of the pornography you see in the market if you go and you buy it, not in the supermarket but in the adult bookstores, are women who are so at the bottom of the social ladder, they are so scooped up off the street and stood up and photographed before they nod out. They are so totally at the end of their ropes as human beings, at the end of their lives, that that is the main population of women that we are talking about, not the cosmeticized Playboy Bunny.
DR DIETZ: I think you may have some information that may be very helpful to us. I am going to try to elicit that.
One is, how do you know about the proportion of women who have, in fact, been victimized in other settings, such as incestuous relationships, before coming to pornography? What is the population from which you know that?
MS DWORKIN: All right. First of all there are several studies, because unfortunately if one is a feminist, one is not allowed out in public without studies. No matter how many women have come to one and told one about what has happened, that doesn't count, it doesn't matter. So there are several studies that pretty much consistently show a sixty-five to seventy-five percentage of women who are in prostitution or pornography who have had experiences in child sexual abuse.
DR DIETZ: These are studies of prostitutes?
MS DWORKIN: Studies of prostitutes.
DR DIETZ: Are there any studies of women--you may not think it's possible. Is there such a thing in your view as a woman engaging in hard-core pornography who is not a prostitute?
MS DWORKIN: No, in my view there is no such thing.
DR DIETZ: So the studies of prostitutes would include women whose pictures have not been taken?
MS DWORKIN: Yes.
DR DIETZ: But you don't have studies of women exclusively of whom pictures are taken?
MS DWORKIN: No, the studies are in fact just being generated by a lot of the political work that we've been doing. The most we have right now is something that is not so much a study, although it was printed as such, by the Delancy Street Foundation on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, where they did a study of 200 prostitutes and asked no questions about pornography at all, and were given so much information about it, that they published their findings, even though they are not scientifically valid. Of those 200 women, I believe there were 193 cases of rape, 178 cases of child sexual abuse. This is in a population of 200 women, and a very large number of them had been put into pornography as children. I don't have it with me and I don't remember the percentages, but I'll get it for you if you want it. ["Pornography and Sexual Abuse of Women," by Mimi H. Silber and Ayala M. Pines in Sex Roles, Vol. 10, Nos. 11/12, 1984, pp. 857-868]
I hope now that the studies are going to be done. We are asking rape crisis centers all over the country to begin intake information on all of this. We are doing what we can to get the information, but we have had no help.
DR DIETZ: Would it be correct to say that it is your view that of the women who have their pictures taken in a manner that is disseminated for the sexual pleasure of men, that some proportion of those women have been criminally coerced at the very moment of the photographs being taken?
MS DWORKIN: Yes.
DR DIETZ: That is, they have a gun to their head. Or someone has just beaten them.
MS DWORKIN: Yes.
DR DIETZ: That there is another proportion whose coercion is more like that of battered women who for two years have been kept captive and this day seems to be going smoothly, but they know perfectly well they have no choice that day but to behave, though there is no gun that day; and that there is yet another group who come to this with neither of those happening to them at the moment but in the past have been abused in some way that leads them to act as if they were currently being battered by those dealing with them. That is, former incest victims--
MS DWORKIN: Yes. I don't know that those categories are as discrete as you're making them.
DR DIETZ: That's right. They are not mutually exclusive, certainly. Is there still, after all of that, a group of women whose coercion is occurring only in the sense that they live in a society in which it is expected that women who wish to pose this way if they get paid enough and are--treated the right way; would you call that group coercion?
MS DWORKIN: I would say that the existence of that group, contrary to popular opinion, is the most hypothetical, that we don't know, that we can't find that group, that we can find the women who are coerced by the pimps, we can find the women who are battered, we can find the women who are sexually abused, but women who have a series of choices that make sense, and choose pornography, those women are not easy to find.
DR DIETZ: If a woman chose to come to this Commission and say I chose to pose and I enjoyed it and it's the best thing I ever did, would you think she's lying to us?
MS DWORKIN: Having talked to many women who have come before many groups saying that, and having talked to them in private, it has never yet happened that there hasn't been some form of sexual abuse that has been major in what pushed her one way or another into the industry. I have never encountered it. That certainly doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, but my question is, I know William Blake found all the world in a grain of sand, but I think when you look at this situation, we have to deal with pornography as a real system of coercion that operates both in terms of physical coercion and economic vulnerability.
DR DIETZ: One last question. You have talked to us a lot about women and the exploitation and torture of women. What about pornography depicting men? What do you think about that?
MS DWORKIN: I have also talked to you about the rape of men in prisons. I think feminists are very concerned about rape wherever we find it, and I think that the exploitation of men in pornography is a serious problem for young men, for men who are runaways, for men who are dispossessed in some sense from society; but men who don't die in it get out of it, usually.
It doesn't become a way of life for men in the same way that it does for women. It's not a total dead end with no other options ever; and for women that is what it tends to be.
I think that in Minneapolis, in our hearings that we had there around the civil rights legislation, we had a great deal of testimony about the use of all-male pornography in homosexual battery; I believe that that is real, that that is true, that under civil rights legislation, men who are battered in that way must have a right to sue.
I think that pornography also has tremendous implications for the civil status of black men in this country, whose constant, constant use as rapists in the pornography is very tied to their low civil status historically in this country. I think that that matters. So I think the implications for men are very important.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: Mrs Tilton.
MS TILTON: Let me also ask Dr Dietz's question. You mentioned that there are snuff films. Are you aware of specific snuff films ? Have you seen them? Can you give us more information?
MS DWORKIN: I will give you the information that I can give you on them.
No, I have never seen them. I hope never to. We know of a conviction in California; it's the Douglas and Hernandez case of two men who were making a snuff film. Of course they were convicted for murder. They had tried to make a snuff film previously and had, in quotes, been "entrapped" by a female police officer.
They were then let go and then they tried again and succeeded in committing a murder and filming it.
We have information that right now snuff films are selling in the Las Vegas area--a print costs $2500 to $3000--and some places are being screened for $250 a seat.
We have information from prostitutes in one part of the country that they are being forced to watch snuff films before then being forced to engage in heavily sadomasochistic acts. They are terrified.
We have information on the survivalist from Calaveras County, the man who kept all these women as slaves and filmed his torture and his killing of them and made films of that.
We have information on something, and I hope you will excuse me but I will just simply use the language, called skull fucking, which apparently was brought back from Viet Nam, and those are films in which a woman is killed and the orifices in her head are penetrated with a man's penis, her eyes and her mouth and so on.
The information comes from women who have seen the films and escaped.
One of the problems that we have in communicating with law-enforcement people is we always get the information first, whether it's about rape or murder or anything else. We are seldom believed. We are afraid of exposing women who are already in enough jeopardy to a male legal system that will not give them either credibility or protection, so we have a great deal of evidence that would not hold up in the sphere of social policy as evidence. And I suppose until we can bring you a film, you will not believe that it exists.
MS TILTON: Along that, do you want to ask a question now?
DR DIETZ: I just want to say that the Commission is aware of cases in which offenders for their own purposes have made such things, and that it may be the case in California that they had the notion that there might be some commercial merit to what they were doing.
But so far, every example that's been offered of what was believed to be a snuff film, has been a Hollywood creation.
MS DWORKIN: No, no, there's been one Hollywood creation.
DR DIETZ: Hollywood's film Snuff, the George C. Scott film and, of course, many X-rated things could be considered that if anyone actually died. But Hollywood, as far as we've heard, is the source of that notion. Now, life may be beginning to imitate art and it would be very valuable if we can learn of anything that truly does exist, especially if it predated the Hollywood --
MS DWORKIN: The initial public information about snuff films was made by a policeman in 1975, before the fraudulent snuff film was distributed on the market, and he said that the films were being imported from South America. It was because of the newspaper coverage of his testimony, as I understand it--and I have done some investigating of it--that the wonderful person who made and distributed the fraudulent snuff film got the idea to do it. He simply capitalized on what he had learned about it in the newspapers and took what had been an old film and put a new ending on it that resembled the film he had read about.
But that original information was from the police, and I think that getting--I understand that nobody yet has found and has a copy. I understand that the Justice Department tried. My information comes from a journalist, whose sources I trust, that such films exist, from women who have seen them, whom I believe, whom no law-enforcement official would, that the films exist, that they have seen them. And so far, all that I could tell you is that it doesn't mean we won't be wrong, but so far we have said battery exists and the FBI has said it doesn't, and we have been right. And we've said rape exists and law-enforcement people have said, no; and we have been right. And we said incest is rife in this country and law-enforcement people first said no, and we were right. Our big secret is that we listen to the people to whom it happens. And that's what we are doing here.
MS TILTON: While we are on the subject of unprovable or proposed crimes without evidence, are you, in your work with prostitutes and victims of pornography, so to speak, finding that these women are relating stories involving more extreme types of sexual abuse as children? Do you find any evidence of their involvement in sex rings, ritualistic torture, the kinds of cases that seem to be cropping up throughout the country for which there is no evidence, in terms of the picture?
MS DWORKIN: What I found consistently, from women who have talked to me, is that there are sex rings in communities made up of people who are outstanding members of those communities. They exist not for profit. They all involve pornography and the trading of the pornography of the children as well as the trading of the children. They all involve some form of maiming of the children from cutting them up, physically injuring them very badly. They appear to be extremely sadistic. That's the information that I have on that.
MS TILTON: And that information you are receiving indicates pictures were taken in the process?
MS DWORKIN: Pictures--in every case, pictures are part of the sex. One of the things that is so interesting, even about the adult pornography that is now being produced, is that making pornography itself is presented as a sex act in the pornography that is almost the equivalent of rape. It's an act of total violation and in the course of it, the person discovers that that is part of their sexual gratification.
May I just add one more point?
MS TILTON: Sure.
MS DWORKIN: This is going back to the snuff films. That is, as I understand it, because we did a great deal of work around Snuff when the fraudulent film was distributed, if any of those films that you know have existed, the ones where the murderers have made them themselves, came on the commercial pornography market, they would be protected speech.
That, at least, is the position that the District Attorney of New York City took, that as long as the person who did the film was convicted of the murder, that was the crime, and the film itself would be protected speech. I think it is very important to think about that in terms of what kind of social policy recommendations you make.
MS TILTON: I also wanted to comment on the examples that you provide which, in the majority, are extreme cases, and would involve a crime. I am concerned about those that would be worried that victims might lose certain protections, if the obscenity laws were not enforced, but rather the responsibility for taking action would rest with the victim. Is there not a risk that we are now placing responsibility on the victims to take action, rather than the general direction of taking action on behalf of the victims because they are, in fact, victims and should not be responsible for the consequences to the victim?
MS DWORKIN: Thank you very much for that question. I think that that goes to the heart of the dilemma, which is that the state has entirely abdicated its responsibility to the people that we are talking about, and most civil rights law in fact is based on the state's abdication of responsibility for assuring human rights for discrete groups of people, based on color or based on sex.
And it seems to me that obscenity law in and of itself has the flaws that I said, and it's not going to help people who have been victimized.
But in addition, the indifference of the legal establishment to crimes of violence against women is simply too deeply in place. We are too invisible. It is always business as usual when we come before a court because of a given assault; and so what we need is some new language based on some new theory to give us real visibility and real presence inside this legal system for the things that really happen to us. But I do understand your concern and I do agree that it's a fundamental problem.
MS TILTON: Thank you.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: The Commission is now going to stand in recess for one half an hour for lunch. I would ask that all persons please clear the courtroom, and that any witness who is on our witness list who has not as yet reported to the Commission staff, please do so during the next half an hour.
(Whereupon, at 1:45 p.m., the hearing was recessed, to reconvene at 2:15 p.m., this same day.)
"Pornography Is a Civil Rights Issue" copyright © 1988 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.
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