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One psychologist told the Minneapolis City Council about three cases involving pornography used as "recipe books": "Presently or recently I have worked with clients who have been sodomized by broom handles, forced to have sex with over 20 dogs in the back seat of their car, tied up and then electrocuted on their genitals. These are children [all] in the ages of 14 to 18 . . . where the perpetrator has read the manuals and manuscripts at night and used these as recipe books by day or had the pornography present at the time of the sexual violence."
A social worker who works exclusively with adolescent female prostitutes testified: "I can say almost categorically never have I had a client who has not been exposed to prostitution through pornography. . . For some young women that means that they are shown pornography, either films, videotapes, or pictures as this is how you do it, almost as a training manual in how to perform acts of prostitution. . . . In addition, out on the street when a young woman is [working], many of her tricks or customers will come up to her with little pieces of paper, pictures that were torn from a magazine and say, I want this. . . . it is like a mail order catalogue of sex acts, and that is what she is expected to perform. . . . Another aspect that plays a big part in my work . . . is that on many occasions my clients are multi, many rape victims. These rapes are often either taped or have photographs taken of the event. The young woman when she tries to escape [is blackmailed]."
A former prostitute, testifying on behalf of a group of former prostitutes afraid of exposure, confirmed: "[W]e were all introduced to prostitution through pornography, there were no exceptions in our group, and we were all under 18." Everything done to women in pornography was done to these young prostitutes by the normal men. To them the prostitutes were synonymous with the pornography but so were all women, including wives and daughters. The abuses of prostitutes were not qualitatively different from the abuses of other women. Out of a compendium of pain, this is one incident: "[A] woman met a man in a hotel room in the 8th Ward. When she got there she was tied up while sitting on a chair nude. She was gagged and left alone in the dark for what she believed to be an hour. The man returned with two other men. They burned her with cigarettes and attached nipple clips to her breasts. They had many S and M magazines with them and showed her many pictures of women appearing to consent, enjoy, and encourage this abuse. She was held for 12 hours, continuously raped and beaten. She was paid $50 or about $2.33 per hour."
Racist violation is actively promoted in pornography; and the abuse has pornography's distinctive dynamic--an annihilating sadism, the brutality and contempt taken wholesale from the pornography itself. The pornographic video game "Custer's Revenge" generated many gang rapes of Native American women. In the game, men try to capture a "squaw," tie her to a tree, and rape her. In the sexually explicit game, the penis goes in and out, in and out. One victim of the "game" said: "When I was first asked to testify I resisted some because the memories are so painful and so recent. I am here because of my four-year-old daughter and other Indian children. . . . I was attacked by two white men and from the beginning they let me know they hated my people . . . And they let me know that the rape of a 'squaw' by white men was practically honored by white society. In fact, it had been made into a video game called 'Custer's Last Stand' [sic]. They held me down and as one was running the tip of his knife across my face and throat he said, 'Do you want to play Custer's Last Stand ? It's great, you lose but you don't care, do you? You like a little pain, don't you, squaw?' They both laughed and then he said, 'There is a lot of cock in Custer's Last Stand. You should be grateful, squaw, that All-American boys like us want you. Maybe we will tie you to a tree and start a fire around you."'
The same sadistic intensity and arrogance is evident in this pornography-generated gang rape of a thirteen-year-old girl. Three deer hunters, in the woods, looking at pornography magazines, looked up and saw the blond child. "There's a live one," one said. The three hunters chased the child, gang-raped her, pistol-whipped her breasts, all the while calling her names from the pornography magazines scattered at their campsite--Golden Girl, Little Godiva, and so on." All three of them had hunting rifles. They, two men held their guns at my head and the first man hit my breast with his rifle and they continued to laugh. And then the first man raped me and when he was finished they started making jokes about how I was a virgin . . . The second man then raped me . . . The third man forced his penis into my mouth and told me to do it and I didn't know how to do it. I did not know what I was supposed to be doing. . . . one of the men pulled the trigger on his gun so I tried harder. Then when he had an erection, he raped me. They continued to make jokes about how lucky they were to have found me when they did and they made jokes about being a virgin. They started . . . kicking me and told me that if I wanted more, I could come back the next day . . . I didn't tell anyone that I was raped until I was 20 years old." These men, like the men who gang-raped the Native American woman, had fun; they were playing a game.
I am quoting from some representative but still relatively simple cases. Once the role of pornography in the abuse is exposed, we no longer have just rape or gang rape or child abuse or prostitution. We have, instead, sustained and intricate sadism with no inherent or predictable limits on the kinds or degrees of brutality that will be used on women or girls. We have torture; we have killer-hostility.
Pornography-saturated abuse is specific and recognizable because it is Nazism on women's bodies: the hostility and sadism it generates are carnivorous. Interviewing 200 working prostitutes in San Francisco, Mimi H. Silbert and Ayala M. Pines discovered astonishing patterns of hostility related to pornography. No questions were asked about pornography. But so much information was given casually by the women about the role of pornography in assaults on them that Silbert and Pines published the data they had stumbled on. Of the 200 women, 193 had been raped as adults and 178 had been sexually assaulted as children. That is 371 cases of sexual assault on a population of 200 women. Twenty-four percent of those who had been raped mentioned that the rapist made specific references to pornography during the rape: "the assailant referred to pornographic materials he had seen or read and then insisted that the victims not only enjoyed the rape but also the extreme violence." When a victim, in some cases, told the rapist that she was a prostitute and would perform whatever sex act he wanted (to dissuade him from using violence), in all cases the rapists responded in these ways: "(1) their language became more abusive, (2) they became significantly more violent, beating and punching the women excessively, often using weapons they had shown the women, (3) they mentioned having seen prostitutes in pornographic films, the majority of them mentioning specific pornographic literature, and (4) after completing the forced vaginal penetration, they continued to assault the women sexually in ways they claimed they had seen prostitutes enjoy in the pornographic literature they cited." Examples include forced anal penetration with a gun, beatings all over the body with a gun, breaking bones, holding a loaded pistol at the woman's vagina "insisting this was the way she had died in the film he had seen."
Studies show that between sixty-five and seventy-five percent of women in pornography were sexually abused as children, often incestuously, many put into pornography as children. One woman, for instance, endured this: "I'm an incest survivor, ex-pornography model and ex-prostitute. My incest story begins before pre-school and ends many years later--this was with my father. I was also molested by an uncle and a minister . . . my father forced me to perform sexual acts with men at a stag party when I was a teenager. I am from a 'nice' middle-class family . . . My father is an $80000 a year corporate executive, lay minister, and alcoholic . . . My father was my pimp in pornography. There were 3 occasions from ages 9-16 when he forced me to be a pornography model. . . in Nebraska, so, yes, it does happen here." This woman is now a feminist fighting pornography. She listens to men mostly debate whether or not there is any social harm connected to pornography. People want experts. We have experts. Society says we have to prove harm. We have proved harm. What we have to prove is that women are human enough for harm to matter. As one liberal so-called feminist said recently: "What's the harm of pornography? A paper cut?" This woman was a Commissioner on the so-called Meese Commission. * She had spent a year of her life looking at the brutalization of women in pornography and hearing the life-stories of pornography-abused women. Women were not very human to her.
In pain and in privacy, women began to face, then to tell, the truth, first to themselves, then to others. Now, women have testified before governmental bodies, in public meetings, on radio, on television, in workshops at conventions of liberal feminists who find all this so messy, so declasse, so unfortunate. Especially, the liberal feminists hate it that this mess of pornography--having to do something about these abuses of women--might interfere with their quite comfortable political alliances with all those normal men, the consumers-- who also happen to be, well, friends. They don't want the stink of this kind of sexual abuse--the down-and-dirty kind for fun and profit--to rub off on them. Feminism to them means getting success, not fighting oppression.
Here we are: weep for us. Society, with the acquiescence of too many liberal-left feminists, says that pornographers must not be stopped because the freedom of everyone depends on the freedom of the pornographers to exercise speech. The woman gagged and hanging remains the speech they exercise. In liberal-left lingo, stopping them is called censorship.
The civil rights law--a modest approach, since it is not the barrel of a gun--was passed twice in Minneapolis, vetoed twice there by the mayor. In Indianapolis, a more conservative city (where even liberal feminists are registered Republicans), a narrower version was adopted: narrower means that only very violent pornography was covered by the law. In Indianapolis, pornography was defined as the graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women in pictures and/or words that also included rape, pain, humiliation, penetration by objects or animals, or dismemberment. Men, children, and transsexuals used in these ways could also use this law. The law made pornographers legally and economically responsible for the harm they did to women. Makers of pornography, exhibitors, sellers, and distributors could be sued for trafficking in pornography. Anyone coerced into pornography could hold the makers, sellers, distributors, or exhibitors liable for profiting from the coercion and could have the coerced product removed from the marketplace. Anyone forced to watch pornography in their home, place of work or education, or in public, could sue whoever forces them and any institution that sanctions the force (for instance, a university or an employer). Anyone physically assaulted or injured because of a specific piece of pornography could sue the pornographer for money damages and get the pornography off the shelves. Under this law, pornography is correctly understood and recognized as a practice of sex discrimination. Pornography's impact on the status of women is to keep all women second-class: targets of aggression and civilly inferior.
The United States courts have declared the Indianapolis civil rights law unconstitutional. A Federal Appeals Court said that pornography did all the harm to women we said it did--causing us both physical injury and civil inferiority--but its success in hurting us only proved its power as speech. Therefore, it is protected speech. Compared with the pimps, women have no rights.
The good news is that the pornographers are in real trouble, and that we made the trouble. Playboy and Penthouse are both in deep financial trouble. Playboy has been losing subscribers, and thus its advertising base, for years; both Playboy and Penthouse have lost thousands of retail outlets for their wares in the last few years. We have cost them their legitimacy.
The bad news is that we are in trouble. There is much violence against us, pornography-inspired. They make us, our bodies, pornography in their magazines, and tell the normal men to get us good. We are followed, attacked, threatened. Bullets were shot into one feminist antipornography center. Feminists have been harassed out of their homes, forced to move. And the pornographers have found a bunch of girls (as the women call themselves) to work for them: not the chickenshit liberals, but real collaborators who have organized specifically to oppose the civil rights legislation and to protect the pornographers from our political activism--pornography should not be a feminist issue, these so-called feminists say. They say: Pornography is misogynist but . . . The but in this case is that it derepresses us. The victims of pornography can testify, and have, that when men get derepressed, women get hurt. These women say they are feminists. Some have worked for the defeated Equal Rights Amendment or for abortion rights or for equal pay or for lesbian and gay rights. But these days, they organize to stop us from stopping the pornographers.
Most of the women who say they are feminists but work to protect pornography are lawyers or academics: lawyers like the ones who walked away from Snuff; academics who think prostitution is romantic, an unrepressed female sexuality. But whoever they are, whatever they think they are doing, the outstanding fact about them is that they are ignoring the women who have been hurt in order to help the pimps who do the hurting. They are collaborators, not feminists.
The pornographers may well destroy us. The violence against us--in the pornography, in the general media, among men--is escalating rapidly and dangerously. Sometimes our despair is horrible. We haven't given in yet. There is a resistance here, a real one. I can't tell you how brave and brilliant the resisters are. Or how powerless and hurt. Surely it is clear: the most powerless women, the most exploited women, are the women fighting the pornographers. Our more privileged sisters prefer not to take sides. It's a nasty fight, all right. Feminism is dying here because so many women who say they are feminists are collaborators or cowards. Feminism is magnificent and militant here because the most powerless women are putting their lives on the line to confront the most powerful men for the sake of all women. Be proud of us for fighting. Be proud of us for getting so far. Help us if you can. The pornographers will have to stop us. We will not give in. They know that and now so do you.
"Letter From a War Zone," first published in German in Emma, Vol. 6, No. 2, February 1987; also in Norwegian in Klassekampen, 1987. Copyright © 1986 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.
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