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This Is Why Porn Is Abuse

by | Abuse Literacy

This Is Why Porn Is Abuse

It can be difficult to articulate why pornography is an abuse issue – but if you’ve experienced Image-Based Sexual Abuse, been betrayed by a porn user, or were exposed to pornography against your will, you clearly just know that pornography is abusive.

Christen Price from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is on the BTR.ORG podcast to clearly articulate why pornography, specifically Image-Based Sexual Abuse, is abusive. Tune in to the BTR.ORG podcast and read the full transcript below for more.

What Is Image-Based Sexual Abuse?

In general terms, Image-Based Sexual Abuse is a broad term that includes a wide range of harmful experiences involving the weaponization of sexual explicit or sexualized images or videos.

Christen Price, NCOSE

Image-Based Sexual Abuse may include:

  • Sextortion (threatening to share or post sexual recordings of a person against their consent in order to extort something from them)
  • Collecting, swapping, posting, and/or sharing sexual images or recordings of a person without their consent
  • Editing an image of a person to make it sexual, without their consent, and then sharing it
  • “Doxing,” or publicly revealing the name and information of the sexually exploited person

This Is Why Porn Harms Everyone

Victims of sexual exploitation in the form of IBSA experience, first-hand, the abusiveness of the pornography industry. But at BTR.ORG, we understand that pornography is an abuse issue across the whole human spectrum.

[Image-Based Sexual Abuse is] what drives traffic to these sites and the whole industry, because it is an industry, it’s a very profitable enterprise to exploit other people in this way. This obviously has implications even for the people who don’t end up being portrayed on the websites.

It really is abusive to people in general, especially women and girls because it’s incompatible with their full equality in society if this is a way they can be portrayed with impunity, right? It has implications for everyone.

Christen Price, NCOSE

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

If you have been a victim of Image-Based Sexual Abuse, you may be experiencing significant trauma. Christen shares:

Some of the ways that the trauma manifests for the people that are depicted includes high levels of anxiety, PTSD, depression, feelings of shame and humiliation, loss of trust and sexual agency, and the risk of suicide is very, very high.

Christen Price, NCOSE

The BTR.ORG Group Sessions are a safe place to process your trauma and find community as you begin your journey to healing. Join today.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have Christen Price on today’s episode. Christen serves as a Senior Legal Counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center. She now engages in legal advocacy to end impunity for all forms of sexual exploitation. In her role at NCOSE, Christen works to influence courts and legislatures toward protecting human dignity and equality on behalf of sexual exploitation survivors through legislative advocacy, litigation, and providing support to other attorneys, particularly with respect to sex trafficking, prostitution, child sex abuse, and pornography. A little note about NCOSE, that is the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. It is the leading national nonpartisan, non-sectarian organization that exposes the links between all forms of sexual exploitation, such as child sex abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking, and the public health harms of pornography. Welcome, Christen.

Christen (05:18):
Thank you so much for having me.

Anne (05:21):
I met Christen in person a while back and was so impressed with her passion for protecting victims. I wanna jump right into talking about image-based sexual abuse cause this is one of your specialties. So let’s start there. Can you talk to our audience about what image-based sexual abuse is?

What Is Image-Based Sexual Abuse (IBSA)?

Christen (05:42):
Absolutely. So, yes, in general terms, image-based sexual abuse is a broad term that includes a wide range of harmful experiences involving the weaponization of sexual explicit or sexualized images or videos. IBSA involves creating, threatening to share, sharing or using of recordings of sexually explicit or sexualized materials without the consent of the person in them or for exploitation purposes. So sometimes people call one form of this revenge porn, but at NCOSE we do try to avoid this term because it implies that the person victimized by it did something wrong to the perpetrator and that this is some kind of payback. But the reality is that men do this to women for any reason or for absolutely no reason at all.

Anne (06:31):
When you say men do this to women, this podcast is specifically for women who are victims of sexual exploitation perpetrated by men. And so all of our listeners are women. Well, my intent is to help women. We do have some men listeners, but when you say that, does it ever happen the other way around?

“The Victims Are Disproportionately Women and the Perpetrators Are Disproportionately Men”

Christen (06:50):
It definitely happens the other way around. And also women can victimize other women. Men can victimize other men, but the victims are disproportionately women and the perpetrators are disproportionately men. And I think the figures vary somewhat, but there was a 2017 US survey conducted and had 3000 or so participants and one in eight people had been the targets of distribution, threat of distribution, of sexually graphic images of themselves, you know, without their consent. And women were roughly twice as likely to have been the targets of this abuse compared to the men in that particular survey. But there was another survey by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and in their survey over 90% of the victims were women, mostly between the ages of 18 and 30 years old. So there’s some variation there of course, but that women and girls are disproportionately affected doesn’t seem to really be in dispute.

Anne (07:51):
I agree, people are always talking about that. And because I advocate for women, I appreciate those statistics and letting people know that this really is a women’s health issue and it’s important to women, especially my listeners. Are there any recent news stories that highlight this issue?

“PornHub Facilitates and Profits From Image-Based Sexual Abuse”

Christen (08:08):
So there was one, it wasn’t extremely recent, but I think it’s significant because it shows the level of impunity people at least think they have when they perpetrate this. The mayor of a town in Maryland called Cambridge, maybe an hour and a half outside DC where I am, was arrested for perpetrating late last year and charged with I think 50 counts of non-consensual distribution. Much more recently, the CEO and the COO of PornHub or MindGeek, the company that controls PornHub, have resigned. And you know, this is in the wake of years and years of reporting, but especially over the last two years of how their flagship site PornHub facilitates and profits from image-based sexual abuse in all of its various forms.

Anne (08:58):
Wow. So I wanna just take a minute here to say that when Christen says image-based sexual abuse, what I want you to be thinking in your mind is pornography, right? This is what we are talking about. Would you say that all pornography or most of it is image-based sexual abuse for our listeners who are so traumatized by their husband’s pornography use?

Sextortion, Doxxing, Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexually Explicit or Sexualized Images

Christen (09:27):
So one thing that might be helpful would be to go down like the list of the different things that fall under this category and then you realize, wow, this is a lot of what is out there, um, on pornographic sites. And it’s a lot of what drives traffic to these sites and the whole, the whole industry, because it is an industry, it’s a very profitable enterprise to exploit other people in this way. Um, obviously has implications even for the people who don’t end up being portrayed on the websites. So I think there’s a sense in which it, it really is abusive to people in general, especially women and girls because it’s incompatible with their full equality in society if this is a way they can be portrayed within with impunity, right? Has implications for everyone. But just to go down the list of the different things that fall under image-based sexual abuse. One is sextortion, which is using sexually explicit images or sexual materials that the perpetrator has to blackmail the victim or to coerce them to produce increasingly explicit content in exchange for the initial content not being released. So that’s sextortion. Then this is the one I think most people think of when they hear the term image based sexual abuse, non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit or sexualized images, which is sometimes accompanied by doxing, which is you share the content but then you add the person’s name or their address or other identifying or locating information.

Non-Consensual “Collecting, Swapping, and Posting”

Anne (10:58):
I’m gonna pause right here and say many, many women in our community have had their husbands secretly video them in the shower or while they were having sex in their bedroom or something like that – they did not know. And then posted that online and other people are watching it as quote unquote pornography not knowing that they’re actually viewing sexual abuse. So that, that has happened to women in our community frequently.

Christen (11:24):
Yeah. So that’s actually the next one I was gonna say, which is non-consensual collecting, swapping and posting of these types of images in groups or in third party platforms. Um, and as you noted, it’s absolutely abusive behavior. I mean, they didn’t have consent even to take the image, let alone to distribute it. Non-consensual recordings of images or videos of other types of activities. So where people expect that they’re, they’re not doing anything sexual, they expect they’re in a private context like showering in the gym or in even in their home or hotel room. So restrooms or locker rooms, people will put surreptitious cameras. It’s called down blouse or UPS skirting. Another form it takes is sexual harassment or assault in virtual or reality. So sexual harassment through direct messaging or sexual assault of somebody’s avatar like in a virtual context, sending unsolicited material, also called cyber flashing identity theft where people take someone’s images to make artificial or Photoshop pornography intended to portray them, you know, as though they’re really in it. So it’s called sheep fake or deep fake pornography. And then pressuring, harassing someone to self generate or share sexually explicit or sexualize images. So it’s quite a wide variety of offenses that fall under this category and all of it’s abusive and much of it makes its way onto massive public tube sites like PornHub Next Videos.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne (12:59):
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.

And now back to our discussion, I would say the average porn user has no idea that what they’re watching is absolutely abusive. And in fact, when you educate them about it, they dismiss it. They’re like, whatever. I mean, at least in in our experience, the listeners of this podcast, you’re hurting our family, you’re hurting our marriage, you’re also just flat out watching abuse, you know? And it’s just like, no, that’s not how it is.

How Abusers Justify Sexual Exploitation & Abuse

Christen (15:12):
Do you think that people who say that are reading the tags for the material they’re watching? Cause sometimes it’ll say something like, it’ll be tagged as spy cam or locker room or something like that. There will be clear indications that it’s not consensual. I’m not saying that that’s right, always the case, but that’s a thing that X videos at least does to drive traffic. They categorize things.

Anne (15:35):
Yeah. I think people don’t wanna admit that that’s abuse. What I’m saying is they’re like, Yeah, it’s a spy cam, but she doesn’t know and she doesn’t even know it’s online, so why is it hurting her? Or something like that. They don’t realize that it’s abusive. One thing that I have learned about abusers is they do not know or want to admit that they are abusive. They don’t want to call it abuse, they wanna call it anything else because they want to be able to continue to justify their behavior. The stuff is out there and it’s just called spy cam, it’s not called abusive spy cam material, right? It’s called spy cam material. So there’s just this disconnect. In fact, I was talking, this was really fascinating with a convicted sex offender and I was telling him that it was abusive and he was like, Wow. He was like, his mind was blown and he never had thought of himself as an abuser, even though he was a convicted sex offender.

Kristen (16:37):
Wow.

How Prevalent is IBSA?

Anne (16:38):
How prevalent in just average pornography, like people thinking, oh, I’m just quote unquote watching pornography. How prevalent is image-based sexual abuse, IBSA and who is the most affected by it?

Kristen (16:51):
So when there is a sense in which it’s kind of impossible to know how much, like what percentage of pornography falls under this, which is one of the big dangers because you know, maybe something will be tagged in a certain way, but it’s not necessarily gonna be apparent on the face of it that someone is watching abusive content. But once you put together the fact that this includes child sexual abuse material, which is rife on the internet, on public websites like Twitter and PornHub.

Anne (17:21):
When you say child sex abuse material, that is commonly referred to for, for our listeners who don’t know as child pornography. And I really appreciate the NCSOE and a lot of advocates, uh, trying to change that language to stop saying child pornography and start using “child sex abuse material.” Cause that is what it is. So sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to make that clear for you.

“Anyone Who Decides to Consume Pornography is Really Choosing To Consume Someone Else’s Abuse”

Kristen (17:43):
No, thanks for saying that. I had meant to include that and, and it is still called child pornography in the law in most places. So, so that’s, that’s an important distinction. But it includes, that includes child sexual abuse material or CCM as it’s often abbreviated includes advertisements for people who are being sex trafficked for prostitution. It includes extremely violent and dangerous content, which is pretty obviously harmful regardless of whether it was consented to, and it includes the type of spy cam and other types of surreptitious recording or non consensually distributed content. So all of that is abusive, all of that is exploitive. Most of it is illegal in many jurisdictions and much of what seems to drive the traffic to some of these sites is this type of content. There is a subreddit on Reddit, I think it’s called Wife Pick, and it has 250,000 members. So I think there’s a sense in which it’s really impossible to say how much of it is abusive, but the abuse is so prevalent and so rampant. It’s a massive risk that anyone who decides to consume pornography is really choosing to take that they’re gonna be consuming somebody else’s abuse.

Anne (19:03):
. Well, and we take the stance at BTR and I’m okay with it and people disagree with me and I don’t really care that all pornography is abusive, period. It’s abusive to someone, some way, somehow someone’s being coerced, someone’s being lied to, someone’s being manipulated, someone is being harmed, it is abusive regardless. So that is our stance. So when you’re talking specifically about image based sexual abuse, I think you’re also specifically talking about things that are criminal, right? Things that they could actually be arrested for.

“There’s No Pornography in Which a Human Being is Not Objectified”

Kristen (19:36):
Yeah. Yes. Or at least sued for in some cases

Anne (19:39):
With our listeners, some of the things that the abuse that they’re experiencing, the emotional and psychological abuse is not a quote unquote crime. And so they have a very difficult time figuring out how to get help and get out. But it is good for them to know that anyone consuming this type of material is going to have some level of danger to you, I think. Or or producing it.

Kristen (20:05):
Yeah. Yes. I mean, there’s no pornography in which a human being is not objectified. Like that’s always present. And so much of it is extremely violent, integrating, especially to women. And I think that it really, and to your point about it being broadly abusive and harmful, I think it really shifts the norms and expectations for all women. It’s like basically a form of propaganda. It conditions women to submit to violence rather than to resist it, you know, among other things.

Anne (20:37):
Yeah, we were talking about how prevalent it is. Who was most affected by it?

Kristen (20:41):
Women and girls are most affected by it. Yeah. Disproportionately so. Especially, especially younger women and girls.

Where Is IBSA Posted?

Anne (20:47):
Yeah. When, when I ask that question, who’s most affected by it? The interesting answer here at BTR is different than maybe what it would be at NCOSE because here at BTR we’re like the wives. The wives of these men, right? So NCOSE thinks like the women in the pornography or the women who are being filmed and even if the wives aren’t the ones being filmed, we have been and are continued to be affected by our husband’s abuse due to his porn use. When we’re thinking about the victims related to image-based sexual abuse and these degrading acts being visible to other people, where are these things generally posted?

Kristen (21:24):
They’re posted anywhere. You can post things. General pornography tube sites like PornHub and X videos, Twitter, Reddit, especially sub Reddits, Etsy, Google, Well index searches for this type of content. I mean, it really is everywhere. There are some sites that are specifically devoted to sharing non consensually distributed content. Really all over chat groups, texts.

Anne (21:47):
It’s alarming to think about everywhere. Any, anywhere you can find anything, you can find it. So our listeners are really familiar that this is abuse, but I would say that the general public is not, when you are trying to explain to people like why this is abusive, what arguments have you found to be useful?

How Is Pornography Abusive?

Kristen (22:10):
So thinking about how it works as a tactic and also thinking about the impact, I think make it pretty clear that that’s the right category for it. Kind of taking its standard definition of abuse, it’s typically set of tactics, usually systematic or calculated that one person uses to gain and maintain coercive control over another person. And it can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, spiritual, and image based sexual abuse really fits squarely within that. It’s ultimately about maintaining coercive control over another person. Men have posted things because women wouldn’t go out with them or because they broke up with them. And when we look at what effect it has on the people that it’s done to, that also very much tracks with what we understand abuse to be.

Anne (23:00):
That’s really interesting that coercive control is the main theme, right? Because when it comes to the wives of these porn users, they’re doing the same thing, but it’s in a different way. So they’re using coercive control to manipulate, to lie, to gaslight, in order to hide their porn use. So they’re lying to them about their whereabouts. They’re lying to them about their use of time or why they’re angry about something or they’re trying to gaslight in order to make sure their wife doesn’t know the types of things they’ve been doing because they want their wife to live in a different reality. The reality is he is an abusive porn user and he’s abusing his wife, but he wants his wife to think that he’s a good guy, that he’s a churchgoer, that he’s an upstanding member of society. And so it’s that same coercive control to maintain the narrative.

Coercive Control is at the Heart of Abuse

(23:52):
I’m a good guy, I’m a good husband, you wife, you’ve got some problems, and if you would cook better or if you would be more respectful of me, or if you would appreciate my job more, then maybe our marriage would be good, right? So that gaslighting thing happens all the time and it’s, it’s the same exact thing. And that is why I really wanna hit home to the porn addiction recovery community or other communities that these men are abusers, right? They’re not just porn users, they are abusive to their wives. It’s really, really important for people to understand that. When we’re talking about a specific type of trauma to the women who are being filmed. Why is it so important to recognize that this is trauma and it’s actually being documented by people and then being posted?

Kristen (24:42):
Yes. I think it’s exactly what you just said. It’s trauma and it’s posted. If I were to sum it up, I would say probably for the three reasons that it, it’s a really prevalent form of trauma. Going back to the statistics earlier, it’s extremely destructive and it’s usually committed with impunity. Impunity just means that you’re getting away with it. You’re getting away with the thing in a way that is so clear and obvious, you have no reason to stop doing it. And other people who watch what’s happening have no reason not to do the same thing themselves.

Anne (25:17):
Ugh. This is happening in people’s families too. It’s amazing the parallels between the two, the impunity with the divorce or they’re still getting child custody or you know, all these other things. It’s the same.

How Does The Trauma of IBSA Manifest?

Kristen (25:28):
Some of the ways that the trauma manifests for the people that are depicted includes high levels of anxiety, PTSD, depression, feelings of shame and humiliation, loss of trust and sexual agency, risk of suicide is very, very high. I think some 51% of people responding to one survey said that they had contemplated suicide as a result of their experience with image-based sexual abuse. It’s also important to know that this is a form of abuse that never really ends. It can always be reshared or re-uploaded by someone else. And so it may never fully go away. It’s an abusive situation. A person may never be able to fully exit. And we’ve had survivors share with us that they’ve completely lost their reputations, they’ve lost jobs or had to leave jobs because of the level of sexual harassment directed at them when people realized it was them in the videos. They’re constantly anxious in social situations wondering if someone has seen the content; they’ve had family and other relationships destroyed because of this. So it, it really manifests like other forms of sexual trauma.

Anne (26:34):
We’re gonna pause the conversation right here, but stay tuned for next week. Christen will be back and will continue talking about pornography as a form of sexual abuse and why it’s important to know this when you’re in a relationship with a pornography user. So please stay tuned for next week. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.

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