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Monday, June 25, 2007

 

Torture porn

Boy, I'm hearing that phrase a lot lately.

Horror films tend to move in cycles; one movie comes out that impresses everybody, so everybody imitates it for a while, the formula gets stale, people get bored with horror for a while and then some new film comes out that makes everyone go, 'Wow! Look at what horror can do!'. And so the time wears on.

Torture porn seems to be in right now, and I'm not watching horror movies. The last cycle was Asian horror, and several of those were actually good - Ring was the most frightening film I've ever seen, Dark Water, Audition, The Eye, all good, striking films - but I'm really looking forward to the next cycle, whatever it is. I expect it to be an improvement.

Defenders are saying it's an artistic expression of our times, but I'm inclined to think that's a load of cobblers. Splatter fims have been around for a good long time, and if we've got one specific person to point to as originator of torture porn, it's probably Eli Roth. Roth isn't a political person. He's one of those artists who enjoys the shocking and transgressive for its own sake, no matter who's in the White House: Cabin Fever predates the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo scandals that have made America's name such a beacon of freedom in the world in recent years, and from what I can gather, his auteur style is already clear in that. In an interview, for instance, Roth remarks in answer to a question about the potential misogyny of tortured-girl scenes, that he has a naked male figure in the film too, and that 'I literally have it in there just to fuck with critics.' I don't know what happened to having things in your film because you think they'll improve it, but it doesn't sound very engaged with anything other than the desire to go for the quick and dirty shock.

I'm on difficult ground here, because there are few quicker ways of making a prat of yourself than pontificating about films you haven't seen, and while I've seen Cabin Fever and Saw, the Saw sequels, the Hostel films, Captivity and all the others are right off my list of things to watch. I think I pretty much got the point from the two films I saw, and I don't feel like spending my money on tickets to films I won't enjoy: I've got repairs to make to my house. But are these films a thoughtful response to the despicable attitude to human rights the current leaders of the free world are showing? Wes Craven, after all, has claimed that Last House on the Left, which is all about people getting kidnapped and tortured, was an emotional response to the horrors of the Vietnam war. I'm more inclined to believe Craven than Roth, mostly because he comes across as a gentler person than Roth, less preoccupied with the desire to produce shock for its own sake and then to justify it by saying it's political. Also, I've seen Last House on the Left, and while it's certainly violent and bleak, it doesn't seem like a dishonourable film. The violence against the girls is not eroticised, their performances are well-observed, and they never come across as anything less than thinking human beings. More importantly, it doesn't have that somewhat gleeful sense of enjoying the shock and mischief of violence for its own sake that prevailed in Saw and Cabin Fever. Mostly, it seems like the film of a very angry young man who isn't quite sure exactly what, or exactly how many things, he's angry about.

Joss Whedon, meanwhile, has taken an admirably anti-violence stand on the whole issue, but I don't think that Womb Envy is the root of this angry, shocking, violent trend. For one thing, I'm an equal-opportunities feminist, which means assuming the same responsibility not to insult men that I demand of men re women, and womb envy seems like an insulting concept to me. If I accept it, then in justice I have to accept the concept of penis envy as well, and as I've said before, penis envy is a crock, which makes me doubtful about whether men feel womb envy either. On the whole, I reckon men are better off without wombs, and I suspect many men agree with that.

But for another, I think there are other explanations. And while artistic free expression is a fine thing and for my money, people are welcome to make these movies as long as they don't make me watch them, that doesn't mean it isn't worth thinking about them seriously. I don't know of any clear link between films and how people act - but to conclude that the things we see and watch have absolutely no impact on how we think and act would mean concluding that the advertising industry has spent the last century wasting millions upon millions of dollars producing images that cannot possibly have an effect on anyone. This does not seem a likely conclusion to me: the success of the advertising industry implies that images do have an effect, at least on superficial choices. Horror films have a less didactic message than adverts - they aren't specifically telling you to do anything, while ads are telling you straight out to buy this or that product - but it's worth bearing in mind when we wonder about how serious an issue this really is.

Why the violence? There are a number of possibilities. One is simply practicality. To get success in the artistic world, you need to get people's attention. Notoriety is a good way of doing it. Make the Nastiest Film Ever, and many people will at least read the reviews to find out what everyone is talking about. On-screen violence and mutilation is a straightforward way to go, because those are relatively inexpensive special effects - look at how Sam Raimi got himself started with Evil Dead, which was a shoestring budget if ever there was one. If you have a name to make, it's artistically easy to shock people - it's not difficult to think of mutilations that will make people squirm - and it's financially easy, because you don't need expensive sets, elaborate costumes or difficult locations. Nasty violence gets around techincal limitations, and once one person has got attention doing it, others will follow suit, until it gets boring.

That may account for the violence - but what's been ruffling feathers lately is that a lot of it is happening against women. That brings sexual aggression into it, which is a more worrying phenomenon. In This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kevin Smith remarks that if he had control of the ratings system, rape and violence against women would bring an automatically higher rating than anything else, and many people are likely to agree with him. To a male audience, at least, the image of a man being tortured is just gross, but the image of a woman being tortured is gross, but also kind of titillating - and once someone is titillated and tempted, we're in a whole moral quagmire.

How sexual is it supposed to be? Roth has said in an interview that: 'It's so funny how critics will always quickly reduce horror almost to a subgenre of pornography. I do feel like terms like "torture porn" are offensive.' - but, leaving aside the fact that given his film style, he really should try to be a bit more difficult to offend, he's out historically. According to the documentary Inside Deep Throat, thirty years ago pornography was pretty much the standard entry-level work for a director: you wanted to direct features, you made some skin flicks first to get some experience and credits to your name. Wes Craven himself remarked on the documentary that he'd started out that way, though he was discreet about which films he'd 'worked on'. Nowadays, if you pick up any make-your-own-movies guidebook, somewhere inside will be the suggestion that, if you want to direct something on your first go, your best bet is probably horror, citing big names like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson who got their start that way. There's a connection between the two. Both are genres that go straight after a visceral emotion, mostly bypassing the intellect: porn goes for arousal, horror goes for fear or shock, and of the emotions you can elicit in an audience, those are fairly push-button, an easy place for a director to start. Show a naked woman and heterosexual men will be aroused, show someone getting menaced and audiences will be scared: you don't need years of practice to make at least a reasonably effective film. Horror and porn aren't identical, but they are being made by the same kind of people: very young men bucking for position in a difficult profession, looking to get attention, not necessarily mature, in the most aggressive phase of their lives. Some of them move on, some stay doing what they did first.

With such directors in charge, we're unlikely to get In The Mood For Love. But does that make horror pornographic when women are involved? It's an extremely difficult question, but I think only the most partisan apologist would deny that there is, at least, an element of sexual interest in the hurting of women in the torture porn genre. Why is this? What's going on?

Misogyny is an obvious answer - but that's a big, catch-all word, too general to really explain much. I realise I'm on slippery ground here, but I think we need to consider it more carefully.

In my view, there are three primary reasons why a man will watch a film of a woman being hurt. The first is the simplest: horror fans have libidos like everybody else, and if you throw a nice naked girl into the kind of films they're going to watch anyway, then hey, that's getting chocolate and sprinkles on your sundae. And if you put a naked girl in a horror film, something bad seems likely to happen to her, because very few characters in horror films get gift baskets and a nice warm pair of socks. The horror is the form, and the naked girl is what she is in all advertising, a way of catching the male eye. 'Which horror movie shall we watch, guys?' 'How about that one? That's got horror and we'll get to see breasts!' 'Hooray! You have convinced me, my friend. Let's give our money to that one.' Laws of the marketplace seldom lead to subtlety. It's not good for women, but the real culprit is capitalism rather than horror.

The second, which is darker, is a history of sexual hostility. If you are a sexually unsuccessful man, you see a woman's right to give or withhold her consent as your enemy, because in your experience, if she has the right to say no, she will. Her right to consent always works against you. Therefore, it's emotionally satisfying to see that right trampled, because it's hurt, frustrated and humiliated you many a time. If, on the other hand, you're sexually successful (by which I mean anything from cheerfully promiscuous to happily monogamous, as long as you’re getting the kind of sex you want), you are going to see a woman's right to consent as your friend. It works for you: if a woman has the right to choose, then at least some of the time, she's going to choose you over all other men, and make you feel like someone pretty special. Hence, that right is not something you'll particularly want to see trampled, because you associate it with getting sex. A man women can want experiences consent as a combination of physical pleasure and emotional gratification - she sleeps with you because she likes you. A man who feels women would never voluntarily sleep with him, on the other hand, doesn't have the experience of a woman exercising her right to choose in a sexy way: her choice always leads to no sex, and sex isn't possible unless that choice is forcibly taken away. So it's a combination of two things: the belief that a woman wouldn't have sex with you unless she was forced, and a desire to see that unfairly punitive, negative right of consent (at least, that's how youve experienced it) punished and done away with.

This, obviously, would mean a very unhappy and unsuccessful man if we're talking about adults, but let's not forget that the main audience for horror is generally teenagers, and in terms of getting girls to sleep with them, there are plenty of boys who haven't got their game on yet. Probably they'll grow out of it, but in the meantime, there's likely to be a streak of sadism.

This is where the third explanation comes in: straightforward fetishism. Some people are just sadomasochistic in their tastes. Is an image of a naked woman tied up always erotic? No, but there are eroticised and uneroticised ways of doing them, and these movies are not on the sexless side of the line. Horror films can be an equivalent of of reading Playboy 'for the articles': officially speaking you're a horror fan, and that's your ostensible reason for watching - but if you look at the posters, you could very easily be looking at the ad for a bondage website, and if anybody tells me that isn't a sneaky pitch at the the fetishists out there, I simply won't believe them.

I've got nothing against fetishes, as long as they're practised in private between consenting adults - but of course, these images are deliberately public, casting for as wide an audience as possible, and in tone, they don't seem overly interested in consent. Possibly it's just intution, but something tells me that whoever tied that young lady up is not going to respect the safeword. It's this, I think, that's gotten so many backs up. There's something profoundly uncomfortable about seeing images of a morally complicated fetish strung out in public purely for the shock value, with the issue of consent totally removed from the question. While some people would like to see such fetishes entirely removed from the human psyche, I don't think that's going to happen: more practical, and less intrusive, is to grasp that there's a profound difference between consensual role-play and genuine abuse, and if the line seems thin, at least make it clear.

Images like this one blur that line, and that's disquieting. On the one hand, there's sadomasochism proper, which is to say, a mutually pleasurable game played between reasonable adults, who have given informed consent, who know what they're doing, who can stop at any time and who have taken care to put in safeguards that prevent any real emotional or physical harm being done. On the other, there's torture, which is one of the great evils of the world. In these posters, the latter is being dressed up in the style of the former, confusing a relatively innocent pastime and a profound moral wrong. I do not think sadomasochism debases human sexuality if it's practiced with due care, but torture chic debases sadomasochism. And that's not a good thing: people are always inclined to find issues of power and sexuality meshing together in a morally tricky mix, and if we're going to keep our grace as human beings, it seems wrong to co-opt the style of a scary-looking but non-harmful fetish to remove the natural dismay that we should feel at seeing people hurt. Sadomasochism, which requires technical skill, respect for human rights and concern for the feelings of others, should not be used as an excuse to enjoy seeing rights and feelings being trampled on, to reject the responsibility to feel empathy, or, indeed, to let any misogynistic, racist or violent impulses thrive unchecked. Torture ain't sexy, and torture ain't SM either. We ought to keep the distinction.

All things considered, I'd be less inclined to worry about whether these movies herald the end of society - nasty movies are always with us in some way, it's a fad that they're riding so high right now, and fads pass - and more inclined to suggest that cinemas feature them in a double bill with Secretary, so people can at least see a more kindly look at the stuff these horror movies are skirting around. A bit more honesty wouldn't go amiss.

And what about the violence? Well, to say anything particularly intelligent I'd have to have seen the movies as well as the posters, and as I've said, I think I'd rather keep my money. But if the stuff I have seen is anything to go by, I think what we're really looking at is a simplistic line of descent. Eli Roth may be the enfant terrible, but the real ancestor of Saw is Se7en - and Se7en is a very good film. In his book Blockbuster, Tom Shone remarked of high concept films inspired by other films (Top Gun as inspired by An Officer and a Gentleman, Beverly Hills Cop as inspired by 48 Hours, Flashdance as inspired by Saturday Night Fever), that they were:


...versions of those films that had been shorn of peripherals, strip-mined for their pockets of triumph, their character arcs reduced to telegraphic shorthand, and strung out along a gleaming bead of hit songs - that's what high concept was or felt like to cinemagoers: like being told about another, greater film by a highly excitable intermediary. (p 192)


This is a useful concept: having seen a Tarantino film with a teenage boy once, and hearing his jazzed-up remarks afterwards, I was struck by how much of its irony and skill seemed to have passed him by. We seemed to have been watching different films: all he remembered were the bits that he found really cool. Which, notably, tended to be the violent bits. Given such a tendency, and given that there were a number of very good but very violent films in the 1990s, the descent into torture porn seems almost inevitable. We're listening to excited intermediaries.

Possibly this kind of art is just the price we have to pay for more imaginative works: we get one bold piece, a rattle of silly imitations which we don't have to watch, and we can keep our eyes open for the really good things. And we don't have to watch it if we don't want to; anybody old enough to realise that not every film that's considered shocking is just too truthful and brave and sexy for the Establishment to cope with - some things are just, y'know, kind of shocking, and possibly bad films as well - is old enough to vote with their wallets. I'm entirely behind the people who got the really nasty Captivity posters taken down - people should not have to look at that stuff if they don't want to - but, feminist though I am, I can't muster much more than a weary 'Oh, fuck off' when I pass the other posters. I could be wrong, and I'm happy to be corrected, but it all seems pretty childish.

Comments:
I'm linking to this piece. You seem to have said it all.
 
We live in a culture that is suffused with hatred of women. The rape rates are soaring, rapists are rarely prosecuted, and if they are, the sentences are ridiculously brief, the pornography industry helps men to be turned on by sexual violence. Movies that feature sexual violence against women are doing no one any good. Thank you for writing about this subject.
 
Absolutely true, Rhea. I worked for years with sex offenders, and I know how hard it is to get convictions. These men were all addicted to porn, and their main gripe against our prison was that they couldn't get any of it from us.
A group of these men were sent to an out of state private prison (in Minnesota.) They said they really liked that prison, because they had their own cells, toilets, and TV's with DVD players and they could have all the porn to watch that they wanted.
Imagine the contempt for women which allows a correctional facility to provide porn to sex offenders, men who will arrive back on the streets with their attitudes reinforced by prison life.
 
Gotta say, that sounds like a very, very badly-thought-out correctional program. Surely those guys ought to be under more review than that?

In the interests of clarity, though, I should say that I never intended the article to be against actual porn, sadomasochistic or otherwise, as long as it's responsibly produced. I'm sure some people do get addicted, and others use it to fuel misogynistic fantasies, but I don't think that covers the whole spectrum, any more than assuming that everyone who enjoys a glass of wine is an alcoholic or a mean drunk. From everything I've heard, almost all men look at porn sometimes, and that doesn't make them hate women.

I'm against porn being produced by people who don't care about the wellbeing of the performers, but to my mind, the solution to that is better industry standards. It should be perfectly possible to produce even sadomasochistic porn in which the consent of the performers is clearly important.

Frankly, if someone was turned on by the poster image I linked to, I'd be more in favour of someone pointing them towards a bondage website or club that made a point of good health and safety and only employed people who were comfortable being there - and, in the case of a club, kicked their asses out with great force if they acted badly - than in trying to stop them thinking about it at all.

As to the violent movies - ugh, I don't know what effect they have. I think I'd rather be watching something else, though.

Which isn't to say that I don't think we should prosecute the hell out of sexual offenders. Genuine sexual violence is a horrendous evil, and anything that prevents or penalises it is a good thing. I just think that in tackling it, badly-planned penal systems like the one you mention, Hattie, plus poor policing, an unreliable conviction rate and a lack of victim resources are higher priorities than fiction.

It all seems like a terribly complicated issue to me. Here's to less rape anyway, however it's achieved...
 
Why is it that women are mostly anti-porn and men are mostly pro-porn?
In my personal case, it is because porn works against my interests. As does prostitution.
Why should I support practices that work against my personal interests?
 
As they say, you can't make this stuff up:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/25/movies/25horr.html?8dpc
 
Why does porn or prostitution inherently work against your interests? I'm not against either - or at least, not against either being legal. I tend to see both of them as morally fraught, but to my mind that's all the more reason they shouldn't be underground, but out in the open so if anyone does have problems they can just go straight to the police, rather than worrying they'll be arrested or condemned. I'd hesistate to sleep with a man who'd slept with a prostitute, but I don't think that my personal hesitation should make it more likely that some poor woman has to stand out on a freezing street away from police eyes when a serial killer might be cruising. Supporting prostitution, or at least legalising it, may or may not be in my personal interests, but if it's in the interests of thousands of other women who are vulnerable to assault, then I'd rather set my personal interests aside.

Thanks for the interesting link. :-) The torture porn stuff seems to be a rather adolescent fashion for bad-boy antics. I think Solomon has the wrong idea about horror - if the genre is declining, it's because audiences aren't stupid and don't want to see bad films and endless sequels, and the solution is for someone to make a horror film that's actually good and original - but I fear I know where he's coming from. You want to make your mark with fiction, you need to get attention, and to this end, you think of PR stunts. I think Meaghan Carey is smart to recognise this is what he's angling for and express her disapproval by refusing to play.

In the end, audiences are going to vote with their money, though. Saw 2 got pretty poor reviews - see http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/saw_ii/ - and Captivity has been pretty thoroughly slated - http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/captivity/. The moment someone comes along with a really good new concept in horror, I think this stuff is likely to lose most of its attention.
 
I don't like porn, and I loathe prostitution. These things excite men while doing nothing whatsoever for me. But I'm not going to persist here, since this is your blog and I respect this as your territory.
 
I don't know that it's so black and white as "all women are anti-porn and all men are pro" -- case in point, the vast yaoi/shonen-ai phenomenon in Japan, and the venerable tradition of "slash" fanfiction ("slash being the "/" mark between the names of the two characters who are linked sexually, not actual slashing-the-verb) in the West. There are people who have a sick, dangerous and deadly attachment to fire (sometimes sexual, even), but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't be allowed to cook my eggs at home, or even enjoy a nice open campfire at times. Anyone who's actually in prison directly because of this unhealthy attachment to fire (porn) should probably not be allowed near matches, or a stove of any kind (a VCR), but if I am a mentally healthy individual who doesn't have this problem and is not dangerous to my fellowperson, then I don't see any reason for me to be kept away from my nice handy gas range (say, something naughty by Anais Nin).

I don't see any great harm in the whole silly "milkman at the door is greeted by housewife in garters" oeuvre. (Maybe it messes with body image, but it's hardly unique in that. I've had my self image messed with in entirely sex-free contexts.) It's the violence, and the glorification of violence, and the utter, utter hopelessness and nihilism of the violence, and the goal of upping the violence until everyone has vomited that I can't deal with. (And I think that was the original point.) Marrying that to sex is just... nasty, to me. (But I'd be willing to postulate that the vast majority of porn isn't violence porn.)

And this gets into the whole chicken and egg argument over whether media is the cause or the symptom of problematic behavior (I tend to believe the latter), which will never be settled, and which I generally leave to those who have more time to debate this than I do.

At the end of the day, for me, sex is life and murder and maiming is death, and the glorification of that kind of sadism is something I want no part of.

(I have actually been loathe to watch "Saving Private Ryan" for vaguely related reasons. I haven't seen it and thus can't judge it, but the way it was marketed turned me off completely -- "It's so realistic that veterans who saw it came out crying and needed counseling!" And this is an argument for me to see it why? It was like their goal wasn't to evoke, it was to be as horrible and graphic as possible. If I'm going to have a glut of sensory overload, I'd much rather it involved happy naked people than dismemberment. I may still see "Private Ryan," because at least it does have a point, but I'm not eager.)

I hope that made some sense. I thought KW's post was excellent and really didn't have much to add to it.
 
Thanks for the courtesy, Hattie, but you're perfectly welcome to say what you like as long as you don't start calling anyone a rotten evil person for thinking this or that! I might disagree with you, but I'm happy with that if you are; it's a complicated issue and benefits from multiple perspectives. Don't feel like you have to agree with me on everything to be welcome. :-)

And I don't like a lot of porn either. I just think that the solution is better porn rather than less porn. And better horror movies.

Thanks for interesting comments, Anthrophile. I like the fire analogy. I think the Japanese example is a valid one - there are female-friendly and male-friendly forms of porn, though it's mostly male in the West, and many of them make the gender they're not aimed at go 'Eww!'. Which suggests to me that porn isn't inherently degrading to women - sometimes it excites them and perturbs men. And sex tends to be like that; it either excites or revolts you, and there isn't much middle ground.

If we're looking at body image, I'd say the main culprit was advertising rather than porn. I can go my entire life without looking at Knickerless Nurses Magazine (made that up, just in case anyone goes looking for it), but I can't walk down a high street without billboards blaring airbrushed, photoshopped images that don't even look like the women who posed for them telling me that's how I ought to look. That's what gets into my body image.

Actually, I saw a documentary one time that said that in home-made porn in America, which was a burgeoning genre, the most popular kind of lead actress was a plumpish woman of thirty to forty - an ordinary-looking woman, in other words. I found that sort of consoling.

I think it's easy to freak out about porn from a female perspective, because it seems to imply men want women to be other than how they are, that men don't care about women except as sex objects, that because the women in it look nothing like you or anyone else you know, it means your culture doesn't consider you a sexual being... All those things. I've certainly had moments when a skin mag cover caught my eye and my instinctive reaction was Geez, men are dogs. But I know from experience that men aren't dogs. In another way, I think a lot of porn can just be a crude but effective expression of the fact that straight men like how women look, and that isn't a bad thing; it's one of the reasons they fall in love. Depends, of course, on the content, but I don't think that the desire to see naked women is inherently harmful. It depends whether the guy concerned is prepared to be a gentleman about it.

And yes, I think there's something pretty depressing about the idea of a man paying a woman to let him fuck her. I'd like it if it never happened. But I think it's unstoppable, so the priority should be damage limitation and the wellbeing of the workers. Otherwise we get cases like the horrible murders in Ipswich last year.

Any male perspectives on this, guys? Anonymous comments welcome from anyone who wants to say 'I like to look at porn' without permanently recording that fact for everyone who knows you :-)
 
("Loath"! I am "loath" to, dangit!!)

As with most issues, I'm finding it hard to make ironclad, irrefutable statements, although I'm pretty okay with coming down on a particular side. One of the reasons I absolutely hate and despise Las Vegas is that it is impossible to walk on the street without offers of purchase from men in cars. Prostitution is legal there, and so anyone might be a prostitute, and however I feel or claim to feel about the benefits of legalized and controlled prostitution, I am angry and hurt and offended by this (especially when on the occasion in question I'd just got off a plane and was dressed in crummy, baggy, not at all sexy or inviting clothing. There's a... I don't know, language of signals and a level of consent-of-both-parties there that was obviously not in play at the time). And I don't know how I would deal with being with a man who visited prostitutes (barring dire circumstances like years-long battle or something, and I'm still not sure).

On the other hand, you've got these HBO specials that show how, where it's legal, you have women who are (how can I put this delicately) GOOD at what they do, and proud of it, and getting lessons and health care and tax breaks, and conducting (in my opinion much-needed) classes on lovemaking... et cetera. They're not lurking furtively in the grimy, heroin-rife streets, they have an establishment with rules and appointment books and doctor's visits and matching curtains and it's just... I don't know what to think, y'know?

Then there are the studies that have shown that with the legalization of porn in places like Japan and Sweden, the number of sex crimes overall went down in these countries. Japan's red-light districts are INSANE. I don't know how they dream up half this crap. And they have one of the lowest crime rates in the world -- we hear about their more sensational crimes because they're so crazy rare. (And then there's the age-old chestnut that "comfort women" keep the troops from mass-rapine and pillage in wartime.)

I'm not an expert, which is why I won't endorse or issue blanket condemnation. But it's always struck me as particularly horrible that, in most places I've lived, prostitutes are always the first victims of violent crimes, when so many of them do fit the whole Fantine-ish desperate-woman-with-gold-heart-hits-rock-bottom archetype. If they could all work from houses with madams like the rich, pretty call girls do (just as illegal, but with nearly none of the life-threatening danger, yeah, that's fair), perhaps the whole shebang wouldn't be so horrible. So... bring on Storyville, I guess? You know, in my ideal world we wouldn't need an army or a police force either... but what can you do?

(Okay, other people talk now.)
 
I like your talk, it's interesting.

I read about a study (which I really should look up but can't remember the name of the scientist) that suggested that child molestation went down when porn was freely available. (Adult porn, not child porn, which obviously is no good, as you need to abuse kids to get it.) The reason seemed to be that a lot of the molesting was being done by people who weren't paedophiles as such, but men who really wanted adult women, but lacked the courage and social skills to approach them, and found children less threatening. Given another outlet, they stopped molesting children and started masturbating to pictures of women. And while it's hard to feel much respect for such a person (I've got every sympathy with shyness, but that's no excuse to interfere with kids), again, it sounds like damage limitation to me.

Yeah, it's pretty unpleasant to be propositioned by a total stranger who's too horny/insensitive to pick up social cues. Then again, maybe that's one reason why they have to pay for sex in the first place, the wankers. But at that level, it sounds like it's not entirely good for the community as a whole; better for women selling sex, but worse for women who aren't. Maybe it could be better managed - no soliciting on the streets, but having to look in the phone book instead? I suppose women who were walking the streets might wear some identifing garment, but that smacks of yelllow stars and 'POW' shirts, which is not what we want. Taking it indoors sounds like a better idea.

It's funny the effect it has. Where I used to live, there were two 'massage parlours' on the nearest high street. It was pretty depressing - they were kind of depressing places as well, sort of done-on-the-cheap looking, very basic, making me think 'Man it must suck to work there' every time I passed - but I know I felt it was better that than women standing on the corners. But I still was happy to move away from them. At Christmas, one of them put up a little string of tinsel in its hallway, which I found kind of sad - it was just this one grotty string. But maybe the people working there found it cheerful.

I don't know. There's a big difference between a woman who enjoys her work and a woman who's just doing it because she needs to feed her habit. At that end of the scale, I think much, much better drug programs would be a better start than crack-downs on prostitution. Tackling the symptom does no good at all.

I think, on reflection, one of the effects of prostitution is that if it's visible, it has an effect on the general atmosphere - which can be uncomfortable; generally human beings don't like seeing each other's sexual concerns that openly, because sex is private. Kind of like having porny posters up, in a way.

Hmm. I'm with you, I think, in feeling wary of blanket statements. It would be nice to have what's best for everyone concerned, if only we were sure what that was.
 
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