In the wake of Ashling Murphy‘s tragedy, tens of thousands of us attended moving vigils to honor our individual memories but also to demonstrate our collective trauma. Violence is certainly one of the truest expressions of misogyny – a contempt for women and girls that allows some men to see us as less valuable – to objectify us, to try to control us, to hurt us when we don’t care about them bend will.
We’re finally beginning to understand that the end of Ashling’s life is not an isolated incident. A pattern quickly emerges when we examine the circumstances of all missing and murdered women in Ireland, in both solved and unsolved cases.
Lives stolen by violent men, known and unknown, creating a palpable sense of fear.
We don’t want to live in fear and we don’t want another family to suffer such a loss. But to get to the root of this violence, we need to ask some tough questions.
What drives these acts of physical, sexual, and psychological harm? What drives the misogyny that leads to such violence and humiliation?
Recent research from the University of Edinburgh shows that men’s dehumanization of women – a “denial of women’s human uniqueness” – predicts their own sexual aggression and is a driving factor in sex crimes. Maybe it’s easier to hurt or even murder someone when you can’t see their humanity?
Amazingly, the study recommends that to prevent male violence, we must emphasize that women are human too.
Where does this dehumanization begin? From our own research at the Sexual Exploitation Research Program, we know that nowhere else, on any other platform, are women more dehumanized or objectified than in the sex trade—prostitution and pornography.
At the moment, homeless women are being transported around Ireland like luggage to meet the demand of sex buyers who select them online based on photos of their naked bodies – and then immediately return to the same site to check them out like you would any other would do purchased item.
Each woman is rated five stars for her “appearance,” “satisfaction,” and “value for money.”
Most men don’t buy sex—but some do, and it’s seeping into the rest of our culture. The message is that women can be bought as toys to satisfy men’s sexual needs.
This is exactly the same message, reinforced by prostitution’s counterpart to the sex trade – pornography – the porn that permeates our daily lives. In Ireland, a single live stream porn website is currently the eighth most popular website in the country – more visited than Instagram, Netflix and Amazon.
To be clear, this isn’t the porn that some of us might remember from “our youth” – much of it is standard for many music videos today.
This is violent and degrading porn where women are routinely spat on, slapped and choked during sex, often while being told they are a “slut” or a “slut”.
Almost 90 percent of the scenes contain at least one act of aggression to which the women filmed are supposed to react neutrally or with joy. Over half of Irish boys (53 percent) see this porn for the first time between the ages of 10 and 13, as do 23 percent of girls.
Durham University researchers found that one in eight porn titles shown to first-time porn viewers — including children — depicts sexual violence. Titles containing the term “teenager” and depicting rape and incest are particularly common – “Forced over and over again” and “Daddy holds the f**king daughter until she pleases” are just two of the mostly unprintable examples.
It seems that dehumanizing and degrading porn is the wallpaper of many boys’ lives in Ireland. It’s accessible on any device with a few taps. Calls to simply teach children “porn literacy” are ridiculous.
How can we realistically expect a 12-year-old boy with no sexual experience to understand that when a girl says “no” in porn, she means “yes” but in real life actually means “no”?
The tentacles of the sex trade reach deep into our lives, fanning the flames of misogyny. Instead of fomenting a moral panic, we need to calm down the damage it causes.
A conversation about the role porn played in the life of the boy who sexually abused and murdered Ana Kriégel quickly fizzled after her death. As we prepare to review the new government strategy to address domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, perhaps we can pick up the threads of this conversation again.
What is certain is that we can only begin to heal our collective trauma if we are willing to address its causes head-on.
Ruth Breslin is senior researcher at the Sexual Exploitation Research Program (SERP) at University College Dublin
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/we-must-address-disturbing-truth-about-children-watching-violent-pornography-41405038.html We need to confront the disturbing truth about children viewing violent pornography