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Gang Rape and Gang Bang

by Chyng Sun

On September 10, 2010 in the Pitt Meadows district of Vancouver, Canada, a 16-year-old girl was drugged and then gang raped while a group of people watched. A 16-year-old boy took photos of the crime scene and posted them on Facebook, and within hours the images went viral, spreading across the Internet like wildfire. So far, there are no reports of why those teenage boys stood and watched, and what inspired one 16-year-old boy to post the gang rape photos on Facebook. One thing we can be fairly certain is that at age 16, what that boy witnessed at the crime scene may have looked similar to some of the Internet pornography that he had watched previously, such as the filmed gang "bang" scenes.

The college male students whom I interviewed said they began viewing internet pornography routinely by the age of 13; other survey data showed that the average age of boys and girls downloading internet pornography for the first time is 11 years old. The problem is not only that children are watching pornography at an earlier and earlier age, it is also the type of pornography that they are watching has become more and more rough and aggressive. In a study on popular pornographic movies (for heterosexual audiences) that I developed with a team of researchers, we found that close to 90% of scenes in the randomly selected best-selling and most-rented pornographic videos depicted either verbal or physical (often both) aggression-about three times the frequency reported in studies from the 1980s and 1990s. This increase in aggression is in both quantity and type: we found some common sexual acts that might have caused pain or bodily harm to women in these decades that were never reported.

In the United States, the line between pornography and popular culture has been blurred. Porn performers routinely show up in music videos, and cable TV's "documentaries" or "reality shows" on the sex industry are equally pornographic. But this merge between "pop" and "porn" reached its new height when porn performer Sasha Grey was first cast as the lead for Steven Soderbergh's feature film Girlfriend Experience, and then became a regular on HBO's Entourage. Never before has a porn performer reached such cross-over status, and Grey has thus brought along to the mainstream the "gonzo" pornography that she regularly performs-the type of pornography that has non-stop and often brutal and body-punishing sex for the women. In readers' responses to mainstream interviews of Grey, it is clear that her star power has made female degradation seem hip and chic.

It is very concerning when gonzo pornography has started to blend in with popular culture like never before. For example, teenage boys and girls can see Sasha Grey on Entourage, playing herself as a porn star while demonstrating her feelings of "empowerment" from doing a "gang bang" with 5 men; at the same time they can watch free internet pornographic video clips of the same star being penetrated in all ways possible by 15 men; and they can also be informed by magazines, message boards, and Youtube interview clips that Sasha Grey claims to enjoy being degraded and manhandled, and her performances could help to "liberate" other women.

What are the social implications when the pornographic popular culture repeatedly tells teenagers that aggression against women during a sexual encounter enhances pleasure for both men and women? What those Canadian boys did-remaining witnesses while watching and even taking pictures of a gang rape-was horrific, chilling, and sad. It is indeed urgent to teach boys the importance of consent and respect. But we also need to examine the cultural cost of mainstreaming pornography.

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