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Do Liberal Societies Facilitate Rape via the Legalisation of Pornography?

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In a liberal society, the coercive power of the state is used with reluctance. Concerning individuals’ personal lives the state will be particularly conscious of the freedom of the individual, unless a convincing reason can be found to do otherwise. The problem with this is that the ‘convincing’ reason will be analysed via the lens of individualism, which in many cases means asserting individual rights to the point of tearing down a society.

Legal theorists generally agree that, in liberal societies, law fulfils basic values.[1] The basic values of a liberal society’s legal system are: order, justice and personal freedom. Professor of Civil Law Peter Stein explains how these values require delicate balance when legislators make new laws,

“These are the three basic values of the legal system. We criticise the law when something happens which suggests the law is deficient in any of them. But rarely do we call for them all together. In western society all are needed and the balance among them is a delicate one.”[2]

Since personal or individual freedom is a fundamental value taken into consideration when creating new laws, it can be argued that law, in a liberal society, tends to be individualistic. This may sound like a generalisation, however there are many cases that exhibit the emphasis on individual freedoms and rights to the extent that society – which includes many individuals – is harmed. This is brought to light when considering the direct correlation between the consumption of pornography and rape.

Pornography: a Causal Factor in Rape

Pornography and related material highlights the individualistic propensities in the liberal legal system. Pornography is legal in liberal societies, for example, the UK in 2000 legalised hardcore pornography.  More recently it was announced in 2006 that possession of depictions of rape would become a criminal offence; however aggression and violence were not included. Additionally, the Criminal Justice and immigration Act 2008 introduced a new offence which includes the possession of extreme pornographic images; again aggression and violence were not included.[3] The notes to the 2008 Act only mention:

  • an act which threatens a person’s life,
  • an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,
  • an act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse,
  • a person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive)[4]

All other acts of aggression and violence depicted in pornographic material are still legal.

In light of the above, it can be argued that the rights of an individual seemed to have been outweighed by the effects of pornographic material on the wider society. Pornography, both violent and non-violent, is a major causal factor for the occurrence of rape in modern society. Although there are multi-causal theories established for the crime of rape, empirical and social research evidence is overwhelming in affirming that pornography is a major facilitating and causal factor.

“I don’t need studies and statistics to tell me that there is a relationship between pornography and real violence against women. My body remembers.”[5]

The above woman’s testimony taken in 1983 is just one voice of the thousands upon thousands of women who have been physically and emotionally abused as a result of the consumption of legal pornographic material. This woman’s anguish about her experience is not just an emotional unsubstantiated claim, there is ample of evidence to show how pornography that is legal in many liberal societies causes rape. For instance the feminist philosopher Diana E. Russel in her publication Pornography & Rape: A causal model states,

“My theory about how pornography – violent and non-violent – can cause rape…I have drawn on the findings of recent research to support my theory….Just as smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer, neither is pornography the only cause of rape. I believe there are many factors that play a causal role in this crime. I have not attempted here to evaluate the relative importance of these different causal factors, but merely to show the overwhelming evidence that pornography is a major one of them”[6]

In this study it cited journals and research that concluded,

  • 56% of rapists implicated pornography in the commission of their offences,
  • 33% of rapists claimed they were incited by pornography,
  • 25 – 30 % of college students would rape if they could get away with it.

Liberal societies would not ban or criminalise pornography because society is not considered and emphasized under the liberal value of individual freedom. As can be seen above, liberal values are not conducive to good legislation because the values that underpin law in liberal societies are individualistic and tend to ignore social obligations, links and attachments. Pornography both violent and non-violent has been shown to cause rape, and due to the individualistic propensities in the development of liberal law, society is almost ignored and women have to face the dehumanization process of this legal activity, and it’s facilitation of this terrible crime.

As a final note, Islam and Muslims are not against the rights of the individual. However, Islam’s view on society doesn’t rest on a false premise; rather it has a unique view on the individual and his relationship with society. This philosophy is best described by the following Prophet tradition,

“God’s messenger gave an example of people sailing on a boat having an upper deck and a lower deck. The people from the lower deck require water and request water from the people of the upper deck. The people from the upper deck refuse water, so the people from the lower deck decide to make a hole in the floor of the ship and get water from the sea. God’s messenger said, ‘If the people from the upper deck don’t stop the people at the bottom from making a hole, the ship will sink and all the people travelling will drown.’”[7]

This tradition presents the view that individuals are part of society and the society is part of the individual. It highlights the need for a symbiotic relationship between society and the individual. Certain actions, values and behaviours of individuals in a society can affect it in negative way, especially if these actions and values are non cohesive. Hence, Islam propagates cohesive values in its society to prevent the ‘boat from sinking’, in other words preventing social ills like the crime of rape.

[1] “Legal Values, Legal Theory, and Social Theory” in Peter Stein, Legal Values in Western Society [Edinburgh University Press, 1974] Chapter 1.
[2] Ibid
[3] http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/announcement261108a.htm
[4] http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/extreme-pornographic-images.pdf
[5] Diana E. H. Russell in ‘Pornography and Rape: A Causal Model’. Drucilla Cornell. Feminism and Pornography. Oxford Readings in Feminism. 2007. p 56.
[6] Ibid p. 48 – 93.
[7] Mishkaat vol. 2 p. 436