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Durham researchers found sexually violent porn promoted to first time users of top sites

Sexually violent pornography is being promoted to first-time visitors on the landing pages of the UK’s most popular pornography websites, finds the largest study of online pornographic content to date. 

Over a six-month period, researchers at Durham University analysed over 150,000 video titles appearing on the front page of the three most popular porn sites in the UK. 

They found that 1 in every 8 titles advertised to first time users in the UK describes sexually violent, coercive or non-consensual content. 
The study, led Dr Fiona Vera-Gray and Professor Clare McGlynn, provides strong evidence that pornography platforms are not taking appropriate action to protect users from seeing harmful, and possibly unlawful, material. 

It suggests that content describing criminal acts, such as rape, upskirting and incest, is being actively pushed to the front page by major pornography platforms despite the fact that it is against their own Terms and Conditions.

The researchers argue that the ready availability of such content sustains a culture in which violence against women and girls is endemic, by minimising the harms of sexual violence and normalising coercion, non-consent, and physical aggression in sex. 

Speaking about the implications of such material being readily available, Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Department of Sociology, said:

“In the absence of proper sex education or any real public conversations about sexual practice, pornography has seized the narrative about what sex is. And what it is saying is terrifying.

“Descriptions that mock or belittle acts of sexual violence and endorse the use of physical force and aggression against ‘teenage’ women in particular are commonplace.

“This is not about a causal connection; it is about acknowledging that pornography has a social function in setting out the boundaries of what counts as acceptable or desirable sexual practice."

Discussing the need for action by both Government and porn companies, Professor Clare McGlynn QC (Hon), Durham Law School, said:

“The research raises serious questions about the extent of criminal material easily and freely advertised on mainstream pornography websites and the efficacy of current regulatory mechanisms. 

“The fact that such sexually violent content is so readily available – and in contravention of their own Terms and Conditions - is a stark failure in the duty of care of porn companies towards their users. 

“It is essential that the Government uses the Online Harms Bill to hold these companies to account.” 

On the wider implications of the research, Dr Fiona Vera-Gray said:

“Sex education is not going to be enough to combat the harm of this material unless the government do more to support teachers to deliver it. This includes funding specialist violence against women organisations to develop resources on pornography and sexual consent.

“We have seen in recent weeks the urgency of acting to end a culture where violence against women is endemic. We need to recognise that mainstream porn sites are not just contributing to this culture, they are monetising it.” 

 

Source information
Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography, Vera-Gray, McGlynn, C, et al, British Journal of Criminology. The research paper is available on line here https://academic.oup.com/bjc/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/bjc/azab035

Useful web links
Profile for Dr Fiona Vera-Gray
Profile for Professor Clare McGlynn QC (HON)
Durham University Department of Sociology
Durham Law School

For support in relation to the issues raised in this story please visit Durham's dedicated pages

About the research team
Dr Vera-Gray and Professor Clare McGlynn QC (Hon) have a long track record of research and policy work on pornography, together with Rape Crisis South London, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Professor Erika Rackley to campaign to make possession of rape pornography a criminal offence. This reform was successfully introduced in 2015.

Interviews
Dr Fiona Vera-Gray is available for interview and can be contacted on 07538775768 by email fiona.vera-gray@durham.ac.uk or on Twitter @VeraGrayF

Professor Clare McGlynn is available for interview and can be contacted on 07747008061 or by email clare.mcglynn@durham.ac.uk or on Twitter @McGlynnClare

Alternatively, please contact Durham University Marketing and Communications Office on communications.team@durham.ac.uk

Acknowledgements
Dr Fiona Vera-Gray was supported by the Leverhulme Trust which provided funding for this work through an Early Career Fellowship grant ECF-2015-428.

About Durham University
Durham University is a globally outstanding centre of teaching and research based in historic Durham City in the UK.

We are a collegiate university committed to inspiring our people to do outstanding things at Durham and in the world.

We conduct boundary-breaking research that improves lives globally and we are ranked as a world top 100 university with an international reputation in research and education (QS World University Rankings 2021). 

We are a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive UK universities and we are consistently ranked as a top 10 university in national league tables (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, Guardian University Guide and The Complete University Guide).

For more information about Durham University visit: www.durham.ac.uk/about/

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