A landmark report by researchers confirms what we have known for years: pornography is, and encourages, sexual violence.

This week saw the launch of a landmark report by Professor Clare McGlynn, Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Dr Kate Butterby, and Dr Ibad Kureshi entitled “Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography”. This report is arguably the most comprehensive analysis of trends and themes in mainstream pornography in recent years, and the findings were stark.

One of the most striking results was that on average, across three mainstream sites, one in eight video titles described sexual activity that constituted sexual violence. The sexual violence spanned acts and behaviour including:

sexual activity between family members (‘When Mom’s Mad, Dad Goes To His Daughter’); physical aggression and sexual assault (‘Crying blonde bitch takes rough c*** drilling’); image-based sexual abuse (terms such as ‘hidden’, ‘spy’ and ‘leaked’); and coercion and exploitation (‘Chubby Spanish Teen Needs The Cash’).

The report clearly shows that sexual violence and abuse is mainstream pornography; and bearing in mind, this is just an analysis of the titles. The actual footage comprises numerous quantifiable instances of sexually violent acts, and of course, videos that may not be labelled as such may also contain sexually violent images or acts.

The research by McGlynn et al placed its findings within the context of “sexual scripts”, which the report succinctly described as “conceptualising how individuals develop their understandings of sexuality through resources in their social environment”. The report takes a novel approach in that instead of necessarily viewing “its impacts […] on individual users” it focused on “its contribution to broader social understandings about the boundary between sex and sexual violence”. In other words, it spliced open the uncomfortable issue of porn’s widespread effect on real world attitudes and behaviour throughout society.

The conclusions of the report in this regard were sobering.

“Given our findings, this directs our attention to the role of the mainstream porn sites in producing and reproducing what Nicola Gavey (2004) calls the ‘cultural scaffolding of rape’, namely the construction of cultural norms and practices that support rape or set up its preconditions […] Instead of these acts of sexual violence being clearly labelled as such, it was much more common for descriptions of even the most serious sexual offences to be positioned as ordinary or even humorous. It is here that the positioning of sexual violence as a normative sexual script is most apparent.

In short, this skewing of the actual depictions of sexual violence – by placing them within language that may soften or wholly obscure the reality of what is being promoted – serves to normalise and “warp the boundary between what counts as sex and what counts as sexual violence”. While the report by McGlynn et al focused on the wider cultural implications, other studies have shown that this type of content has long been linked to demonstrable instances of attitude changes amongst individuals.

In  2015 a peer-reviewed research study analysed 22 different studies from seven different countries, finding that there is “little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes [supporting] sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.”

Further, evidence demonstrates that porn consumers are more predisposed to demonstrating and expressing attitudes in support of violence against women, and an increased likelihood of them victimising the women they know in their day-to-day lives.

The confluence of McGlynn et al’s research and the broader cultural conversation about how we can tackle male violence against women and girls has reached a fever pitch. Day in, day out, women and girls are being objectified, sexualised, abused, raped, and exploited, and we can not and must not shy away from highlighting the links between this behaviour, and the cultural behemoth that is the porn industry and the sexually violent content it glorifies.

With a glaring spotlight on the sexual abuse that has been rife in schools for years, this problem is not going away, and in fact is only getting worse. We must begin to recognise the porn industry for what it is: an exploitative facilitator of male violence against women and girls. Until we all begin to recognise that simple fact, this behaviour will go unchallenged and unpunished, and will continue to thrive as it has done for years. It’s time we put a stop to it, once and for all.