Connecting the dots: Pornography, the VPD, and violence against women

| February 18, 2012

We could feign shock at recent reports that members of the Vancouver Police Department were busted for sharing and watching pornography while at work, but are we really all that surprised? Certainly many feminists are not.

The connections between pornography and violence against women are understood by many feminists, though perhaps not so much so by the general public. In a recent statement from the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, Summer-Rain Bentham is quoted as saying: “This attitude within VPD and the actions by these officers reinforces that women’s bodies are nothing more than objects for male sexual gratification…”

Pornography is something that encourages dehumanization. It is much easier to commit violence against or abuse something or someone who we don’t view as a full being. Who, instead, we see as simply a body or as body parts. This is, of course, what feminists describe when they speak of women being objectifed. We fetishize certain body parts and separate them from the individual –- the body or the body parts become objects of desire and, in pornography in particular, women become things whose sole value and purpose is male pleasure.

While it is not true that pornography is the only cause for violence against women, or even necessarily a cause at all (i.e. some men watch porn and do not commit violence and some men may well rape and abuse without watching any porn at all), the relationship between the objectification of women and the degradation of women that happens in pornography and our culture’s devaluing of women is undeniable.

Robert Jensen, who has done extensive research and writing on pornography, wrote: "Contemporary pornography will make use of any relationship of domination and subordination -- a power differential between people that can be sexualized and exploited. The primary domination/subordination dynamic eroticized in pornography is, of course, gender."

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the VPD’s treatment of women. Shown to have consistently ignored reports that women were disappearing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, it has become brutally clear that both the VPD and the RCMP don’t care about women. Particularly women who are poor, racialized, and prostituted. The Vancouver police had been receiving reports of “foul play” since 1998, and yet the department, nor the RCMP took action until it was way too late.

A couple months back we learned about the rampant and unchecked sexual harassment of women in the RCMP by male officers, and though women groups and feminist activists have long known and spoken out against sexism on the parts of the police, on the parts of those who are meant to protect us, it now seems impossible to ignore.

The CTV report on the discovery of porn-use by members of the VPD asks the question: “What were they thinking?”

But isn’t it obvious?

Porn culture, a culture of misogyny, of hierarchy, of a deep lack of respect for women is accepted in our society. It isn’t as though it’s only the VPD who think women exist as masturbatory tools or that certain women’s lives are disposable. The culture of male power and dominance is, of course, particularly rife within criminal justice systems, but it also speaks to a wider acceptance of this kind of behaviour.

When we discover that police officers are watching porn on the job, I wonder what the response is from the public, truthfully? “Well, that was stupid?” “They should have been more careful to avoid getting caught?” “Surprise, surprise?”

One of the saddest things to come of of this “discovery” is that we probably aren’t all that surprised. Spaces that are defined by male power and by hierarchy are generally not spaces that include and value respect for women and equality. Pornography doesn’t teach men to care about and value women and, coincidentally, the VPD and the RCMP have, over and over again, shown the public that they don’t care about or value women.

We expect men to watch porn. We expect them to hang out at strip clubs. We know they buy sex from women. We think it is a “normal” and “natural” aspect of masculinity and even of male bonding (exhibit A: the bachelor party). And then we act surprised when the men responsible, supposedly, for protecting us prioritize their pleasure over the safety of women?

Time to start making some connections.

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