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Commentary: Morality in Media Chief Needs A Science Lesson
By: Mark Kernes (Courtesy of
Posted: 7/8/2006

New York – In light of the plummeting rape statistics nationwide, and the temerity of one Chicago Tribune columnist to question whether that drop could be attributable to more people watching more porn, Morality In Media president Robert Peters has decided to weigh in on the question of whether that cause-and-effect exists. In the process, Peters reveals how little he knows about science.

"Even if it were true that the viewing pornography is cathartic for some," Peters states, "that alone does not disprove a causal link between viewing pornography and sex crimes, including rape."

Um … Bob? In science, you don’t prove negatives. You formulate a theory – f’r’instance, "an increase in viewing sexually explicit material in society decreases the incidence of rape in that society" – and then examine statistics and conduct experiments to find support for the theory. Even if you fail to find such evidence, it certainly doesn’t mean that the opposite is true; it just means that you’ve failed to find experimental support for your proposition.

"One possible explanation for the high ‘rape’ rates in the 1970s, when the statistics Mr. Chapman relies on begin," Peters continues, neglecting to explain why he puts the word "rape" in quotes, "is that the 1970s were a time of social transition when some males and females may have viewed the ‘boundaries’ between consenting and non-consenting sex differently. It is also noteworthy and relevant that by the early 1970s the proverbial pornography ‘horse’ was out of the ‘barn’ and on the run, changing the way people view and presumably have sex."

Just a couple of problems there. The fact that the sexual revolution was in full swing by the early ’70s brought with it the idea that women had the right to be in control of their own bodies – a concept the anti-abortion Peters opposes – and with that recognition came the power to say "no" to unwanted intercourse; a power that quickly began to show up in codes of conduct on college campuses, which outlawed "date rape" by mental coercion. If anything, those policies would have led to a decrease in date rapes. Moreover, porn was hardly prolific in the early ’70s. Although Deep Throat and a few other XXX movies were playing in theaters, the earliest home VCRs didn’t come along until 1975, and the earliest porn tapes not until a couple of years after that – in fact, just in time to (perhaps) account for a decrease in rapes.

That’s the only evidence (such as it is) that Peters brings to the question of porn’s effect on rape. He mentions high school sex ed courses as discouraging intercourse, but admits that they didn’t accomplish that goal very well. He also implies that law enforcement has taken "many sex offenders out of circulation," but serial rape was rare even back then. He notes that "schools, women’s groups and others have also worked hard in recent times to teach girls and women how to avoid being raped and to make boys and young men more aware of the legal line between consenting and nonconsensual sex," but he’s already admitted that plenty of them are having consensual sex.

Of course, it was inevitable that Peters would drag out the theocrats’ resident "sex expert," Dr. Victor Cline – and in the process, shoots himself in the foot.

"As observed by Dr. Victor B. Cline in his monograph, ‘The Effects of Pornography on Adults and Children,’" Peters claims, "the fourth stage of pornography addiction is the increasing tendency to act out sexual behaviors viewed in the pornography. ‘Willing’ partners include spouses who ‘consent’ to sexual behaviors they find abhorrent, until there is a separation or divorce. Unwilling partners include prostitutes who are sexually assaulted. Criminal violence against prostitutes, however, is rarely reported."

Peters brought up the concept of "porn addiction" in a debate he and I had on CNN’s "Showbiz Tonight" in April, where I explained that porn addiction is not a recognized psychological disorder. On the other hand, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is recognized, but that condition may lead a person to obsess about anything: Hand-washing, avoiding crowds, even praying.

But what Peters seems to be saying is, the fact that partners of OCD sufferers and the prostitutes hired by OCD sufferers haven’t reported being raped is somehow evidence that they were raped, and that pornography, rather than this recognized psychological disorder, was the cause of it.

Peters also quotes a retired NYPD lieutenant commander on the "proliferation" of "serial murder events as well as sex related homicides," many of which, Peters claims, involve prostitutes – but he’s on even shakier grounds there. At least one of the more recent serial killers, Gary Leon Ridgeway, the "Green River killer," targeted prostitutes because they sold sex, while Dennis Rader, the "BTK killer," was sexually aroused by watching people die – scenarios not depicted in any adult industry fare.

"I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex," said Ridgway, who thought of prostitutes as an "infestation," in his confessional statement. "I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

Finally, Peters gets to the meat of it:

"The effect that pornography has in the commission of sexual crimes is difficult to measure scientifically," Peters concludes. "Conclusive scientific data, however, is not necessary. Common sense should inform us that when persons feed their minds on pornography that depicts the exploitation and degradation of women, their sexual ‘appetites’ can become warped. Social science research also indicates there is a causal relationship between pornography and sexual violence. There is also a mountain of anecdotal evidence showing that pornography is linked to sexual crimes." [Emphasis added]

Need we really list the myriad fallacies that "common sense" has "informed" us of? We could start with the earth being flat and also the center of the universe – and for all we know, since "conclusive scientific data … is not necessary," Peters may believe both of those propositions, and many similar ones. However, "social science research" has only shown a link between violent sexually explicit material and violence in general – and it’s still unclear whether the first causes the second, or simply that people with a propensity toward violence are drawn to violent material. And as for the "mountain of anecdotal evidence" … well, anyone can check out what Wikipedia has to say about that ( in terms of its scientific validity (oops; forgot; "conclusive scientific data … is not necessary") … or you can just keep walking in a straight line, and when you come to the edge, you’ll know the earth is flat.

But if you don’t, will you then know it isn’t? That’s the question Peters can’t answer.


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