September 10th 2005

  Buy Issue 2715

Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The Telstra sale and economic ideology

EDITORIAL: Telstra: a better way forward . . .

SPECIAL FEATURE: The human cost of sexual exploitation (Part 1)

BIOETHICS: Review of cloning and embryo research laws

ECONOMICS: What future for globalism?

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Pork farmers under attack on two fronts

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Revolting students / Precondition for education / Drugs and Asia / Swallow insult / Waldheimer's disease / Warning shadows

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: China frustrates Taiwan's bid to play bigger role

TAIWAN: Fostering democracies on the Pacific Rim

VIETNAM: Remembering the battle of Long Tan

CINEMA: Romantic comedy 'Wedding Crashers' lauds boys behaving badly

Competition Policy killing cane-farmers (letter)

Cornelia Rau not Australian (letter)

Elephant in the room (letter)

Profits for the people (letter)

Rights deprivation syndrome (letter)

BOOKS: The Criminalization of Christianity, by Janet L. Folger


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The human cost of sexual exploitation (Part 1)

by Dr Mary Anne Layden

News Weekly, September 10, 2005
Pornography addicts are harder to treat than cocaine addicts, according to American clinical psychologist, author and lecturer, Dr Mary Anne Layden.

A specialist in the treatment of victims and perpetrators of sexual violence and sexual addiction, Dr Layden recently addressed a Sexual Integrity Forum in Canberra on the harmful consequences of pornography and prostitution. News Weekly reproduces the first part of an edited version of her talk below.

For Part 2 see

I'm going to give you my definition of the sexual exploitation industry, which for me is sexual abuse for money. Here are some of the areas of sexual abuse:

  • Pornography: print, video and Internet;

  • Prostitution, which is street, indoor and massage parlours;

  • "Prostitution light" (a term we use where I work), which is strip clubs and phone sex; and

  • Sex trafficking.

All of these are just variations of the abuse of women and children that involve money. They're all on the same continuum, and they all feed and increase each other. Pornography and sex-trafficking are all connected. They're just variations on the same theme, and you can't separate them out.


All of them are driven by demand. Now it's interesting, given this truism, that very little anywhere in the world has focused on demand. We've focused on finding the victims and maybe doing something for the victims; but we have done very little on how to reduce the demand for these things.

Sweden is trying a social experiment of a different sort. There, customers are arrested, fined and sent to jail. The prostitutes are given rehabilitation; job-training, drug rehab, whatever.

Now, because of this, sex traffickers don't want to go into Sweden any more. It costs them too much!

Some of them are going to Germany, because Germany has legalised prostitution. And what's happened in Germany is they have gone from 11,000 child prostitutes to 15,000 child prostitutes because they've legalised prostitution, which then just increases the demand.

My perspective on the sexual exploitation industry is that it's an equal opportunity toxin. It is an industry that damages the viewer, damages the performer, damages the partners of the viewers and the performers and damages the children of the viewers of the performers.

I know when I say this, some people argue, "But these people are adults who have consented, and consent makes it okay."

How does consent make it okay? Consent does not make it psychologically healthy, ethical, moral, legal or good for the society. And consent does not mitigate the damage that is produced by this industry.

These are the American statistics. One in eight women is raped; 50 per cent of women are sexually harassed on their jobs at some point in their lives. By the time a female is 18-years-old, 38 per cent have been sexually molested - by 18. And you understand that, if we have got 38 per cent of our females sexually molested by 18, it can't be six or seven guys doing this. You know, we are talking about millions - millions of perpetrators.

The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 in the United States. These are the people whom they are saying are consenting. These are children. Now, in some places in the United States, the ages drop to 12.

So these are kids that are supposedly consenting to this; these prostitutes are children. They are being raped. A 12-year-old cannot consent to have sex with a 45-year-old guy.

Here are a few things from Australian statistics. One in six adult women experience sexual assault before the age of 15; one in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused. There has been a 29 per cent increase in sexual assault between 1999 and 2003. The risk of sexual assault for adult women is double if you were abused as a child.

So all of those statistics are just to say we've got a problem. And it's a worldwide problem.

Now, I'm going to talk a bit about the damage to the viewer. When I'm working with sex addicts, I don't start with, "Do you understand how degrading this is to women what you are doing?", because they don't want to hear that. But when I tell them that their sex lives are going down the toilet they say, "Oh, maybe I don't want to do this."

Damaged sex life

So the first damage to the viewer, is that your sex life and your ability to sexually function will in fact be damaged, and you probably are concerned about that.

The thing that concerns me, though, most, is what we call the attitude shift. Because this is potent material that shifts your attitude.

I want to define the difference between words and pictures because we, in the United States, are very fond of discussing our first amendment, which is freedom of speech.

Now, I think the Founding Fathers of the United States didn't mean Internet pornography when they defended freedom of speech. They were really talking about political speech. That's what they were really trying to protect, that you should be able to criticise the government.

But, there's a difference between words and pictures. When somebody is speaking, words coming out of the mouth, like mine, right now, the people in the audience are thinking about those words and saying to themselves, "That's just your opinion. Now, I may agree with your opinion or I may not agree with your opinion, but that's just your opinion."

Pictures don't work that way. A picture is an event, because you can see it. And once you see a picture it doesn't come in as an opinion, it comes in as something that happened. And it's stored in your brain where you store other things that have happened. So you don't challenge it. You don't buffer it. You don't say, "That's not true." You saw it. You stored it in the place where you saw the other things.

Episodic memory

So that when you have pictures of children enjoying sex with adults, that picture goes into your brain and is stored in what they call the episodic memory of other things that you've seen that you now think to be true. You cannot buffer them. You cannot erase them. They are there forever.

This is why pornography addicts are harder to treat than cocaine addicts; because with cocaine you can at least do detox.

When a pornography addict comes into my office, how do I detox them of the pornographic pictures that they have in their mind? You know, those pictures are permanently implanted in their brain. They can draw those up in a nanosecond from now to the rest of their life.

So we should treat pictures differently from words. They're processed differently.

Now, what do these pictures convey to people? Well, some research was done several years ago. In this study, they showed people four hours and 48 minutes worth of pornography videos, and that was called the "massive exposure condition".

Let me say, people go on the Internet every day and have more than this in a single day. But back then, when they were doing this study, they showed these people 4 hours and 48 minutes' worth of pornography over a six-week period, and that was considered massively exposed.

What did we find? First, they overestimated how often people are involved in sexual psychopathology. So the more pornography you see the more you think the whole world is crazy and sick. But now you just don't think it's crazy and sick. So there's an attitude shift that occurs, decreasing the belief that children should not be exposed to pornography.

You wonder why all these people are arguing that this stuff is not so bad, because they've seen so much of it that now they don't think that we need to protect children from it. So when you hear these people arguing, as we hear in the States, "Well, why do we need to protect children?" - these are people who have seen so much pornography that their attitude has shifted. They no longer think that we need to protect children from this.

This sort of attitude shift reduces how much time you think a rapist should spend in jail. Now, the shocking thing about this is that this is seen in both men and women subjects. Both the men and the women think that rapists deserve half the time in jail! So it's an equal opportunity shifter in terms of attitude.

It decreases support for women's rights. In both the men and the women, it cuts it in half - in the men, actually more than half. It reduces them from about 75 per cent support to about 25 per cent support. Is that what we want? Do we want men who no longer think that women should be equal? It takes just 4 hours and 48 minutes worth of pornography.

It increases callousness towards women and increases the belief in the rape myth, the belief that women want to be raped, need to be raped.

Rape myth

Coming up with this "women like to be raped" is just ridiculous. The easiest way to get post-traumatic stress is to rape somebody. It is much easier to get post-traumatic stress disorder by raping them than to put them on the front lines of a war. You know, more rape victims get post-traumatic stress than people who are fighting on the front lines.

More rape victims want to commit suicide. More of them do commit suicide. So these are not women that want to be raped, need to be raped, like to be raped. But pornography makes you think that's true.

  • Dr Mary Anne Layden PhD, is co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, USA. This article is part of a talk she delivered on August 8 at the Sexual Integrity Forum, held at Parliament House, Canberra. Part 2 will appear in the next issue of News Weekly (September 24, 2005).

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