Mumsnet has reported itself to the UK data regulator after a former employee published the IP addresses of forum users in a dispute over transgender rights.
The parenting site confirmed it had contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and informed the police after the recently departed intern had made a series of posts on Twitter criticising Mumsnet’s stance on trans rights, accompanied by screengrabs apparently taken while she worked at the company that included private information only visible to staff.
In a series of now-deleted posts on Twitter, Emma Healey, who was a paid intern in the site’s press office for six months, claimed that the “vast majority” of discussion of trans issues on Mumsnet “descends into scaremongering and hate speech”.
“Whilst I was at MN [Mumsnet] (Sept 17-Mar 18), there was really no attempt to keep this discussion civil or polite,” she wrote. “Misgendering and deadnaming were completely tolerated, and the internal moderation policy would change pretty much every day.
“There were many staff members, me included, who raised concerns about what was being said on site – but it was never taken on board. Any criticism has been dismissed as a smear attempt by ‘trans activists’ rather than actually thinking about what was being said.”
Healey had had limited access to the personal information of registered users that was not visible to the general public.
IP addresses are assigned to users by internet service providers and can used to ascertain the approximate location of an internet user. Although it is difficult to precisely identify an individual from their IP address without the cooperation of an internet provider, the information can be used to monitor other online activity and to corroborate other identifying information.
Mumsnet has recently been under pressure from trans rights activists over the content on its forums, with some campaigners contacting the site’s advertisers to complain about the tone of discussions on the issue. Justine Roberts, Mumsnet’s founder and chief executive, has publicly criticised the “thought police” attitude to trans rights in the UK and said she believed it was the “right thing to do to allow this discussion to take place” on her site.
A spokesperson for Mumsnet said Healey had now promised to delete all other Mumsnet-related material. The spokesperson said the company believed the former intern had not intended to publish the three IP addresses of forum users and had done so accidentally.
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet’s chief executive, said: “For us this is about civilised debate and free speech. As an organisation we absolutely believe in the rights of transgender people to be safe, happy and supported. However there are parents (including some trans parents) on Mumsnet who also believe that there are some issues – such as the prescription of hormone-altering medication to young children, and the impact of gender self-identification on women-only refuges and other ‘safe’ spaces – that merit discussion.
“We at Mumsnet have always strongly believe that robust, civilised debate is the best way to reach resolution on difficult issues. Some activists disagree with us on the merits of even having of debate and view it as transphobic in its own right.
“Transphobia is against our guidelines and we delete and ban users who are repeat offenders; we’ve also proactively reminded our users of the importance of abiding by our rules, and will continue to do so.”
Healey later issued a statement via Mumsnet apologising for her decision: “I was just mistakenly trying to do what I thought was the right thing as someone with very strong feelings on LGBTQ+ rights – and in doing so, I did something very misguided and frankly awful.
“I have definitely learnt my lesson: not only about not tweeting in anger but about the language I use, being careful what I say, the power of social media and thinking about all the potential outcomes of my actions (not just the outcomes I intend). As such, I am taking some time away from social media and will return with a hopefully more mature attitude.
“I’d like to also apologise to any users who have felt hurt, attacked or vulnerable due to my actions. I recognise that we do not agree on this issue, but I know the impact that my actions may have had on them and their mental health.”
An ICO spokesperson said: “We are aware of a possible incident involving Mumsnet and will be looking into the details.”
The parents of a southern Alberta autistic girl are warning other parents that had Bill 24 been the law over the past two years, their 14-year-old daughter very likely could have committed suicide.
The parents, who have asked that their names be changed and their identities hidden to protect their daughter’s privacy, are pleading with Rachel Notley’s NDP government to “not shut parents out of their children’s lives” and “to bring some nuance” into Bill 24, which became law in Alberta on Nov. 15.
Bill 24 makes it illegal for educators to tell parents if their child has joined a GSA, or gay-straight alliance, at their school. But this couple — who are going by the names Sarah and Stephen for the purposes of this article — say their Grade 9 daughter fell into a “dark place” after joining her school’s GSA.
“I believe this law is going to endanger kids, which is the opposite of what Premier Notley is trying to achieve,” said Stephen, a scientist who works in the energy industry and who says he is very much in favour of GSAs, as is the entire family.
The couple’s daughter started Grade 7 at her middle school in the fall of 2015 at the age of 12. It was around that time that she reached puberty — something that upset her. The girl, who will be called Jane in this article, has body dysmorphia, a condition the Mayo Clinic describes as “a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.”
During elementary school, Jane suffered from anorexia, something she overcame through the help of her parents, counselling and attending eating disorder clinics.
Early into the 2015 school year, the parents noticed that Jane was more anxious than usual. The worried parents were eventually told by a teacher that Jane had joined the school’s GSA and they were “completely fine with it. We thought it would be a safe place for her to meet new friends, stand up against bullying and learn about how everyone is different,” said Stephen.
Eventually, however, the school wrote the couple a letter recommending that they take Jane — who was still 12 years old — to a gender clinic.
By very gently talking with Jane away from the stress of peer pressure, they learned that Jane was being called a boy’s name at school and addressed with male pronouns. At home, she’d be called by her real name and female pronouns.
“To live a double life, where she’s keeping this huge secret from her family, including her siblings, is exceedingly stressful, especially for someone with autism and body dysmorphia,” explained Sarah.
“(Jane) was adamant that she did not want to be a boy, and prior to puberty, she was fine with being a girl,” said Sarah. “A psychiatrist asked her if she wanted a penis and she recoiled at the thought and reiterated that she doesn’t want to be a boy.”
As Stephen said: “Thirty or 40 years ago, she’d have been described as a Tomboy.”
It was decided, with the help of mental health professionals, that the safest way to proceed for Jane was to stop living a double life and be referred to only as a girl. The school agreed but, apparently, many of her school peers continued to call her by her male name.
As Christmas 2016 approached, Sarah received a panicked call from the school to pick Jane up, as she was threatening to commit suicide.
“She was super anxious, she had suicidal ideations. She was in a very dangerous place,” recalled Sarah. Within a week of being kept at home and seeing her counsellor every chance they could, Jane improved immensely. Still, she was never left alone for a moment.
“I’m a very accepting person,” said Stephen. “I love people for who they are. I have many LGBTQ friends. I love all people, I seriously do, but they’re promoting the idea on kids who normally would not have gone there.
“They were facilitating and going out of their way to transition her into becoming a boy without our knowledge. But what training do they have about children with autism?” asked Stephen.
“The school undermined us and that led (Jane) to that point of suicide. We could have helped our daughter, but they didn’t give us that opportunity.”
For two months, Jane was kept at home while the family searched in vain for a new school for their daughter, even considering moving out of the province. Eventually, the school’s principal became more involved and Jane returned to her school.
“He apologized to us for what the school did to Jane and promised that they would work with us and not violate what’s in the best interest of our daughter,” said Stephen, who reached out for help from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
They also approached Jason Kenney, now the United Conservative Party leader, who has mentioned their story on several occasions as a reason why more discretion is needed in the GSA legislation, to empower teachers to not necessarily keep information from loving, safe parents.
Education Minister David Eggen was given three days to respond to repeated requests for an interview to discuss this family’s experience, however, he refused and issued the following statement:
“This legislation will make sure that students are the ones who decide when and how to have these deeply personal and important conversations with their parents and loved ones. If a student’s safety is at risk, parents will be notified. One of our government’s top priorities is ensuring students’ safety and that is why GSAs are so important. For some students, GSAs are the only place they have where they feel safe and accepted. GSAs literally save lives.”
Sarah and Stephen worry that the new law will cause teachers to hesitate to inform parents, for fear of breaking the law, and that hesitation could spell lead to the death of children.
Ashleigh Yule, a registered Calgary psychologist specializing in autism and gender diversity, says the research is clear that “we see a convergence between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and gender diversity that makes the issue more complex.”
However, Yule is adamant that no exemptions in Bill 24 should be made.
“Students with ASD, just as students without ASD, may have unsupportive or abusive parents. Notifying parents that a student has attended a GSA may be unsafe for that student, regardless of the student’s ASD status,” said Yule.
“Nuance in the law is not about ‘outing’ children,” said Sarah, who has family members who were murdered in the Holocaust for being Jewish. “It’s about recognizing the uniqueness of each person and each family.”
“I’m very suspicious of the state wanting control over our children. We’ve seen where that has led in the past,” added Sarah.
“Most families are the safest places for their children,” said Stephen. “We love our children, more than Rachel Notley or David Eggen do.”
Both parents hope by telling their story, pressure will force the province to make some provision for safe, open-minded parents, especially of children with special needs, to be told very early on if behavioural changes begin after joining a GSA.
“We saved our daughter’s life, only because we knew what was going on with her,” said Stephen. “We shudder to think what might have happened to her if Bill 24 had been the law two years ago.”
A hotel chain has apologised after linking a gender campaign group to “bigotry”.
The Mercure Cardiff Holland House had said that a tweet about a women’s group debate was “unauthorised” and did not reflect the hotel’s position.
On Thursday the hotel took to social media to announce it would no longer host a debate organised by campaign group A Woman’s Place.
The event, advertised online for Thursday evening, had been arranged to discuss proposed changes to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to make the process of legally changing gender more simple.
Posting on Twitter the hotel said it did not tolerate “any form of racist, sexist or bigoted behaviour”.
But the Tweet was later deleted.
At the time a speaker booked to attend the event accused the hotel of defamation.
Union organiser Ruth Serwotka wrote: “I am an advertised speaker at the meeting tonight. That is a seriously defamatory tweet and I request you remove it immediately.”
The announcement followed after calls on social media from trans women support groups to cancel the event.
A demonstration was also held on Thursday night in response to the debate.
Contacting the Mercure Cardiff Hotel one Twitter used said: “Please can you explain why you are hosting the Woman’s Place meeting this evening when it is a transphobic hate group, and nothing at all to do with womens’ rights. It goes against your LGBTQ policy.”
Despite the change in venue the women’s group reported more than 140 attendees at last night’s event.
Speaking on Thursday speaker and former AM for Mid and West Wales Helen Mary Jones said: “I think that the hotel’s decision is very unfortunate as A Woman’s Place is not an organisation that supports bigots or discrimination.
“I have fought against prejudice and discrimination all my life.
“The idea that I or any other speakers would have anything to do with a hate group is ridiculous.”
On Friday a spokesperson for the Mercure hotel said the decision to cancel the event was taken in the interests of guest and staff safety due to “potential” protests.
He said: “The decision to cancel an event on Thursday, April 12, at the Mercure Cardiff Holland House was taken in the best interests of hotel guests and staff after concerns were raised about their safety, which is our priority, due to potential disruption and protests.
“The decision in no way implied any judgement on the views of those organising the event, or those protesting against it. While we are a leader in encouraging diversity and inclusion in all its forms, it is not our policy to pass comment on the view of others.
“Regrettably an unauthorised tweet was posted on behalf of the hotel which did not accurately reflect the position of the hotel, the Mercure brand or AccorHotels, and which has since been removed. We have taken action to ensure this can’t be repeated and are reviewing our processes. We apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by this miscommunication.”
How do you debate when one side believes no debate can exist, that to ask questions is hate speech and must be silenced even with force? [Last week] the trans activist Tara Wolf, 26, was found guilty of assaulting the 60-year-old feminist Maria MacLachlan in Hyde Park before a meeting on the GRA. I witnessed it. A young, angry 6ft-plus hooded person punched her around the face. After the verdict police warned Ms MacLachlan’s supporters not to leave court because masked activists were waiting outside.
On Thursday the Mercure Hotel in Cardiff cancelled a longstanding booking for a meeting to be held that day by the group A Woman’s Place, on the grounds it “does not tolerate any form of racist, sexist or bigoted behaviour”. Bigoted? The speakers, including a feminist writer and a former Welsh Assembly member, were there to defend existing law. It is hardly a far-out position to uphold the 2010 Equalities Act which permits female-only exemptions for rape crisis and domestic violence refuges.
A Woman’s Place has six demands, including “respectful and evidence-based discussion” and for impact assessments on how proposed changes to the GRA, allowing natal men to self-ID as women, will affect data-gathering on crime, health and the gender pay gap. Pretty extreme stuff. This was the latest event to be cancelled after trans activists bombarded venues with intimidation and abuse. Glasgow, Lewisham, the Conway Hall . . . even Millwall FC, famed for their slogan “fear no foe”, withdrew a recent room booking after their switchboard was jammed and protests threatened. A Woman’s Place must ticket an event without revealing its location until a few hours before the start. Even then, as in Cardiff, it must secure a back-up venue. (A primary school whose governor activists are now hounding).
How does this happen? This is a complex debate but on the phone to meek receptionists and scared middle managers, trans activists keep it simple. They say: “These evil women are social conservatives who hate trans people. They’re like Tory bigots who brought in Section 28 and hated gays. They want to eradicate trans women; they incite violence against them. They deny their humanity and want them dead. Do you want your company to be part of that?”
It is ludicrous, of course. The feminists, including many lesbians, have fought for LGBT rights: without exception they believe trans people should live free from violence, indignity or discrimination. (A Woman’s Place has trans members and speakers.) Moreover gay people sought only the right to love who they wished and for that love to receive equal recognition: gay rights had no impact upon the rights of anyone else.
Gender self-ID has serious implications for women’s rights, yet the Tory minister Maria Miller led an inquiry that proposed it should become law without hearing from a single women’s organisation. Hundreds of women have contacted me expressing concerns they daren’t raise in public. They were incensed that self-ID would allow a rapist with intact male genitalia into a women’s prison; infuriated that male-bodied athletes, like the New Zealand weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, can enter women’s sporting competitions; fearful that predatory men (NB not genuine trans women) will exploit self-ID to prey upon them in changing rooms or dormitories; outraged by an ideology that insists a penis can be a female organ. Above all they are sick of being told, mainly by left-wing men who love lecturing feminists from presumed moral high ground, to shut up and make way for “progress”.
Yet the simplified trans version cuts through because it plays to a company’s worst fears: being hounded on social media. Mumsnet is a rare forum where feminist anxiety about trans ideology is allowed to be aired. The website takes no position, it merely upholds free speech. However, activists are now threatening Mumsnet advertisers, telling them to stop “funding bigotry” or face a Twitter storm and possible boycott. They hope that, fearful of losing revenue, Mumsnet will delete and ban the debates.
Even the police have leapt in to silence feminist dissent. A Wiltshire woman, Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, was questioned under caution by West Yorkshire police. They had received a complaint that Ms Keen-Minshull had tweeted that Susie Green, chief executive of Mermaids, a trans charity for children, had her son “castrated” when he was 16. Ms Green complained of hate speech and Twitter had handed over Ms Keen-Minshull’s location to police.
Ms Green has often spoken publicly about how she took her child to Thailand for genital surgery at an age when it is illegal in Britain (and indeed is now illegal in Thailand). Perhaps Ms Keen-Minshull’s tweet was unkind and crude but was it hate speech? Or, given that Ms Green campaigns to lower the NHS age limits for prescribing cross-sex hormones and surgery, is it a matter of public interest? The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute.
The #MeToo groundswell of women who are challenging everyday sexual predation by men is consciousness-raising and courageous activism that will hopefully benefit all women. Men’s money and power coerce women’s submission to sexual harassment both in and out of prostitution, in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, in Ford auto factories, in the California and Massachusetts and U.S. Senates, in domestic service, and everywhere else on the planet. But does this wonderfully expanding big-as-the-sky-sized basket of women’s voices include women in prostitution? Is their “me too” welcomed? Is the prostitution of women in pornography included in #MeToo?
Sex trade survivors’ voices are essential to a discussion of sexual harassment, rape, and male supremacy because their experiences are that of tolerating sexual harassment and rape and verbal abuse in exchange for money or goods or something else of value. Sometimes the “something of value” that is exchanged for sex acts is food or shelter or medical care. But when the “something of value” is career advancement – it’s still prostitution. The supremacist logic of the man who has more power than a woman, whether he is her boss, doctor, lawyer, teacher, president – is the same as the sex buyer: “I pay you so I own you so I can do anything I want to you.” Career advancement in exchange for sex acts is a form of prostitution since it is the exchange of something of value for sex acts. Prostitution as an element of career advancement is usually named sexual exploitation but not prostitution.
Sexual harassment is what prostitution is. If you remove the sexual harassment, there is no prostitution. If you remove unwanted sex acts, there is no prostitution. If you eliminate paid rape, there is no prostitution. Evelina Giobbe, founder of WHISPER (Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt), said, “Prostitution sets the parameters for what you can do to a woman. It is the model for women’s condition.” Wherever there is sexual harassment, a certain group of women is split off from other women. “Prostitution is set apart from everything that people are me-tooing about,” said Giobbe. “People would not be appalled if Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or Woody Allen did what they did to prostituted women.” Why is that? A special caste of prostituted women is created to guarantee men unconditional sexual access to women (Giobbe, 1990).
Men in the highest government offices — men like Donald Trump and Clarence Thomas – deny their predatory and chronic sexual harassment as locker room talk, as boys being boys, as just the way things are. Their behavior can’t be distinguished from the behavior of predatory sex buyers, except that sex buyers pay to sexually harass and rape. “Weinstein and Trump are no different from everyday johns,” said Vednita Carter, founder of Breaking Free in Minneapolis. “They rape women because they can, telling themselves she wanted it or liked it.” The narcissistic delusion that sexual harassment and prostitution are her “free choice,” or that “it was consensual” is the ideology that keeps prostitution – and the subordination and silencing of women – running smoothly. Prostituted women have the highest rate of rape of any women on the planet. Sex buyers’ behaviors are a model for sexual harassment and sexual predation. The pre-rape cues described by psychologists as warning signs for rape are precisely those behaviors exhibited by men who buy sex: an attitude of sexual entitlement, unwanted touching, persistence, and social isolation (Senn, Eliasziw, Barata, Thurston, Newby-Clark, Radtke, and Hobden, 2015).
“Everything the women are describing in #MeToo are common everyday experiences of women in prostitution. Women in prostitution are seen as a legitimate target for men’s violence, that we somehow deserve what we get,” said Alisa Bernhard, who works at Organization for Prostitution Survivors in Seattle. In prostitution, women are defined as rentable sex organs, as unrapeable, less than human, as having no feelings. “What others see as rape, we see as normal,” a woman prostituting in Vancouver explained (Farley, Lynne, and Cotton, 2005).
What men do to women in prostitution is not challenged as illegal. In some places, it’s even defined as “work” for those who have no other survival options. I can barely imagine the pain of having the world see sexual abuse as your job. Yet that is the burden that is shoved onto women in prostitution. Bernhard observed that “prostitution is the definition of a hostile work environment.”Challenging denial about sexual exploitation, Giobbe asked, “Why would you be surprised that men who can help with your economic advancement would demand sexual favors or rape you? That’s what men do with women who they pay for.”
Drew was 8 years old when he was flipping through TV channels at home and landed on “Girls Gone Wild.” A few years later, he came across HBO’s late-night soft-core pornography. Then in ninth grade, he found online porn sites on his phone. The videos were good for getting off, he said, but also sources for ideas for future sex positions with future girlfriends. From porn, he learned that guys need to be buff and dominant in bed, doing things like flipping girls over on their stomach during sex. Girls moan a lot and are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. One particular porn scene stuck with him: A woman was bored by a man who approached sex gently but became ecstatic with a far more aggressive guy.
But around 10th grade, it began bothering Drew, an honor-roll student who loves baseball and writing rap lyrics and still confides in his mom, that porn influenced how he thought about girls at school. Were their breasts, he wondered, like the ones in porn? Would girls look at him the way women do in porn when they had sex? Would they give him blow jobs and do the other stuff he saw?
Drew, who asked me to use one of his nicknames, was a junior when I first met him in late 2016, and he told me some of this one Thursday afternoon, as we sat in a small conference room with several other high school boys, eating chips and drinking soda and waiting for an after-school program to begin. Next to Drew was Q., who asked me to identify him by the first initial of his nickname. He was 15, a good student and a baseball fan, too, and pretty perplexed about how porn translated into real life. Q. hadn’t had sex — he liked older, out-of-reach girls, and the last time he had a girlfriend was in sixth grade, and they just fooled around a bit. So he wasn’t exactly in a good position to ask girls directly what they liked. But as he told me over several conversations, it wasn’t just porn but rough images on Snapchat, Facebook and other social media that confused him. Like the GIF he saw of a man pushing a woman against a wall with a girl commenting: “I want a guy like this.” And the one Drew mentioned of the “pain room” in “Fifty Shades of Grey” with a caption by a girl: “This is awesome!”
Watching porn also heightened Q.’s performance anxiety. “You are looking at an adult,” he told me. “The guys are built and dominant and have a big penis, and they last a long time.” And if you don’t do it like the guys in porn, Drew added, “you fear she’s not going to like you.”
Leaning back in his chair, Drew said some girls acted as if they wanted some thug rather than a smart, sensitive guy. But was it true desire? Was it posturing? Was it what girls thought they were supposed to want? Neither Q. nor Drew knew. A couple of seats away, a sophomore who had been quiet until then added that maybe the girls didn’t know either. “I think social media makes girls think they want something,” he said, noting he hadn’t seen porn more than a handful of times and disliked it. “But I think some of the girls are afraid.”
“It gets in your head,” Q. said. “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it.” He’d heard about the importance of consent in sex, but it felt pretty abstract, and it didn’t seem as if it would always be realistic in the heat of the moment. Out of nowhere was he supposed to say: Can I pull your hair? Or could he try something and see how a girl responded? He knew that there were certain things — “big things, like sex toys or anal” — that he would not try without asking.
“I would just do it,” said another boy, in jeans and a sweatshirt. When I asked what he meant, he said anal sex. He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.
“I would never do something that looked uncomfortable,” Drew said, jumping back into the conversation. “I might say, ‘I’ve seen this in porn — do you want to try it?’ ”
It was almost 4 p.m., and the boys started to gather their backpacks to head to a class known as Porn Literacy. The course, with the official title The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students Designed to Reduce Sexual and Dating Violence, is a recent addition to Start Strong, a peer-leadership program for teenagers headquartered in Boston’s South End and funded by the city’s public-health agency. About two dozen selected high school students attend every year, most of them black or Latino, along with a few Asian students, from Boston public high schools, including the city’s competitive exam schools, and a couple of parochial schools. During most of the year, the teenagers learn about healthy relationships, dating violence and L.G.B.T. issues, often through group discussions, role-playing and other exercises.
But for around two hours each week, for five weeks, the students — sophomores, juniors and seniors — take part in Porn Literacy, which aims to make them savvier, more critical consumers of porn by examining how gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body images are portrayed (or, in the case of consent, not portrayed) in porn.
On average, boys are around 13, and girls are around 14, when they first see pornography, says Bryant Paul, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Media School and the author of studies on porn content and adolescent and adult viewing habits. In a 2008 University of New Hampshire survey, 93 percent of male college students and 62 percent of female students said they saw online porn before they were 18. Many females, in particular, weren’t seeking it out. Thirty-five percent of males said they had watched it 10 or more times during adolescence.
Porn Literacy, which began in 2016 and is the focus of a pilot study, was created in part by Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health who has conducted several studies on dating violence, as well as on porn use by adolescents. She told me that the curriculum isn’t designed to scare kids into believing porn is addictive, or that it will ruin their lives and relationships and warp their libidos. Instead it is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and takes the approach that teaching them to analyze its messages is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.
That ‘queer sex’ made me wince (what is the writer talking about? Gay men, lesbians, ‘diaper fetishists’?), but the article is still worth reading in full (it’s very long, the above is the introductory section, I will quote a few more paragraphs from it, but I do recommend reading the whole thing).
There are also uncritical references to ‘feminist’ and ‘ethical’ porn, and to such pornographers getting involved in sex education, but as one of the other interviewees says: “Unlike organic food, there’s no coding system for ethical or feminist porn […] They might use condoms and dental dams and still convey the same gender and aggression dynamics.”
It’s hard to know if, and how, this translates into behavior. While some studies show a small number of teens who watch higher rates of porn engage in earlier sex as well as gender stereotyping and sexual relationships that are less affectionate than their peers, these only indicate correlations, not cause and effect. But surveys do suggest that the kinds of sex some teenagers have may be shifting. The percentage of 18-to-24-year-old women who reported trying anal sex rose to 40 percent in 2009 from 16 percent in 1992, according to the largest survey on American sexual behavior in decades, co-authored by Herbenick and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. In data from that same survey, 20 percent of 18-to-19 year old females had tried anal sex; about 6 percent of 14-to-17-year-old females had. And in a 2016 Swedish study of nearly 400 16-year-old girls, the percentage of girls who had tried anal sex doubled if they watched pornography. Like other studies about sex and porn, it only showed a correlation, and girls who are more sexually curious may also be drawn to porn. In addition, some girls may view anal sex as a “safer” alternative to vaginal sex, as there’s little risk of pregnancy.
These images confound many teenagers about the kinds of sex they want or think they should have. In part, that’s because they aren’t always sure what is fake and what is real in porn. Though some told me that porn was fantasy or exaggerated, others said that porn wasn’t real only insofar as it wasn’t typically two lovers having sex on film. Some of those same teenagers assumed the portrayal of how sex and pleasure worked was largely accurate. That seems to be in keeping with a 2016 survey of 1,001 11-to-16-year-olds in Britain. Of the roughly half who had seen pornography, 53 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls said it was “realistic.” And in the recent Indiana University national survey, only one in six boys and one in four girls believed that women in online porn were not actually experiencing pleasure: As one suburban high school senior boy told me recently, “I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”
Now, in the third week of class, Daley’s goal was to undercut porn’s allure for teenagers by exposing the underbelly of the business. “When you understand it’s not just two people on the screen but an industry,” she told me, “it’s not as sexy.”
To that end, Daley started class by detailing a midlevel female performer’s salary (taken from the 2008 documentary “The Price of Pleasure”): “Blow job: $300,” Daley read from a list. “Anal: $1,000. Double penetration: $1,200. Gang bang: $1,300 for three guys. $100 for each additional guy.”
“Wow,” Drew muttered. “That makes it nasty now.”
“That’s nothing for being penetrated on camera,” another boy said.
Then, as if they had been given a green light to ask about a world that grown-ups rarely acknowledge, they began peppering Daley, Rothman and Alder with questions.
“How much do men get paid?” one girl asked. It is the one of the few professions in which men are paid less, Rothman explained, but they also typically have longer careers. How long do women stay in their jobs? On average, six to 18 months. How do guys get erections if they aren’t turned on? Often Viagra, Rothman offered, and sometimes a “fluffer,” as an offscreen human stimulator is known.
I really wish this canard was challenged more, male porn performers in het porn are paid less than female performers because they are not doing the same job; as someone else put it so well, women are paid to suffer, while men are paid to ejaculate. Porn companies can (and do) get men in off the street to do it for free, that’s why male porn performers are paid less.
Also, all the real money in porn is behind the cameras, in production and distribution, an area which is dominatd by men.
Daley then asked the teenagers to pretend they were contestants on a reality-TV show, in which they had to decide if they were willing to participate in certain challenges (your parents might be watching) and for how much money. In one scenario, she said, you would kneel on the ground while someone poured a goopy substance over your face. In another, you’d lick a spoon that had touched fecal matter. The kids debated the fecal-matter challenge — most wouldn’t to do it for less than $2 million. One wanted to know if the goop smelled. “Can we find out what it is?” asked another.
Then Daley explained that each was in fact a simulation of a porn act. The goopy substance was what’s called a “baker’s dozen,” in which 13 men ejaculate on a woman’s face, breasts and mouth.
“What?” a girl named Tiffany protested.
The second scenario — licking the spoon with fecal matter — was from a porn act known as A.T.M., in which a man puts his penis in a woman’s anus and then immediately follows by sticking it in her mouth.
“No way,” a 15-year-old boy said. “Can’t you wash in between?”
Nope, Daley said.
“We don’t question it when we see it in porn, right?” Daley went on. “There’s no judgment here, but some of you guys are squeamish about it.”
“I never knew any of this,” Drew said, sounding a bit glum.
Daley went on to detail a 2010 study that coded incidents of aggression in best-selling 2004 and 2005 porn videos. She noted that 88 percent of scenes showed verbal or physical aggression, mostly spanking, slapping and gagging. (A more recent content analysis of more than 6,000 mainstream online heterosexual porn scenes by Bryant Paul and his colleagues defined aggression specifically as any purposeful action appearing to cause physical or psychological harm to another person and found that 33 percent of scenes met that criteria. In each study, women were on the receiving end of the aggression more than 90 percent of the time.)
Al Vernacchio, a nationally known sexuality educator who teaches progressive sex ed at a private Quaker school outside Philadelphia, believes the better solution is to make porn literacy part of the larger umbrella of comprehensive sex education. Vernacchio, who is the author of the 2014 book “For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health,” is one of those rare teenage-sex educators who talks directly to his high school students about sexual pleasure and mutuality, along with the ingredients for healthy relationships. The problem with porn “is not just that it often shows misogynistic, unhealthy representations of relationships,” Vernacchio says. “You can’t learn relationship skills from porn, and if you are looking for pleasure and connection, porn can’t teach you how to have those.”
Crabbe notes one effective way to get young men to take fewer lessons from porn: “Tell them if you want to be a lazy, selfish lover, look at porn. If you want to be a lover where your partner says, ‘That was great,’ you won’t learn it from porn.” And parents should want their teenagers to be generous lovers, Cindy Gallop argues. “Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic. But nobody brings us up to behave well in bed.”
How did slavery, which we thought was abolished, reach into our everyday consumption? While it is quite right that companies should have their reputational feet held to the fire for abuse that arises out of their economic model, there are also uncomfortable truths here for affluent consumers of personal services.
Things that were until recently luxuries – manicures, clothes that change fashion every few weeks, regular holiday breaks to hotels, eating out frequently, having your car hand-valeted, using manual labour to dig out a basement under your house – are now presented to us as affordable, everyday even. Where they have become so, it is in large part thanks to other people being badly paid at best, or victims of modern slavery at worst. The squeezed middle has been bought off by the illusion that it can share the consuming habits of those with runaway incomes at the top; but it can’t – not without squeezing those further down the chain.
In a world where the state has often absented itself from the enforcement of employment law, and where so many human interactions are reduced to financial exchanges at whatever rate the market will take, people have become commodities to use or sell. When competition and austerity are king, it is every man and woman for themselves and their family. Too often, we close our eyes and try to protect our own.
People-traffickers target the vulnerable – including those with learning disabilities or raised in care, homeless people, those with alcohol and drug problems or previous convictions. They are the people easiest to control and least likely to attract sympathy. Anti-immigration sentiment has encouraged people to see these victims as foreign, as “other”. How else to explain why neighbours, work colleagues and customers so often fail to notice modern slavery?
Take the group of trafficked Lithuanians working brutal hours on egg farms around the country who were kept under control in their Kent ganghouses by threats and fighting dogs. What did farm managers and local residents on the same quiet streets see and hear? Alarming antisocial behaviour, and fights in a foreign language that made them want to turn away and keep their heads down, or fellow human beings suffering intolerable abuse and anaesthetising themselves from the trauma with drink?
Both the National Audit Office and the parliamentary select committee for work and pensions have highlighted serious shortcomings in the support for victims of modern slavery once they have been identified. The anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, also pointed out to the committee that every time a suspected victim of slavery is referred to the national referral mechanism, a crime is being alleged. Yet there is only a one-in-four chance of these cases being recorded as a potential crime, let alone investigated. If there were 4,000 rapes in the UK and only one in four was recorded by the police, there would be an outcry, he said. These failings need state remedies.
Meanwhile, we all need to recognise the signs. Where workers are putting in excessive hours, where they have no language to communicate with customers or where employers seem quick to speak for them, where they live in houses of multiple occupancy, we should be alert to the possibility of modern slavery.
If you are being offered a service for much less than you would expect to pay for it, someone is almost certainly being exploited. A car wash that takes six men 15 minutes and costs £10 does not pay the legal minimum wage. If something seems too cheap to be true, it probably is.