Amidst the current global Coronavirus crisis, Reuters has reported that there will likely be a rise in online sexual harassment as more people work from home. This comes on the back of  creator of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recently stating that ‘the internet is not a safe place for girls and women’ due to a ‘growing crisis’ including sexual harassment, abusive messages and discrimination. While Berners-Lee spoke more broadly of the problems facing women, here at CEASE UK we argue that it is vital that Berners-Lee – and others – recognise the enormous contribution to misogyny, harassment and violence propagated by the online porn industry.

The industry has grown tremendously over the past decade, with reported turnover anywhere between $2 billion to upwards of $90 billion per year. In this time there has been an explosion of content predicated on violence, exploitation and degradation, including the rise of ‘revenge porn’, DeepFakes, and the proliferation of image and video-based child sexual abuse. It is women and girls predominantly who are on the receiving end; they are seen as entirely-disposable “content” in an industry driven by the commodification of human sexuality.

As the porn industry has grown, the so-called ‘genres’ (a term intended to give them the veneer of acceptability) have become more degrading and violent, with some striving to dehumanise the women involved as much as possible. In effect they are shown to be nothing more than objects, willing – and often not even that – to submit to every demand of the men involved. This in turn shapes real life attitudes held by the same men who consume this porn, as they seek to act out the “fantasies” they have just witnessed on the screen.

Simultaneously, this cultivates generalised attitudes of entitlement, which manifests in new phenomena such as revenge porn and DeepFakes. If the woman you want to engage in a sexual relationship with either refuses or is otherwise “unattainable” – such as a celebrity or somebody you don’t know personally – this is no longer a problem. The internet has facilitated methods of seeking ‘revenge’ on the woman for not submitting, which itself by blackmailing the woman in question to post further nude pictures or videos on the threat of “exposure”. Similarly, it has produced new ways in which the content can be created using the woman’s image and likeness, transposed into a video of the viewer’s choice. This is a horrendous violation of privacy and consent, and little can be done to stop it.

So, while Berners-Lee is correct to say that the internet is not a safe place for girls and women, CEASE UK is calling upon him and other campaigners to recognise the tremendous harm that the porn industry is contributing to this unsafe environment. It not only normalises sexual violence and exploitation, but cultivates attitudes that result in further abuse and misogyny. It is time that those in positions of responsibility recognise the damage caused by the unchecked exploitation of women and girls by the porn industry, before it’s too late.