Members of Parliament have challenged the UK government to address sexual harassment of women by restricting sexualized media, especially pornography.
In a recent report, the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee said sexual harassment is connected to the way women are portrayed in pornography and other areas of mainstream media – among them social media, movies, and advertisements.
“There are very deep concerns about the relationship between the media, culture and sexual harassment, including the portrayal and representation of women and men and the way in which the media facilitates sexual harassment,” the report said.
The committee cited research saying that girls and young women are frequently made uncomfortable by sexualized media portrayals of women, and that many young women in the UK believe pornography and mainstream media portrayals of women contribute to sexual harassment, or trivialize violence against women.
The committee also mentioned surveys in which 85 percent of 18-24-year-old women, and 64 percent of all women, had experienced sexual harassment in public; 35 percent reported being touched against their will.
The MPs specifically highlighted the harmful social effect of pornography, noting that it is becoming viewed by many as an acceptable and normal avenue for sexual education.
This is problematic, the reported stated, because pornography promotes unrealistic expectations of sex. The committee further added that pornography viewing is connected to “sexist attitudes and sexually aggressive behaviours, including violence” and suggested that more research should be launched on the subject.
The committee compared the damages of pornography to the harm in cigarette smoking, “which are addressed through public health campaigns and huge investment designed to reduce and prevent those harms.”
“The Government should take a similar, evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography,” the MPs said.
An area that needs more contribution of research is the direct correlation between pornography and attitudes of sexual harassment, the report stated, noting there are clear trends of this connection which could be better explored.
“For example, people who find legal pornography acceptable are generally more likely to find sexual harassment acceptable than people who find legal pornography unacceptable.”
The MPs said the government is inconsistent in its stance on porn. The report pointed to the UK’s age verification policy, currently in the works, to bar underage people from looking at porn online or the restrictions on the locations able to distribute porn material.
The committee said that while this is a government recognition of the dangers of porn, Britain’s government has also expressed doubt about the connections between porn and violence.
“It is odd, therefore, that the Government’s written evidence to us expressed doubt about the strength of research suggesting a relationship between the consumption of pornography and sexually harmful behaviours. It stated that ‘there is currently limited evidence to suggest a link between the consumption of pornography and sexual violence.’”
The committee said there should be more restrictions on the viewing of pornography online by adults and its use in public areas like buses. The MPs also said social media should be better regulated for sexual harassment and porn distribution, which may be a blind spot for the age verification policy.
“The definition of ‘commercial pornography services’ for the Government’s policy on age verification of pornography websites should be amended to include social media, to ensure that this policy is as effective and comprehensive as possible.”