Hate Speech, Pornography, and the Radical Attack on Free Speech Doctrine

By James Weinstein | Go to book overview

APPENDIX:
EMPIRICAL STUDIES ON THE EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY
Science Meets Ideology

In contrast to the dearth of scientific research on the harm caused by hate speech, recent studies have focused on the question of whether pornography leads to acts of aggression and violence toward women. There have, however, been a number of conflicting claims about what these studies show. For instance, in the mid-1980s the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography found that "the available evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that substantial exposure to sexually violent materials . . . bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence and, for some subgroups, possibly to unlawful acts of sexual violence."1 In contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union claims that the commission "wildly overstates" the "tentative results of a limited number" of studies.2 Academics debating the wisdom and constitutionality of banning pornography make similarly disparate claims. Sociologist Diana Russell refers to the "very strong evidence" that pornography causes harm, whereas philosopher Ronald Dworkin asserts that "no respectable study or evidence has shown any causal link between pornography and actual violence."3 In Chapter 71 concluded that like so many of the claims about hate speech and pornography and the regulation of this material, the truth lies somewhere in between: Although there is some evidence that violent pornography (and perhaps "demeaning" pornography as well) causes violence against women, the evidence is far from conclusive. In this Appendix I discuss in detail both the claims made about these studies and what these studies actually show.


THE PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION ON PORNOGRAPHY

In 1970 the President's Commission on Pornography reviewed the pertinent studies on the effects of pornography, including research it had funded, and concluded:

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