From the 1980s on, feminists and social conservatives found common cause in opposing pornography. Feminists emphasized the depersonalizing and objectifying of women and conservatives focused on the devaluation of sex from something holy to the merely frivolous and even degrading and violent. There was the occasional libertarian defence of pornography, but while opposition to pornography paraded in the public square - with billboards, petitions, and ribbon campaigns - the defence of pornography was low-profile, relying on free-speech arguments made by well-paid lawyers in court rooms.
Until now. In the last couple of decades, pornography has exploded. It has gone from behind-the-counter magazines to the single largest category of Internet site, generating more income than all professional sports combined. Seedy strip joints have been replaced by dozens of pages of escort services online and in the Yellow Pages in any given city. Pornography is wealthier, more aggressive, and more mainstream than ever before - and now it is rebranding itself. No longer does pornography merely seek to be tolerated through libertarian arguments. Now pornography justifies itself through audacious, counterintuitive arguments of social utility.
"Pom Up, Rape Down" is a 2006 study by Anthony D'Amato of Northwestern University School of Law which claims to demonstrate that "the incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years white access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults. . . . There were 2.7 rapes for every 1,000 people in 1980; by 2004, the same survey found that the rate had decreased to 0.4 per 1,000 people, a decline of 85%."
D'Amato states: "My theory is that the sharp rise in access to pornography accounts for the decline in rape."
To further verify his hypothesis, D'Amato looked at statistics for the states with the highest and lowest rates of access to the Internet, since the Internet has become the principal conduit for pornography. According to a 2001 study by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the four states with the lowest per capita access to the Internet were Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia. The four states with the highest Internet access were Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington. D'Amato contrasted these groupings with statistics for forcible rape compiled from police reports by the Disaster Center for the years 1980 and 2000.
D'Amato writes: "While the nationwide incidence of rape was showing a drastic decline, the incidence of rape in the four states having the least access to the Internet showed an actual increase in rape over the same period. This result was almost too clear and convincing, so to check it I compiled figures for the four states having the most access to the Internet. Three out of four of these states showed declines (in New Jersey, an almost 50% decline)."
D'Amato concludes his study with the million-dollar question: "Correlations aside, could access to pornography actually reduce the incidence of rape as a matter of causation?" And he answers yes, access to pornography reduces rape: "Some people watching pornography may 'get it out of their system,' and thus have no further desire to go out and actually try it. Another possibility might be labelled the 'Victorian effect' : The more that people covered up their bodies with clothes in those days, the greater the mystery of what they looked like in the nude: Today, Internet porn has thoroughly demystified sex."
Not everyone accepts the methodology or the conclusions of D' Amato's study. Dr. Judith Reisman points to evidence that sexual crimes have been grossly underreported in recent years. And she quotes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.), a renowned expert on human aggression: "The downturn in violent crime in the U.S. in the 1990s is very deceptive. Violent crime ... is still about five times greater today, per capita, man it was in 1957. …