Extreme porn punishes women for being female

Former New York City police officer Gilberto Valle, dubbed by local media as the "Cannibal Cop" was found guilty of plotting last year to kidnap, cook and eat a Manhattan woman.

Former New York City police officer Gilberto Valle, dubbed by local media as the "Cannibal Cop" was found guilty of plotting last year to kidnap, cook and eat a Manhattan woman.

Last month's bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius made international headlines primarily for two reasons: the defendant was an Olympic athlete and the woman he shot dead was his girlfriend.

Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and women's rights advocate, also happened to be a blonde model. So naturally, most media reports detailing her violent end were juxtaposed with shots of her posing in a bikini. These images were designed to provoke sexual desire and so help sell whatever product her image was flogging at the time. Used in the context of a newspaper report on her own bloody demise, what her sexy photos were selling was violence itself.

On the other side of the world, a US jury has convicted New York policeman Gilberto Valle, the so-called "Cannibal Cop" of conspiring to kidnap, torture, cook and eat several women, including his wife and a close friend. 

A courtroom sketch of the first day of Gilberto Valle's trial in New York February 25, 2013. He was accused of plotting last year to kidnap, cook and eat a Manhattan woman.

A courtroom sketch of the first day of Gilberto Valle's trial in New York February 25, 2013. He was accused of plotting last year to kidnap, cook and eat a Manhattan woman. Photo: STRINGER

Valle's lawyer argued that it was all fantasy. As a frequenter of the little known – until now – genre of violent pornography known as "cannibal porn", he is certainly not alone. There are many websites and forums devoted to "women eaters" (men who want to eat women), "meatgirls" (women who want to be eaten) and "femcans" (men who want to be eaten by women). 

Like porn sites in general, cannibal porn focuses primarily on women, in this case, images of women being tortured and cooked alive. While most users purport to stay strictly in the realm of fantasy, in Valle's case he actually offered up the names of real, unsuspecting women to be cooked alive, going as far as illegally searching their addresses on the police database, as well as researching human meat recipes and discussing kidnap and delivery details online. 

Valle's fantasies were extremely graphic. They included roasting women on an open barbecue, and tying their hands and feet before slitting their throats so he and his friends "could have fun watching the blood rush out". The emphasis was on brutalising the women. "Don't worry," he assured one co-conspirator, "They will suffer."

Gilberto Valle with his daughter.

Gilberto Valle with his daughter.

While Valle has been positioned as a sick outlier, even within the cannibal porn community, it should be noted that his fantasies and actions did not occur in a void.

The world is becoming a more violent place for women. In Australia, a woman is killed by a partner or ex-partner every week. In South Africa, it's every eight hours. It's not surprising then, that it was Valle's wife, believing herself to be in real danger, who raised the alarm.

The trials of Valle and Pistorious reveal an uncomfortable truth we simply don't acknowledge - that sex and violence have become so thoroughly entangled in the internet age; they are virtually two sides of the same coin.

Valle signifies a worrying new direction where, as Tim Jones, a psychologist at Britain's Worcester University, warns, "The internet is fuelling more extreme fantasies and the danger is that they could be played out in real life." 

It could be argued that Valle's actions do not reflect wider society's views on women and sex, but keep in mind that while the cannibal porn community is relatively small, extreme "gonzo" porn is the most popular and fastest growing genre.

A 2011 study found that physical aggression (almost always against women) was present in 88 per cent of scenes, with an average of 12 aggressive acts per scene. Worse still, women were shown reacting to violence with either pleasure or neutrality, reinforcing the idea that women enjoy or at least deserve violent and degrading sex.

Porn is not inherently violent or misogynistic. However, extreme gonzo goes where other porn doesn't, and being market driven, it has to keep outdoing itself. The more violent it gets, the more violence its audience wants. So women's orifices are stretched to the point they resemble gaping wounds. Women are slapped, spat on, punched, choked, their heads  shoved in the toilet as the man inside them ejaculates.

Yes, they have consented to this, but it's not only those women who pay the price for this escalating dehumanisation; it's all women. Once an act is recorded and distributed in the public domain, it ceases to be just about the players themselves and becomes about representation.

For just as gonzo aims to make the male viewer feel he is in the midst of the action, so too does it make the actress stand in for all women. She is not a woman, she is Woman. Or more specifically, she is a mouth, vagina, and anus attached to a body whose humanity is destroyed before the eyes of the viewer.

As much as we like to paint people like Valle as aberrations, he exists in a world where more and more sexual imagery is normalising the brutalisation of women. I spent two days watching extreme porn in researching this article. That's two days of coming across videos like "Cute girl gets mouth destroyed" and "Enough is enough: Punish that bitch".

And these are the tame ones, accessible with a simple click. Call me a bad researcher but nothing could induce me to watch anything that required registration or a credit card. Any more and my own desire to ever have sex again would have been seriously impeded. These videos don't just degrade women, they degrade sex itself.

Even non-pornographic websites that glorify violence use sex to draw in viewers. Best Gore is a confoundingly popular site claiming to show real photos and footage of carnage including road accidents, beheadings, and impalements. As well as advertisements for "free brutal porn", this site features a banner on its homepage that depicts a naked woman, skewered from mouth to anus roasting alive over a spit.

Which brings us back to the "Cannibal Cop". Sex is not and should never be about brutalising women. The increasing violence in porn is nothing if not an indication of how much we as a society are damaged by our own constricted views of women. It is both cause and effect. Centuries of pathological aversion to independent female sexuality has bred a subculture that's no longer even sub – where women are routinely degraded, beaten, punished. Punished for being female. Punished for having a vagina and using it.

"Don't worry. They will suffer."

49 comments

  • the cop should not have been charged for his thoughts, even though they were ville. He should have been charged with abusing his power as a cop. It is an abuse of justice to charge people over their thoughts, and ultimately, what could be considered literature (not that I think that it is).

    The worst part of this case is that after hearing about it, and after reading articles like this, how many more people have googled the themes mentioned that are only a click away?

    Commenter
    web
    Location
    flem
    Date and time
    March 15, 2013, 9:16AM
    • He wasn't convicted for his thoughts. he was convicted for taking what the jury found to be deliberate steps towards making his fantasy a reality. It is entirely possible that he never intended to follow through on his plans. But he used the names of real women, looked up their addresses, turned up on their street. These are more than just thoughts. The jury had to make the call.

      Commenter
      Ruby Hamad
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 12:34PM
    • "It is entirely possible that he never intended to follow through on his plans."

      Based on what you just said, that's reasonable doubt enough to acquit.

      Guilt before the crime is not fair and I believe that this is an abuse of power of the law (even though I think that what he was thinking of doing is disgusting).

      Commenter
      web
      Location
      flem
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 12:53PM
    • web- to follow your logic then a person would never be able to be convicted of conspiring or planning to do anything.

      It is a crime to conspire to do many things, including murder or terrorist acts. In all cases it is possible the person would not follow through. They could be injured beforehand or change their mind, for example. The crime is not in following through, but in the conspiring- that was what was proven.

      Commenter
      BG
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 2:20PM
    • It's called "conspiracy to commit (insert crime)". It's a legitimate offence.
      Are you saying that if I threatened to harm you and your family, bought weapons to do it, got others involved, and stalked your home, that you would want the law to wait until I had committed the crime before they did anything?

      Commenter
      Heisenberg
      Location
      thisaggression.wordpress.com
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 3:11PM
  • This is all sick. An aberration against humanity. It just goes to show that we really are on the brink of self-destruction as a society, if not already truly in free-fall.

    “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.” ― Aristotle.

    Commenter
    Lord
    Date and time
    March 15, 2013, 9:19AM
    • Lord
      But the fact that this guy was prosecuted and convicted is evidence that this type of evilness is not tolerated, let alone condoned by the vast, vast, vast majority of people.
      Your Aristotle quote is him warning about what he thought was societys imminent collapse.
      He was obviosly wrong, wasn't he?

      Commenter
      LeftyRoy
      Location
      Cydnee
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 12:21PM
    • I was leaning more towards the apathy part of the quote. Most people will not care about it, until their own daughter/son is involved in this filth - then it will be too late. I agree you cannot cottonwool everything, but measures can be made to curb such heinous acts.

      Commenter
      Lord
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 1:32PM
  • Excellent article, Ruby. Thank you.
    I am doing research on the effects of violent and degrading pornography and you have hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Commenter
    Heisenberg
    Location
    thisaggression.wordpress.com
    Date and time
    March 15, 2013, 9:27AM
    • Thank you. It was a long, tough process writing this.

      Commenter
      Ruby Hamad
      Date and time
      March 15, 2013, 12:07PM

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