Elizabeth Smart’s anti-porn crusade doesn’t show whole picture


Selena Cotte

By Opinions Editor

In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and repeatedly raped and abused for nine months before her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, was caught, and she was released. Instead of letting the tragedy consume her adult life, she is using her experience to inform her activism with anti-porn group Fight the New Drug. 

In a video released by the organization Aug. 19, Smart said pornography made Mitchell rape her more often than he would have otherwise and “made [her] living hell worse.” The video cites research that identifies harmful effects pornography has on viewers. This is part of the group’s larger message to keep people from watching and creating pornography. 

While what happened to Smart is horrific, pornography is not the reason for her tragedy, nor is it harmful as a whole.

Porn is a difficult subject to argue about because it is so widely consumed yet condemned. Religious figures and feminist activists alike argue against it. 

Even former Playboy model and actress Pamela Anderson wrote a commentary in The Wall Street Journal Aug. 31 alongside controversial and conservative activist Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, urging people to stop watching and endorsing pornography in light of a second Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, which started a child protective services investigation of the ex-congressman, and caused his wife to file for divorce.

 Studies about the amount of people who watch porn have results ranging from 50–99 percent of men and 30–86 percent of women. Popular porn site PornHub.com averages 60 million hits a day, with 8 million individual accounts registered. Its effects are debated, but it’s clear porn has a heavy presence in society.

An article by Melinda Wenner Moyer for Scientific American Mind called “The Sunny Side of Smut,” published July 1, 2011, cites numerous studies that prove the positive effects of porn. One controversial hypothesis suggests access to pornography can lower someone’s potential to commit acts of sexual violence, as it can be an alternate outlet for certain frustrations. This goes against Smart’s idea that pornography inspires viewers to commit more acts of sexual violence.

An April 2014 article by Kirsten Weir for the American Psychological Association titled “Is Pornography Addictive?” finds women who watch more pornography report more satisfying sex lives. The article also reports only 9 percent of people who were studied had a porn addiction. This is not a struggle the average person should be worried about, and its severity is often debated.

Some argue the porn industry is harmful to its workers and to the female image because it creates objectifying imagery and narratives. This argument ignores feminist pornography created by niche artists such as LustCinema.com and QueerPorn.tv which seek to empower and satisfy viewers without degradation.

Smart’s kidnapper exemplifies irresponsible use of pornography—he would often share it with her against her will—but he is not in the majority. Even without porn, he still would be a deeply disturbed man capable of harm.

Instead of telling people to stop promoting and watching porn, we should encourage healthy discussion about how to use it responsibly and focus on inclusive and feminist pornography and how to continue to shift toward porn that is less harmful to all parties involved.