Monday, 6 August 2007

What's The Harm?

Big Brother or essential anti-exploitation measures? – SLLU member Ledoof Constantineau gives her considered view on the Second Life sexual violence debate.

What's the harm? It's a question debated endlessly on Second Life forums and blogs* concerning content and activities inworld that many find disturbing in their potential implications, and others defend resolutely lest the community become, in their eyes, a big brother state. There can be few who have wandered this brave new virtual world without coming upon, intentionally or otherwise, sexualised child avatars, profiles displaying membership for 'rape fantasy' groups, or women in slave poses speaking (when spoken to..) in the third person. As a feminist with a background working in the anti violence against women and children sector, I am firmly in the camp harbouring concerns, and decided to investigate for myself some of second life's more infamous settings.

I spent one day teleporting around hard alley, Gor locations, clubs and other related areas and took snapshots of some of what I found; adding sceenshots of various groups, and profiles, and adverts of interest and relevance. The images are now collated together in an exhibit of sorts and have been added to since then as I, and other people working on the project, have come across more and more content whose main themes seem to be misogyny and abuse of power.

But where is the harm in pixels engaging in what appears to be consensual role-play? It is here that we must revisit longstanding debates on pornography and censorship, as well as examining emerging opinions on Second Life itself (and other virtual worlds). Dutch psychologist Jos Buschman, has been widely quoted recently after stating that second life is "by definition, a school for paedophiles"*. The Home Office in the UK has produced a consultation document investigating potential harm and legislative action around 'non photographic visual depictions ' of children being abused, It states:
"..Police and children’s welfare groups report an increase in interest in these images..(and).. are concerned that these images could fuel the abuse of real children by reinforcing abusers' inappropriate feelings toward children. These images, particularly as they are often in cartoon or fantasy style format, could be used in 'grooming' or preparing children for sexual abuse."*
Second Life, and potentially other virtual worlds, allow the fantasy of pornography to be taken one step further by allowing users to actively participate in that fantasy, and, provides a community of other like-minded people who validate and reinforce that the fantasy is ok. The Save The Children Europe Group position paper on child pornography and internet related sexual exploitation of children reports that,
"..Research has.. shown that some sex offenders will overcome their own internal inhibitors by viewing child pornography. There is some material which suggests that one of the most critical functions of child pornography is as reinforcement and justification of the will to abuse. This contradicts the discredited 'cathartic hypothesis' used to suggest that the use of child pornography will help potential abusers control their urges.."*

Those wishing to role-play child sexual abuse scenarios have found themselves a safe haven in which to operate. There are groups (Candence elementary school - 262 members, Indafamily - 133 members, Hard Alley Family Fun - 60 members, Daddys Toy - 68 members, Gothic Lolita - 476 members, School Girls Gone Bad Detention Home - 1099 members, to name a few) in which members harbouring such fantasies can have contact with each other, and locations (Wonderland in Nemo, Playfair Mansion. Daddy's Darlin’s) which have children’s bedroom designs and sex and torture pose balls within where the role play scenarios can be enacted. If part of training for soldiers can be to utilise immersive MMORPG'S, partly to desensitize and prepare for violent acts, then what is the potential impact of immersion in role-play and abuse fantasy scenarios?

"Pornography is the perfect preparation - motivator and instruction manual in one - for sexual atrocities" Catherine McKinnon

It is beyond the scope of this short article to do justice to the debate on pornography, but if one is inclined to share the point of view of Catherine McKinnon and others (and I do), then the proliferation of violent pornography and associated groups and activities within Second Life becomes, frankly, terrifying in it's potential implications for harm. There is anecdotal evidence of women involved in Gor, for instance, who are, in addition to their daily online rituals of subjection to 'playful' sexual slavery and humiliation, forbidden to leave their PC unless given permission to do so by their 'master'. A BDSM 'master' on the official messageboard openly discussed his success in online training and how some trainees have become excellent slaves in their real lives, partly through his training. This person also talked of the several vulnerable young women in 'real life' who had dropped out of school, had alcohol and/or drug problems, but were now leading constructive lives under his control. The language of pornography (bitch, slut, whore) plays an integral role in reinforcing these fantasies of women, and children, as penis and male pleasure receptacles to be controlled; objects to be used and mastered. It is a language of overt woman-hating, and is both ubiquitous and conspicuous in Gor, in BDSM, in child sexual abuse role-play areas, in sex clubs, in groups.. Everywhere in Second Life. The late Andrea Dworkin, whose work has been central to feminist anti-pornography arguments, captured, for me, its essence and function with the following words.

"Contemporary pornography strictly and literally conforms to the word's root meaning: the graphic depiction of vile whore, or, in our language, sluts, cows (as in: sexual cattle, sexual chattel), cunts.. The methods of graphic depiction have increased in number and in kind; the content is still the same; the meaning is the same; the purpose is the same; the sexuality of the women depicted is the same; the value of the women depicted is the same..".

It is through pornography that the areas of Gor and BDSM and 'ageplay' (specifically child sexual abuse roleplaying 'ageplay') and Dolcett (sexualised cannibalism of women) and Hard Alley's 'rape fantasists' are linked. The audience and particpants for each may differ, the backstories and pseudo-intellectualising justifying each may vary, but they speak the same language and the fantasies are centred around abuse of power. The language takes on more importance, perhaps, in a virtual world environment, where physical harm is not present (but could be should the relationship enter first lives..) but rather emotional and psychological harm, manipulation and abuse, and in some cases, indoctrination into a particular-mind set and way of being.

Consent and choice have been central notions in debates around wider commercial sexual exploitation of women and children (pornography, prostitution, lapdancing, trafficking and so on), and are at the forefront too, with regards Second Life. Both concepts are intertwined, and, as Robert Jensen, in his book 'Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity' notes,
"A meaningful discussion of choice can't be restricted to the single moment when a woman decides to perform in a specific pornographic film but must include all the existing background conditions that affect not only the objective choices she faces but her subjective assessment of these choices.".
We do not know the histories of those who engage in say, a rape role play scenario which ends with their avatar being mutilated and murdered (a scenario outlined by a poster in a messageboard debate), but it seems quite a stretch to agree that this is somehow sexually liberating for women.

The campaign to 'Keep Second Life Free' and 'united protest' are organised and highly visible; their aim to keep second life unrestricted in its content and activities (I came across posters mainly in Gor, BDSM, ageplay, Dolcett, Rape, 'extreme' sex etc areas). Who are we keeping SL free for? Whose interests are being served? Is real freedom the unyielding propagation of sexist, women-hating, violence and abuse ridden fantasy fodder?
My favourite snapshot was taken at a Gorean brothel. Outside the front door was the keeping SL free poster, and, by it's side, a shackling post for kajira (female slave)'Camper Slut' to be trussed up and displayed..


1 Keeping SL Safe Together

Slave Debate

Gor Debate

2 Libbenga, Jan, 'The Register' online magazine (21/2/07)

3 Home Office UK ( 2007)

4 Save The Children Europe Group: Position Paper on Child
Pornography and Internet Related Sexual Expoloitation of
Children (2004)

5 McKinnon, Catherine - source text unknown

6 See 1

7 Dworkin, Andrea, 'Pornography: Men Possessing Women"
(1994 edn)

8 Jensen, Robert, 'Getting Off: Pornography and the End of
Masculinity' (2007)

"..(research).. virtually unanimously shows that exposure to sexually violent material increases the likelihood of agression toward women..(and).. the available evidence strongly suggests the hypothesis that substantial exposure to sexually violent materials.. bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence... report also found that non-violent but degrading pornographic material produced effects similar to but not as extensive as those involved with non-violent pornography.."
Attorney General Commission on Pornography, US, 1986

Please note: This is a personal opinion from an individual SLLU member. We have published it in keeping with this blog's and our organisation's aim to represent and reflect a diversity of left opinions. The opinions contained within this article do not represent an SLLU group consensus, and the article is intended to provoke thought, debate, and further discussion. Please submit YOUR view to SLUL Revolution inworld or post replies to the blog piece.

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Onder Skall said...

Just an fyi from a writer's perspective: this is an old reporter's trick -

(people in authority) are (worried/concerned/wondering/think) that (topic) ("could fuel"/"may cause"/"could be used for"/"is potentially") (something terrible).

The beauty of it is that you can fill in those blanks with anything and you don't have to worry about "research" or "fact checking" or "reality" or even an actual source. You can make a case for anything you dream up and the reader will assume it has legs.

I'm not arguing a point here on either side of the debate, just a word of caution when quoting journalists. They are there to manipulate the reader.

Oh, and you have another old chestnut in here: "Research has.. shown". The reader will never ever find the research, so say whatever. Even if they do find it, they're not going to read it. I've seen journalists actually link studies that say the exact opposite of what the point of the article was.

Second Life Left Unity said...

Onder - I don't understand your comment. Are you saying there are inacurracies in Ledoof's piece or are you teaching her journalism?

I actually liked this article - not just because of the content, but because of the fact it is semiotically clear. It contains few if any play on semantics.

The reader should be able to check the references ok - they are at the bottom of the article. And anyone wanting to reply to this can do so here - or if inworld, can pass a reply on to ledoof personally or to slul revolution for publication.

higgleDpiggle Snoats said...

it would only be a 'trick' if this technique was used to deliberately and cynically lend spurious validity to an argument. if the source material is genuine, then it is a valid technique. it is a convention that every essay writer uses as well, in itself it isn't dubious, only the intention to deliberately distort it would be. I myself don't agree with Ledoof's implied conclusions, but I do believe this was a very well-presented personal opinion.

Onder Skall said...

Guys, I'm not attacking you or the author. Calm down.

All I'm saying is to use caution when you come across these two patterns in any text. They are tried and true manipulative devices, and they really work. That's the mainstream media for you.

In this case they MAY be INADVERTENT but I've never seen it used accidentally. Professional writers don't work like that. Ledoof Constantineau is just quoting a mainstream writer here so most likely they're not to blame at all, but the original author knew exactly what they were doing.

As a matter of course be sure that you mentally cross out any paragraphs containing devices like these as they are free of actual content. They are control devices only, targeting the passionate and the activist. They work.

Form your opinion based on the remainder.

End of line.

Eremia said...

I agree with higgleDPiggle's comment; whilst this piece does not reflect my views entirely, it is a very thought provoking piece. Personally, I feel the whole ageplay/sexplay area is a very grey one; I have met people who find non-sexualised ageplay to be therapeutic and I have met dominatrix mistresses with many male slaves. I would be interested to hear their responses to this piece too.

wildo said...

I found this article very intersting and i will translate it to put on's blog on the internet.

Ian Betteridge said...

To quote from the Feminists against Censorship web site, "Those who have power get to censor, and those who lack power get silenced. If you find yourself in a position to demand and get censorship, you can be sure you are among those who have the power, and you are acting to oppress others."

First, why do you conflate consensual adult sexual practice (BDSM, rape fantasy, dolcette, etc) with child porn (simulated or otherwise)? We see this tactic again and again whenever sexual fetishes are discussed, and it's nonsense.

Secondly, where is the research that simulated child pornography (CGI, etc) provides the same level of reinforcement stimulus that genuine child porn does? If there is no such research then your argument doesn't really carry much weight - and if there is such research, I think you should cite it. Simply saying that "police are concerned", by the way, doesn't count as research.

Finally, I look forward to you campaigning against guns in Second Life, which are obviously encouraging people to shoot people in the head in real life. Or at least they are if you follow the same kind of logic you're applying to sex. Of course, if you agree, then you're in good company: Abu Bakir Bashir, the person alleged to be behind the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people stated last year that "if I am asked which is more dangerous, naked women or the Bali bombs, then my reply is of course those women in skimpy clothes."

Anonymous said...

As the creator and owner of Hard Alley, the School Girls Gone Bad Detention Center, and the Hard Alley Family Fun group, I feel compelled to mention that Ageplay is specifically BANNED from all Hard Alley sites. It is clearly posted in the rules notecards given upon teleporting to the sites and our security enforces that ban as best they can.

I should also note that the author of the aritcle made no attempt to contact me to discuss their concerns and seem to have allowed their pre-conceptions to take the place of fact.

In keeping with current Linden policy on ageplay, no Hard Alley related site allows for players OR avatars under the age of 18.

Thank you,
Hard Rust

Sideshow Vintage said...

Hard Rust - if you wish to avoid people making such a 'mistaken' association in future - maybe you should reconsider your chosen group titles?


Anonymous said...

Freedom is also to tolerate the other side. In SL can anyone click the X and log out, so there is no force, all is fantasy.

Im sick of these people who want to change a platform for mature person into a candyland for childs.

(beside Childporn & Ageplay, no tolerance for this!)