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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

French equality watchdog finds 90% of online pornography abuses women

A teenager looks at the screen of a mobile phone in the dark
The report found women were ‘humiliated, objectified … tortured, subjected to treatment that is contrary both to human dignity and French law’. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

As much as 90% of pornographic content online features verbal, physical and sexual violence towards women, and a significant amount of violence shown is punishable under existing laws in France, a report by the government-nominated equality watchdog has found.

France’s high council for equality between women and men on Wednesday handed the government a damning report on illegal porn-industry practices, urging changes to the law to prosecute makers of pornography and to take down content in order to protect those who have been filmed.

After more than 18 months of hearings and reviewing millions of videos on the biggest international pornography sites, the report said that in millions of videos, “women, caricatured with the worst sexist and racist stereotypes, are humiliated, objectified, dehumanised, assaulted, tortured, subjected to treatment that is contrary both to human dignity and French law”.

The report said: “The women are real, the sexual acts and the violence is real, the suffering is often perfectly visible and at the same time eroticised.”

The report also cites the French state prosecutor’s own view that the vast majority of pornography contained verbal and physical violence that contravened French law.

A significant amount of content amounted to torture. The report warned that any kind of so-called contract was void in legal terms, because a person could not consent to torture and sexual exploitation and trafficking. The report said that filmed acts of violence were illegal and should be punished.

The report condemned “inaction” by the French state and authorities in the face of decades of lobbying by the pornography industry which argued for freedom of expression. The report said there must be an end to what it called “blindness and denial” by the state, which had given the pornography industry “total impunity”.

Figures by Arcom, the audiovisual regulator in France, show that 51% of 12-year-old boys in France view pornography every month. “The massive consumption [of pornography] from a young age reinforces rape culture,” the report said.

Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette, the head of the French equality watchdog, told France Inter radio there was “no reason in 2023 to tolerate these illegal acts of unbearable torture” which were being shown to minors. She called pornography “a school for sexual violence” which must stop.

The French state platform, Pharos, designed to stop illegal content online, was not working adequately with regards to sexual violence and should be expanded to cover attacks against women in pornography, the report said.

Judges in France are investigating several cases against producers of pornography. In one case involving a French pornography website, 17 men are to face trial for rape, group rape and human trafficking for sexual exploitation, with at least 40 victims. In other cases, several French pornography producers have been charged with human trafficking, rape or rape with acts of torture. But the report said the legal process was long.

“For the few dozen victims whose voice is heard by the justice system, there are millions of videos published without controls, which prosper on misogynistic violence and hatred, to general indifference,” the report said.

Bérangère Couillard, the French minister for equality and the fight against discrimination, wrote in an opinion piece for the Journal du Dimanche that millions of videos online showed acts of torture and barbaric cruelty.

She said: “We must say stop. While the government is already addressing the question of the access of minors to this content, there is progress to be made in fighting against violence in the pornography industry, and in protecting women.”

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