Cleaning up our Act

(The Nationalist, 3 September 1999)


One of the many good developments in Ireland in recent years has been the decline in levels of serious crime. For several years now, these have been dropping steadily, and that must surely be welcomed by all. A lot of thanks must go to the Gardaí who have become a more professional body than they were. Perhaps part of the credit must also go to the Celtic Tiger which has created new opportunities for work and for getting ahead in life; that’s a more attractive alternative than a risky life of crime.

But there is one exception to the pattern, and that is rape. It has increased steadily in recent years. To my mind, rape is more about power than it is about sex. In effect the rapist says, ‘I can use you as I like and then dump you’. Rape is an act of contempt for another person, using them for the satisfaction of one’s will to power, and then discarding them with no more thought than a burned-out match-stick. It is the supreme way of saying; ‘I don’t care’.

Why has this particular crime increased while other categories have shown a decline? I believe that part of the answer lies in the level of pornography available in Ireland. Some twelve years ago I attended a residential course in Dublin attended by a group of American priests, among others. One of the comments they made about Ireland was their surprise at the type of video movies available over the counter in ordinary video rental shops; they said that some of those they had seen on offer would have been available in the US only in specialized “porno” shops. And the managers of video shops in Ireland say that films of sexual and other violence are the biggest sellers; we buy the stuff and therefore filmmakers produce it.

A lot of learning is by imitation; that’s how we learned at home and at school when we were children. It’s how we learn a language. And images have a power of persuasion; they insinuate an idea rather than openly argue for it, as any advertising agency will acknowledge.

Pornography debases human sexuality, it belittles human relationships, exploits individuals and, by encouraging fantasizing, it incites and reinforces sexual practices such as rape. Governments seem to have given up on the struggle against it, perhaps because of the difficulty in defining what pornography is in a way that will satisfy a court of law.

But there still remains the power of the purse, the most effective weapon of all against it. If pornography is not bought, it won’t be produced, because the producers do it for the money, not for any alleged artistic merit.

Since women are overwhelmingly the victims of rape, is it not surprising (it is to me) that women are not more active in ensuring that it does not come into their home? That’s the best place to start, and no one has to wait for anyone else to make a move on it.