The Military’s Sexual Assault Problem Is Not a Porn Problem

The anti-pornography organization Morality in the Media is insisting that the solution to the military’s sexual assault issue is – surprise! – banning porn. They explain:

“The U.S. Military has a serious pornography problem, and is doing next to nothing to combat it. Now, we are seeing the consequences with at least 70 reported sexual assaults a day in our nation’s armed services and a growing culture accepting of sexual exploitation even in the top ranks.”

Morality in the Media provides studies that apparently show correlations between pornography and sexual assault, but they never explain the causation. Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M and Richard Hartley of University of Texas, San Antonio even note the inconsistent data in their controlled study of the influence of pornography on rape and sexual assault. Considering the data on balance, there is no proven link between pornography and sexual violence:

“Although these data cannot be used to determine that pornography has a cathartic effect on rape behavior, combined with the weak evidence in support of negative causal hypotheses from the scientific literature, it is concluded that it is time to discard the hypothesis that pornography contributes to increased sexual assault behavior.

Despite this fact, the military already took steps to address sexually explicit material. In 1996, the Military Honor and Decency Act was specifically enacted to prohibit the sale, rental, or general procurement of sexually explicit material to any persons on military bases. But as Morality in the Media notes, the law does not prohibit the sale of pornographic magazines, such as Playboy and Hustler.

The Military Honor and Decency Act isn’t the only law that the military follows regarding pornography. At military academies, access to online pornography is also prohibited. The Air Force Cadet Wing Manual at the Air Force Academy states:

4.11.8. Inappropriate Use of Computers. Cadets will not use the network to interfere with system security or integrity, obstruct users from authorized services, or conduct harassing activities toward other network users. Prohibited activities include but are not limited to:
4.11.8.1. Transmitting, displaying, or storing offensive, discriminatory, pornography, or sexually related material. 
4.11.8.2. Accessing any web site that contains pornographic material.

Obviously, the military doesn’t allow for most forms of pornography, and simply because Playboy and Hustler are available on post doesn’t mean that the men and women who purchase them will become rapists. Morality in the Media has yet to show a link between those who consume this pornography with committing sexual assault in the military.

By any objective measurement, the military doesn’t have a “pornography problem.” Shifting the discussion from sexual assault in the military to the consumption of porn only hinders our ability to actually fix it’s actual dilemma—sexual assault. The problem is rape, and the only way to combat rape culture in the military is by tackling it head on–not by pawning the blame off on a trivial, peripheral issue, nor by exploiting a very real crisis to further their own “moral” crusade against pornography.