Panel Discussion: Effects of Violent Pornography


SYLVIA LAW: We have six panelists here today: four feminists and two lawyers. I guess my function is to bridge the gap. (Laughter.) We are going to begin hearing from the two feminists who did not speak this morning. Phyllis Chesler is a psychologist and the author of several books including Women and Madness, and Florence Rush is a social worker and a therapist who specializes in the problem of sexual abuse in children. Then we are going to hear a response to their statements from Paul Chevigny, who is a former NYCLU lawyer, a novelist, and a professor at this law school, and David Richards, who is a prolific writer on such subjects as law and morality and particularly moral issues that relate to sex, and is also a professor in this law school. Then Andrea Dworkin and Leah Fritz, whom you heard this morning, will respond to them. Then we are going to open it up to an exchange among the panel, and finally, we will open it up for questions and comments from the floor.

OPENING STATEMENT OF FLORENCE RUSH: We do not have a history of a taboo against the sexual use of children. Until recently, children were a paternal property and could be legitimately exploited, sold, or even killed by their masters. And since minors were also a sexual property, sex between male adults and children has been sanctioned, or at the very least tolerated, in our institutions of marriage, concubinage, slavery, prostitution, and pornography.

Today we expect the adult world to protect the young from sexual exploitation, but because we have neglected to simultaneously deprive men of their sexual privileges, our prohibitions represent the same confusion as do all laws and attitudes which arise from a double standard. Recently I heard a woman protest the marriage between a man of twenty and a woman of thirty. “‘The bride is a cradle snatcher,” she said. When the protester was reminded of a male friend of seventy who was living with a woman of thirty, she spontaneously approved with “Good for John. I’m glad the old boy still has it in him.” This common approbation of sex between young females and older males is also reflected in the law. In 1962, the American Law Institute recommended that the legal age of consent to sex (now between sixteen and eighteen, depending upon the state) be uniformly dropped to age ten. And until the legal age of consent in the state of Delaware was changed in 1972, if a man of forty had sex with a child of seven or over, he did so legally.

Suggested Reading

Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with