Why Does Google, Microsoft Allow Videos of Women Being Raped?
Guest post by Justin Haskins
Millions of American women have been victims of sexual crimes, and although each sexual crime committed against any person is a horrific tragedy, those instances of rape that have been video recorded and uploaded to the Internet for the world to see are particularly egregious and difficult to move on from.
Few people are aware that there are hundreds—possibly even thousands—of easily accessible videos of women being raped on some of the world’s most powerful websites, notably Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing. In just one hour of searching using the terms “abuse of passed out girl” on Google, I was able to find dozens of videos of women being raped, sometimes violently. The small sample of videos had a combined total number of views that surpassed 21 million, and many of the videos had been posted for multiple years.
Criminals videotape themselves committing horrific acts of sexual abuse against innocent women and then upload the media to user-populated pornography websites for the world to see. The videos typically show young women stripped naked and raped, often incapacitated from alcohol or drugs.
Pornography websites, many of which say they do not allow such material, promote the rape videos on their sites, earning profits from advertising revenue generated by users who visit the site to find, among other forms of porn, rape videos.
Search engines provide billions of people access to the rape videos after they have indexed the pornography websites. The rape videos are often found at the very top of search result pages when using very simple search terms. Google and other search engines not only show links to the videos, they also provide “preview” pictures of the videos alongside search results. These pictures typically show the female victim naked. This means users don’t even have to leave Google’s site to see this material. On Yahoo, users can even watch parts of rape videos directly on Yahoo’s site.
Not only is showing these pictures and linking to these videos immoral, it may also be against federal law. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), “Federal law prohibits the possession with intent to sell or distribute obscenity, to send, ship, or receive obscenity, to import obscenity, and to transport obscenity across state boarders for purposes of distribution.”
DOJ also explains on its website “obscene” material is determined based on a three-pronged test that weighs whether the material is, among other things, “patently offensive” according to “contemporary adult community standards.”
Few would argue videos of helpless women being raped do not fit this definition—assuming an actual rape has occurred, rather than a staged video—and some are now saying Google and other search engines should re-think their policies on allowing videos of women being sexually abused.
Mary Anne Franks, Ph.D., the legislative and tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, says scholars disagree on exactly what constitutes “obscenity,” but that obscenity laws could apply in this case. Franks, however, cautions that because obscenity laws have been used in the past to inappropriately censor material, “we would be better off with sharper legal concepts that are less vulnerable to overreach and misuse.”
“Updating our voyeurism laws for the 21st century would be a good start, as would be recognizing crimes such as the nonconsensual distribution of sexually explicit material,” said Franks.
Regardless of whether or not search engines are breaking the law by displaying rape videos, they have a moral responsibility to society to ensure they are not promoting this kind of extreme violence. By displaying the videos to millions of people, search engines are essentially showing other individuals who may be inclined to hurt women that by raping someone, you can grab the attention of millions without any consequences.
Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing are some of the most important and powerful businesses in the world, and if they don’t self-regulate their search engines more carefully, they run the risk of having government officials step in, taking more control away from individuals and placing it in the hands of a giant bureaucracy that really isn’t equipped to deal with this problem.
People and businesses should be afforded as much liberty as possible on the Internet and in the rest of society, but no one has the right to profit off of the victimization of others. Search engines should always be striving to protect the rights of others, especially those who are placed in very vulnerable circumstances.
If Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are unwilling to make the changes necessary to their policies, Americans should find other Internet search engines that are more interested in protecting liberty and innocent victims than their own financial bottom line.