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The advent of refugee porn. And what makes it so wrong

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The refugee crisis has reached our bedrooms. And, oddly enough, bigots aren't barricading their houses. Reason? People like taboo porn.

And what could be more taboo for a strict conservative than watching refugee porn on their favourite porn website?

Yes, refugee porn exists. Syrian refugees are being searched for frantically, but not to repatriate them. They're being searched on Google, with the suffix 'naked' or 'porn' or worse, 'rape' attached to the search words.

Also read - World Refugee Day: For Myanmar's refugees, India a bleak house, not home

One in every 113 people is a refugee

The refugee crisis is one of the biggest problems in the world we live in. According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), the number of displaced people - both within and outside their borders - has crossed 65 million. This means that one in every 113 people has been driven out of their home and forced to seek asylum elsewhere.

For those who live in comfortable homes and work in nonthreatening environments, this seems too far removed. Which is precisely why we can afford to fetishise. And that's where porn figures in.

Also read - Good refugee policy needs social justice, empathy: Ranabir Samaddar

What is refugee porn?

Think of the most stereotypical representation of a refugee. Hijab wearing, vulnerable, not fluent in your language, and in need of help. This help may or may not come to them in real life, but in porn, it's just a matter of being willing to offer sex.

Property sex. Teacher-student sex. Street sex. Traffic cop sex.

In need of a house. In need of marks. In need of some quick cash. In need of a clean record.

Much of the sex shown in porn is transactional, where one party needs something and the Other can provide it at the cost of a quick romp. Or maybe more.

Also read - Why the first Olympic refugee team may not be the last

Much of the sex shown in porn is transactional

This formula, although dull, is inoffensive in most cases. It does, however, become problematic in the case of refugees.

Because here, the Other is voiceless. The Other doesn't come from the milieu the viewer finds themselves in. And by the virtue of being unwelcome, by governments and people alike, the Other is also truly othered.

It says a lot though

Porn satiates a very basic human need to pleasure oneself. And therefore, in a twisted way, our consumption of porn can be reflective of our most unadulterated, carnal needs (In some cases, it's just curiosity though.) Needs that stem from changes in our immediate and global environment. Needs that stem from how we consume news or social media.

Now if porn consumption is changing and creating the space for new categories, there is a need to study the 'whys'. Why are refugees suddenly appealing to porn consumers? Why are they represented a certain way? Why does refugee porn have so much 'rape' content?

The violence in refugee porn

A few quick searches will show you that a large chunk of refugee porn is that of rape. The refugee, if male, is often an aggressor. And if female, the violated.

The male aggressor is tall, beefy, distinctly more 'animalistic' than the white women he's out to violate. He wouldn't understand her cries for help, or acknowledge them. He would pervade her space and bring her worst fears to life. Because isn't that something we fear, that the refugees will 'take our women'?

This representation is not very different from how Asians and Africans were viewed and recorded in history by colonial powers.

A refugee is seen as an encroacher, on your land, your job, and your wife

Then there's also the non-violent male refugee who tends to your garden and pleasures your wife while you're away. Which stems from the same fear. Because a refugee is seen as the ultimate encroacher, on your land, on your job, and on the third kind of property - your woman.

The abuse of the female refugee is a lot more harrowing. There are multiple clips of the army violating women, of household help being abused, of refugee women pleading for food and shelter at the cost of sex. Not one could be termed pleasurable.

What makes it dangerous

It would be a hyper-simplistic view to see porn as a threat to society. No, pornography - despite what many rape cases in India document it to be - does not have a cause and effect relationship with violence. Yes, porn can most definitely introduce fetishes and direct your sexual acts a certain way, but there's very little scientific evidence that states porn consumption encourages bad choices.

However, porn can impact popular culture. The larger media, taking a cue from porn, can start misrepresenting refugees, thereby worsening the already hostile attitude towards them.

The displaced travel miles without knowing where they would get respite. They fight internal threats, to their personal safety and that of their families. By making them out to be sex objects without agency is highly problematic. Because it can only add to their trauma.

Refugee lives are led without basic things such as safety and privacy. A lot of these porn videos breach whatever little they do have by floating videos of refugees having sex in camps.

Also read - Refugees Welcome: Photos that prove humanity still has humanity left

Each time a refugee porn video is uploaded, it unwittingly fetishises not just a human body, but also their pain, the violence they've suffered, the grief, the aftermath of war, and the struggle to piece their lives back together.

First published: 13 July 2016, 8:13 IST
 
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role in plays in all our interactions.

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