‘Rough sex’ as a defense for violence against women has roots in toxic misogynist forums online

Grace Millane is the 58th UK woman said to be killed due to “sex gone wrong.” Jesse Kempson, a 27-year-old New Zealand man, choked her to death after a Tinder date. The Guardian reports that his lawyers argued Millane died accidentally due to “a toxic combination of alcohol, inexperience with BDSM practices, and sexual passion going too far.”

This “rough sex” excuse for violence against women is fast becoming the femicide defence-of-choice, doubly effective as it shifts blame away from the defendant, whilst allowing him to smear his victim. By portraying her as the kind of girl who liked “rough sex,” the killer involves his victim as co-conspirator — her death something in which she was an active participant. For some, there is the added thrill of hurting the family and friends, who will doubtless have appeared in the press, emphasizing their daughter’s positive, loving qualities.

Many blame a rise in the availability of porn with choking as a primary theme. They suggest that such content is encouraging young men to normalize choking as a sex game, whilst ignoring the inherent dangers.

While it is true that such things are more readily available and can be influential, the BDSM community has practiced choking (“breath play”) for decades without it being normalized as a cause or defence for women’s deaths. While porn culture and the mainstreaming of violent sex may play a role, I believe there are other factors. I know from my work with sex offenders that men who commit these crimes are extremely manipulative and will go to any lengths to shift suspicion away from themselves. By using the “sex-game” defence, they deliberately shift blame and are attempting to side-step any discussion of their true motivations by allowing the media to become embroiled in debates about the nature of porn. Motivation can be a complex issue to unpack, but the misogynist attitudes of these perpetrators can be seen online in the lingering spectre of the MRA (Men’s Rights Activists).

Having started out as a movement to tackle issues impacting men, or that MRAs believed constituted discrimination against men (family law, domestic violence against men, male circumcision, and suicide, for example), the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) morphed into groups for men who feel maligned by women. In its current incarnations, the MRM is bitter and aggressive, incorporating the subsets of MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), Incels (Involuntary Celibates), and Pick Up Artists (PUA).

Of the three, PUA are most well-known thanks to men like Roosh V and Julien Blanc. In 2014, Blanc described himself as the “international leader in dating advice” and gave seduction seminars to men across the globe. He rose to infamy after posting pictures on social media showing himself with his hand around the throats of various women alongside the hashtag, #chokingwomenaroundtheworld. This, coupled with videos of Blanc “seducing” random women by grabbing them and pushing their heads into his crotch, led to international outcry and his being denied visas to enter Australia, the UK, and South Korea. Today, Blanc appears to have given up the “dating coach” shtick, and refers to himself as a “self-help speaker” and “transformational coach” on Instagram, but the women-as-prey mentality lives on in men like Buck Tulson. On Twitter, Tulson informs his followers that women “see feelings and reality as one and the same,” and compares women to children, who need men’s “authority” and “leadership.” He also suggests that women want to be objectified and will “welcome [their] objectification” if they find a man desirable enough. Like Blanc, Tulson presents himself as a guru of sorts, imparting his wisdom to followers in a tone that suggests he is improving their lives. Tulson speaks about women as though they are a separate species, suggesting his contact with real-life women is (thankfully) severely limited.

MGTOW are generally the least aggressive of MRA subsets. Claiming to be sick of a society they view as anti-man, they have opted to eschew women completely, believing them to be manipulative, untrustworthy, and illogical. Existing primarily online, MGTOW are a community of embittered, lonely men, trapped in circular arguments attempting to justify their misogyny.

Attempts to reason with them are usually met with a combination of scorn and insults, for example, the notion that all women are liars who are never held to account for their actions. One Reddit user, DangZagnut, explained: “I’d rather say that women are just bad because women lie. All the time… women have no… oppression by ‘responsibility’ or ‘accountability.’” (That is to say he believes women are held to different standards than men, who are “oppressed” through accountability and responsibility). He added:

“Feminism has been about equal ‘privileges’… but never responsibility. They’re [sic] organization has been an elitist, racist organization from the beginning from when they were a terrorist group known as suffragettes.”

Catastrophizing and projection are also common themes. Many seem to feel that, because their interactions with women have been unsatisfactory, society as a whole must also be in the same situation. The world was going to hell in a (female) hand basket and, according to Reddit user CiceroVoltaire, “It will take the collapse, anarchy, dark age, and return of hard patriarchy to [change it].”

Their frustration and depression can, to some degree, be understood (many are divorcees). No doubt they feel hurt, rejected, or otherwise unfairly treated by some women. But there is a distinct lack of irony in their distinctly illogical, NO GIRLS ALLOWED (over)reaction.

Luckily, MGTOWs are proud of their ability to “take the high road,” and have chosen to remove themselves rather than inflict their rage on women directly or violently. But what about the men for whom the combination of fragile ego, rage, and frustration is too much to quash?

Enter the Incels, which include men like Alek Minassian and Elliot Rodgers who, unable to cope with rejection by women, opted for mass shootings to “teach them all a lesson.”

Reddit was the home to Incels for several years before the platform banned both the original subreddit, r/Incels, and the r/Braincels subreddit that was created after the rules on harassment and bullying were changed. The content ranged from genuine questions about improving physical appearance, to rape jokes, to suggestions that the government should provide women to men via a lottery system.

The latter idea was the brainchild of user Caamib (Co-Alpha, Anti-Modernist Incel Blogger), a European man in his mid-20s whose efforts ensured the initial success of the Incel community. Having decided that a world where women could choose their partners was the height of unfairness, Caamib created the governmentgetsgirlfriends blog. There, he posited that, to prevent women from making independent decisions about the partners they choose (which inevitably leads to some men having many partners while others get none), there should be a lottery system. Women would be entered into the system around the age of 12-13 and allotted to men at random. This way, Caamib believed, purity would be maintained, nobody would be stuck with a girl who had slept with other men (the ultimate defilement), and everyone would get the sex life they are (allegedly) entitled to.

If you’re thinking, “Surely these are just internet trolls — no one really thinks that way… It’s just memes!” you are in the same place I was two years ago.

To see how much of it was real, I created a Reddit account and joined the Incel community. Deliberately keeping my username gender neutral (being obviously female is a surefire way to be banned or threatened), I began to question their more extreme views.

The responses were both horrifying and incredibly bleak.

Trying to help, many (non-Incel) users on the forum suggested ways the Incels could improve their self-esteem (updated wardrobe, haircut, joining social groups, therapy), all of which were met with scorn and derision.

The idea that therapy was a money-making scam ran through everything. Desperately lonely and feeling stuck in their unhappy situations, these men were reluctant to make positive changes. The bleakness was at least familiar and, by convincing themselves they were beyond help, they could avoid change that they were fearful of.

The idea that “only a virgin will do” was equally widespread. One user going by the name, IAmWhatYouMadeMe9, took this to extremes, suggesting that his ideal partner would be his (imaginary) twin sister.

His views on “degeneracy” bordered on religious fundamentalism, and, when others pointed out the unlikelihood of finding a non-“degenerate” woman in his age group (he was 27 and counted “cheating” as having even hugged another guy before dating him), he responded with rage.

IAmWhatYouMadeMe9 insisted that “Females who engage in intoxicant-fuelled casual sex” were the worst and should be “quarantined on a global scale to save them from themselves.” In another rant, he argued that all people who have had intimate experiences with more than one person should be placed into “resettlement camps” and that “prime, untouched females would be selected to pair with Incel men” so that they could go on to breed the Incel master race.

It is clear from this and other posts that IAmWhatYouMadeMe9 suffered from significant mental health problems, and his narrow view of what constituted a “good” person had left him trapped in a lonely, angry hell of his own making. Any attempts to suggest he seek help met a brick wall and his increasingly erratic posts led to him alienating many of the other Incel forum users.

His viewpoint was unfortunately not unique, and other men on the forum shared his opinions. One user, HateIsTheOnlyTruth, posted that he was fed up with women talking about “vapid” things like music and films. His personal hell was filled with women who cared more about Keeping Up With the Kardashians than “rescuing our nations from the false song of globalism and restoring the customs [and] worldview of the 19th Century European male.”

Their inability to find love was becoming more comprehensible to me.

Ultimately, they discovered I was female and spent a full day brigading one of my posts. From insults to threats of violence, they attempted to bait me into breaking one of their super specific, nonsensical rules. Eventually they succeeded (I replied with something that could be construed as “meaningless advice”) and was banned from the page.

Today, having been deplatformed just about everywhere due to their extreme views (e.g. “Why is the rape of a non-virgin seen as taboo?”), Incels have created their own website requiring users to submit a detailed essay on their Incel “credentials” before being permitted to enter.

Incels.co allows these men to indulge in the more harmful expressions of their subculture. The site is self-run and monitored, and the only thing likely to get you banned is being female or suggesting that women aren’t really out to get them.

Sometimes users like to get topical, taking a step outside of their dark bubble to engage in current affairs. Below are some comments from a post on the Grace Millane murder:

“Thank god. Chads that kill [women] are somehow life fuel.” — Arthas93

“I followed this story closely… I laughed at the cuck father crying… she would’ve been alive had she not gone on a round-the-world cock tasting trip. Toll paid in full.” — Freakinasuit

“Women literally run away from me on the street… keep pushing me and I’ll turn into a real monster like [Kempson].” – SexdollPioneer

“No sympathy for her. Wanna see her idiot father crying for raising a dumb whore.” — RedditisforCucks

These men’s willingness to blame Grace for her murder because she did not conform to their idea of purity, and smug satisfaction at the fact her “Chad” partner turned out to be a killer, is more than just a bunch of lonely men venting online. The men on these boards refer to Elliot Rodgers as a “God” and speak of people like Anders Brevik with admiration.

It is easy to dismiss them as loners, for whom leaving their rooms is a Herculean task, but look a little further and you start to see posts asking, “How many of you have engaged in stalking?” (more than you would want there to be) and discussing their “Chadfishing” expeditions.

Chadfishing, like Catfishing, involves engaging women in online conversations via Tinder/ Bumble through deception. For Incels, this involves posting a profile using a photo of a male model (or similar), then posting an outrageous bio (usually sexist, racist, or anti-Semitic) and seeing how many women respond positively. They then screenshot the conversations they have with these women (in which the men are generally insulting and obnoxious) and post them on the forum to mock. By Incel standards, the fact that a woman responds positively to a blatantly racist profile is proof that good looking men can get away with anything and that women are the root of all evil.

One Reddit user took this idea a step further and used his model profile to arrange actual dates. Once the women arrived and realized he looked nothing like his profile, he would berate them for their shallowness, filming the encounters, then uploading the video to Reddit for the entertainment and validation of other Incels. Trying to explain to this delightful gent that the women walked away because he lied, which made him creepy by default, was impossible. In his head, he had “proven” their shallowness and felt completely justified in shouting insults at them in a public place.

The men felt their negative behaviour was justified as they were the victims. Scorned by women, unattractive, and often NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), with little-to-no prospects, their behaviour (however misguided or aggressive) was therefore acceptable. Unwilling to listen, accept help, or change, they often harangued new users until they too parroted the party line. Lonely but otherwise functional young men who joined the group to find friends would find themselves on the receiving end of threats and insults if they dared to question the extremists. Left with a choice between conformity or loneliness, most chose to conform.

Allowing movements to form around this level of misogyny has legitimized it in the minds of many men, to the point that it is now being used as a criminal defence. The use of choking in porn and the idea that women want to be dominated/abused, coupled with the narcissistic rage of a rejected 20-something male has created the perfect environment for this type of crime.

We may never know the all the details surrounding  Millane’s murder, but the current evidence (after he killed her, Kempson watched porn, then arranged another Tinder date while Millane’s body lay beside him) suggests that it was not a “sex game gone wrong.”

Ultimately, we, as a society, need to take responsibility for this culture. We need to talk to our sons about relationships and teach them that women are neither prize, property, nor porn trope. We need to challenge misogynistic representations of women in the media and work towards a culture where young men are encouraged to take personal responsibility. We need to ensure that girls and women do not equate violence with affection and do not feel obliged to acquiesce to sexual acts they disagree with, just to appease the male ego. There needs to be better domestic violence education and protection so young people are not growing up in violent families and seeing such interactions as indicative of “normal” relationships. We also need better mental health options and better recognition of the fact that non-neurotypical men who may have received help and support throughout their childhoods often find themselves abandoned by adult social services. What men choose to do with their anger, and whether they take responsibility for their choices, lies with the men themselves, but we need to create an environment where boys do not grow up thinking of women as either an object or an enemy.

Katherine Denkinson is a mental health worker currently writing a book about the resurgence of paedophile lobby groups on social media.

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