Manipulating women as sexual objects | Sunday Observer
The truth behind obscene publications

Manipulating women as sexual objects

19 September, 2021

Throughout the years, we have seen and heard a lot about women being used as a sex object in different levels through art, media and entertainment. Many regulations implemented, circulars brought up to control women’s harassment and prevent women form being used as a sex object. We have seen the need to have equal rights for women as the same as their male counterparts, be it in high profile workplaces or the common woman who is trying to earn a living by running the house and caring for her family.

Especially in Asian culture, though society has changed with time, the concept remains the same, that the male remains dominant where the female has become only a sex object, some foolish creature only worth to be toyed with and fulfill their unethical, mental and sexual desires.

Hence obscene publications targeting women have been a topic of discussion in different forums. Numerous women’s rights organisations have sprung up like mushrooms, out of nowhere, as well as international organisations, and many lectures, discussions have been brought up on this subject.

In today’s world, there are obscene publications such as porn magazines, publications which contain vulgar and unethical words and activities that a civilised culture would not accept, also including porn websites and videos. With the development of technology, even children can be vulnerable to these inappropriate materials if there is no ending to this disaster.

Sex education is needed to be given to children at a younger age to prevent them from falling into disaster such as illegal abortions, under age marriages and illegal child births. But it has to be done in a professional way collaborating with psychology and legal experts, instead of circulating inappropriate porn videos and movies through social media, which could easily target adolescents, since naturally they are keen to explore new pathways. Sri Lanka has been in the number one spot several times as the country which explores the most porn websites.

Even during ancient times, the feminine sex had always been looked upon as a ‘vulnerable creature’. And even during the ancient times, there had been ‘Twilight women’ as woman being used as a sex object can be defined in several ways.

It also includes what we women face in daily life, such as catcalling, wolf whistling, and making vulgar remarks, comments while travelling, or even in public places. Also we see women being used as sex objects in porn magazines such as the ‘Play Boy’ and TV commercials, TV soap operas, sometimes even in movies.

This could even include whom we call popular stars, singers or models and celebrities. For some people they might appear to be glamorous and have a popular fan base, but the reason behind it is simple, because apart from being respected, especially if it’s a female, she is taken more as a sex object and ‘’eye candy’’ among the opposite sex.

But rather than the so-called ‘popular’ people, it is the common woman who gets harassed most. This refers to Sri Lanka as well, where it had the first woman Prime Minister. Women are referred in Sri Lanka as Baduwa and Kaalla. Sexual abuse, and Sexual harassment, can happen under the subject of domestic violence as well, where it can happen between married couples.

The main purpose of bringing up circulars and regulations are to put a stop to women’s harassment, but according to the way women are being harassed and being used as a sex object and being ridiculed, we have a doubt where the legal system for women’s rights is functioning properly.

In the present day our lives have altered in many ways and easy access to technology and social media has caused frequent exposure to obscene publications and pornography making certain individuals to become victims of cyber bullying, sexual predators, sexting, grooming, sextortion, live streaming and the development of sexual abuse material and pornography.

In Sri Lanka certain recent events have led the government to take drastic steps to address these issues which became a topic of discussion in social media.

How can this be dealt with? What action can be taken? This is an issue which should be dealt with in depth, so that new reforms can be implemented. To get a more detailed idea on this subject, we sat down to a brief chat with Attorney–at-Law Ms. Raveendra Sumathiplala, who has wide knowledge on this subject.


Q: How would you define obscene publications and is pornography as a crime ? And obscene exposure in public places?

A: Obscenity is derived from the Latin phrase obscenus, which gives such a meaning as “foul”, “filthy”, “repulsive”, or “detestable”. But, in the legal context used to describe expressions (words, images, actions) that offend the prevalent morality of the time, which will differ from country to country.

For instance the definition of the word obscene has changed with time.

It should be noted that not all pornography is “obscene”; the standard of obscenity is determined through a “deprave and corrupt” test in the UK from where we have adopted laws with regard to this. We need to be aware of the fact that Society’s perception of what is acceptable or obscene has been changing over time.

For instance it would be inconceivable today, that in 1961, in the UK, Penguin Publications were prosecuted over their publication of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, which is considered one of his best literary works now.

Different legal systems use different tests for obscenity and these tests have also changed with time according to the social standards. Also pornography becomes a crime if it is obscene.

However, things have changed up to now and the adherence to Article 10(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights where freedom of expression can be restricted to protect “morals in a democratic society.”

Q: So do you mean to say that there can be pornography that cannot be considered obscene?

A: Yes. Not all pornography is considered as obscene in many countries.

For an instance if the pornography does not cause serious harm to the society or viewers then they may not be considered obscene. Also some pornography is considered obscene to the under aged, but not to adults.

In certain countries only certain acts in pornography are considered obscene. For instance, in the United States, images of mere human nudity and single couple heterosexual, vaginal-only penetration are listed as protected speech, while images showing anal and homosexual penetration are not.

Q: How would you see the woman being used as a sex object and the wide circulation of Porn websites via social media, and obscene publications?

A: Despite all genders, men, women and even transgender are being used as sex objects in these media, it is obvious that usage of females as sex objects have been outnumbered at all instances. In fact, this is common to all media, not just for porn websites.

In the world today women’s rights groups are more concerned over the objectification of women as sex objects through pornography and the extreme pornography such as rape porn, and torture and violence in pornography as a crime against women and women’s rights.

It must be remembered that similarly to the threats faced by children, women all around the world are threatened by human trafficking and forced pornography and sex work.

Q: Does Sri Lanka have laws categorically to defend women from these publications and pornography and related cybersex scandals?

A: Unfortunately, we still lack legal coverage and regulations specifically to prevent women from being targeted subjects in these areas. Especially, where the security of the “girl child” is concerned we find that the Sri Lankan female, especially the younger generation is highly vulnerable and are in want of legal security from being subjected to obscenity and pornography related issues.

Although the new Obscene Publication bill proposed by the present government is a good move, the intention of the draft bill is focused on the protection of the children and young people whereas we have to focus on the women’s rights, especially the rights of the female child as well.

Q: What’s your take on gender based violence and pornography?

A: Although there is ongoing debate on this subject, I see that certain extreme pornography that depicts women as sex slaves and torture objects, has the propensity to create violence against women. This can even be directed towards women of certain color or ethnicity in certain instances.

Many research material is found on this and the fact that certain obscene material and videos, where the men’s portrayal as in charge, while women are submissive and obedient, exemplify unequal power and distribution between men and women; often, ego-centric cultures foster beliefs of male superiority and women inferiority, an attitude ultimately leading to sexual violence against women

Cyber videos of this nature can actually lead towards gender based violence as well as hate crimes against women of certain ethnicities around the world at the same time certain parties can become victims in making such videography which may go viral as extreme pornography.

Even in Sri Lanka this issue became a hot topic due to the gang rape and murder of a young school girl from Jaffna In 2015, Sivaloganathan Vithiya, which was a controversial case in which allegations were brought over one of the suspects who was later convicted as he filmed the gang rape and certain parties at that time even stated that the video had been shared in cyber space.

Q: Regarding exploring porn websites and publications, it is mostly the adolescents who are most vulnerable. Though sex related movies and videos are only for those who are above 18, with the current development in IT, even small children can be easily targeted. What legal measures are there to prevent this?

A: Although The Penal code of Sri Lanka was established over a century ago, it has been amended several times in order to prevent uprising crimes against Children and Women. Penal Code No.22 of 1995 Act (Amendment), which was re amended by No. 29 of 1998 (Amendment) Act and No.16 of 2006 (Amendment) Acts specified the penalties in wider range for crimes against Children and Women including Sexual Abuse, Harassments and Exploitation.

These amendments considered the psychological and mental state of the victims. Further to that, there was a special attention towards the sexual crimes against children.

While there are provisions in the Penal Code and the Obscene Publications Ordinance, Harmful Publications Act (Children and Young Persons) Act No 48 of 1956 the regulations and laws need to be updated to match the present times.

To further strengthen protection for children online, amendment to the Computer Crimes Act No. 24 of 2007 that will include the offence of online child sexual abuse material (child pornography) as defined in the Budapest Convention (Article 9 of the convention specifically prohibits child pornography) and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, both of which have been ratified by Sri Lanka will be good developments. It recommends the withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s reservations to the Budapest Convention.

Q: In some countries such as Thailand, there are separate red light areas for women who are titled as ‘Sex workers’ and has a legalised system. How does that become legal when it is known as an offence?

A: There are certain countries where sex workers have been recognised legally and there are certain health guidelines they adhere to as well. In countries like Japan it’s art of their culture and it is no offence. This differs from country to country and not every offence that is recognised by the society is a legal offence.

Q: Circulating nude photographs, videos and pornography can be an offence, according to the legal system. But why do these still circulate and go viral if there are such laws implemented?

A: It’s very much like when it comes to illegal drugs. Although it may be an offence to keep, sell or promote drugs, it keeps happening.

At the same time, it is not an easy task to screen everything in the internet before it is accessed by the user. Even in countries where all the websites that are related to unsuitable or obscene publications are banned, people try to find ways to access them through different private networks that give you anonymity.

On the other hand, certain other parties believe that pornography is one method of sex education. Ironically, we cannot deny this view fully since we still find the youth in our country has no proper sex educational method and their easiest access has become internet and porn sites from where they gather information about sex and related issues. The danger in this is that pornography can lead the young people get wrong ideas which can be unhealthy as well as unrealistic about sex.

Promoting sex education in schools and colleges among adolescents can help eliminate misconceptions about pornography and its adverse effects and prevent the development of wrong concepts about sexuality.

Q: What about art and media and related pornography? Especially when it comes to obscene scenes in films?

A: Sometimes there is a thin line of distinction between artistic nudity, obscenity and commercial pornography (which includes sexual penetration) which is usually determined by the predominant cultural views. The accepted areas are deemed to fit those sexual acts regarded as “normal,” while the obscene areas are considered to be deviant or unworthy of public access. Countries have their own screening procedures and institutions to monitor what’s been published and released as movies.

We need to understand that the freedom of expression in the form of art and culture should not be tormented by rigid legal procedure and censorship either. Aesthetic extremity will forever contravene with some aspect of community be it culture, politics, religion or even ethnicity and gender. But law should not be used absurdly to regulate or censor such work of art which will demoralise artists.

Q: Where is Sri Lanka in comparison to the international community when it comes to screening and censoring obscenity?

A: I believe we have been comparatively liberal in this subject.

In Sri Lanka any film that is screened in Sri Lanka must pass through the Public Performance Board PPB which screens and provides a certification, categorising its age appropriateness. Therefore, adult-only films are categorised as “X”.

There have been numerous critiques on the PPB’s take on certain movies both local and foreign time and again and it is inevitable that the censorship can be subjective. But I believe that we have been much more liberal in our censorship in comparison to certain other countries in terms of entertainment.

For instance, local movies like Asoka Handagama’s ‘Flying with one Feather’ and Aksharaya, made their way to cinema halls despite objections and many foreign movies too were allowed without objections.

One of the all-time famous TV series BayWatch was banned in the Middle East as sexually immoral whilst countries like Israel and Egypt embraced the show including us in Sri Lanka.

Fifty Shades Of Grey, the big screen adaptation of a best-selling erotic book series, although was allowed in Sri Lanka, our neighbouring India which is the birth country of Kaama Suthrsaa, couldn’t release as expected on that Valentine’s Day due to no clearance by the Censor Board. The film was even banned in Malaysia, Indonesia and Kenya.

Q: Can pornography be banned totally?

A: Although the answer can be a “yes”, it is a practically impossible step and a nonrealistic one too. We need to understand that the legislation should be realistic all the time.

We must also understand that extreme laws can also cause the arousal of curiosity and inevitably new media to publish things which are censored in the common media. For instance, new social media trends like instagram, twitter, snapchat have given more free space for people to share what they cannot or rather are not allowed to publish in the mainstream media.

In the age we live in, norms and morals are not prescribed from the same standpoint as in the past but are influenced by a variety of factors, including those shaped in cyberspace. We know that the law as a tool for controlling behaviour will lose its legitimacy and respect if it does not reflect the norms and values of those who are bound to obey it. The general tendency to demonise adult pornography in the interest of the child is not a practical approach either.

Therefore, the legal procedure should be more realistic especially when it comes to arrests and punishments.