Sex workers campaign to shut down Grand Theft Auto V due to its sexual violence
- 2 HOURS AGO DECEMBER 03, 2014
A group of former sex workers have launched a change.org petition to remove the game from the popular department store because it provides an incentive to commit sexual violence against women.
One of the petitioners, who has asked to be referred to only as Nicole for fear of further reprisals from the gaming community, said GTA5 had “upped the ante” on previous titles because it allowed gamers to play in first-person mode. This perspective allows players to visit strip clubs, have graphic sex with prostitutes, kill and maim people, and run over pedestrians, all with striking realism.
Nicole said the most dangerous part of the game, which was released for the next-generation PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles last month, was the ability for players to pay for simulated sex with a prostitute and then get their money back by killing the woman.
In one video online, which has been viewed more than 170,000 times, a player demonstrates how to have sex with the prostitute in a car and then run her over, set her on fire and shoot her repeatedly.
The GTA 5 update offers a smorgasbord of activities which gamers can see experience through the perspective of the character they are playing.
The characters in the game are tasked with carrying out robbery, carjackings, torture and murder — but interactions with strippers and ability to have first person sex with prostitutes has caused outrage.
Nicole, of Perth, argues that exposure to this type content changes players’ brains and makes them more likely to engage in violence against women.
“They have upped the ante with it being first-person. You get to feel what it feels like to do this to somebody,” she said.
“To think the reward centre in their brain is aroused is disturbing.
“People say, ‘You are a prude, you want to ruin my fun’, but this is about torturing and the ritualised murder of women … It’s frightening that people are desensitised to it.”
Nicole, who was a victim of violence when she worked as a prostitute, said this glorification of violence was particularly traumatic.
“It is exceptionally triggering for survivors, to see it advertised on buses and to go into businesses and see it on the shelves,” she said.
Nicole said the petitioners decided to focus on Target, as opposed to all shops that stock GTA5, because it was a large business that cut across all demographics.
She wants Target, owned by Wesfarmers, to set an example for other stores to follow.
“I think they would be rewarded by their customers,” Nicole said. “It would be history-making.
“It would be sending a really clear message … that we’re not going to tolerate violence against women.
“It would also be a way for them to show the women shopping there that we care about you.”
And there is precedent for such a move.
New Zealand’s largest retailer, NZ Warehouse Group, removed the games from salebecause it didn’t fit with its brand.
“They were willing to take the risk,” Nicole said. “The business has not collapsed. In fact, they have been praised for it.
“It could be a really uplifting thing for Target to do.”
At least two counter petitions have sprung up, rallying support against Nicole’s campaign.
One of their key arguments is that the games are not designed for children and are clearly classified 18-plus, but Nicole said this “misses the point”.
She said the R18 rating did nothing to reduce the harm against women depicted in the game.
“It is promoting this horrific violence against women,” she said. “The players are rewarded for buying sex and then brutally killing. It doesn’t matter if you are 17 or 80, it’s still a horrific thing.”
Detractors also say that the game is equally violent towards men, but Nicole said this argument didn’t hold water because the vast majority of sexual crimes were committed against women.
“This is the argument we hear every time violence against women is mentioned. Even on White Ribbon Day, there are cries of ‘But it happens to men, too’.
“In this case, the male gamers are saying they don’t mind violence against themselves in this game. Implicit in this is the recognition that if men don’t mind, then women have to put up with it.
“This is hardly a gender-neutral argument. Implicit in it is the very misogyny we are rallying against.”
Target spokesman Jim Cooper said there was a diverse range of views on the game among the store’s customers.
“We’ve got to listen to our customers and there are as many defending the right to buy the game as there are who want it removed,” he told news.com.au.
“But simply asking Target to not sell the game won’t make any difference to its availability.”
Mr Cooper said that, like all other retailers, Target restricted the sale of the game to adults.
“We think it’s a valid debate … but it might be a debate that needs to be had at a regulator level,” he said.
“We respect the sincerity of people who do not want it sold and their opinion is valid, but we are a retailer for everyone, as long as we are selling the game responsibly.”
Strauss Zelnick, chief executive officer of the creator of the game, Take-Two Interactive, has downplayed the feature that allows gamers to have sex with and kill prostitutes.
“This is a criminal setting. It’s a gritty underworld. It is art. And I embrace that art, and it’s beautiful art, but it is gritty,” Mr Zelnick told Bloomberg.
He said Grand Theft Auto V stood “shoulder to shoulder” with movies and TV shows that explored similar criminal underworlds.
“This is a tough universe because it is a criminal universe … There are plenty of the things to do and it’s an incredibly exciting environment. But can it be rough? Absolutely,” Mr Zelnick said.
The industry has been locked in a culture war dubbed #Gamergate since August, which relates to allegations of misogyny and harassment in video game culture.
Click here to sign the petition to have Target withdraw Grand Theft Auto V.
Do you think Grand Theft Auto V should be removed from the shelves? Do you think it promotes violence against women? Comment below.