Kids and porn: time to wake up to a national crisis

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Wednesday 30 March 2016

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has made a submission to the current parliamentary enquiry into the harm being done to children through access to online pornography, saying, “the gospel is clear on the danger of pornography to our spiritual wellbeing.

“Pornography also harms the fabric of our community … Many of the advertising images that confront children in day-to-day life are based on poses used in pornography. The reach of pornography through the Internet and particularly mobile devices has led to the sexualisation of our community being described as “the wallpaper of young people’s lives.”

The submission argues that children have a right to be children, and that bombarding them with sexual imagery can “hurt their normal development.”

The ACBC suggests that exposing children to pornography is a form of abuse, but they do not gloss over the elephant in the room, and admit their own sordid history of child abuse:

“The Church has its own shameful history of child abuse and, particularly because of that terrible experience for victims, does not want to see other forms of abuse of children such as the harms from the increased availability of pornography. There is for example evidence of a link between children being exposed to pornography and the likelihood they will fall victim to sexual violence.”

The submission makes several recommendations, including establishing a clean feed Internet filtering system, and an ongoing public education campaign for parents. Read the submission here.

In December 2015, the Senate called for a parliamentary enquiry into the harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet. Submissions closed on 10 March, 2016.


OPINION | David Sandifer
Eternity #67 March 2016

The following incident in a remote Aboriginal community was recently reported to health officials: on seeing a dog having an erection, a toddler – perhaps two, or two-and-a-half years old – proceeded to attempt to perform a sexual act on it. What would cause such a young child to engage in this kind of behaviour? The answer is not so mysterious: in this community, as in many others, porn is routinely viewed by men in the presence of children.

This horrifying story was told by Holly-ann Martin, of Safe4Kids, at a February 9 conference in Sydney on the harms to children from pornography. Also reported: child-on-child sexual assaults have skyrocketed, and porn viewing is involved in the majority of cases; experts now estimate that 100 per cent of children will view porn before their eighteenth birthday; porn is eroticising violence and subjugation for the rising generation of young men; teenage girls are increasingly experiencing internal damage from anal sex, which they are pressured into by boys, who are mimicking the porn they view.

Welcome to the new reality: it’s a porn world, and we all live in it. If you need further convincing, consider these statistics: according to one study, porn accounts for 30 per cent of internet traffic; in a survey of 11 to 16-year-old boys, the porn site Pornhub was named one of the “top 5” most popular online destinations; an analysis of the most popular porn scenes revealed that 88 per cent of them contained physical aggression, and 94 per cent of it was directed towards women. In addition, we now know that exposure to pornography rewires the brain to alter sexual responses, and that teenagers’ brains are especially malleable.

In a world where the average teenage boy will have seen thousands of sex acts before his first kiss, it is porn which is increasingly shaping sexual expectations and desires. Sex researcher Gail Dines describes the ubiquity of porn today as “the largest unregulated social experiment ever.” The Chief Superintendent of London’s Metropolitan Police, John Sutherland, highlighting the links between teen exposure to porn and sexual crimes, has described the sexualisation of young people as “catastrophic”. In his words, those who attempt to “brush off the risks of allowing boys unrestricted access to hardcore footage are either wilfully ignorant or wilfully stupid.”

So where is the outrage? Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the crisis of child exposure to pornography is that we are not more shocked by it. Sure, an occasional article will draw attention to the epidemic, but the conversation typically ends with anaemic calls for more resources for parents and better education for kids. Appallingly, our society has accepted the present situation as more or less unavoidable: if the right of adults to view what they please online means that the innocence of children must be sacrificed – well, so be it.

Christians have also largely been silent on this issue until now. Yet, surely we, of all people, know the power of thoughts to shape behaviour? (“It is what comes from the inside which defiles a person.” Mark 7:23.) Surely we, of all people, feel the call to protect the most vulnerable in our society? (“If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble …” Matt 18:6.) Perhaps our fear of wowserism is now so deeply engrained in our DNA that we have abdicated any voice on sex-related matters, however egregious the harm. Or perhaps we have been swayed by spurious libertarian arguments into believing that any attempt to regulate adult content on the internet – as we do for every other form of media – amounts to an attack on free speech. Or perhaps the truth is more insidious: since surveys show that over half of Christian men look at porn monthly, could it be that the topic simply hits too close to home?

As Christians, we have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to find a solution to this escalating crisis. In the words of Liz Walker, of Youth Wellbeing Project – who herself was exposed to porn at six, leading to years of addiction:

“We already have a generation of kids who view degrading, violent sex as the norm” and if something doesn’t change “we are staring down the barrel of tomorrow’s sex offenders and a barrage of intimate partner violence.”

One possibility: the UK has introduced a regime of by-default filtering of adult content which is effective, affordable, and imposes minimal inconvenience on those adults who want to access porn – they can simply opt out if they choose. The UK system involves each internet service provider (ISP) instituting porn blocks, which both obviates concerns about government involvement, and provides a much more robust protection than device-level software. While no system is perfect, the ISP-level filters have shown claims of technical impossibility to be bogus, and have revealed a pent-up demand for such a solution: one ISP reported that 62 per cent of its users were choosing to leave the filter on. There is nothing keeping Australia from introducing such a system.

In early December, thanks to the leadership of Senators Joe Bullock (ALP) and Chris Back (Lib), a Senate inquiry into child sexualisation was launched. The February 9 conference in Sydney was the largest anti-porn conference in Australian history, and received significant media coverage. These are hopeful signs, but an enormous amount remains to be done for a cultural shift to take place. And Christians ought to be at the forefront of this. We need to speak out to highlight the extent of the crisis; we need to step up our support to parents and children struggling to respond to this new plague; and we need to pressure politicians to take concrete and effective steps towards a solution.

In 1785, a young Cambridge student named Thomas Clarkson had an epiphany: slavery, he realised, was not a nuisance to be tolerated but a great moral evil which stained the nation of Britain and shamed Christians. Little by little, other Christians were recruited to the cause – most famously William Wilberforce – and what had been a quixotic crusade by a few Quakers gradually became a topic of national debate; the status quo was challenged, and eventually, in 1807, the slave trade was abolished. Christians had their conscience awakened, and they awakened the conscience of a nation.

When it comes to children and porn, will 2016 be our 1785 in Australia?

David Sandifer’s PhD in history, at the University of Cambridge (2014), looked at concerns for the protection of innocence in 19th century Britain. He is the rector at St Alban’s Anglican Church, Leura, NSW, and served on the organising team for the Porn Harms Kids symposium (pornharmskids.org.au.)

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