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No need to feel powerless

Advocating for children and young people’s rights to a safe online environment is at times, challenging. Given there are so many different ways in which harmful content reaches our children, people often throw their hands in the air and cry there is nothing that can be done to uniformly block porn. The excuses come thick and fast from those most able to make change. Namely, politicians and tech companies (and of course, porn harms deniers). The reality is, however, that if we want our society to thrive, we cannot afford to do ‘nothing’.

Many proclaim that ‘education is the key!’ To that, I say yes. And no. Education is vital. I am an educator, working globally to provide the very best education to parents, schools and health professionals. Therefore, I passionately believe in the value of education. But if the call for education is used as an excuse to do nothing on the technology front, and instead continue to allow pornography to stream unfettered into the hands of children and young people, then no. Education alone, is not enough.

We cannot ‘educate’ children out of pornography-induced trauma. Online pornography is so offensive it was refused as evidence into the Australian Senate Inquiry: Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet. Online pornography is, by definition, Refused Classification and therefore not legally permitted to pass through customs. Online pornography is a sexual script ‘how to’ manual for rape and violence against women. Online pornography in some cases, represents the worst form of gang violence to children as young as 5 or 6. Online pornography is available in one or two clicks.

leading psychologist warns that the sexualisation of children and their easy access to online pornography is helping drive a significant jump in student-on-student sexual and indecent assault allegations at schools. Treatment services report that pornography and family violence are fuelling a steep rise in the number of children sexually abusing other children. Online pornography is watched by almost 90% of young Australian males on a daily or weekly basis. Experts say that Online Hardcore Pornography is the ‘most prominent sexual educator; and schools are battling to deal with the consequences. Online pornography is impacting the sexual functioning of increasing numbers of young men. Online pornography is undeniably linked to sexual violence against women. Melinda Tankard Reist warns that

Pornography normalises and eroticises violence against women as sexy. We have more than enough warnings by frontline service agencies about a public health emergency involving near-saturation rates of pornography consumption among men and boys. 

From every angle, ease of access to online pornography is a public health crisis.

The researched harms of pornography on children and young people means that to do nothing, is negligent of the key tenets of child protection and prevention of sexual harms. When ‘they’ cry that nothing can be done, I take great encouragement from John Carr, Secretary of the Children’s Charities Coalition on Internet Safety. John, along with others who refused to listen to the naysayers because of their commitment to change, were instrumental in pressing the UK government to implement legislation that creates civil penalties for online pornographers who do not verify the age of their customers, and ISP level blocking of non-compliant sites.

John explains in his recent blog why there’s no need to feel powerless:

When people ask me what I do, I often say I see my role as convincing others there are things that can be done to make the internet a safer and better place. We need to learn from each other, pay attention to the research, refuse to be dazzled by the headlights and speak truth to power. You don't have to know what a TCP/IP stack is to know something is good or bad, right or wrong. Whatever humans have made can be unmade or altered. Our job, as advocates, is to find ways to mobilise the necessary forces to bring about progressive change.

We should all be encouraged by this example of unshakeable leadership, and follow suit by doing everything within our power to block pornography from children’s access. Porn Harms Kids calls for every concerned parent in Australia to add their name to the Porn Harms Kids pledge. We appeal to every person with financial capacity to fund the work of Porn Harms Kids as a registered charity, enabling us to increase momentum in advocating for the online protection of children. We invite academics, child youth advocates, anti-violence workers and community workers to endorse the statement of research relating to pornography harms to children. We demand that the Australian Government (whatever party or persuasion), fulfill their commitments to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from online violence and abuse by implementing Digital Child Protection Buffers.  We expect nothing less than ISPs and tech companies do everything within geekdom to block pornography. And we do whatever we can to educate and equip parents, professionals, community and government leaders to address pornography as the undeniable public health crisis that it is. There’s plenty to be done, and there’s certainly no need to feel powerless.

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I pledge to stand for…

  • A world where children can grow up without being psychologically harmed by accessing graphic, violent pornography online
  • Prevention of children’s access, given that porn is linked to increased risks of STIs and other harmful physical and relational outcomes
  • Higher standards for ISPs, tech and porn companies to implement technology-related child protection buffers to block harmful pornographic content
  • Adults, including the Australian Government, to exercise due diligence to protect children

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