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There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
Nelson Mandela

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Executive Summary

In all areas related to child protection, it is the aspiration of every society to ensure children and young people are provided with safe and sustainable environments in which they can thrive. The Porn Harms Kids Report: Protecting our kids from online pornography harms is everyone’s business, releases to align with major calendar events in September 2017, such as National Child Protection Week and National eSmart Week 2017. However, the importance of addressing pornography harms as a matter of child protection, extends beyond a focussed week. Broad solutions must be urgently implemented so that online protection for our children can be achieved.

The Porn Harms Kids Report provides comprehensive opportunities to expand understanding of the scope of pornography’s impact on children and young people. Porn Harms Kids undertook a thorough investigation into past and present legislative, policy, digital and educational strategies that attempt to address the harms. The Report presents our findings and reviews; includes comprehensive international research; and provides clear calls for action and recommendations, including the proposed 3-year Action Plan. This solutions-focused Action Plan was developed to respond to children and young people's vulnerabilities to pornography, in consultation with experts around the world. 

To gain a comprehensive picture of what children and young people in Australia currently face, please refer to our statement of research endorsed globally by over 50 experts and organisations. Empirically researched harms include poor mental health; sexism and objectification; sexual aggression and violence; child-on-child sexual abuse; and shaping sexual behaviours.  Our Statement of Research relating to pornography harms to children, and reference list, is available online at www.pornharmskids.org.au/statement The most current research is outlined in SECTION 2.2 of the report.

Current initiatives - In reply to the government response to the senate report: Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet

Porn Harms Kids has investigated and reviewed the government recommendations and current approaches proposed in their response to the senate inquiry. We note that the governments current strategies and recommendations do not comprehensively address the harms, or adequately propose robust preventative measures to protect our children.

Review of current actions being taken to address the issues

The main body of review and subsequent findings in this report focus on three key areas: current legislation and policy, digital, and education approaches. We believe these are foundational areas that must receive equal attention in order to effectively respond to this public health crisis that has remained in the shadows for too long. 

The current legislation and policies need urgent attention. Weak and convoluted laws mean that children have unfettered access to pornography from any device connected to the internet without a filtering service installed. There are major disparities in how the government manages prohibited content hosted domestically, versus that hosted overseas. 

The regulation of the internet service provider (ISP) industry, including codes of conduct and policies, need radical overhaul to ensure that key stakeholders address the harms of pornography nationally. The potential for technological intervention requires a demand to be placed on carriers to implement flexible and robust filtering solutions that support families to block Prohibited URL Content. These changes must be underpinned by updated legislation.

The current government focus is on further research and education efforts targeted towards parents, children and young people. Whilst families are one of many vitally important protective initiators in their child’s life, it is a mistake to solely place education efforts here. There are many other sectors and stakeholders that surround and protect children, and support them to thrive within communities. It is imperative these entities are included in solutions that enable a public health approach. 

Although some action is being taken to inform parents of pornography harms as a risk for children online, the seriousness of the current digital environment has not been clearly communicated and remains hidden under the litany of information about cyber safety. Harms associated with pornography such as grooming or sexting, are spoken about as if they are in isolation. Instead, there needs to be a focus on pornography’s role in facilitating a culture that normalises these behaviours, where exploitation and sexual abuse becomes the norm. The current approach leaves out discussion about how pornography is negatively impacting children’s ability to develop healthy relationships with themselves and each other.

With the dearth of research already available to inform a response, further studies should be directed instead, towards measuring the pre-and post-effectiveness of any actions taken towards rectifying the current situation. What is also clear, is that education efforts will be undermined while ever legislation, policy and digital protection solutions are not implemented concurrently. 

Key Findings and Recommendations from Porn Harms Kids Investigation and Review 

Current legislation and policy approaches 

Key calls to action relating to legislation and policy, first require the recognition that online pornography is linked to an increase in harms to children and young people, including violence against women who are the primary caregivers of children. Porn Harms Kids calls for three main government responses that put the rights of our children to be protected, in front of the rights of adults who want to watch online pornography. These calls include:

  1. Commission an inquiry into the economic and social costs incurred as a result of children and young people’s unfettered access and consequential harms of online pornography.
  2. Update legislation and create binding codes of conduct that underpin digital solutions to block and manage prohibited content, regardless of the hosting location.
  3. For the eSafety Office to continue to regulate online content by managing the “Prohibited URL List”, and to provide simplified processes to manage whitelisted sites.
  4. In conjunction with state and territory departments of education, develop nationwide frameworks and policies that support education solution providers to effectively implement programs, curriculum and training to all sectors that support children and young people, so that the fallout and reversal of pornography harms can be effectively managed. 

(More recommendations can be found under current legislation and policy approaches in The Report.) 

Current digital approaches

Whilst there are large divides and complicated factors to navigate, technology is a vehicle that has transported pornography into our everyday lives and is a key factor in the child protection issues we are currently faced with. Therefore, creating a robust national response requires the updating and implementation of digital protection buffers as outlined in the Porn Harms Kids 3-year Action Plan.  Supported by overhauled government legislation, key calls to action relating to digital protection include: 

All providers of internet access to update or create filtering products and services (including mobile services), in preparation for the recommended legislation to implement default blocking of prohibited content, with opt-out age-verification access. 

A Communications Alliance led implementation of Digital Child Protection Buffers to facilitate the most robust possible barriers between online hardcore pornography and our children through restriction of prohibited content on all digital devices that connect to Broadband/NBN, WiFi, Public WiFi, Mobile Data. 

For the eSafety Office to explore initiatives that place pressure on social media companies to implement age-ratings consistent with those for films set by the Australian Classifications Board; supply of safe accounts and default settings for under 18 account holders; and penalties issued for non-compliance. (More recommendations can be found under current digital approaches in The Report.)

Current education approaches

Whilst the government acknowledges its role in providing readily available educational materials for teachers, the programs currently provided by the government do not adequately address pornography. Schools are not supported and equipped by government led curriculum or policies that address pornography harms, including exploitation, grooming, addiction and mental health vulnerabilities. Key recommendations that arose from a review of current initiatives include:

In conjunction with state and territory departments of education, implementation of nationwide mandatory holistic sexuality and relationships curriculum, informed by a Critical Porn Analysis and public health approach to pornography harms.

For relevant stakeholders named in the Government Response to the Senate Inquiry, to update current education approaches, content and advice offered to educators, parents and students; more specifically, the iParent, Student Wellbeing Hub and ThinkUKnow programs and resources.

For the eSafety Office and government to implement a comprehensive nationally mandated framework underpinned by preventative policies, education and restorative policies. This broadens the scope to sectors which include (but are not limited to) family, child and youth services; mental health and allied health professionals; universities and sporting and community groups. 
(More recommendations can be found under current education approaches in The Report.)

Providing robust solutions with Porn Harms Kids Stage 1 Action Plan 2017-2020

From our investigation, review and exploration of research pertaining to the issue, along with consultation with experts from around the world, Porn Harms Kids provides a robust Action Plan that incorporates legislative, digital, and education solutions. These are underpinned by a public health approach and informed by a critical porn analysis educational response.

The Stage 1 Action Plan presents positive frameworks and strategies in the spirit of working towards a collaborative, coordinated and integrative response to decrease children’s access, harms and vulnerabilities to online pornography, thereby, creating a safer digital future for our children and young people. (Refer to the diagram at the top of the executive summary for the Stage 1 Action Plan, and within the report for details.)

Porn Harms Kids calls upon the Australian public and key stakeholders

Stand with us, in unified voice for the protection of our children and young people, and bring this conversation out of the shadows as a matter of national urgency. By adding your voice through signing our pledge, it shows that there is widespread societal support to prevent access to, and protect children from pornography harms. A unified voice underpins changes in legislation and policies, enables improvement to prevention in the digital environment, and affirms the need to build a national, robust educational strategy. 

Learn more about the Porn Harms Kids pledge here: www.pornharmskids.org.au/add-your-name

We welcome continued conversations and collaboration to assist government, key stakeholders and other decision makers to understand the scope of this issue, and implement effective solutions to deal with pornography as a form online sexual abuse upon our children and young people.

Informing calls for action

Why take action now?

Online and offline, our kids face a wallpaper of pornographic images. Ease of access to online pornography accentuates the normalisation of sexual acts that most often depict inequality, sexism, violence and degradation. This hardcore material is freely available and mainstream. It is accessible without paywall, warning, or any form of restriction. 

Since the introduction of the Internet, and particularly hand-held devices, more than any other time in history, everyone, regardless of age or technical capability, can access the most extreme sexual content within one to two clicks, even when searching for non-sexual content. 

This unfettered access is not only problematic for young people’s attitudes, behaviours and development, but an increasing number of families and individuals (more so women), are confronted with the fallouts. 

Research that places responses in context

Over 40 years of extensive research unequivocally identifies that access to pornography has now become a matter of urgent child protection. Research indicates that up to 88% of popular online pornography contains acts that depict physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, slapping and other abusive behaviours; and more frequent viewers are more likely to have sexually aggressive attitudes, and engage in sexual aggression. Children having access to pornography is essentially, child sexual abuse via digital images. 

In a paper titled The Public Health Harms of Pornography: The Brain, Erectile Dysfunction and Violence, John Foubert, a researcher with over 25 years’ experience studying how to end sexual violence states:

The research connecting pornography and sexual violence is conclusive… Over 50 studies show a strong connection between pornography and sexual violence. The results are the same in correlational, cross-sectional, experimental, and longitudinal studies: pornography use and acts of sexual aggression are directly connected.”

According to data of young people viewing pornography in Australia (June 2017), eighty-four (84) per cent of young men and nineteen (19) per cent of young women watch pornography on a weekly or daily basis. This paper notes implications for public health and states that viewing pornography is common and frequent among young people from a young age and this needs to be considered in sexuality education.

Our children are bearing the brunt of this, evidenced by the increase in school settings of children displaying problematic sexual behaviours. Australian research (August 2017), reveals that children are displaying sexualised behaviours, involved in sexual harassment, acting out sexually, and attempting to verbally coerce other children to engage in sexual behaviours; these have been observed by 40.8% of educators. Some described these behaviours as typical for development; however, behaviours were not socially acceptable for educational settings. This research identified “that there is a need for educator training, child education, and support services to enable an early intervention and prevention strategy to support the wellbeing of children”.

We have a generation of young people who have lacked effective sexuality education within schooling settings, turning instead to pornography as their primary source of information. It should come as no surprise that painful sex, harassment, coercion, physical force, rape, and sexual assault are standard experiences for an increasing number of children and young people.

Statement of Harms

Worldwide, pornography is now framed as a Public Health Crisis by many governments, health, violence prevention, and advocacy organisations. Robust research confirms that areas of pornography’s impact on children and young people include poor mental health; sexism and objectification; sexual aggression and violence; child-on-child sexual abuse; and shaping sexual behaviours.

The Porn Harms Kids Statement of Research relating to pornography harms to children is endorsed by child youth advocates, anti-violence workers and key academics, including Dr Gail Dines, Dr Michael Flood, Dr John D. Foubert, Dr Donald Hilton, Dr Caroline Norma, Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, Dr Meagan Tyler, Maree Crabbe, Tom Meagher and others. Our Statement of Research highlights current studies, and identify significant areas that require action to prevent harms in children and young people’s health, mental health, physical safety, and wellbeing, and as a part of broader societal effects to prevent violence against women.

The Statement of Research and reference list is available online at www.pornharmskids.org.au/statement At the time of this reports publication, the Research Statement had received 50 endorsements by academics, child youth advocates, anti-violence workers and community organisations. Porn Harms Kids invites more endorsements from individuals and organisations working in this space.

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Their Future. Your Voice.

I pledge to stand for…

  • A world where kids can grow up without being harmed by accessing graphic, violent online pornography
  • Prevention of children’s access to pornography through digital child protection buffers
  • Updated legislation and education to address pornography as a public health crisis that increases children and young people's vulnerabilities to sexual harms

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