The Standing Committee on Health concluded hearings on the public health effects of violent pornography on Children, Women and Men (M-47). The following is a summary information most relevant to the conversations at Parents Aware.

At what cost?

“The fact that a kid can log onto the Internet to do a book report and accidentally come across pornography is the cost of doing business in the Internet age.

 

This was Dr. William Fisher’s derisive response when asked by Arnold Viersen if he believed “children exposed to sexually explicit material is child abuse?”

Fisher continued, “there’s no question but that sexual abuse of children is a crime … as to whether a child coming across this material is a form of child abuse, I would wait to see if it has very negative consequences.”

Dr. Kim Roberts has already played the wait-and-see game. As a forensic psychologist, she knows it’s consequences. (In Canada successful prosecution rates for child abuse are as low as 2%). To avoid getting caught up in semantics she suggests we rephrase the question:

 “Is exposure to sexually explicit material harmful to children?

Roberts continues, “Something doesn’t have to be a crime for it to be harmful.” In fact, since pornography has become the norm, we need to consider not just the moment of exposure but how that exposure influences how children see themselves and the world around them.

For children and teens, knowing what is the norm is essential to identity development, says Roberts. “When children themselves are even posting [sexually explicit] pictures—and believe me there is a lot of that going on—that becomes normal.”  

M-47 moves forward

Fisher and Roberts are just two of the witnesses that have addressed the Standing Committee on Health over the past three weeks —a direct result of Motion M-47 and the Committee’s mandate to examine the public health effects of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men.

In total, ten individuals presented at these hearings. Each approached the subject from his or her perspective and field of expertise.  They are professors, therapists and professionals who have been studying the effect of pornography on society; many over the course of several decades.  

Some came prepared to fully support the original intentions of M-47. Mary Anne Layden testified that the overwhelming “pornification” of society has created a toxic environment negatively impacting sexual attitudes of adults and children; often resulting in toxic decision-making. Others, like Dr. Jacqueline Gahagan, were more cautious, wanting to compartmentalize pornography into violent and nonviolent streams —in other words, unwilling to make a blanket statement that pornography as a whole could be harmful to public health.

Apart from statements made by Dr. Fisher, who seemed most adept at saying nothing at all, I felt that the research and data put forward by the other witnesses strengthened the position that pornography (especially violent pornography) should be addressed as a public health concern. From my perspective, the witnesses have given the Health Committee more than enough evidence to support further recommendations.  

The questions put forward by the MPs covered a wide range of subject matter relating to pornography consumption. I have chosen to highlight a few of the issues that pertain to education and government legislation. The bulleted items represent responses put forward from various witnesses over the three-week period.

Concerning education

Issue: Should we be concerned that young people use porn as their primary means of sex education?

  • Porn teaches young people that consent doesn’t matter
  • Girls are expecting sex to hurt and thinking they shouldn’t say anything
  • Girls are wondering if they have to be shared with their boyfriends friends
  • Some boys are confused; thinking girls expect to be strangled when they have sex
  • There has been a significant rise in child on child sex abuse acts

Issue: Should the federal government institute mandatory sex education?

  • Consider a federal standard on sex education as a “goal post” to which provincial curriculum should be held
  • Thoughtfully consider programs that are already working elsewhere; for example, best practices of Australia and UK in sexual health
  • Understand that education alone will not solve the problem; consider the need for a multi-pronged approach

Issue: How could we address parental/cultural pushback to sex education?

  • There is a need to include everyone in the conversation
  • Think of education beyond the school system; for example, the anti-smoking National Truth Campaign
  • It is terrifying how many therapists and health care providers are giving out inaccurate information about pornography
  • Ensure that parents, teachers and students are all getting the same appropriate, accurate and up-to-date information
  • In schools, consider addressing the discussion of sexual health with a different rubric; for example, computer safety or physical education; make it about education in general rather than sex education
  • Ensure teachers are well trained to address this topic

Concerning legislation

Issue: The Canadian Criminal Code prohibits the production and distribution of obscene materials; should greater emphasis be placed on prosecution?

  • Our current laws were created in an era when we could stop materials as they came into the country; there is no border patrol on the Internet
  • There are not enough resources to incarcerate all the offenders
  • Furthermore, we need a means of protecting young children from accessing sexually explicit material that is protected under the freedom of speech act
  • We should also consider the influence of mainstream media; when children see other children in sexualized advertising they start to view themselves as sex objects

Issue: What is the value in meaningful age verification or opt-in/opt-out programs?

  • Free porn sites managed by mega corporations such as Mindgeek catapult young people directly into the world of hardcore porn
  • No one should be able to hand out free porn to kids
  • “Opt-ins” would mean that you must call your communications provider with age verification to access porn on your device; when used in the UK, 70% of users “opted-out” of porn
  • It is socially irresponsible for governments to not legislate businesses to comply with age verification laws; in the past businesses have failed to self–regulate 
  • Until now, parents have been saddled with the responsibility of protecting children from the harms of pornography on their own —a nearly impossible task

Issue: Is it possible to distinguish between violent and nonviolent pornography?

  • In real world settings people don’t just watch violent or nonviolent pornography; people watch pornography, some of which is violent
  • According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the weight of evidence is sufficient to show that violent pornography shapes negative attitudes towards women and has at least the potential for violence
  • “The probability that there is not a connection between pornography and sexual violence is one in 88 decillion.” –Mary Anne Layden
  • When we dismiss pornography as an influencer in sexual violence we are essentially saying that men are flawed in their biology, destined to become rapists and johns
  • The more you ask individuals to look at something that is violent and degrading, the less they rate it as violent and degrading
  • Categorizing something as violent and degrading is largely determined by who is looking at it

Past Due notice

When MP Don Davis asked if it was possible to ever prove with scientific certainty what the impact of violent, degrading pornography is on children, Professor Neil Malamuth was quick to respond, “In science we never prove anything, but we do have supporting evidence.”

If the MPs are to fulfill their mandate to examine the public health effects of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men, they will need to take into account all the supporting evidence. This includes experimental studies, correlational studies, cause and effect theories, programmatic research and the mounting anecdotal evidence from children, teens, parents, women and men who have first hand experience of the harmful effects of pornography.

Now is the time for Canada to step up.  We do not need to accept unwanted exposure to pornography as the cost of doing business in the Internet age. For our children’s sake we need to reject the status quo and start the cultural shift against porn.

Action items

Marilyn

Marilyn

Marilyn Evans lives east of Toronto with her husband and five sons. Concerned with the ease of access to online pornography, she began searching for ways to address this subject with her own children. The lack of support and information available to parents at that time compelled her to begin speaking out publicly on the subject. It's her hope that parentsaware.info will provide families with a resource they can turn to for answers on how to speak openly and honestly with their children. You can follow @parentsaware on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Marilyn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *