Pusillanimous porn piffle

Watching The 7:30 Report last night, I found myself quickly checking the remote to make sure I hadn’t accidentally switched over to A Current Affair or Today Tonight.  The ABC’s slant on a story about the “need” for enforced ISP filtering to protect the kiddies from porn was exactly the sort of ill-informed, lowest common denominator, populist moral panic nonsense you’d expect to see from the likes of Anna Coren or Ray Martin:

CATHARINE LUMBY: My worry is the wake-up call for parent and educators and anyone who is concerned about young people is that there is no fool proof method at the moment.

Because even if you’ve got the best filtering system in the world at home and the best vigilance at home, your kid could be looking at something at someone else’s house.

MARK BANNERMAN: If that is the case, Michael Flood has some bad news. There is effectively a monster loose in suburbia.

MICHAEL FLOOD: It’s damaging our culture and damaging our sexual relations. It is not breeding, it’s not helping to foster a sexual culture in Australia based on consent, based on respect, based on mutual pleasure. And it seems to me that is a potential tragedy.

Why?  Bannerman doesn’t tell us, though he presents pseudo-experts like Lumby stoking the fires of moral panic with emotive language despite failing to present any scientific evidence for the proposition that Internet porn in fact poses any significant threat to our children at all.

Since Lumby and the other interviewees contented themselves with unsubstantiated opinionated assertion, I’ll start the same way.  Kids have always been able to access porn if they wanted, and most teenage boys especially go through a phase where they seek it out through normal and healthy adolescent curiosity.  When I was a kid we managed to sneak a look at Playboy and Penthouse and Hustler in the restricted areas of the local newsagent without any trouble at all.  Mind you, I worked at the local newsagent after school every day during years 10 and 11, so I had something of a walkup start.  Some of the porn kids can access today on the Net is rather more graphic (and includes movie action you never got in Hustler), but I seriously doubt that the effects are any more serious.

Moreover, research overwhelmingly confirms this.  A detailed 2005 review of existing research on the effects of pornography on children under 18 by the UK Office of Communications found:

  • There seems to be no relationship between the availability of pornography and an increase in sex crimes in other countries; in comparison there is more evidence for the opposite effect.
  • Research with adults indicates no relationship between the commission of sex crimes and use of pornography at an early age. Again in comparison there is evidence for the opposite effect.
  • Research indicates that V-chips and ratings were found useful by parents, but that they might be enticing youngsters to access this material.
  • Due to ethical restrictions, there is a severe lack of research regarding the effects of exposure of minors to R18 pornography which contributes to the evidence being inconclusive.
  • There is some evidence that indicates that sexual material influences the moral development of young people under the age of 18. In other words, that through exposure to pornography young people become more cynical towards traditional relationships (marriage) and become sexually active at a younger age.
  • There is no empirical research that proves beyond doubt that exposure to R18 material seriously impairs the mental or physical development of minors.

Might R18 material seriously impair the development of minors?

From the research reviewed in this report the answer would be no.

Is R18 material likely to impair the development of minors?

Since there is no conclusive evidence this is a hard question to answer. There might be an effect on the moral development of minors.

Nor do sexual offenders display a greater history of exposure to porn, contrary to tabloid legend:

“Evidence does not support the hypothesis that exposure to nonviolent pornography leads to violence toward women. Most experimental studies show no difference in aggression toward women between subjects exposed to pornographic films and control groups (for reviews, see Donnerstein 1984, Linz & Malamuth 1993). …There is evidence that rapists report less exposure to pornography than controls, not more (see Linz & Malamuth 1993 for a review).”

Even the adverse effects of violent porn seem to have been seriously overstated.  And so on

The evidence just doesn’t support the Rudd government’s intended filtering regime for Internet porn, nor the 7:30 Report’s credulous, uncritical endorsement of it.  Presumably this is what we can expect with the nanny staters in government ((not that they’re any more extreme than the nanny staters they recently replaced, just more energetically enthusiastic in their determination to tell everyone else how to live their lives ~ KP)) and an even more wowserish bunch of interfering grannies running the ABC.

I don’t have any problem with parents who want to protect their children, however needlessly, from Internet porn.  They’re welcome to pay for home filtering devices or subscribe to existing “clean feed” ISP services.  What I’m not prepared to countenance is the spending of my tax dollars on subsidising this sort of pointless nonsense, or for that matter on an ABC which, on this issue at least, has entirely abrogated its critical, analytical function.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Hear hear.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

It’s worse than just pointless nonsense – my worry is that with it being an ‘opt-out’ service, how can I be sure that when I do opt out (which I will, for various reasons, none of which are to do with my desire to view pornography), my name doesn’t end up in some database of “likely sex offenders”?

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

…………..a monster loose in suburbia.

Is this the name of a new porn flick or what? This dude is obviously having a kid around, as he’s not serious.

MICHAEL FLOOD: Its damaging our culture and damaging our sexual relations. It is not breeding, its not helping to foster a sexual culture in Australia based on consent, based on respect, based on mutual pleasure. And it seems to me that is a potential tragedy.

Ok. How many times has this guy had sex for breeding purposes? More appropriately has he ever had sex without breeding mind? Where did they pick up this dude from?

The whole thing is a sad joke if it wasn’t so serious. I read somewhere that we’ll rank with China in terms of web control.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

how can I be sure that when I do opt out (which I will, for various reasons, none of which are to do with my desire to view pornography), my name doesnt end up in some database of likely sex offenders?

You can’t. It really is pretty bad, hey NP.

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

And what’s the worst that happens if some kids accidently see some people fucking? Is it likely to traumatise them more than the first 20 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’?

Whaddya reckon is worse to watch for a kid, some rough but consensual anal sex or someone’s face smashed into bloody porridge by a 7.62mm bullet?

Ideally neither, yes. But I don’t see any major push to make film stores check the family details and system requirements of anyone renting their DVDs.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

It appears to be “due season” for moral panics.

Andrew Leigh
13 years ago

What’s interesting about this argument is that it also applies to the move to get pornography out of Indigenous communities. If it’s the case that porn is a substitute for sexual violence, then reducing porn could plausibly increase violence. Yet all mainstream commentators assumed the two were complements.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

9mm and 7.92mm in Saving Private Ryan :)

I have to add another ‘hear hear’ to the obvious contrast between sickening violence and (surely not sickening) sex.

Also, let’s face it, I just don’t run across sex in my daily interneting. More’s the pity, perhaps.

Ken Lovell
13 years ago

ABC TV is a disgraceful waste of public time and money and ought to be flogged off to the highest bidder while it’s still got some market value.

nabla
nabla
13 years ago

I must admit, when I came in from the shed after bottling the lastest brew, I asked the lady of the house “What’s this crap? Why are you watching today tonight? And why is it on so late?”
Then we watched in bemusement, and I found myself starting to consider Ken’s recent rant about selling ABC TV – apart from Spicks and Specks and the John Clarke bit on the Red Kezza half hour, there’s less and less good stuff.

As for the policy itself, what a crock. The level of success is clearly evident when my 15 y.o. cousin can show me how to get around the filtering at my work using various web proxys and such.

As my girlfriend commented at the end of the tabloid piece “Shit, I voted for Ned Flanders”.

simon smith
simon smith
13 years ago

Gee I wish you’d read these things more carefully Ken P, you force one into defending Catherine Lumby. She’s not adding to the moral panic, she’s simply arguing that filters per se arent going to prevent kids from seeing porn. It’s an argument against the idea that childhood can be ring-fenced, not a suggestion that them seeing porn will be a disaster.

Mind you, the phrase ‘moral panic’ is becoming as counter productive as some of the behaviour it attacks. The fact is most porn is a fairly distorted – yes i know the term is problematic – presentation of sex, a lot of it pretty misogynistic, and a fair slew of the stuff on the net distinctly nasty. Playboy and Penthouse don’t really compare.

Given that it now seems pretty well established, by a number of large studies, that hardcore porn is shaping kids’ view of sex in the manner suggested above, is it possible to admit to some concern about what it’s doing, without endorsing the ‘monster lurking in the suburbs’ view?

steve from brisbane
13 years ago

Look, I agree that the ISP filter idea is bad. I think the former government’s provision of free filter software to put on your own computer if you want to was a much more sensible response.

But: I am bit puzzled Ken that you don’t mention the oft repeated claim that free and ready access by kids to DVD porn in aboriginal communities (while their parents are not exercising supervision due to their alcohol abuse) has contributed to their very early uptake of sexual activities. True, this is still anecdotal evidence, and it probably hasn’t been studied scientifically, but it makes a lot of sense at the gut level, doesn’t it?

Just because ethics stops proper experiments being done shouldn’t stop people making common sense judgements about the wisdom of letting preteens have access to graphic porn, does it?

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

the oft repeated claim that free and ready access by kids to DVD porn in aboriginal communities (while their parents are not exercising supervision due to their alcohol abuse)

Steve from Bris just because the claim is oft repeated doesn’t really give it much credibility. I have seen no research that might back up the claim. Everything seems to be anecdotal. I have my doubts though. It is not as though age of first birth for Aboriginal girls has dropped with the introduction of DVDs and videos.

On the other hand I have spoken to kids who reckon the baby bonus is a great idea. If you can get one new baby a year it can do wonders for the cash flow.

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Ken – I suspect that Lumby’s been taken radically out of context here… From what I know of her work, she’d be the very last person to try to stir up moral panic – most of the time she cops it for being a “pro-porn feminist”. I suspect that she’s been interviewed and has tried to explain why the ban is an artefact of moral panic, and is purely symbolic precisely because it won’t work. I also suspect she’ll be hopping mad about being woven into the story in this way.

steve from brisbane
13 years ago

Ken & David, it’s true the your post started about the internet, but your quotes from the UK report seemed to be about porn generally. It also seemed to indicate a “well, who really knows” attitude to the effect of plenty of porn on pre-teens. (And I take your point that watching adults do it in overcrowded aboriginal houses no doubt contributes as well.)

I agreed there was no probably no research, and would be happy to see it done. In the meantime, if some people who have been there think this is an issue, and common sense suggests it’s not a great idea, I’m just expressing the view that a completely sit-on-the-fence “wait for the research” attitude is not appropriate. (I also am not suggesting that you personally wouldn’t care about pre-teens in your household watching it either.)

I agree that horny teenage boys (or girls) looking at porn to learn about sex is to be expected and hardly likely to turn them into sex maniacs (especially if the porn is of the basically “vanilla” variety.) But don’t you have some concerns about the attitude towards sex and relationships that some teenagers and young adults may be getting from watching gangbangs and weird fetishes that can be Googled up in a flash?

Simon Musgrave
Simon Musgrave
13 years ago

An even more bizarre moral panic occurred in Melbourne this week – take a look at this . One instance of ‘c_nt’ is enough to have an interesting and insightful book put off-limits for high school students apparently. A letter to The Age today comments on the linguistics repertoire of the school pupils in question, and strikes me as very plausible (remembering back to those distant days when I attended one of Melbourne’s finest academies).

Klaus K
Klaus K
13 years ago

Lumby has a coauthored book on porn coming out very soon, based on extensive research into porn use. I think it’s from MUP. She has clearly been quoted out of context here.

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Sorry – I have just realised my earlier comment was ambiguous. I think she’ll be hopping mad about the 7.30 report story, not your blog poast :)

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Ken – haha maybe not, but it’s worth pushing. I can’t see any other explanation for her interview being used this way except dishonestly. I’d almost guarantee that she’s been asked for a view, and that the expressed opinion has been pruned back in the edit suite to the only sentence that could possibly be construed as supporting the angle of the story. There’s a lesson for us all in that – I am reasonably optimistic about the possibility of collaborative relationships between acas and the media, but sometimes they really do screw people over. From what I’ve seen of Lumby, she’s actually pretty media-savvy, and probably didn’t think she had anything to fear from the ABC.

Niall
13 years ago

Completely agree! Offer the service on a user pays basis if that’s what lacksadaisical parents want. For mine, I’ll not tolerate yet more filtering of a medium which is purpose designed to be open and free. Our backbone access in the country is slow enough as it is without choking it any further.

Laura
13 years ago

It’s weird that Simon Smith’s comment was linked back to a porn site and thus apparently spam, because his comment seems pretty reasoned, and as much on topic as any other comment here.

I think I agree with him on some points, too. The filter seems like an ominously dumb idea to me for numerous reasons. At the same time, I’m very uncomfortable with the repellently misogynistic tone of much current pornography (bukkake etc) and if had children of either gender I’d hope to limit their exposure to it until they were of an age to be forming sexual attachments with real partners.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

As parents, Laura, we all do! I even had to stop playing GTA thanks to my kids.

But since my son learnt how to video-phone his mother-in-law on msn before he turned four (now four and a half, he knows our password and can even do it when we aren’t logged in!), I’d say my chances, or the government’s, are limited if he really wants to.

So I figure we’ll have to rely on educating them. Which I always thought was kinda the point of being a parent anyway!

TimT
13 years ago

I don’t think Simon’s comment or the fact that it links back to a porn site is strange – it’s natural that a person with a porn site should be interested in and make comments on a post that is about pornography. The default assumption that any link back to a porn site is ‘spam’ would seem to be the problem here.

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

At the same time, Im very uncomfortable with the repellently misogynistic tone of much current pornography (bukkake etc) and if had children of either gender Id hope to limit their exposure to it until they were of an age to be forming sexual attachments with real partners.

I have to admit that I haven’t seen much current pornography Laura but, whatever it is, I can’t see any real value in trying to restrict exposure. Better, I believe, to instill values in the kids for which we are responsible for a time that allow them to cope with whatever they find. It worked for our kids, I think, but then we didn’t wait until their hormones started to get mobile.

TimT
13 years ago

Well, looking at the comment, it doesn’t seem to me to fit a definition of spam, ie, a formulaic comment that makes use of a forum/blog for advertising. It seems to be reasoned and on the point, though I admit there does also seem a contradiction between the general trend of Simon Smith’s arguments and the site he linked to – whatever that was. As it’s your blog, I guess it’s your shout as to what’s spam and what’s not, anyway! Maybe if Simon Smith comes back he will clarify or explain his earlier linking?

David Rubie
David Rubie
13 years ago

Ken Parish said:

As Jason suggested, I suspect that what Catherine Lumby was really saying (as opposed to what the ABC had her seem to say by misleading editing) was:

(1) No responsible parent is happy about their children viewing pornography, especially the more repellent kinds;

The problem isn’t responsible parents and their own children (already well catered for with free web filters and the sensible method of putting your PC somewhere it is easily supervised).

The problem seems to be *other peoples kids*. There is a section of the community that is seeking to impose their own views on others with little consultation and even less evidence. It’s the basis for the whole moral panic (lordy! other peoples kids are looking at bums, boobs and stiffies!). Something must be done about other peoples kids!

I say: let them grow up in the country and watch animals do it. It doesn’t seem to have harmed anyone.

derrida derider
derrida derider
13 years ago

People, this is pure grubby politics. The government owes the Hillsong crowd – they promised this and one or two other pieces of weird shit to them if they didn’t come out in numbers for the tories. I doubt it’s being done out of any conviction on the govt’s part (not that that makes it any better policy).

There’s no excuse for the ABC on this, but.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

“No responsible parent is happy about their children viewing pornography”

Personally I wouln’t have an issue with my son, once he becomes old enough to be take an interest in such matters, viewing pornography (excepting of course obvious extremes such as rape/paedophilia). Does that make me an irresponsible parent?

Gianna
13 years ago

Christopher Pearson in today’s Australian was arguing, based on John Black’s analysis of 2007 election demographics, that the potential influence of the religious lobbies is enormous. Kev certainly doesn’t miss an opportunity to mention God, e.g., “I can say to carers and pensioners right across Australia that there is no way on God’s earth that I intend to leave them in the lurch”. (Hey Kev, instead of sounding pious, just confirm or deny the plan, be specific, and put people out of their misery.)

I’m curious about this Simon-the-porn-spammer aspect. What is the actual point of comment spam? Do porn sites really hope to gain subscribers via a blog/post like this? Or is it just about sites getting hits (however brief or unintentional) for advertising revenue purposes?

OTOH if it’s not spam and Simon is genuinely interested in the issues because he works in the industry, then surely he would provide a disclaimer to avoid confusing people and being regarded as a hypocrite or a spammer?

Hmmm, the plot thickens…Come in, ‘Simon’…

Gianna
13 years ago

ohhhh. duh!