Belling the cat of Big Porn

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One major US study reports 42 per cent of male respondents first encounter porn online between the ages of eight to eleven. PHOTO: FREEPIK.COM

We don’t allow big tobacco or major breweries to promote their wares to our children …

The last tab that opened in my browser was a .gif file (an animated image) of a woman lifting her shirt and showing off her wares. I was looking up video tutorials on inserting a calendar in a OneNote notebook as I set up dates and events for my wedding and honeymoon.

The .gif file popped up once I clicked on a top google search result. I wasn’t looking for pornography. Yet, there it was – unsolicited and on my browser. Pornography came into my house that night. It was unwelcome, unsolicited, and it was because of some person or some company. I didn’t give consent to have it on my screen. Yet there it was.

There are two recurring arguments on the pro-pornography side of things that might be paraphrased this way:

• Don’t like pornography? Then don’t watch it.
• What’s the big deal? There’s an age limit for those aged 18 and over.

These arguments hinge on consent: turn it off, and one doesn’t consent. Likewise, the age restrictions are there to prevent those who think they can consent, but aren’t mature enough, from consenting.

Let’s examine this scenario a little differently. Imagine a boy between the age of eight and 11 (which is the average age of pornography exposure in the US) sees that looping .gif of a woman exposing herself. It’s his first exposure to pornography. The child didn’t seek it out, nor did he consent to it being on his screen.

If we’re honest with ourselves, no one in their right mind can say that an eight or 11-year-old has the maturity to consent to the viewing of pornography. Yet, that boy has just been forced into viewing pornography.

Keep in mind that accidental viewing is what, in one study titled Age and Experience of First Exposure to Pornography: Relations to Masculine Norms and presented at the 125th Annual Conventions of the American Psychological Association, 43.5 per cent of men said was their first exposure to pornography. An additional 17.2 per cent listed forced exposure as their first experience.

What if we changed the industry that was forcing itself into the home, badgering residents to try a free sample of their product? What if big tobacco entered a house, unannounced, unexpected, unsolicited, and unwanted, and stuck a cigarette into a child’s mouth and suggested they take a drag or two? It would make front-page news and there would be outrage.

Likewise, if a major brewer of beer did the same. The media would discuss and debate the violations of rights and the autonomy of the household. But there’s little doubt there would be outrage over a child being offered cigarettes or beer by strangers while he is still developing both mentally and physically.

Fortunately, some governments have set up (admittedly imperfect) checks and balances as best they can to help prevent big tobacco and big beer from doing such things. But substance use is different from internet pornography.

You can’t get drunk looking at a can of beer, and if a 10-year-old tried to purchase beer or tobacco, he would be told to go home. The law helps protect the young who don’t comprehend the harm that will come from consuming alcohol at such an age. Yet, an industry is popping up based on filtering pornography and keeping it from sneaking into houses unexpectedly because the government doesn’t see a problem.

Even whole countries, Russia being one, are banning some of the largest pornography sites, and according to fightthenewdrug.com, 15 US states have declared pornography a public health crisis since 2016.

Most pornography falls under the protection of free speech in the US. Yet, we know that not all free speech is protected. For instance, sexual harassment and unwanted sexual touching are not protected.

The question must be asked: why isn’t unsolicited pornography, the kind described at the start of the article, a form of sexual assault or harassment? If an adult man or woman exposed themselves in public to an underage boy or even a nonconsenting adult, they would be guilty of several crimes.

However, if it happens in video or .gif format, on a digital screen then the culprits are given a free pass. To make matters even worse, Google Drive allows users to share folders with other users, but without parameters from the receiver’s end to prevent folders from being shared – thereby opening users up to potential entrapment.

For instance, if a person shares a folder of underage pornography with a random Gmail address obtained during a website hack, Google has no settings to keep the receiver safe from receiving the folder.

An angry student bent on ruining a marriage or a career can simply drop a folder in his or her professor’s Google Drive and then call the police. The professor would be finished in his or her profession.

Even if found innocent the headlines would be damning. What if it was the vice chancellor of a university or a minister who ends up being blackmailed because someone dropped a folder into his drive?

With the recent snafu on some pornography sites and social media sites which allowed for an underage girl to be seen engaging in sex with older men on their sites, there’s no surprise that the pornography and social media industries don’t make protection of youth a priority.

It is to the point that the only real way to defend one’s self is to remove one’s self from the internet altogether, which in today’s age is akin to asking someone in Australia to live without electricity.

In the US, there is little reason to believe that pornography will disappear any time soon. In the meantime, could governments place stronger restrictions and regulations on pornography that are similar but also different from alcohol and tobacco on the grounds that substantial differences require different laws?

Could they put tight restrictions on internet pornography, mandating and a REAL ID for users and actors? Could they require the default position for all internet providers be one in which pornography is filtered from their service where a person over 18 would have to opt-out of that filter to access pornography?

Could there be heavy penalties on companies who deliberately and willfully seek to expose people to accidental pornography as a kind of sexual assault on the viewer?

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