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Monica Doumit: The elephant in the room

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Time to admit reality: whatever their advantages, the new means of communication have also facilitated a pervasive online offering of corrupting influences – especially to the young and vulnerable. Photo: 123rf

Have all the reviews and inquiries you want – but face up to the truth about the evil that causes bad things to happen

There was a great, big, fat elephant in the newsroom last week that no journalist seemed to notice.

The week began with a report that there were two allegations of sexual assault received by the NSW Department of Education every week during 2021; these alleged sexual assaults were in addition to the five indecent assaults also alleged each week. Most of these assaults were perpetrated by other students.

The following day saw reports about the ‘secret’ chat room used by 150 Knox Grammar schoolboys, alumni and friends that was replete with vile messages about rape, paedophilia, abortion, homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.

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The day after the Knox story hit the papers, the Australian music industry’s Raising Their Voices report was released, detailing incidents of sexual harassment experienced mainly by female artists and others in the industry.

Then Knox was back in the papers early this week, with video footage to accompany the mostly anonymous messaging in the chat groups.

The rise in sexual and indecent assault reports were attributed to consent education helping students to realise that they had been assaulted. The Knox chat room was blamed on single-sex, elite schooling, and the harassment in the music industry on a lack of inclusivity (among other things.)

[This could be an entirely separate column, but in an eerily similar fashion to so many church governance reviews and Plenary Council submissions over recent years, Raising Our Voices recommended the establishment of a “reform council,” more inclusive leadership including women, Indigenous Australians and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, a commitment to cultural reform and annual reporting requirements to address the issue of sexual harassment.]

In each case, the big, fat elephant of pornography went unnamed.

Could the rise in sexual and indecent assaults amongst schoolkids during 2021, even though they spent much of the year learning from home during COVID, have anything to do with increased screen time making it easier for them to access internet pornography and mimicking what they had seen in real life?

Could the rise in sexual and indecent assaults amongst schoolkids during 2021 … have anything to do with increased screen time making it easier for them to access internet pornography … ?”

Could teenagers like the boys at Knox Grammar (and, I imagine, so many other groups in a range of schools) learn degrading language from online pornographic videos and forums that profit from dehumanising every person involved, but especially women?

Could the sexual harassment of women in the music industry be less attributable to their underrepresentation in leadership and more due to the fact that the lyrics to the most popular songs and scenes in the most popular video clips treat them as sexual objects?

Call me crazy, but you can’t daily immerse yourself in pornography (or soft-porn, in the case of the music industry) and be unaffected by it. This type of constant exposure can’t help but shape how you see other people and consequently, how you treat them.

I remember hearing Mark Hall, a wonderful Baptist youth paster and lead singer of Casting Crowns say that the television you watch and the music you listen to is either who you are or who you want to be.

I think that’s probably true.

This isn’t to say that kids should have Highway to Heaven reruns on repeat and their Spotify playlists limited to As One Voice classics, but it does mean that if we, as a society, are serious about really addressing this type of behaviour in young people, then we have to confront the pervasive use of pornography in this country, and name it as an unparalleled evil that is causing irreparable harm to everyone involved in its production and everyone who consumes it.

We also need to admit that continual and often unwitting exposure to music that glorifies a variety of sex acts is unhealthy. (How many of us have been in a shopping centre or at a gym to hear lewd content played over the speakers?)

The resistance to naming pornography as a potential cause of these behaviours and collating data on its effects is because highlighting its harm would naturally lead to a conversation about limiting its availability, and way too many people are addicted to it to allow that to happen.

We can have all the reviews and inquiries and reports and recommendations that we like, but unless and until they include a good look at the ubiquitous nature of pornography and the way it trains young men not only to dehumanise others with their thoughts but also in their actions, then we will never have a chance at actually making this better.

Related:

Monica Doumit: Blackmail: activists’ preferred tool

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