Tuesday, 2 June 2009
One of the matters that is often raised with me by parents in my electorate is their fear that while their children are using the internet they may stumble upon inappropriate material. With the internet sadly awash with violence and legal and illegal pornography, it is clear why parents are so concerned about the need to protect their children from the harm of exposure to such material when science clearly links juvenile consumption of online pornography with the development of sexually deviant behaviour.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a briefing on internet service-provider-level filtering, by a clinical psychologist and expert in trauma associated with war and sexual exploitation, Dr Robi Sonderegger, who explained how the internet amplified the global market for content related to child sexual abuse. He strongly argues that allowing teenagers and young children to be exposed to online pornography is tantamount to child abuse. In a peer reviewed article in the public policy magazine Debate, Dr Sonderegger said:
Early exposure to pornography has now been linked with habitual consumption patterns of heavier forms of pornography as was deviant behaviour later in life.
He also pointed out:
Numerous studies have found significant correlation between the consumption of sexually explicit material and sexual abuse. Pornography is deemed instrumentally causal in the aetiology of sex offending.
According to a recent study of 1,500 internet using youth reported in the Journal of Adolescence, 25 per cent of young people had had unwanted exposure to sexually explicit content, with one-quarter of those exposed being extremely upset and one-fifth experiencing symptoms of distress.
The Howard government recognised parents’ concerns about the harm pornography causes and sought to address the problem through the NetAlert PC based filter. We were also examining the technology surrounding ISP-level filtering before we lost government. NetAlert was launched later in the life of the Howard government before a proper public awareness campaign could be implemented and so it never realised its potential as an important tool whereby Australian parents could protect their children. While a step in the right direction, the weakness of a PC based system is that it only protects those children in households where the parents are responsible enough to install it. The Rudd Labor government came to office with an election promise to provide a clean feed to Australian households, schools and public places through mandatory ISP filtering. It was disappointing that NetAlert was scrapped last year before the government’s new ISP filtering could be rolled out to fill the gap, because this left parents with no effective public tool by which they could protect their children in the meantime.
While it is commendable that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy, is seeking to manditorally block the worst of the worst pornography and violence—that is, the illegal Refused Classification material—there is a real apprehension that he may be backing away from the government’s election promise to provide families a feed free of X18+ and R18+ material. Senator Conroy’s recent comments suggesting that the ‘clean feed’ will only block RC raises doubts about how he can claim to meet an election commitment to protect Australian children when websites showing real and graphic sex, extreme violence and degradation of women remain a click away from the average internet savvy nine-year-old.
Governments of both persuasions have sought to deal with so-called ‘legal porn’ by making it illegal to host websites containing X and R classifications in Australia unless they have age verification mechanisms in place. But, rather than comply with a reasonable and responsible law aimed at protecting Australia’s children, the Australian porn trade has simply shifted its operations offshore.
ISP level filtering has the potential to stop the Australian porn trade’s reprehensible circumvention of Australian laws designed to protect our children and also to block other international porn sites. While no-one has said ISP filtering will be a silver bullet, it is a good start to combating the problem of having our children exposed to harmful online porn and will be an important addition to a parent’s armoury. It is disappointing that there appears to be a dangerous lack of understanding of the corrosive impacts of pornographic material on children in particular, which seems to have led to a weakening in government resolve for ISP filtering. Dr Sonderegger strongly contends that:
Juvenile exposure (intentional or unintentional) to online sexually explicit material is a primary risk factor in the grooming of the next generation of paedophiles.
He states that the ISP filtering debate is about:
Whether or not the commercial sex industry should continue to have unrestricted access into the homes and minds of young people.
For years, coalition and Labor governments have responsibly tried to restrict the porn trade’s access to children through magazines, books and movies. Being mindful of the horrific reports this week of the rape of a little eight-year-old on the internet, said to have been watched by over 9,000 deviate predators, I say that now is the time for us to use the technology available to us to protect our children’s use of the internet. Indeed it is our responsibility to do so. (Time expired)