Senate Inquiry on harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet

It’s great to see that the Australian Government is beginning to consider the impact of pornography upon young people.  A Senate Inquiry has been formed and has begun to receive submissions from members of the public.  You can find info on it here.

The scope of the inquiry is broad, covering not just the harm caused by pornography generally, but includes “trends in children's consumption of pornography, the impact of this on the development of health and respectful relationships, harm minimisation methods used in other jurisdictions and possible measures to be implemented in Australia.”

A bunch of the submissions are from concerned citizens asking the government to do something, without giving any real information of substance or recommendations.

However, the pick of the submissions so far comes from Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs AO.

Professor Briggs is the Foundation Chair of Child Development at the University of South Australia.  You can check out her qualifications here.  Needless to say, Briggs’ experience and qualifications mean she is certainly worth listening to.

In her 27-page submission, Briggs highlights a number of areas of concern.  Of particular interest is the role of pornography in abuse perpetrated by children.

According to Briggs, these (many) cases of child abuse likely have their genesis in pornography.  For apart from a child either being abused themselves, or having seen sexual activity in the home, the other predominant cause would be exposure to pornography.  Even more shockingly, Briggs notes from her own study of 700 children that many boys between 6 and 8 years old had watched porn with their fathers for “fun” (p.5).

Having seen and been shaped by this material, children then enact what they have seen on others.  Briggs notes cases of “boys aged 3-8 years obsessively seeking or offering oral sex, masturbating and/or attempting anal penetration” (p. 5). 

Briggs also notes that in many instances of children abusing other children, teachers and parents often ignored the abuse, stating that it was normal experimental behaviour.

She argues that schools and doctors aren’t equipped for dealing with these problems, which only makes things worse.  Police often aren’t interested because the offenders are children.  For me, well, I’ve worked in schools for a long time, and child protection has been a regular feature of every school I’ve worked in, but I don’t ever recall hearing about this particular need.

Whilst all of this is shocking, none of it is rocket science.  It doesn’t take a genius to consider that watching pornography will have some kind of effect on a child.  Nor should it surprise anyone that children will re-enact what they’ve seen; that’s what kids do.  Kids want to do what the grown-ups are doing.  They pretend to be teachers and doctors and superheroes and they play out what they’ve seen. 

But should kids be doing that with sex?  My answer is absolutely not.  What we’re seeing here is that porn distorts and twists normal curiosity

Surely, all of this would suggest that unrestricted access to pornography in our society inevitably harms children.  And while we as a society will never be united in our views on sex, if we’re united on anything it’s that children shouldn’t be sexually abused by anyone.  Surely we’re united on doing all we can to prevent children being exposed to something that will harm them.  Societies are built upon the need for individuals to give up some of their freedom for the good of the most vulnerable.  Let’s hope this Senate Inquiry begins to shed some light on the issue and offer some clear recommendations in protecting our kids from harm.

More on Briggs’ submission in the weeks to come.