August 27th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Child sexual abuse now allowed in films

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The wages of spin is ... death? / First, the good news / Indoctrinating Muslims, and others / Hacks and spivs

OPINION: The shocking reality of sex trafficking

CINEMA: 'The Ninth Day' - Priests who suffered under Hitler

CINEMA: The Island - Futuristic nightmare of disposable humans

Women in combat (letter)

We already have a Bill of Rights (letter)

NCP not to blame (letter)

BOOKS: BETWEEN PACIFISM AND JIHAD: Just War and Christian Tradition, by J. Daryl Charles


COVER STORY: Is Canberra listening to 'the real world'?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Family First senator throws down gauntlet

WORLD AFFAIRS: Behind Washington's nuclear deal with India

THE WAR ON TERROR: Tony Blair's U-turn on Islamic extremism

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Quarantine and trade policy - a deadly mix

QUARANTINE: Citrus canker outbreak 'a national disgrace'

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Child sexual abuse now allowed in films

by Richard Egan

News Weekly, August 27, 2005
Commonwealth guidelines for the classification of films clearly specify that films will be refused classification if they contain any depictions of child sexual abuse, writes Richard Egan. Nevertheless, the Classification Board and Classification Review Board have recently granted classification to four films which clearly contravene these guidelines.

The Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games specify: "Films ... will be refused classification if they include or contain any ... descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years."

Notwithstanding this very clear statement, four films which include depictions or descriptions of child sexual abuse have been classified by the Classification Board and/or the Classification Review Board as either MA15+ (Birth) or as R18+ (Anatomy of Hell, Palindromes and Mysterious Skin).


The film Birth, starring Nicole Kidman, includes a depiction of an adult woman and a 10-year-old boy naked in the bath together. The woman kisses the child on the lips and also discusses their future sex life together. This is a depiction of an act of child sexual abuse (indecently dealing with a child). The film should have been Refused Classification. Nonetheless, the Classification Board classified the film MA15+.

The film Anatomy of Hell featured, alongside scenes of explicit sex between an adult man and a woman, a scene in which three young boys kneel and watch a young girl take her underwear off in a clump of bushes.

A brief image of the girl lying naked is shown in a medium shot. One of the boys uses the arm of his spectacles to implicitly penetrate the girl. What appears to be vaginal fluids is visible on the implement.

This is a depiction of child sexual abuse. The film should have been Refused Classification. Instead, the majority of the Classification Review Board opined that "this scene is of high impact but interpreted the actions of the children as exploratory play and the intention of the filmmaker as not attempting to titillate viewers, but to provide a context for future scenes. The impact was also moderated by the fleeting nature of the explicit scene and the somewhat positive interactions between the children."

The Board classified the film as R18+.

This decision was defended by the Federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, who described the scene as depicting a "game of doctors and nurses".

The film Palindromes, according to the "Reasons for Decision" published by the Classification Review Board explaining the decision to classify the film R18+, "depicts a number of simulated sex scenes between the 13-year-old Aviva and an adult male and a teenage boy."

The Board fails to make any reference to, and seems oblivious to the Guidelines provision that "films ... will be refused classification if they include or contain any descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse".

The board states: "Palindromes was a challenging film to classify as it depicts simulated under-age and paedophile sex scenes involving a 13-year-old girl. However, the depictions are very restrained; they are neither prolonged nor detailed and there is no nudity or genitalia shown. Further, filmic techniques commonly used to increase the impact of such scenes are avoided in this film."

The film Mysterious Skin contains several depictions and/or detailed descriptions of acts of oral sex and "fisting" (insertion of an arm into the anus) involving boys aged either 8 or 15 with an adult male. The film should have been Refused Classification.

The Classification Review Board's Reasons for Decision, explaining why the film has been classified R18+, have not yet been published. However, in the media release from the board, the convenor Maureen Shelley refers to the "educational merit" of the film as contributing "to the understanding of the consequences of this horrific crime".

It is time for those members of the Classification Review Board who have formed the majority in these decisions to learn how to read the words: "Films ... will be refused classification if they include or contain any ... descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse."

Alternatively, they could resign!

  • Richard Egan is WA state president of the National Civic Council

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