SOCIETY: by Anna KrohnNews Weekly
Impact of internet abuse on the young
, May 12, 2012
The last few decades have witnessed a rising tide of societal outrage and grief over the neglect or evasion of cases of child sexual abuse within once trusted institutions such as the scouts, schools or churches.
People question why it is that time and time again those in authority prevaricated, ignored the evidence or were simply too perplexed to face their suspicions squarely. These questions are justified.
At the same time, there is evidence of a disturbing double standard within the same public who would lynch all priests and school-teachers for the crimes committed by a few.
This is shown in the curious response to a recent disturbing account by a British mother of the serious behavioural changes experienced in her 11-year-old son as a result of his exposure to online pornography.
The woman was writing from her own experience in support of a recently-released report by a British cross-party parliamentary inquiry into online child protection, chaired by British Conservative MP, Claire Perry (details of which will be reported in News Weekly).
Her article, which appeared in the UK Daily Mail newspaper (April 19), was simple but telling. Her son, who had been a normal boy with a sunny, cheerful disposition and an aptitude for schooling and sport, suddenly changed. This was no pre-pubescent mood swing, but one in which the same boy became reclusive, depressed and self-harming.
She recalls: “I once rolled back his sleeve to find ‘I am disgusting’ scrawled on the inside of his arm.”
The mother explains that, at first, she and her husband blamed themselves for his change in character. Then, one evening, inadvertently she discovered that her son had been regularly and compulsively accessing internet pornography on his laptop in bed at night.
As the mother discovered to her horror, the type of images and narratives her son was viewing was not simply “airbrushed” erotica or nudity but scenes beyond her comprehension.
She had never imagined anything like “the scenes of violence and sadism, the shocking mistreatment and degradation of women and, worst of all, the child abuse that now appeared before me”.
She wrote: “In a peculiarly disturbing twist, some of the most vile, paedophiliac images were presented in cartoon form, so that children were abused in the very medium that children most like to watch.”
She further observed that all these sites had been accessed by her son without a single use of credit card or the need for an age check. The woman also had the astuteness to realise that her son was not a rare and perverted exception. He was just one of the myriad of boys of his age who begin the porn-journey out of curiosity, but who end up becoming addicted to the cycles of sensation-seeking and self-disgust.
Furthermore, this invasion of abusive on-line porn into the imaginations of teenage boys has been globalised by wireless and phone technology. Boys in Australian schools today find it both “gross” and scintillating to view images of animal-human sexual abuse, child abuse and the disfigurement of women.
More shocking than this incident in many ways has been the response of many of the 800 anonymous commentators on the Daily Mail response page. Many ridiculed and belittled the author of the article. Some, in the typical “blame it on mama” mode, accused the mother herself of causing guilt in her 11-year-old boy. Some were cynical about her honesty and found amusement in her distress. Others were simply obscenely abusive.
Other anti-porn activists and protestors, like this concerned mother, suffer similar treatment. Defenders of pornography routinely dismiss abuse stories by vilifying those reporting them as “prudes”, or more often these days threatening them with sexual violence.
Some of this hostility is simply mass denial. However, the abusive variety is symptomatic of something far more sinister — it is a bizarre acting out of the degradation and abuse depicted in so much on-line pornography.
American academic and radical feminist Dr Catharine MacKinnon, writing in Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry (2011), edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, says that the adult community likes to rationalise its own irresponsibility and desensitisation by a “protective myth” and an “ideology of compartmentalisation”.
After all, as so many people say, porn is a personal taste, a private commodity. MacKinnon observes that “even as the industry has burgeoned, taking over more public space and penetrating more deeply into private life at home and at work with each advance in technology, it is considered to be somehow not really there” — or, at most, to be shrugged off as benign healthy raunch.
“People who do not want to be accosted by pornography visually are expected to avert their eyes,” she continues. Nowadays, however, “having fewer and fewer places to avert their eyes to”, people find it increasingly hard to protect their minds, hearts and bodies from pornography’s pernicious effects. “Pornography is thus at once increasingly everywhere and yet protected from direct scrutiny.”
Just as the tragic incidence of child abuse in the past has needed to be exposed and confronted honestly, so today does abuse need to be named for what it is.
Anna Krohn is an educator and educational writer, and is currently a tutor in ethics in the department of nursing at the Australian Catholic University, Ballarat campus, Victoria.