OTTAWA (CCN) — An American expert on sexual violence told parliamentarians Nov. 29 violent online pornography is a public health issue that needs a multi-pronged approach.
“We are watching; the world is watching what is happening here,” Cordelia Anderson, a consultant based in Minneapolis, concerning Conservative MP Arnold Viersen’s Motion 47 that would instruct the House of Commons Health Committee to “examine the public health effects of the ease of access and viewing of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men” and report to the House of Commons by July 2017. The Liberal government has signalled it will support the motion.
Anderson said the examination should include the latest studies on the effects of pornography done over the last 10 years in many different countries.
At a presentation sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and Defend Dignity, a Canadian organization against sexual exploitation, Anderson said the content of pornography has changed to emphasize pain and the degradation of women. A 2010 study analyzing 50 of the top-grossing porn films of 2007 showed 3,376 different acts of verbal and physical abuse; 11.5 acts of aggression per scene in 88 per cent of them, she said. Aggression was rewarded 68 per cent of the time; with a neutral response 32 per cent of the time; and discouraged 0 per cent. Only about 10 per cent was sex shown in a positive manner.
“The porn industry is the main ‘sex’ educator of young people,” she warned.
“Many children and teens learn more about ‘sex,’ gender and relationships from mainstream, hyper-sexualized media and today’s porn than from parents and other caring adults in their lives,” she said.
The porn industry earns an estimated $57 billion worldwide, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix, she said. One company, MindGeek (formerly Manwin) owns nine out of 16 lucrative “free” porn sites that serve to get children hooked.
Anderson cited a number of studies from around the world that showed the harmful effects on porn users, depending on their age of first exposure, and the frequency and amount of time spent viewing porn. Because of the brain’s plasticity, these young people “are predisposed to sexuality coercive and abusive behaviours,” she said.
“We live in a sexually pornofied and toxified environment,” she said. “Children have gone from Dr. Seuss to porn.”
Studies have shown the average age of first exposure to porn is 11, she said. Porn not only affects those who view it, but other children who are exposed to verbal abuse and degrading sexual expectations. One study she cited revealed many young teenage girls expect to have painful anal sex and think they are not supposed to complain about it.
Boys and girls are exposed to images that define for them that “inflicting pain on another person is sex,” she said. “It’s been normalized.” One boy asked if he had to strangle his girlfriend if they had sex.
“We can’t arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, legislate, treat or educate our way out of this,” she said. “It will take all of that and more and the more is broad-cased social and environmental change.”
Anderson said putting the onus on society to educate parents to protect children is similar to warning people about a toxic water supply but doing nothing to clean up the water.
Pornography needs to be defined as a social issue so the responsibility “moves from individuals to holding external social causes or influences accountable,” she said.
Some great public health achievements have been in the area of immunizations; motor vehicle safety such as seatbelts; fluoride in drinking water; and the treatment of tobacco as a health hazard, she said.
Anderson said she was not advocating going back to an era where sex was treated with shame. “We need a revolution with heart, not a revolution of shame,” she said. “It has to be about human connection. What our kids aren’t learning about are human relationships and caring.”
Though she said she is full of hope change is possible, she warned there would be a backlash against any major social change, the same way the tobacco industry pushed back proof smoking causes cancer and other diseases. Already, some hotels have bowed to public pressure to remove porn channels, she said. No longer can child pornography be paid for with a credit card, she said.