In the first part of this series, I summarized the argument in favour of pornography as: “it is created by consenting adult performers and consumed by consenting adults, and that it doesn’t affect you,” and then demonstrated that every aspect of this defence is wrong. Last time, we looked into the claim that porn is created by consenting adults. Today we will be examining, among other things, the claim that porn is consumed by consenting adults. Older readers may remember the days when getting a hold of pornography was similarly difficult to acquiring alcohol for a night out—not a foolproof system, but a high enough barrier to entry that the average teenager could not be drinking every night.
The arrival of high-speed internet, however, changed everything in the media landscape. Pornography is no longer sold under the counter at video stores. Instead it is just a few clicks away for anyone with internet access. With kids on average receiving their first smartphones at the age of 10, the lack of barriers to explicit content on the internet becomes an evident concern. Age gates (pages asking a visitor to confirm their age) are notoriously ineffective deterrents for minors, and at any rate they are seldom seen anymore. I have heard some exclaim that it is the parent’s responsibility to protect children from explicit content. They make the impossible demand that parents lock themselves in a technological arms race with international technology conglomerates to keep their children safe while using a tool that is now a regular part of their education.
Studies on child exposure to pornography are lacking, however the numbers I was able to find painted a bleak picture about our ability to protect society’s most vulnerable from graphic content. The American Psychological Association places the average male’s first exposure to porn at 13 years old. Thirteen is the approximate age at which male puberty begins. Shockingly, 43% of those surveyed indicated that their first exposure was accidental while 17% claimed that they were forced into their first exposure, only 33% of participants had sought out pornography willingly for their first exposure (6% declined to answer). Therefore, 60% of children are exposed to pornography for the first time against their will.
A study by the British Board of Film Classification examined adolescent consumption of pornography and found that over 50% of 11-13 year-olds have viewed pornography. The numbers rise to two thirds for 14-15 year-olds. Fourteen out of fifteen young men say they had accessed pornography before the age of 18. This implies a near 100% failure rate in stopping young boys from accessing age restricted content content. The young age of exposure is especially concerning when we consider Valerie Voon’s 2014 study wherein it was found that the brains of those who suffer from compulsive sexual behaviour had the same reaction upon seeing pornography as alcoholics do when they see a drink advertisement. Most worrisome was that younger sufferers from compulsive sexual behaviour had a greater neural reaction. This widespread use of pornography among youths can also lead to horrible outcomes such as an elementary school plagued by a group of boys watching rape porn at school and repeating the phrases they heard to their female classmates.
There was never a debate on the legalization of pornography. We were never asked if we wanted it in our society.
The problems with pornography’s ease of access worsen however: in 2015 the BBC reported that one in ten 12-13 year-olds feared they suffer from a pornography addiction. One in five of the youths polled stated that they had come across pornographic images that had upset them. And, most frighteningly, nearly one in eight told the surveyors that they had taken part in, or made, a sexually explicit video themselves. Porn sites are often reluctant to remove such content and even if a hosting company decides to act, it is incredibly difficult to determine what content is legal or not.
Looking at the current state of pornography in Canada one must wonder, where did this all begin? How could none of these things have been predicted when we debated the legalization of pornography? The answer to the latter question is simple. There was never a debate on the legalization of pornography. We were never asked if we wanted it in our society. Pornography was unleashed upon the public by a group of nine unelected technocrats. This was covered in our article Judicial Tyranny. R v Butler, the case that decided the legalization of pornography took place in 1992. The case revolved around a video store owner, Donald Victor Butler, who had been charged with obscenity for the sale and distribution of pornographic materials. Butler, being found guilty (after his first acquittal was appealed by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, or LEAF), appealed the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Canada found that obscenity laws were in breach of Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms “Provision. 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” And thus, the prohibition of pornography was deemed incompatible with The Charter. Of course, defending pornography as “free speech” is ridiculous, as porn adds nothing to the national discourse as it is sexual exploitation produced for mass consumption and nothing more. This defence becomes even more of a farce when we consider the numerous prosecutions of political speech in Canada. In the last twenty years alone there have been more than five cases of prosecution for political speech by the Supreme Court of Canada, the most notable, in my opinion, is Saskatchewan v Whatcott where the court stated “Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction”. Our courts will not defend truth, but they will defend smut.
R v Butler did not completely settle the matter however, they laid out some reasonable restrictions under which pornography could still be banned. These reasonable restrictions would not violate Section 2 of the charter. Three distinct categories of pornography were laid out: the first was explicit sex that included violence, the second was explicit sex that did not include violence but subjected people to treatment that was degrading or dehumanizing, and the third category was explicit sex which did not include violence nor subjected people to treatment which was degrading or dehumanizing. The first 2 categories were not afforded the same protections as the third, which was deemed protected speech. A 2012 report for The Canadian Bar Review by Janine Benedet titled The Paper Tigress: Canadian Obscenity Law 20 Years After R v Butler reveals that The Crown’s ability to prosecute on those 2 exceptions was severely restricted due to precedent set by subsequent cases such as R v Hawkins and R v Jorgensen. The difficulty in prosecution led to police turning their resources elsewhere rather than charging people with obscenity for violent or degrading pornography. This apathy has made all types of adult pornography de-facto legal in Canada.
LEAF celebrated R v Butler as a win for women’s rights, at the time not realizing the futility of the “reasonable exceptions”, stating that “...if true equality between male and female is to be achieved, we cannot ignore the threat to equality resulting from exposure to audiences of certain types of violent and degrading materials. Materials portraying women as a class worthy of sexual exploitation and abuse have a negative impact on the individual's sense of self-worth and acceptance.” They saw the decision of R v Butler as the perfect compromise between expression and limiting what they saw as the harmful aspects of pornography “LEAF believes that this law, if appropriately applied [emphasis added], will prohibit pornography’s most harmful forms, that is, those that combine sex with violence, degradation or the depiction of children. It should also curb state repression of books, videos, images and art historically deemed morally ‘indecent’ or ‘disgusting’ by a heterosexist society.” While R v Butler may have protected certain works from obscenity charges, it would be laughable to claim that the law has been able to “prohibit pornography’s most harmful forms”, the internet is full of violent, degrading and disturbing pornography and there have been no attempts to stop it or punish those who produce and distribute it. When it comes to prosecuting pornography it seems there are no “reasonable exceptions”.
The apathy forced on our law enforcement by the courts has led to anyone of any age having access to a deluge of harmful materials with relative ease. Short of withholding access from the internet in its entirety, parents have no reasonable recourse to protect their children when pornography can be found in nearly every corner of the internet without any barriers and often without any warning. One shouldn’t have to be a tech guru to protect their pre-adolescent children from the perversions and violence thought up by California’s most warped minds. Knowing the role pornography plays in the lives of children, we must ask ourselves how this will shape them and their views of society, sex and women as a whole. This will be explored in the third and final part of The Pandemic of Pornography.