Yes, the feminists were strident and shrill - but they were right about the toxic power of porn
By Melanie Phillips for the Daily Mail
Published: 23:06 GMT, 2 June 2013 | Updated: 23:06 GMT, 2 June 2013
Mark Bridger had a library of violent child porn on his computer. His most visited websites showed images of murders, beheadings and dead children
Google, the internet giant and acme of cool, may be fast descending from hero to zero. Despite pressure to take action against a ‘tsunami’ of internet pornography, so far Google has dug in its heels.
Alarm has been greatly heightened by the recent convictions of Mark Bridger for murdering five-year-old April Jones, and Stuart Hazell for killing 12-year-old Tia Sharp.
Bridger, who had searched the net for images of child abuse and rape, had a library of violent child porn on his computer. His most visited websites showed images of murders, beheadings and dead children.
Similarly, Hazell also searched for child pornography on the net and downloaded child abuse images on his mobile phone.
There have been other cases where men who have committed sexual assault, or worse, have been found to be obsessed with violent or child pornography.
Yet asked to take the elementary precaution of installing blocks on such material, from which anyone wishing to access it would have to opt out, Google has simply refused.
Some people have claimed there is no evidence that pornographic images have any effect on behaviour. They argue it is just as likely that those who commit such horrific crimes only access porn because they already have such tendencies.
Common-sense would suggest, however, that at least some measure of cause and effect is involved here. Even if there is a prior tendency to sexual violence, pornographic images may inflame or excite it. They also serve to confirm in such warped minds that — since others are involved in such practices — they must be normal.
On the day April Jones was abducted, Bridger had viewed online photographs of a child and a pornographic cartoon depicting the apparent rape of a physically restrained and visibly distressed girl.
Police found numerous indecent images on his computer, as well as pictures of young female murder victims including Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the victims of killer Ian Huntley.
In other words, a sick obsession with sexual violence can be fuelled even by responsible news reports.
So why should anyone think that pornography wouldn’t have an even more lethal effect, given the implicit messages it carries not just of normalising sexual violence and degradation, but the gross falsehood that the victims actually enjoy the experience?
While experts say that most people who look at child pornography don’t act out their fantasies, a significant number — estimated at between one in six and one in ten — do just that. That is something no civilised society should tolerate. Yet we do.
While experts say that most people who look at child pornography don't act out their fantasies, a significant number - estimated at between one in six and one in ten - do just that
Moreover, we have been through a very similar argument before on a closely related subject: the impact of screen violence on behaviour. Almost 20 years ago, controversy raged after a study by a distinguished child psychologist, Professor Elizabeth Newson, claimed that violent video images appeared to be creating new strains of sustained sadism in crimes committed by children and young people.
The film industry and academics working in ‘media studies’ — some dependent on grant funding from that very industry – insisted there was ‘no causal link’ between the images and actual aggression.
This was despite some thousand or so published studies in America — endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon-General — showing that there was indeed such a link.
Such videos had a catastrophic effect on certain vulnerable young people who already had some abnormality in their make-up and who were tipped over the edge into actual violence by the images they had seen.
During this controversy, some striking voices were raised against the fashionable ‘no link’ consensus by drawing on the separate, although related, issue of pornography. The voices were those of feminists, who insisted that pornographic images provoked men to rape and sexual violence.
It was ironic to hear such uncompromisingly ‘progressive’ forces making common cause with those on the anti-permissive side of the argument. But the feminists were right.
Whether the issue was pornography or screen violence, it was clearly absurd to claim that powerful images did not have an effect on the way people thought or behaved. At the very least, such images risked de-sensitising people to violence and other extremes of behaviour.
Because such feminist critics tended to be rather strident, however, their views were treated as extreme.
Swept aside by the stampede for ‘freedom of expression’, the pornography issue accordingly got parked — until the internet made these images so widely accessible.
In any event, the damage they do is not confined to provoking acts of violence.
Pornography changes the way men view women, because it turns them into sexual objects — and thus dangerously dehumanises them. Indeed, experts tell us that with so many young children now accessing pornography online, their view both of women and of sex is becoming permanently warped, because their first exposure to sexuality is through these debased images.
And the volume of such traffic is increasing exponentially. Reports suggest that online images of children being abused have shot up by 40 per cent in the past year, with as many as 60,000 individuals in the UK swapping or downloading child abuse images online.
Which brings us back to Google. It maintains that whenever it discovers child abuse imagery, it quickly removes it. Clearly, this is a wholly disingenuous response since only a small proportion of such images are ever reported.
Internet providers ought to be setting up a default block on porn sites, which would require those trying to access them to register. As John Carr, the Government’s adviser on child internet protection, has said, Google needs to show moral leadership on this matter — not least because, if it were to block such material, other net providers would follow.
But Google is refusing to do so — almost certainly because of the loss of lucrative trade that would follow.
For as the technology website ExtremeTech reported last year, no less than 30 per cent of all web traffic involves pornography.
Google maintains that whenever it discovers child abuse imagery, it quickly removes it. Clearly, this is a wholly disingenuous response since only a small proportion of such images are ever reported
Meanwhile, the Government is showing extreme reluctance to bring Google to heel.
Almost certainly this is due to the extraordinarily close links between the two. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, seems to be hugger-mugger with both David Cameron and George Osborne, reportedly swanning in and out of Downing Street as if he owns it.
And Rachel Whetstone, Google’s top global spin doctor, was formerly an aide to Michael Howard when he was Tory party leader, and is married to Steve Hilton, the former director of strategy at No 10.
Even the revelation that Google pays almost no UK tax appears to have had no adverse effect upon a relationship that seems joined at the hip.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Messrs Cameron and Osborne are so besotted by Google as an icon of cool they would no sooner take action against it than swap their own chinos for cavalry twill trousers and a trilby hat.
Nor is the Internet Services Providers’ Association, which represents Google, Yahoo! and Facebook, any better. Its spokesman has made the ludicrous claim that any compulsory porn filter would ‘de-skill’ parents and give them a ‘false sense of security’ since such controls would be easy to fool.
By that logic, of course, we should abandon all laws or regulations protecting children.
The true reason is surely that Google and other providers are making huge profits out of pornography. It is a trade that abuses children, harms society by degrading everyone who uses it and contributes to violence and even murder — and the Government is doing nothing to stop it.
Now isn’t that the ultimate in obscenity?
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