24 March 2016

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese

Children have a right to be children, away from harms that can be inflicted on them by being exposed to pornography.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference made this assertion in a submission published last week by the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications. The Standing Committee was tasked with inquiring into, and reporting on harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet, with particular reference to trends of online consumption of pornography by children and their impact on the development of healthy and respectful relationships, current methods taken towards harm minimisation in other jurisdictions, and the effectiveness of those methods, the identification of any measures with the potential for implementation in Australia and any other related matters.

The submission was prepared by the Bishops Commission for Family, Youth and Life (BCFYL) earlier this month and published by the Standing Committee this week.

"We live in a sexualised culture where pornography has been mainstreamed. There is significant use of sexualised images in areas of advertising, music videos and computer games. Many of the images that confront children in day-to-day life are based on poses used in pornography.

The reach of pornography through the Internet and particularly mobile devices has led to the sexualisation of our community," said Bishop Peter Comensoli, acting chair of the BCFYL.

"Allowing children to be exposed to pornography is a form of abuse. The Church has its own shameful history of child abuse and, particularly because of that terrible experience for victims, does not want to see other forms of abuse of children such as the harms from the increased availability of pornography.

"There is for example evidence of a link between children being exposed to pornography and the likelihood they will fall victim to sexual violence.

"A number of studies have recorded that children are increasingly at danger of exposure to pornography, including a 2012 Australian study which said more than 40 per cent of children first saw pornography between the ages of 11 and 13.

"There is clear evidence of the harm that pornography can inflict on children, with those kids who have seen it more likely to regard women as sex objects, agree with sex before marriage, have sex before their peers do, adopt risky sexual behaviour that may lead to pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease and molest other children. Adolescents exposed to pornographic material are more likely to be sexually violent.

"This is compelling evidence of the need for the Australian community to act to save children from this harm, but also to save the broader community from the harms of adults damaged in their childhood."

The bishops advocated research into the knowledge of parents about the risks of pornography for children and whether and why they take action to reduce those risks, greater education for parents based on these risks and the implementation of a clean feed Internet filtering system. The bishops commented that the lack of regulation of Internet-based content in Australia is anomalous compared to the regulation of other mediums.

The full submission can be found here.

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