The age of the internet has caused the porn mag era to sputter to an end. Gone are the days of men discreetly placing a nudie magazine on the store counter while the sales clerk verifies their age. Most porn consumers now find new material online, an unregulated digital world where children can access the same content as adults at the click of a button.
The exposure and addiction of children is turning pornography into a public health issue, and a newly elected MP from Alberta wants to make this a government priority. MP Arnold Viersen received the 37th spot in the lottery for Private Members’ Business, which means that in June 2016 he will have an opportunity to bring forward a motion for debate in the House of Commons.
If Viersen’s motion, M-47, is adopted, the Standing Committee on Health will be required to undertake a study to examine the public health effects of the ease of access and viewing of pornography on youth. From the M-47 backgrounder:
In Canada, we protect children’s exposure to sexually explicit material on traditional forms of media recognizing the harmful effects it has on behavioural development. However nothing has been done to protect children from sexually explicit imagery online, the majority of which is violent and degrading.
It’s my pleasure to introduce to you MP Viersen, who was willing to do an interview with HFTS. I know many of you will be very interested in what he has to say.
Let’s start from the beginning. What inspired you to run for office?
It wasn’t actually any one thing. There were a number of reasons why I decided to run. One of the reasons I ran was for my own children. I want to make a difference in the country they grow up in.
Another inspiration are my parents and grandparents who have been involved in important social issues for years. From an early age my dad read Canadian history to me. This gave me a clear picture of the trajectory of Canada and a desire to want to help make a difference. However, running for federal office of was always a far off idea. In fact if you would have asked me two years ago if I was going to be an MP, I would have laughed. It has been about seizing an opportunity and the having the support of my entire community.
What have your first few months in Parliament been like so far? What’s been the biggest challenge, and what’s been a highlight?
The first few months of Parliament have been exciting and rewarding. There’s a lot to learn and many new friends to make. The biggest challenge is managing my time between traveling, being in the riding, visiting constituents, and spending time with my family. For me the highlight is getting to work with all my colleagues, many of whom are personal legends.
Out of all the issues that you could address, why is pornography the one you want to target first?
The idea started out from a bunch of letters that I got from my riding. A bunch of people brought it up with me. Their concerns resonated with me due to the recent national incidents of sexual violence in the last few years that are quite concerning such as Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons, and the Dalhousie dentistry students. One has to wonder where these individuals get the idea that this behaviour involving sexual violence is acceptable.
I have also found that many groups are working on this from a variety of perspectives, including mental health, women’s rights and child protection. After being in contact with them, I asked them how I can bring awareness to this issue. Motion M-47 developed out of these conversations and is hopefully the opportunity start to a national conversation on sexual violence online and the impact its having on our public health.
A specialized committee looked at the issue of pornography in 1985. What were their findings and what action resulted based on those findings?
The 1985 Fraser Committee Report found that in pre-internet 1985, sexually explicit material already perpetuated “lies about aspects of women’s humanity and denies the validity of their aspirations to be treated as full and equal citizens.” The Committee’s Report proposed a thorough revision of the Criminal Code’s obscenity provisions to combat the violence and degradation in sexually explicit material. Two subsequent Government Bills tabled in the House of Commons to address this were never passed.
How have things changed since then?
When you consider that since the Committee’s Report was completed prior to the invention of the Internet, everything has changed. Today, the majority of sexually explicit material features violence toward, and the domination, degradation and humiliation of women and girls, which is a far cry from the Playboy magazines that my generation grew up with.
Even more alarming, this violent sexually explicit material is available without restrictions to anyone with an internet connection and there are virtually no legal restrictions. For example, on Pornhub, the largest ‘free’ site online, some of the popular categories include ‘extreme brutal gangbang’, ‘18 and abused’ and ‘crying teen’. Since this content is online, there are no age restrictions to view this type of material and its changing the attitudes of a whole generation.
What kinds of impacts is online pornography having on children?
Exposure to sexually explicit material is a form of child abuse. The violence towards women in these scenes is not simulated like a violent scene from an action movie. Real women are experiencing real slapping, spitting, punching, choking and degrading abuse. Children have no way of knowing that what they are viewing is not simulated and is not normal behaviour.
Viewing sexually explicit material can lead to child on child abuse or sibling abuse according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. A growing body of evidence indicates that high-frequency pornography use or consumption of violent pornography among boys and young men intensifies attitudes supportive of sexual coercion and increases their likelihood of perpetrating assault.
“Porn users are more likely than their peers to to measure their masculinity, social status and self-worth by their ability to score with ‘hot’ women …[and] female porn users are less likely to intervene when seeing another woman being threatened or assaulted and are slower to recognize when they’re in danger themselves.”
More than 1 in 5 searches on mobile devices are for pornography.
Almost 40% of British boys between ages 14 to 17 said they regularly watch porn.
In January 2016, there were 107 million monthly US visitors to adult sites.
The average age a boy first views porn is 11-13.
Why does this issue need to be examined from a public health angle?
The mental health side of this issue is also critical. A recent review of over 70 academic studies published in the Journal of Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity found that:
Youth who view sexually explicit material have ‘lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, higher levels of delinquent behaviour, higher incidence of depressive symptoms, and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers.’
Addiction is also a major concern. The Witherspoon Institute notes that “neurological research has revealed that the effect of internet pornography on the human brain is just as potent—if not more so—than addictive chemical substances such as cocaine or heroin.” This can damage the brain’s pre- frontal lobe and youth are more impacted than any other age group.
How is a motion different from a bill, and what will happen if the motion passes?
Great question. The key difference is that bills propose changes to legislation and motions usually make recommendations. My motion is a little more unique in that, if passed, it would instruct the Standing Committee on Health to undertake the study proposed in the motion.
What action can Canadians take?
First, Canadians can raise awareness about this issue in their communities. Second, join the movement behind Motion M-47 to combating sexual violence online. Email your MP about M-47 and sexual violence online. Engage your community with a petition to Support M-47.
Third, be aware. Parents have the greatest ability and responsibility to help their children with what is acceptable and monitor and warn their children as to the dangers of using sexually violent material.
If protecting children from sexually explicit material online is something that resonates with you, please support MP Viersen’s motion by:
FAMILIARIZING YOURSELF WITH MOTION M-47
Read the news release here.
Check out the new report by the director of Defend Dignity, Glendyne Gerrard, called Pornography: A Public Health Crisis.
SIGNING THE PETITION
Download the Motion M-47 petition here, print it off, get all your friends and community members to sign it, and mail it in to the address listed on the bottom of the sheet. No postage required!
WRITING A LETTER OR EMAIL TO YOUR MP
Julia Beazley from the EFC has drafted a fantastic sample letter you can use as a template (available through Defend Dignity), but feel free to add some of your personal thoughts as well. Don’t know who your MP is? Plug in your postal code here and you can find out!
SHARING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Use hashtag #SupportM47 to spread the word!
For more articles on the effects of pornography, check out Fight The New Drug.