Block Internet pornography at the Internet Service Provider level to stem the tide of sexually aggressive children
Gabrielle Walsh

Pornography on the Internet– in particular the ease and frequency with which children are exposed to pornographic images and sexually explicit material – is a major contemporary problem.

Pornography is not about consenting adults having sex. Rather, it involves men, women and children being objectified and exploited in degrading acts.  Men are abused and exploited because they are portrayed as being only interested in sex and incapable of sensitivity and a committed relationship.  Women are abused when portrayed as sexualised objects for the use of men. Worst of all is the exploitation of children when they are used in pornographic images and in the promotion of paedophilia.

The viewing of such images by children and adolescents is dangerous to their development and identity, and can leave them confused, changed and damaged. Pornography harms children because it presents distorted ideas of sexuality and promotes sexual violence as normal, rape as trivial and the view that adult-child sexual relations are normal. 

Police have expressed concern that the availability of porn on the Internet also provides fertile soil for youngsters to develop a taste for the horrors of child pornography.  “Child-age(child porn) offenders are hard to track as they swapped or bartered material and do not pay for it with credit cards.”  (Herald Sun July 9,2005).  Of a random sample of 76Victorian paedophiles, nine were teenagers.

What can we do to protect our children and promote a society where all humans are respected and human sexuality is treated with the integrity it deserves?

The opportunity to campaign on this issue came with the long-awaited Operation of Schedule 5 to the Broadcasting Act 1992,which was tabled in Federal Parliament on May 13, 2004.  This review examined the effectiveness of the present system for regulating objectionable content on the Internet, and considered the feasibility of alternative approaches.

Former Minister for Communications, Daryl Williams said, “The review of Online Content Co-regulatory Scheme found that, while some types of server level filtering are technically possible, mandating them would be excessively onerous and limit filter performance.  It also found that Internet safety would be improved by more active promotion of filtering technologies by Australian Internet service providers (ISPs).”Unfortunately, the new Minister for Communications, Senator Helen Coonan has endorsed this position.

Australian parents, and anyone concerned for the well being of Australian children, should urge Senator Coonan and the Howard Government to reconsider this position.

Early in 2003 the Australia Institute released a paper demonstrating that 38% of 16 and 17 year old boys were deliberately using the Internet to see sexually explicit material, while84% of boys and 60% of girls had experienced unwanted exposure to sexual material.  Subsequently, the Australia Institute called for more stringent regulation of Internet content.

In November2003, staff from the “Child at Risk Assessment Unit”, Canberra Hospital, reported that exposure to pornography on the Internet was one significant factor in children younger than ten years old sexually abusing other children.

In the first six months of 2003 the Unit had identified as many as forty-eight children under ten years of age that had engaged in sexualised, sexually abusive behaviour.  This represents a dramatic escalation in the incidence of this type of behaviour since themid-1990s, when staff recalled an average of three children per year coming to their attention with this problem.

Most children in this category had accessed pornography on the Internet.  For 25% of these children, deliberate viewing of pornography was their main use of the Internet.  While several children first came across pornography on the Internet accidentally, 25% of the children had been shown how to access pornographic images by another person.

The need for protecting children from Internet pornography has been a major theme of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The Committee expressed concern over limited legislation inexistence to protect children from being involved in child pornography as a result of modern technologies.  In June this year, in its 39th Session, the Committee recommended that consideration be given to adopting specific legislation on the obligations of Internet Service Providers in relation to child pornography on the Internet.  A contemporary problem indeed!

In Australia on March 1, 2005, new obligations came into effect under the Criminal Code Act 1995, for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and ICHs (Internet Content Hosts).  The new requirement to report child pornography is proving successful, however it must be widened to include pornographic images generally.

On a national basis, mandatory filtering at an ISP server level would cost just $10per user for set up costs and $7.33 in annual fees.  The simplest and fairest scheme would be for the Government to invest the initial $45 million in the interests of Australia’s children and then to administer a levy scheme to ensure that the annual maintenance cost of $33 million is shared equitably between end users.  It may be, as the report itself admits, these prices could be brought down through competitive tendering between vendors of filtering software.

We need to persuade the members of the Howard Government – especially the Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock and Communications Minister, Helen Coonan – to take urgent and decisive action to protect Australian children from the irreparable harm that is done by pornography and violence viewed on the Internet.

The Australian Family Association urges you to request the Howard Government to introduce mandatory filtering of pornography by Internet Service Providers at the cost of $45 million for set-up and $33 million annually for maintenance, which would be $10 per user set-up cost and $7.33 annual fee for maintenance.

This will increase the sexual integrity of our young people and greatly reduce the number of children developing unhealthy sexual relationships.  The number of petitions, over 20,000,from people across Australia indicate the high level of support for this recommendation.

Gabrielle Walsh
National Secretary
Australian Family Association30July 2005