Child welfare is more important than net freedom
I once stumbled into a child porn chatroom. I was working at a magazine and having one of those “Hey, does anyone know if…?” conversations beloved of journos where we meander into oddball topics, debate them vigorously and call it work.
On this day, we were trying to remember whether Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of The Boy Scouts, was a confirmed paedo or whether it’s just that the organisation itself has the sour whiff of the kiddy-fiddler about it and we were wrongly maligning him. I Googled (or possibly Yahooed – this was a good seven years ago) something along the lines of ‘scouts, paedophilia, Baden-Powell”.
And before I knew it I’d clicked though to a site flooded with hundreds, possibly thousands of posts and replies from men defending – and describing - their lust (both imagined and enacted) for pre-pubescent children.
It soon became obvious how easy it was for these men to justify and support each other through some of the most vile predilections and transgressions the human mind could conceive of.
Thanks to my wretched journalistic curiosity, what I read that day fueled fevered nightmares for weeks to come. But what haunted me most and stays with me to this day is the realisation that many people may not have stopped where I did.
There are those of us who, after stumbling upon a site like this may have disturbed a kernel of previously unacknowledged interest, a dormant twitch of arousal that had finally found an outlet. A few posts here, a couple of links there, a handful of supportive, private emails from established forum members assuring the newcomer that they’re “not alone” – and you have yourself the makings of child porn fetishist.
“We know from our work with offenders that it can often start with an accidental exposure and curiosity,” Zoe Hilton, policy advisor from the UK’s National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children told the BBC earlier this year.
When the government announced yesterday that it was pushing ahead with its planned Clean Feed internet blocking proposal, the blogosphere, Twitter and national news sites bayed for the blood of what it saw as the legislation’s oppressive architects.
Opponents thundered about disruptions to internet speed, the predicted impracticalities, the dangers of catching benign websites in the censorship list and of course, the slippery slope to a nation of North Korean-style totalitarianism that would inevitably follow.
These points may well prove valid. But the most common complaint was that the proposed scheme would hamper ordinary Australians’ freedom to view whatever they choose and self-censor where appropriate.
Child porn is not words. It’s not pictures or drawings or actors. It’s not a movie or a book or a blog. Blocking it has nothing to do with censorship and it has nothing to do with the viewing rights of the end user.
Child porn is the torture, pain and unmitigated victimisation of children. When child porn is viewed online, the watcher is fuelling a growing demand for children to be held captive in the most abominable circumstances, in locations police struggle to pinpoint, by adults who are raping them. The net becomes a petri-dish for unspeakable crime.
Of course the internet didn’t invent child porn but it upgraded it from a small-scale cottage industry to a gleaming, steel-and-chrome, multi-billion dollar high-rise juggernaut.
Pre-internet, someone with a flutter of sexual interest in children may never have had the opportunity to take that desire beyond a masturbatory fantasy. Now, he is potentially just a few clicks away from paying money to witness real, live children acting out everything he’s ever imagined – and get a validating pat on the back from others who are doing the same.
At this stage the feds appear to have bigger plans for their Clean Feed scheme than stamping out child porn. They want to round up and abolish everything from sites promoting drug use to religious extremism. When we start sweeping everything unpalatable into an indiscriminate grab-bag of baddies, we set ourselves up for real problems.
But when we’re talking about child porn, this crime needs a gold class of its own and the government is right to focus its attentions there. The British government recognises this and has run its own Clean Feed scheme since 2004, targeting only child pornography, and the EU looks set to follow.
Whether our representatives can demonstrate similar restraint and streamline its efforts where they’re most needed remains to be seen. There’s little precedent to suggest they have the skills or resources to pull off the execution of anything technology-related without fumbling the ball.
But in principle, anything that will impede our access to child porn is beyond reproach. “Freedoms” be damned.
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