Good morning, everyone, and thank you very much to the committee for providing us with this important opportunity.
I would also like to acknowledge my wonderful colleagues who are joining us. You have real experts here today. We've been working with Dr. Sharon Cooper and Cordelia for over 10 years, and they can really offer some important information.
My name is Lianna McDonald, and I am the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Our agency is a national charity dedicated to the personal safety of children. Our goal is to reduce the incidence of missing and sexually exploited children, while educating the Canadian public about ways to keep their children safe.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection operates Cybertip.ca, which is Canada's national tip line to report online sexual exploitation of children. The tip line is a central part of the Government of Canada's national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. The primary role of the tip line is to receive and analyze reports on potentially illegal material or activities regarding online crimes against children. Since its inception in 2002, the tip line has processed over 220,000 reports from the public concerning children being sexually exploited on the Internet. The number of reports coming into the tip line has steadily increased over the years. Since 2014, Cybertip.ca has averaged approximately 3,000 reports per month.
It is through our work over the last 14 years that our agency has witnessed the growing proliferation of child sexual abuse on the Internet. The misuse of technology has accelerated the propagation of child pornography, normalized the sexualization of children, and made it abundantly easier for offenders to actively participate in this illegal behaviour.
Focusing on today's discussion, it should be noted that there is a significant difference between the so-called adult pornography and the child abuse material that is reported to us on a daily basis. Overwhelmingly, the content that is reported to the tip line depicts children being sexually exploited or abused. The image or video becomes a permanent record of a child's abuse and can propagate indefinitely.
When it comes to disturbing adult pornography, the public has nowhere to report it. Given that Cybertip.ca is the closest thing to a reporting entity, 15% of our reports include this type of egregious sexual material. Our analysts would process these reports as they come into the tip line. Every day, regrettably, our analysts have to see first-hand how extremely disturbing and graphic this content can be. I'll provide just one very mild example, from a popular website. A naked female is shown on her hands and knees while a male is penetrating her from behind. In the background, there are at least six other naked men visible, all masturbating. The men then take turns anally penetrating the female, one after another. She is there completely to serve them.
In our experience, both adult pornography and child pornography have become increasingly disturbing over the years, including elements of sadism, bondage, torture, and bestiality. It is important to recognize that the reports made to the tip line come in from members of the public who have come across some of this disturbing material on the public Internet. There are no usernames or passwords required to gain access. We frequently receive reports relating to adult and child pornography that is in plain view on popular social media platforms. The fact that this content is encountered by members of the public so often and in such public places is a significant public health concern.
The ease of access to sexually explicit material also provides sexual offenders with a tool to groom children. Research indicates that sexual offenders expose children to pornographic videos and images in order to lower children's inhibitions. For example, one study found that out of 91 offenders who sexually exploited children, 33% used adult pornography—videos or magazines—to groom, educate, and desensitize the children.
Offenders use pornography, as well as violent and degrading sexually explicit content, to normalize the abuse perpetrated against a victim. The narrative created by those who offend against children is that the acts are engaged in by mature individuals and the victim is growing up, and it is often used to educate the victim on what the offender wants the child to do.
The above points are supported through research conducted by our agency. In January 2016, we conducted an international survey of survivors whose child sexual abuse was recorded and distributed online. The survivors who participated in the survey contributed valuable details and information about their experiences. Based on the preliminary findings, we learned that among 93 victims who disclosed exposure to inappropriate content as part of their abuse process, 57% were shown adult pornography and 44% were shown child pornography.
I would like to raise one example of a case where an offender used sexually explicit material to groom a child. R. v. J.V. is a 2015 case from the Ontario Court of Justice. In this case, the father physically and sexually abused his daughters from the ages of 4 and 5, and throughout their entire childhood in what the judge described as a sadistic pattern of gratuitous torture. The mother was also involved as a facilitator, and in some instances, an abuser.
Each victim described a pattern whereby they would be called into the room by their father to watch pornography. These included threesomes and bestiality. He would make them watch, and then proceed to force them to participate in a variety of sexual acts. One victim described being forced to engage in bestiality after her father watched similar pornographic acts.
When children reach adolescence, the seamless integration of technology into their lives provides them with easy access to pornographic material. An increased amount of research is linking adolescent pornography viewing to numerous negative health outcomes such as aggression, substance abuse, depression, risky sexual behaviours, and sexual deviance.
The available research is also consistent with our experience connecting directly with child educators and Canadian children. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has educational materials in classrooms across Canada. We also run student advisory groups, which we engage to seek information directly from youth relating to online and personal safety experiences. Through informal discussion with students in 2016, we learned that approximately 70% of the students in grade 6 had at one time or another felt discomfort with something they came across online, with pornography and related terms often cited as the source of discomfort.
This informal data is backed by a study that was released in June 2016 by Middlesex University in London. An extensive survey of students between the ages of 11 and 16 was conducted that revealed that children were initially shocked and confused after seeing pornography, but the shock subsided after repeated viewing. Of critical importance, nearly half of the males reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try out, and just over half of the boys surveyed saw pornography as realistic.
Our agency also connects with parents. In February 2017, we conducted a survey of parents to better understand their unique concerns regarding their children's access to the Internet and online safety. The preliminary findings suggested that among the 122 respondents, 60% were deeply concerned about their children being exposed to inappropriate content, such as pornographic images or violence. In addition, 53% of respondents indicated they needed help in gaining knowledge of the online environment to educate and protect their children.
The reality is that the burden of managing this issue thus far has fallen onto parents. The number of apps, social media sites, and websites has grown exponentially, yet parents are expected to navigate this on their own and somehow make sure their children aren't exposed to things they can't handle. This is unrealistic, it is unfair, and it ought to change.
In conclusion, our agency believes there is an urgent need to take steps to limit the accessibility of child abuse material as well as violent and degrading sexual content, particularly on websites that are publicly available.
A few concrete steps to address this issue could include:
First is exploring opportunities to engage with bodies that are responsible for the assignment of domain names to designate specific domains as child safe. These child-safe, top-level domains would require entities to enforce rules relating to the type of content they cannot host, such as pornography and graphic violence.
Second is educating adults on the harmful impacts of pornography, and devising solutions, such as age verification technology, to help ensure that pornographic content is not readily accessible to young people.
A third step would be helping parents keep pace with the technological trends and arming them with child protection tools and resources.
Finally, we must educate and empower our children around issues of sexual consent, healthy relationships, and boundaries.
Our hope is that we can continue to work together with stakeholders and the Government of Canada to find meaningful ways to ensure that our children are better protected from harmful content, abuse, and exploitation.
Thank you. Good morning.
I am a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston, as well as founder and president of Culture Reframed. We are the first health-based non-profit to develop public and professional capacity to build resilience and resistance in children to the porn culture.
I have been researching, writing, and speaking about the porn industry for over 30 years. I am the author of numerous articles and books on the porn industry, including Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, which has now been translated into four languages. I have served as an expert witness for the U.S. Department of Justice in a case against the porn industry. My research and activism are rooted in multidisciplinary scholarship and reflect multicultural and feminist perspectives.
The committee has heard from experts about the debates in the scholarly community regarding the harms of pornography. Let me be very clear. Over 40 years of empirical research from psychology, sociology, communications, and the health sciences demonstrates unequivocally that consuming pornography impacts men's and boys' attitudes, behaviours, sexual templates, sexual tastes, norms, values, and gender and sexual identity.
To suggest that porn has no impact is to ignore the weight of the evidence, and importantly, to ignore the voices of women and girls. I travel the world giving presentations on this topic and have heard thousands of stories from women and girls about the often life-long impact of sexual abuse and harassment, and the role of porn in that abuse. This is a critical human rights and justice issue, one that every government should be committed to if they are committed to girls' and women's equality.
In addition to the direct impacts of pornography on sexual violence and abuse, we must acknowledge the large body of scholarship that explores the more subtle ways that porn undermines the collective well-being of women, men, and children, and erodes the cultural fabric of our society.
We know from research that porn destroys the capacity for intimacy, connection, and empathy, the three key human skills that sustain a society worth living in.
The earlier boys access pornography—and today the average age is 11—the more they watch, and the more violent the material they consume, the less likely they are as adults to develop connected relationships with partners, to parent their children, or to be active and engaged citizens. They are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction, isolation, depression, and anxiety.
Porn has a cascading impact on the entire society. That is why it is a public health issue, not a moral one. It is not about the one porn user masturbating alone in the bedroom, bathroom, or boardroom, but about the way porn impacts the wider culture, gender relations, and the workplace. It is the same reason we view drinking and driving as a public health concern. It expands beyond that one inebriated individual and has broader social causes and impacts, causing large-scale loss of life and physical and emotional injuries. It drains the health care system, and it hurts the economy. It requires systemic intervention to address the problem.
That is exactly the same truth for pornography, which undermines the well-being of boys and men and causes a cascading effect on the culture. It puts girls and women at risk of sexual harm, both physical and emotional. It undermines their rights to full equality in the home, the workplace, and society at large, by reducing girls and women to sex objects. Porn normalizes sexual harassment, makes women more vulnerable to sexual abuse in public and private spaces, legitimizes sex acts that debase and degrade women, grooms girls into seeing themselves as nothing more than masturbation facilitators for men, and robs them of their sexual agency.
The well-oiled public relations machine of the porn industry has developed multiple ways to distract us from these effects, which have been documented in the research. One key distraction is to ask, what type of porn are men and boys watching, good porn or bad porn, soft core or hard core, violent or non-violent? This is a distraction because it falsely points to a significant segment of the porn industry as “benign”. To understand porn, it is crucial to study how the porn industry works and to understand the content and genres, and how access to porn is structured within a highly sophisticated web-based commercial environment.
The advent of the Internet ushered in a multi-billion dollar a year industry that reshaped not only how men and boys access porn, but also the content and business model. The Internet made porn affordable, accessible, and anonymous, three key factors that drive demand. With 24-7 access to porn, boys and men quickly became desensitized and needed more extreme porn in order to maintain their interest and arousal.
In 2003, hard-core porn director Jules Jordan told Adult Video News, a porn industry journal, that “One of the things about today's porn and the extreme market, the gonzo market, is so many fans want to see so much more.”
That was 2003. Today, hard-core porn, termed “gonzo” by the industry, is no longer extreme but mainstream. It is no surprise, then, that a 2010 study by Ana Bridges and her team found that the majority of scenes from 50 of the top most-watched movies and films have physical and violent abuse against women in 90% of the scenes.
That was 2010, just as the porn industry was being revolutionized by a company originally called Manwin, later renamed MindGeek following the arrest of its founder, Fabian Thylmann, for tax evasion in 2012. The key to MindGeek's business plan was to build free porn sites, much like YouTube, and then monetize the traffic through ads for penis enlargers and erectile dysfunction medications and links driving consumers to paid porn sites and webcam porn.
MindGeek has been described as similar to Amazon in books; it's the dominant force. Thanks to MindGeek, the porn industry is now a mature, highly sophisticated, and corporatized industry. MindGeek controls eight of the top ten most travelled free porn sites in the world, controlling most of the distribution side of the value chain. Its top three free porn sites attract close to 100 million visitors and over 488 million page views a day.
This free porn model delivers porn to boys on a scale never seen before. Because you don't need a credit card, or proof of age, it is the perfect way to deliver hard-core porn to boys at the very stage in their development when they are sexually curious and their brains are wired for novelty and risk-taking. Absent robust sex education programs, porn has now become the major form of sex education in the world across the globe. This means that violent hard-core porn is shaping boys on a level we've never seen before.
Although MindGeek is headquartered in Luxembourg, with offices across the USA and Europe, 800 of its more than 1,000 employees work from their Montreal office. It is indeed ironic that the country that has produced the boldest statement about porn as a public health issue is home to the largest distributor of porn on the planet.
With this level of concentration on the distribution side, it is not difficult to discover the popular types of porn content. MindGeek's websites don't contain soft-core or “good” porn. Instead, they catapult you into a world of violent and degrading images of women. Porn is an industrial product, not a haphazard collection of images or creative art. This means it is generic and formulaic across most porn sites.
This business model mirrors the business model of other major industries. When you enter a McDonald's anywhere in the world, the menu will be more or less the same because the product is designed for a mass market. You can have a Big Mac with or without cheese, with or without mustard, but you can't order steak au poivre followed by cheese soufflé for dessert. The product on offer has been structured by sophisticated marketing professionals at McDonald's HQ with an eye to revenues, profits, costs, and market segmentation.
It is the same with MindGeek. Whatever site you land on, you see a similar list of genres and acts, and I'm going to give you the most predominate acts that you will see on all MindGeek sites: women being gagged with a penis till they are choking; pounding oral, anal, and vaginal sex, designed to stretch women's orifices and cause pain and injury; women being penetrated in all orifices, often by three men at the same time while being hit on the face with hands, penises, spat upon, and called vile misogynist names.
While this is not your father's Playboy, at a profound level it is the same old patriarchal, reactionary, and sexist ideology. It delivers the message to men's brains, via the penis, that women exist for sexual use and abuse. In porn, women don't need good child care, equal pay, or the right to live a life of dignity. All they need is a good pounding to make them happy. The idea that porn is somehow about female liberation, creative sexuality, or sexual agency is testimony to the power of the porn industry's PR machine. Ironically, the ideology and messages are as old as patriarchy itself.
This is why we need to act now. As well as developing and delivering holistic sex education in schools, we need to develop policies similar to those in the United Kingdom that severely limit access to pornography via filters at the ISP level and age verification measures.
We also need to define pornography as a violation of women's civil rights and ask what matters more: the right of a group of predatory capitalists to profit from violence against women and children, or the rights of women and girls to live as equal and free citizens? You can't have it both ways. A choice has to be made: porn or gender equality?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It is a privilege for me to be able to speak with you today. I am a pediatrician who works specifically in child development, especially the healthy development of children and children who are at risk for developmental disorders. I am also a forensic pediatrician and have spent nearly 40 years now working in the area of child maltreatment. The last 18 years have been focused on Internet crimes against children and information and communication technology crimes.
The presence of Internet pornography and its easy availability to children and youth present a significant threat to the psychosexual development of children and youth today. This threat to the children, the inability of their parents to provide protections, and the resultant aberrant sexual behaviour decisions by more and more groups of teens and older adolescents really provides a clear road map of a threat to society. Therefore, looking through the lens of the ecological model, Internet pornography affects the child, the family, the community, and society.
Efforts to protect children from this prurient content were completely acceptable when print materials were restricted from sale to minors. However, since the public availability of information and communication technology, which really began around 1995 or 1996, this content can no longer be controlled without legislative actions. The very nature of the Internet and smart phone technology fosters a sense of digital normalization that causes parents to have a sense of helplessness with respect to trying to intervene and protect their children from unwanted content.
There are seven different ways in which adult pornography harms children. The first is that adults who view this content often use it as a template for production of their own personal materials as they sexually abuse children. These images are often their plan for action. In hundreds of investigations where I have had to review the storage of images and videos of child sexual abuse material, previously referred to as child pornography, there was existing and saved adult pornography content on the hard drives of offenders who were used to replicating the sexual acts of those children as they downloaded, possessed, and traded these images with like-minded offenders.
Second, adults now use adult pornography to entice youth for self-production of similar images, typically for the purpose of blackmail and continued online victimization, now referred to as “sextortion”. It is so easy for an adult to groom a youth into believing that the online explicit material reflects normal sexual relationships and that their romantic interest warrants the child sending mined content to them via the Internet.
Children have described for decades that adult sex offenders will first look at adult pornography just prior to committing a sexual assault. Children have also described the frequent behaviour of sex offenders in encouraging children to view adult pornography with them. This was usually done in hiding and behind locked doors as the offender prepared to sexually assault the child.
Of course, young children do not typically experience the resultant sexual excitation that the offender does, who is under the cognitive distortion that “this will be as good to you as it is to me”. The purpose of the adult pornography in this particular scenario is for the education and seduction of these innocent children. What better and easier means of seducing children is there than to simply pull out a smart phone and show adult pornography videos to an unsuspecting child?
We now recognize that adult pornography has become one of the most common catalysts toward youth sex-offending behaviours against peers and younger children. As these youth become habituated to the content, responding, as do adults, with masturbation and the need for more and more egregious content to become sexually satisfied, they often become in essence “disinhibited” if there is not more content to become sexually satisfied. It isn't uncommon for them to victimize a younger child who is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. These youth also use adult pornography as a means of normalizing sexual acts to younger children, so that the victim child will comply with the nature of the assault.
Another way in which harm occurs to children by adult pornography is the beginning of this downward spiral into anti-social behaviours, as is often noted in online adult content.
When the criminal actions bleed into adolescent relationships, we have the making of both a template for adolescent sexual assault, and—very sadly, these days—more and more cases of memorialization of that sexual assault through cellphone videography and ultimate transmission over the Internet.
A final means of harm to children that is propagated by adult pornography is the visual invitation to seek more and more egregious content. This leads our children down the slippery slope from adult pornography to so-called “barely legal” sites, where adult women and likely adolescent victims are made to look like children, and then eventually to the actual downloading, trading, and possession of child abuse images. This terrible path is life-changing for youth and can cause them to enter into a criminal justice system that changes their futures forever.
From a public health perspective, mirror neuron research has underscored that what we see is more than an image transmitted to our brain. What we see is also processed by other parts of the brain, which convince us that we are actually experiencing what we are seeing. This is particularly relevant to the public health threat of online adult pornography, and especially its impact on children.
I'd like to end my testimony by quoting the words of an imam who testified at a hearing called by our Department of Justice, entitled “Defending childhood: children exposed to violence in 2012”. This national task force, of which I was a member, travelled around the United States for nearly a year, listening to sworn testimony from children, adults, and subject matter experts on the impact of exposure to violence to children. This particular imam spoke of trying to provide counter-messages to his congregation of young, growing adolescents—particularly adolescent males—in the hopes of trying to restore and to underscore the need for respect for women and girls, the need to define misogynistic patterns of behaviour, and the need to be, in essence, an upstanding person. The words of this esteemed leader in the community of Baltimore, Maryland, to youth who were growing up in his community are as I quote, “It is said that what you see is what you get, but I would say instead that what you see is what gets you.”
Thank you very much for your attention.
Hi. It's wonderful to be here, and it's great to follow this up. I really appreciate your doing this study and the opportunity to address this group.
For over forty years, I have worked to promote sexual health and to prevent sexual harm. I began my study at the program in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota, where I was trained, at that time, that pornography was harmless and was, indeed, a sexual aid. I learned a lot about the importance of promoting sexual health and fighting sexual oppression. When I left there, I started one of the first child sexual abuse prevention programs in the U.S.A., and I was a consulting therapist for those who commit acts of harm and for those who were harmed. That all changed my understanding of the impact of pornography on individuals and culture.
Others who have testified so far have mentioned that this is an unregulated social experiment so great that we don't yet know the full extent of the harm or the impact. Some who have testified argued that, because of what they called a lack of research and trends, there is no demonstrative harm. I'm here with my colleagues today to point out that there's a wide range of credible research and trends that clearly point to this as a public health issue that requires a parallel range of efforts to counter.
I want to just go back to Dr. Cooper's comments about the brain. For me, some of the brain research is critical to understanding this as a public health issue. I am not a neuroscientist, but I can cite a lot of the research, guide you to where that is, and try to find some of the simple essence. There are 32 studies and 10 reviews of literature. Very simply put, the neurons that fire together, wire together. Whatever the brain does a lot of, what we do a lot of, we get good at, and it literally changes our brains. The potential for harm is not related to the nudity, but rather the novelty. The brain is malleable. It's always changing.
You heard about the mirror cells. There's also innate programming that's triggered by unrealistic supranormal stimulus: we're drawn to the bigger, the shinier, the brighter. Also, when there's a spike in dopamine and other feel-good chemicals like there is with pornography use, it reduces the ability to achieve the same intensity with a real-life partner. People get desensitized and habituated. They develop a craving for more. The reward centre of the brain wants its fix. When the brain is queued up from consumption, it actually over-responds. The frontal lobe is rewired, and the brain's brake pads to the reward centre, some argue, are gone, and some say are worn out. When that happens, the brain is wired for reward, and that's why there's a growing link to problematic sexual behaviour and sexual aggression.
Further, the brain science is pointing to a biological addiction. You can go to the website yourbrainonporn.com for a compilation of all of those studies and analyses. The fact that children's and adolescent's brains are still under development is why we are so concerned about the additional impact on children.
Now, central to public health, along with the effect on the brain, is the environment. The environment matters to public health. When these toxic images are normalized—which you've heard a lot about—in the hypersexualized mainstream media, as well as in pornography, then that's what most have access to. At the same time, we're censoring healthy images and healthy messages. We wonder why individuals are making the choices they are. It's because toxic decisions make sense in a toxic environment. When there's so much of this stuff out there, consumers don't even know the difference. If they're under a certain age, they haven't even seen the difference.
Let's talk more about children and youth.
Children should be learning about building caring relationships and connections that are mutually respectful, about understanding consent, and about understanding identity. What they're learning from pornography about sex is that it is about performance, about men getting off and women getting men off. It's about physically and emotionally harming another person.
Consent doesn't matter in pornography. Indeed, sex is framed as sexual abuse and aggression, and women's needs don't matter. Pain and degradation are simply to be tolerated. That's why, in a survey of children in the U.K., an 11-year-old boy asked, “If I have a girlfriend, do I need to strangle her when I have sex with her?” The girls were asking if they had to have anal sex even if it hurt, and if they had to be shared with their boyfriends' friends.
A mother called me. I get lots of calls from parents. She was desperate to find help for their 13-year-old son who was very bright, very good on technology. He found porn. The parents did everything they could. They locked up the technology. He broke in. They sent him to two therapists. Both therapists, while this boy was getting worse and worse, said, “Hey, a 13-year-old boy, perfectly natural, normal sex drive, get over it”. The boy then acted out on a younger girl.
Individual stories do not make this a public health issue, but other studies and trends do. A study of 14- to 21-year-olds shows that 9% of them engaged in some form of sexually abusive behaviour and in that 9% there was much more use of violent sexual material. An Australian study showed that, of seven- to 11-year-olds who were in treatment for problematic sexual behaviour, 75% of the boys and 67% of the girls had been oriented through pornography. In the U.K. between 2013 and 2016, there was a rise in child-on-child sexual abuse by over 80%. Another study of 300 teens' media consumption and sexting behaviour found a statistically significant link between porn use and sexting.
In Peggy Orenstein's book Girls & Sex, she interviewed more than a hundred girls, and the girls talked about being emotionally disconnected from their bodies. They were expecting sex to hurt, and further, they didn't believe they should say anything, which is very frustrating to those of us doing sexual violence prevention work for so long.
An Italian study of male high school students said that almost 22% defined their porn use as habitual, 10% said they had lost interest in a real-life partner, 9.1% described their own use as a kind of addiction, and 19% talked about how it created abnormal sexual responses.
The Fortify program is an online treatment program designed for children and youth to find help for their concerns about pornography. In a little over two years more than 35,300 youth found their way to the site and went through the program: 87% were male, 75% viewed their first porn between ages nine and 13. There are strong links with depression and anxiety, which fits with Philip Zimbardo's research outlined in Man Interrupted, where he looked at what's happening to our boys and men in education and in the workplace. Why are they losing ground? He called it a social intensity syndrome, and he found two key factors—so much time on video games and so much time on Internet pornography, away from social interaction—were creating a social awkwardness and attention deficit.
There are also studies that show a second-hand effect from pornography. If I block my children from seeing it, they're still affected by the expectations and behaviours of others.
You've heard a lot about child sexual abuse materials, but I want to say two other things about that. When a child is 13 and looks at images of 13-year olds, that's probably more normative than looking at an adult, but it's in the illegal category.
If they stay fixated, which we're now seeing more of them doing, that becomes a huge problem. For men who are not pedophiles but they get used to wanting new and different stuff, they're used to seeing children sexualized in mainstream media and pornography, and they start looking at these images of younger and younger children. The reality is that the porn industry is not responding to demand but shaping demand for its own profit.
Timothy Kahn, who treats juveniles who sexually offend, says he always assesses youth for their pornography use because he sees that the sexual behaviours of so many of them were triggered by pornography. For adults there's a meta-analysis of 22 studies in seven countries that say there's accumulated data that leaves little doubt that more porn use is affecting not only attitudes but sexually aggressive behaviour.
Contrary to the porn industry and others who have testified saying this is harmless, the fact that there is such a rapid increase in porn-induced erectile dysfunction among our boys and among our men shows yet another health consequence.
A public health response means we cannot arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, legislate, treat, or educate our way out of this. This is a public health issue that requires us to assure conditions in which people can be healthy. We help them to make the healthy choice.
Effective public health initiatives have shown this cannot be done with education alone. Let me give you an example: toxic polluted water. If we have a toxic polluted water source, one of our choices could be to educate children about how great it would be to have intake of pure and healthy water and the potential harms of polluted water. We can educate their parents to put on better filters to protect them. We can educate our health providers to learn about the symptoms when harm is showing up in their bodies from drinking so much polluted water, and we can listen to a lot of people who say, “Hey, there's nothing we can do about all that polluted water. So many people have had it that there's nothing we can do”.
Otherwise, we could listen to the leaders who say, “Hey, maybe while doing all those other things, we should focus on the source of the polluted water.”
There are no studies that show pornography is helpful to children, youth, or culture, yet there's a range of studies that show it's polluting individual and collective sexual and relational health and wellness. I've outlined a range of actions in my written brief. I'm happy to address those during our questions.
Can I mention some stuff that's going on in the U.K.? I think it is a very important example.
There are two different methods in the U.K. The first one, which came out in 2013 under Prime Minister Cameron, was the opt-in, opt-out method. This is where, when you buy any mobile device today in most of the world, you opt in to pornography. You have no choice; it's there.
What they did in the U.K. was to suggest that, in fact, rather than the de facto is that you get pornography, the de facto is you cannot get pornography, and if you want it, you have to call up and opt into it, show you are 18 and above, give your credit card, then all of the devices get opted in, and you get an email from the Internet provider service, because this is at the level of the Internet provider service, saying you've changed your status.
Most of the Internet provider services in the U.K. actually did not do that. The only one that did that was Sky, which is one of the biggest Internet provider services. What they found is that, when they offered de facto opting out of porn, 70% of people on Sky stayed opting out. It is very interesting that, when you offered that, 70% did that. They said that, rather than getting any push-back, they actually got a lot of people who were thanking them and more business because they had shown social responsibility.
The second thing that's very important that's going to happen in the U.K. is age verification. Now, this is still being discussed. Again, it's going to the Internet provider level. I do not believe that individual families should be left alone to have to deal with this. It's the equivalent of allowing parents to say that I can go out and hand cigarettes out to high schools, and parents should deal with that. I'm not allowed to hand out these cigarettes to middle schools and high schools, so why should you be able to hand out free porn to kids of the same age?
What they're doing is age verification in England, which they imagine will come in by the spring of 2018. They're still working out how to do this, but again, it's going to be at the Internet provider level. You're going to have to show you're 18 or above. They're going to bring in a third party to monitor that as a way to protect privacy, so they're looking at maybe credit card companies or driver's licence organizations to do that.
What they're going to do is to say that those pornography sites that are out of compliance are going to be blocked by the Internet provider. Not only will they will be blocked by the Internet provider, also the auxiliary systems, including payment methods, etc., will also block them. Basically, they will be unable to be reached.
Now they're discussing this in the U.K., but what's interesting about the U.K. is that they have made an absolute decision that this has to be done at the governmental level. You cannot leave this on the shoulders of parents, and in fact, parents cannot deal with this because you need to deal with this at the Internet provider service level rather than at the level of each individual gadget so that you're following your kid around. The truth is that to develop healthfully, the last thing your kid needs is a parent breathing down his neck all the time watching what they're looking at. This is a way to take the parent out of the equation and do something socially responsible on the part of the porn industry.
First of all, I really support both of those policy levels that she discussed. I think they're essential to doing something about the toxic flow and the ease of access.
I also want to call your attention to something I believe you've heard quite a bit about and we also see happening in the U.S. Our sexuality education and information council in the U.S., SIECUS, just put out a brief called “Pivoting from Opposition to Porn to Positive Framing for Sexuality Education”.
I advocate healthy sexuality education K to 12 and preschool. We need it for a lot of reasons. However, the solution is not to do that at the expense of looking at the harms of pornography. That would again be like constantly feeding your kid toxic water, having them swim in it, having them navigating it, and then educating them about it, about the clean, healthy water. That is really important for lots of reasons, but we have to do something about it.
Think about it, if you will. We all talk about what had to happen with tobacco. You had to have policies to change access. You had to have age issues, you had to have warning signs, and you had to have a truth campaign, which I think we really need, the truth versus the lies. Help us to see the lies. You had to have lawsuits so people had an easier access to sue because of harm and damages to their children, to themselves, to their relationships, and that money was put back into the truth campaign.
We need those kinds of layers as well. We need to be training providers because it is really terrifying to me how many therapists and health professionals don't have accurate information about what's going on so that they would not, in fact, be able to recognize when harm has occurred.
If we don't have some of these broader policies to block the flow and to hold those accountable who are profiting from this, we're missing the mark that we've seen essential in other successful public health campaigns such as getting to people on drinking and driving, which Gail mentioned, such as tobacco, getting people to use car seats and seat belts, and water health.
I mentioned them very quickly, but I think a good example that we often use is tobacco, another piece I wanted to mention. You may remember when there was smoking on planes and may remember when we advertised cigarettes to children, in that there was cigarette smoking in kids' cartoons. Policies had to come to change that, to make it not so easy for children to buy cigarettes for themselves or on behalf of anyone else. There was decades of the industry knowing full well that it was harmful but telling everybody who was saying it was harmful that the research wasn't valid, so that there had to be a lot of research.
The industry also came to those who were first fighting against smoking, looking at this as a harm. There was Larry Cohen at the Prevention Institute in California; it had one of the first counties that started to say “no smoking” in a certain part of a restaurant. The tobacco industry came to him and offered him a lot of money to do education as long as he would stop his policy work, because they knew that education alone was not going to hurt their bottom line. It's often that you'll see alcohol companies supporting education about drinking and driving but still making sure that nobody is limiting access to the product in, for example, poorer communities, or their advertising.
Advertising policy changed with tobacco. It used to be the Marlboro Man. I don't know whether you guys had it there too, but it was the image of sexy, the image of virile. In fact, there were doctors who used to say this is healthy, this is good for you, much as in our parallel here. The policy had to change to say, “Wait a minute. We're not saying this is healthy. We see this as harmful, and we're not going to advertise it in this way, and we are not going to use children, for example.
One of the policies I would like to see, ideally applying also to women, is to say we're not going to use children as sexual objects to sell products and are going to stop the sexually exploited advertising of children, because that's part of that hypersexualization, the bleed-over that Dr. Dines talks a lot about from pornography to mainstream media.
We need to look at our advertising. In fact, there's an example in our country here from the wine companies more than 15 years ago. It was called “Dangerous Promises”. They agreed to come together and not use women's bodies to sell their wine product, and the wine ads are very different from beer ads, which are notorious for using women's bodies in very hypersexualized ways to sell their products, with a very false message that the only way to get men's attention is to objectify women.
It's a very good question. I'm going to give you two examples of ongoing efforts because as strongly as I believe in age verification it really doesn't address this issue of the harm to somebody over 18, especially the young, developing brains, but to all adults, again going back to the brain impact and brain science.
I'm going to give you a couple of examples about things that are under way.
The one example I'm going to give you is child sexual abuse images. I think we can learn some things from it. It's a company called Thorn that has a deterrence project. They tested a series of messages that go out primarily to men who are searching for child sexual abuse images. When they are searching they get different messages, recognizing there's not one motivation for everybody; there are different sets of motivations. Different messages work to say they need help. Some of them say that if they can find you, law enforcement can find you. They've tested different kinds of messages, and they encourage people to then get help.
I think a different set of messages would go out to people searching, because right now they think, “It's all there. It's great. I'm supposed to be looking. What's wrong with me if I'm not looking? In fact, I'm going to be berated more for not looking and using it, and a number of health professionals and others in my life might tell me I'm supposed to be looking”, so there's no counter-narrative. We need to look at counter-narratives, not only through education but perhaps through messaging that comes up via technology. There are solutions.
There are also very good campaigns just to reach boys and men. One that was launched out of Minnesota I'm very excited about. It's called, “I Don't Buy It”. It's a series of groups that work with men to come together to look at the intersection between sex trafficking, sexual violence, and use of pornography, and how they are really being manipulated by this industry and manipulated by people who say this is how they're supposed to be either for that other group's profit or a really false sense of masculinity that's not healthy for them or healthy for their relationships. They get engaged in that. There are ways they can get active. They learn how to see what's right out there in front of them. They learn how to take action, and they learn to get involved in a meaningful way and speak up and help other boys and men.
I think there are other strategies we need to look at about how we use technology to educate, how we do broader education about the harms and messaging, which is part of the truth campaign I mentioned that was used with tobacco. It was we're going to help them see the lies. We need to look specifically at how we engage our boys and men to recognize how they too are being harmed by this.