Canada’s House of Commons Health Committee is about to embark on a comprehensive study of the health impacts of online violent pornography with the hopes of launching a public health campaign against these images that will be as effective as the one against cigarette smoking.
Canadian Catholic News is reporting on the testimony of Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, the lawmaker responsible for introducing the motion to begin the study, who believes that there are serious public health risks resulting from the ease in which men, women and children can view violent and degrading sexually explicit material online.
“Sexually explicit websites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined, with PornHub, the largest free site in Canada, alone receiving over 21 billion visits in 2015,” Viersen told the Committee on February 7.
He also noted that 35 per cent of Internet downloads are sexually explicit and almost 90 per cent of those downloads feature violence against women.
“Sexually explicit material has become the primary source of information about sex and a significant factor influencing sexual behaviors for children and adolescents,” he said. “Let that sink in for a minute, a $97 billion industry that makes up 35 per cent of all the Internet downloads is easily accessible by the click of a button and primarily features violence and degradation of women is the primary sexual educator of our youth, starting from the age of 12.
“As a result, boys and girls are being taught that violence and degradation is acceptable and to be accepted and as they grow up to be women and men they are denied meaningful relationships,” he said. “This is impacting the physical, mental and emotional health of many young Canadians who grow up to be mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and legislators.”
Viersen said he hoped the committee’s study, which will rely on the best scientific data available, will result in “federal leadership through the lens of the public health model,” that starts with identifying the risks and leads to developing initiatives and programs to address them.
“If we think back to the fight against tobacco, the key shift didn’t occur until the harm was recognized and the public health model approach was taken,” he reminded the Committee.
Although he is not in support of a “Chinese-style” government control of the internet, he would support opt-in provisions for Internet providers and other methods of protecting users from accidentally encountering pornography.
When asked about human trafficking, Viersen confirmed that many of the 60 organizations that supported his original motion for the study were involved in fighting human trafficking and have stressed its links to the porn industry.
Also needed in the fight against porn is a cultural change so that the market for this illicit material dries up.
These cultural changes will not come about easily, especially in light of the ongoing desensitization to violent sexual activity in the media, highlighted most recently by the bestselling “Fifty Shades” books and movies.
However, a counter trend is definitely afoot with increasing concerns of lawmakers around the world who are searching for ways to eliminate this bane on the minds and hearts of the citizenry.
For example, a declaration was passed in the state of Utah last year naming pornography as a public health hazard. The bill, which was signed by Governor Gary Herbert, states that pornography, “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment” and “is contributing to the hypersexualisation of teens, and even prepubescent children, in our society”. It calls for taking further steps to change “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level” against what it calls an epidemic.
The GOP party platform for 2016 also included an amendment declaring pornography a public health crisis.
“The internet must not become a safe haven for predators,” the provision states. “Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions.”
This long-awaited Canadian study will be closely watched as it continues to collect data examining the health impacts of violent pornography.
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