A Tasmanian study finds that one in ten people believe there is nothing wrong with viewing or distributing child pornography. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-18/survey-finds-acceptable-of-child-porn/4894764?section=tas)

Researchers from the University of Tasmania asked 430 students about their attitudes to child pornography and found that 10% of students did not think it was harmful to watch or distribute it.

The question posed by researcher Dr Jeremy Pritchard is could these statistic’s be a sign that the internet is normalising child exploitation material?

In discussing this Dr Pritchard stated “I think maybe some people just think it’s data, that it’s an ethically-neutral collection of zeroes and ones.”

Dr Pritchard poses that people understand the illegal nature of child pornography but have the detachment of believing that their viewing of such material is okay as long as they were not involved in its production.

There is a clarity of questioning which must come into the equation with any approach which seeks to abdicate personal responsibility for ethically reprehensible practices.

The essential nature of child pornography is that it is a horrible, reprehensible and criminal act which inflicts life long and untold damage on the victim.

Pritchard is right to question the role of the internet in normalising child pornography, Equally mainstream pornography and child sexualisation in the media all need to be examined as contributing factors to this normalisation.

The simple fact is that mainstream pornography available from petrol stations and corner stores normalises the sexualisation of children while the internet gives access to it and lets a manufactured curiosity become something that can be explored.

In reference to this type of pornography, Anti-sexualisation of Children activist Melinda Tankard Resit recently stated “The publishers claim the girls are 18+ years but the content and images deliberately make them appear younger, and more akin to child porn. The girls are posed in pigtails, wearing braces, school uniforms and surrounded by soft toys.” (http://melindatankardreist.com/2009/12/the-australian-sex-party%E2%80%99s-links-to-pseudo-child-pornography/)

With this blurring of societal ethics, it must be questioned, why did the Gillard Labor government abandon plans to regulate the internet through mandatory internet filtering of unclassified material.

Internet filtering is a solution but the question remains, how much longer do we have to wait and how many children need to be hurt before the government will act?

Many libertarians argue against internet filtering and have focused on individual solutions but this approach fails to recognise the fact that as individuals in a society we have a collective duty to protect those who are most vulnerable. Equally anyone viewing such material, despite not being its creator are still promoting its production through being a consumer. Every visit to these websites increases the traffic to such sites and by extension the demand. Every time child exploitation material is passed via peer to peer websites, a demand cycle is being perpetuated, thereby becoming a supporter for the materials ongoing production, viewing and distribution.

In October 2008 The Rudd Labor Party proposed mandatory internet filtering and at the 2010 election found themselves under attack by minor parties and the Conservative Liberal opposition with numerous claims including the scheme was ineffective and expansive while others argued it was an attack on civil liberties.

Ultimately the Governments proposal was supported by the wider community; In February 2010 ABC’s Hungry Beast program commissioned McNair Ingenuity Research to perform a telephone poll of 1,000 Australians. One statement said “We need Government regulation of content on the Internet the same as we have Government regulation of content for other media.’ 62% agreed while 35% disagreed. (http://blogs.abc.net.au/abc_tv/2010/02/hungry-beast-reveals-australians-support-proposed-internet-filter.html)

Another statement said “Having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing material that is Refused Classification? (Refused Classification was defined as) “Images and information about one or more of the following: child sexual abuse, bestiality, sexual violence, gratuitous, exploitative or offensive sexual fetishes, detailed instructions on or promotion of crime, violence or use of illegal drugs.” 80% were in favour and 19% were against.

Despite this support, November 2012 saw the Gillard government dump the legislation, in hindsight this move was short-sighted and a missed opportunity for Australia to show vision, conviction and leadership on the world stage. Now in 2013 the praise for internet regulation will instead be credited to the UK Government who has committed to a mandatory internet scheme similar to the one first proposed by Kevin Rudd 6 years ago.

In responding to Internet Censorship, Prime Minister David Cameron stated “In the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.”

The findings of the University of Tasmania survey highlights the increasing problem of an unregulated internet and its potential to influence ethics and create disturbed sexual behaviour. This should be concern enough for Australia to again investigate regulation of the internet and show leadership over this issue.

Never again should the Australian government cower to the special interest groups and libertarians who prioritise pornography access in their homes over the protection of individuals from complacency towards or participation in sexual violence.

Matthew Holloway is an award winning freelance writer and social justice advocate from Tasmania, where he has stood for state and federal parliament and co-founded Tasmanians for Transparency. He has previously worked in a variety of social work and counselling roles and currently works with men facing homelessness and is the spokesperson for NORMAC ‘The Nordic Model Australia Coalition’.