The Internet pornography pandemic
Hacked photos reveal the proliferation of sexual exploitation
In her recent interview with Vanity Fair, actress Jennifer Lawrence addresses her emotions following the widely publicized hack of her and several other actresses’ iCloud accounts, in which privately taken nude photographs were posted on the Internet, saying, “It’s not a scandal; it is a sex crime.”
Miss Lawrence also states she tried to write an apology when news of the hack broke, but expresses she didn’t regret taking the photos, as it was in the context of a “loving, healthy, great relationship” of four years that often took place over long distance; “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn, or he’s going to look at you.”
Though we cannot (nor should we) know the full context of Lawrence’s relationship, the assumption that one’s boyfriend would turn to pornography in the absence of his romantic partner speaks to how normalized viewing this material has become today. Furthermore, the Internet proliferation of private photos has increasingly become a tool to shame, threaten and blackmail women, as in the numerous instances of “revenge porn.”
This reveals extreme pornography’s true function — as inherently exploitative and ultimately damaging to healthy relationships, especially when encountered by children and teenagers, who haven’t yet learned what a healthy and respectful sexual relationship looks like. Increasingly, Internet pornography is made up of extreme and often deviant material, the majority of which is prosecutable under current federal obscenity laws. Exposure to such images shapes attitudes and values and, often, actions — sometimes normalizing behaviors that were once considered taboo.
Additionally, we cannot know what drove “7th Heaven” star Stephen Collins to allegedly molest several underage girls, or the numerous other public figures who have been either accused or confirmed to have inappropriately interacted with minors. Still, extreme Internet pornography’s influence in the lives of men, women — and tragically, children — cannot be denied. The Department of Justice reports that “online communities have promoted communication between child- pornography offenders, both normalizing their interest in children and desensitizing them to the physical and psychological damages inflicted on child victims.”
A Google Trends analysis indicates searches for “teen porn” have more than tripled between 2005 and 2013. The industry practice of cross-marketing actual child porn and teen porn with adult material can lead men into intentionally or accidentally viewing child pornography — as was recently and controversially alluded to by author John Grisham.
When 98,000 Snapchat photos were leaked, the website thesnappening.org (which has since been taken down) launched to allow easier viewing of the photos. Given Snapchat’s largely teen demographic, these photos likely included child porn created by youths exchanging nude or sexually explicit images of themselves. Possible consequences of such “sexting” include exploitation by others, bullying from their peers and criminal prosecution, as the creation of child pornography constitutes a federal offense. This behavior (which current statistics report occurs in one in five teens) can trace its roots directly back to sexually explicit pornography’s pervasive influence on youth.
Peer-reviewed research confirms there is a social cost to today’s extreme forms of Internet pornography we cannot ignore. It harms children, fuels violence against women and leads to addiction in both youth and adults. Moreover, Internet pornography, particularly of a deviant and violent nature, fuels the demand for human trafficking of sex slaves. In 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation found a horrifying 58 percent of Internet child-abuse domains originated in the United States, and the United Nations discovered that between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of global child-trafficking victims had risen to nearly one-third.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of parents and caring adults, we cannot completely protect ourselves and our loved ones in a culture that permits child pornography and obscene content, neither of which are protected under the First Amendment, to flourish. Aggressive law enforcement of such federal laws, combined with certain relatively easily implemented measures, is necessary to effectively curb the tsunami of exploitative Internet pornography.
While the Internet has given us unprecedented access to knowledge, art and different cultures, like previous new media technologies, it has also been exploited as a tool to harm others. According to federal officials, public Wi-Fi hot spots, such as those offered at McDonald’s, Starbucks and other companies in the United States, are attracting sexual predators where child pornography can be accessed with relative anonymity. These hot spots have also become locus points for the trafficking of child pornography and the sexual solicitation of children — serious criminal felonies that are hard to stop because of the anonymity offered by open Wi-Fi. In the United Kingdom, McDonald’s and Starbucks proactively filter pornography from their public Wi-Fi services under an industry-wide self-regulation initiative led by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Were similar measures implemented in the United States, it would be a win-win for families and the companies’ respective brands. It’s not about censorship; it’s about corporate responsibility and good corporate citizenship. As a society motivated to foster more respectful relationships, we must realize that extreme Internet pornography and child pornography continue to promote the idea that no human being — no matter how famous — is immune from objectification, and that the exploitation of images of one’s body can create shame and humiliation when removed from the proper context of love and affection. It is our right and duty as concerned citizens to demand the channels through which indignity, exploitation and objectification flow be checked in order to speed the cultivation of a more humane and compassion-driven world.
Donna Rice Hughes, CEO and president of Enough Is Enough, recently launched the National P*rn-Free Wi-Fi campaign (friendlywifi.org).