Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children

The government of Canada has decided to pause introduction of Bill C-30. That’s the one with the delightful newspeak title “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act,” and which, if you don’t support, you must be supporting child pornographers. At least, that was the claim of the Minister of Public Safety (another newspeak title). The bill has drawn a lot of popular opposition due to the notion that police will read all our emails,

although there are greater dangers, well explained here.

Internet censorship is both inevitable and desirable – as I frequently note, some degree of censorship is part of responsible democratic government. However, censorship typically involves controls at the levels of production and distribution, not consumption. Monitoring users has far too much potential for abuse.

And what about the children? Child pornography is a serious concern, but lately it seems to be presented as a danger in much the same way communism or witchcraft used to be. Yes, the internet makes it available, but this is not new: child pornography was readily available in the past (link is to a copy of the Meese Report). During the 1970s and 1980s, as adult depictions of sexual activity became legal, obscenity laws, enforcement, and conservative groups  narrowed their focus to child pornography. Since most child pornography depicts the abuse of real children, laws and enforcement to protect children can only be seen as a good thing. However, if we are as worried about children as we claim to be, we should also be looking at how children are depicted in “family entertainment.”

The Parents Television Council is not an impartial group, but they do raise valid questions about how children are portrayed on TV. Some of their findings from a report released in December of 2010:

• Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults (47% and 29% respectively).
• Only 5% of the underage female characters communicated any form of dislike for being sexualized (excluding scenes depicting healthy sexuality).
• Out of all the sexualized female characters depicted in the underage and young adult category for the entire database, 86% were presented as only being of high school age.
• Seventy-five percent of shows that included sexualized underage female characters were shows that did not have an “S” descriptor to warn parents about the sexual content.
• Based upon a definition established by the American Psychological Association of “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” sexuality, the study findings show that 93% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred within a context that qualified as “unhealthy.”
• The data revealed that 98% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of any form of a committed relationship.
• The data show that 73% of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as a punch line to a joke.

Read the full report here. I haven’t, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the findings, but I plan too, as some of these conclusions are quite alarming. Meanwhile, if we really want to protect children, maybe monitoring everyone’s internet activity is not the best approach.

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