Thursday, November 24, 2005

Pornography Policing

An edited version of this article was scheduled to appear in The Edmonton Journal on 7th December, 2005 - focusing on the ".xxx" domain and the issues, rather than the context.

Each day somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million people pose for the internet undressing, engaged in some sexual encounter or engaged in a clinical perversion. Many of those whose images appear on the internet are female, but not all. Many of those who appear are over the age of 18, but not all – some are as young as 3 or 4.

Some appear on the internet willingly. They are posing for or with their partner or friends or for an agency and they have signed away their rights to appear, usually for a very small financial amount. Some are entrepreneurs using sex and home based quality recording systems to provide what they will no doubt claim is a service. One such entrepreneur has a regular membership of 2,500 paying $29.95 a month to watch her perform a variety of sex acts with men and women – that’s close to $75,000 a month. She says her business is growing at around 22% per annum.

In some eastern European and Asian countries, pornography is a way of securing a basic living. A Russian sixty five year old woman has sex twice a week with young boys and once a week with young girls. Her experiences are captured on video. She makes enough from this to feed herself and her ailing husband and pay her rent and medical bills. This is not so much “willingly undertaken”, but is undertaken out of necessity. She is forced into it, not by others, but by circumstance.

Many are unaware victims. They are photographed unawares in compromising situations in changing rooms, washrooms or in their own homes. In one UK prosecution, for example, an electrician who did house repairs left wireless camera’s in the bedrooms of houses he had done work in and then used wireless recording devices to record what went on in them, subsequently making these available online.

Most are just victims. Some parents engage their underage children in sex acts and record them for broadcast on the net – so called “Lolita sex”. Other boys and girls are forced into sexual or perverted acts against their will while someone takes photographs or videotapes their ordeal. Fear is used to prevent the victim from pursuing the perpetrators through criminal prosecution. There are some 300,000 pre-teens and teens working in the sex trade with or without the knowledge of their parents in North America.

Last year, according to the FBI, some 100,000 women and young boys and girls were abducted around the world and many of these were slaved into sex. They include women abducted from luxury cruises stopping at the island of Aruba or women taken from the street near their homes. Many of these women, in addition to having to engage in sexual acts daily in the brothels in which they are held against their will, are also forced to pose and engage in a variety of acts for the internet.

One such woman who was abducted while on a cruise wither her parents is Amy Bradley – kidnapped in 1998. Several witnesses have seen her since, one on a beech on the island of CuraƧao and another from a picture on the internet. More recently, she has been seen in a well guarded brothel on this same island in the Caribbean.

When it comes to the perversions, there are a variety of issues. Some of the perversions available on the internet for viewing are illegal – bestiality, for example – is a crime in almost all jurisdictions worldwide. Beating another person for sex without their consent is a criminal assault. Both of these actions are available online. Sex with an underage boy or girl with or without parental consent is illegal.

The internet is a place for freedom of expression and for building and creating community. It is a powerful force for good – a network that has truly made a difference to the lives of millions. It is used for health care, learning and social development and is a critical tool for business.

But the internet is not all positive. There is a dark side and its not viewing sexual activity, per se, but the use of victims to make pornography possible. On some occasions, thanks to the growth of spam and “push” messaging, pornography may arrive at your in-box without you searching for it or wanting to view it.

Pornography is defined in law as “pictures and/or writings of sexual activity intended solely to excite lascivious feelings of a particularly blatant and aberrational kind, such as acts involving children, animals, orgies, and all types of sexual intercourse”. Depicting sexual activity is not illegal, doing so for the purposes just outlined is.

A solution to this problem is to create two special domains on the internet – “.sex” and “.erotic” and require all content that meets certain criteria to be in one or other of these domains. For example, all “hardcore” materials should be in the “.sex” domain. Further, there should be automatic and substantial fines for anyone offering or hosting a site which should be either “.sex” or “.erotic” which is hosted in any other domain.

Having secured these domains, there should be zero tolerance of abuse of the internet. Free speech is not sacrosanct. We do not permit slander, false advertising or perjury, nor do we seek to protect obscenity or child pornography or hatred of a religion or social group. We should be intolerant of unsolicited emails or web site that are pornographic, but which are not behind the “.sex” or “.erotic” walls.

The problem, as with many other forms of cyber crime, is that the pornography viewed on any computer in Canada may come from other places – India, Russia, US, the UK. What we do not want to do is to try managing through regulation and policing the internet, one site at a time. It is pointless, expensive and ineffective.

There are complex issues associated with any aspect of control of the internet. But when we spend more time and resources defending “abstract” notions than we do protecting vulnerable children, we need to question our priorities. The domain solution provides a starting point for an innovative approach to this problem.

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