Carolyn Moynihan

Protecting children from porn

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan
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June 4, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - How serious is the problem of pornography on the internet? Important enough to be the central issue in a rally drawing more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews to a New York baseball stadium two weekends ago. The men (it was too difficult to segregate the women, as Haredi laws require), all dressed in black suits and white shirts, filled the benches to hear pep talks about the dangers and temptations of the internet, with exhortations to use it sparingly, and then, only with effective filters.

“We’ve been retreating for years—enough! Tonight we draw a line of demarcation in the sand, tonight we begin to fight back!” said Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman in his opening “powerhouse” speech, as reported by a (sceptical, Jewish) Tablet magazine. “If one sins on the Internet, he commits an aveira [sin]; if one separates from the community [by not installing a filter], he loses his share in olam haba [the world to come]!”

Next to this show of numbers and moral fervour the report of a group of British members of parliament about the protection of children online might seem rather tame. But it has generated its own kind of drama as advocates of stronger protective measures and anti-censorship forces argue over proposals to force (if necessary) internet service providers to filter content for porn before it goes out to subscribers. You could probably fill several football stadiums with Britons who are worried about the risks of the internet for their children—if only they had rabbis to tell them, under pain of eternal retribution, to come.

Except for child abuse imagery—which the UK internet industry has agreed to block since 1996—British leaders in general, unlike the Jews at the New York event, do not attempt to deal with pornography as such. But there is enough community and expert concern about the effect of porn and other sexual material on children for David Cameron’s government to treat it as a political issue. One of his Conservative MPs, Claire Perry, chaired the cross-party group that produced last month the report of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection. Its opening comments are worth quoting:

Since the early days of the World Wide Web, pornography has been one of the most widely available forms of internet content. Freedom from prying eyes, human imagination and zero barriers to entry have led to an explosion of pornographic creativity with every possible sexual act represented online including many that are deeply degrading, disturbing and violent. It is said that the whole history of human perversion is only a few clicks away. Unfortunately, our children, with their natural curiosity and superior technological skills are finding a viewing these images.

The group’s main finding is that the “opt out” filter systems for individual computers and devices such as tablets currently offered by Internet Service Providers benefit less than half of children in the UK. Consequently ISPs need to offer network level filtering whereby adult content will be blocked until customers “opt in”, a move that is not nearly as difficult as the industry makes out.

At present, six out of ten children in the UK can access the internet without device-level filters, and use of filters has actually declined 10 percentage points over the past three years. Parents are often less computer and internet savvy than their kids and they feel powerless in the face of rapid innovation. Many also surrender their power: in 2010, 61 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds had access to the internet in their own rooms. Mobile phones could be playing a larger role in this, although the large phone companies mostly require age (18) verification to access porn.

Opting in has already been accepted in principle by the largest ISPs in Britain in the form of a system called Active Choice, to be rolled out by October this year. But this applies only to new customers and the companies are loath to extend it to their existing clients, even though higher level filtering is already standard in many commercial settings, schools and public Wi-Fi hubs, and the technology behind it is well advanced. The industry resistance to default blocking, says the Perry report, seems to be “ideological, not commercial”.

The ideology in question concerns free speech. The report itself begins by affirming the “core principles—almost religious tenets—of decentralisation and freedom” that underpin the internet and says it “would be anathema to see these principles compromised”. It says it would be “difficult and wrong to impose mandatory government censorship” of internet porn, but a network level opt-in system maintained by ISPs would preserve choice while giving children more protection.

To opponents—captains of the porn industry and cable TV companies included—it is still censorship. They don’t see why they should be responsible for anyone else’s children. In fact the great theme of those opposed to default filtering or ambivalent about it is the responsibility of parents. Reading their views it’s as though they have made a revolutionary discovery: children have parents who should be protecting them! Parents need to be educated about their role in this!

This is true, of course. Parents should make it their business to get the hang of filters, and go to the school information evenings about it if necessary; they should insist that there are no electronic devices in kids’ bedrooms; parents should bring up their children to have confidence in them so they can talk about bad stuff they run into; they should talk to their children about sex and prepare them, somehow, to keep their innocence in a pornified world…

And if sewage is getting into the town water supply they should ensure that they have an effective water filtering system in the house, because protecting their children’s physical health is all their job too. Isn’t it? If not, if it’s only reasonable that the town fix the water supply at source, why should the rules be so different when it comes to the mental health of children?

Furthermore, not everyone who wants to help parents deal with the problem of internet porn will be equally helpful. A record of oral evidence in the Perry report reveals an attitude among some that porn is a “rite of passage” for adolescents and that keeping them away from it only makes it more desirable. What kids need, to quote the lady from the Family Planning Association, is to have someone “contextualise” it for them—which seems to mean explaining how certain images and behaviour belong on porn sites or page 3 of the tabloids but not in real life—as part of “good quality sex and relationships education”. Somehow, one is not convinced.

Unfortunately, the anti-blockers don’t have to convince everybody; they only have to put up an argument backed by some kind of research that will give authorities an excuse to put the issue of protecting children aside. Crossing the Atlantic, we find dana boyd, described in a recent Slate article as an “academic and Microsoft researcher” (who writes her name without capitals) dismissing fears about kids and porn as a “moral panic”. She also believes that teenagers are not necessarily harmed by encountering porn; it all depends on the youngster and how well they have been prepared to deal with it. “The kids are all right,” she insists.

The research: She studied young adolescents involved in Chatroullet, a webcam conversation launched in 2009 where people talk to random strangers around the world. She reckons that when the teens did come across a flabby, bald middle-aged man … performing sexual acts their response was “Ew,” and they clicked past him. “It was the best abstinence-only education you can think of,” she joked to the interviewer. Uh, and how is this comparable to teens watching a hardcore porn film for hours on end?

Boyd (sorry, Microsoft just capitalised that) is right that young people need to be prepared to deal with porn if they run into it; she is even correct, as reported, that a parent needs “to create the kid who can handle the internet without you” and that “they can’t become that kid if you are watching them all the time” (as if any parent did). But by “dealing with porn” she does not mean running straight away from it. No, she means looking at it critically and “interrogating” it—“contextualising” it, perhaps. And her alternative to not being hovered over all the time by an anxious parent is for that parent to let them roam totally free on the net, free to take calculated risks with the content they encounter. This approach severely underestimates the power of imagery to stay in the mind and the well-documented addictiveness of porn. It also grossly overestimates the ability of the adolescent to manage “risk” and to resist the sexual drive when strong temptation and privacy are combined.

This week a 14-year-old boy appeared in the High Court in Edinburgh charged with raping and sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl when he was only 12. His defence counsel said the boy at that age already had unfettered access to the internet and copied something he saw in a porn film. Pornography was discussed by first year students at secondary school, said the lawyer. “There is a real risk that young people of the current generation of teenagers are growing up with a skewed view of what sex is and sexual activity.”

It’s a tragic episode that makes the fulminations of the rabbis at Queens’ Citi Field against the internet begin to sound reasonable. As for the network filtering recommended by the British MPs, that is the least a society that calls itself civilised can do.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted with permission from Mercatornet under a Creative Commons license.


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Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." Shutterstock
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‘Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks

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By Dustin Siggins

Advocates on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as pro-life leaders, are slamming famed atheist Richard Dawkin’s statements made on Twitter earlier today that parents have a moral responsibility to abort babies diagnosed in utero with Down’s.

During a shocking Twitter rant, Dawkins responded to questioners saying that it was "civilised" to abort Down Syndrome babies, and that it would be "immoral" to choose not to abort babies diagnosed with the condition.

He said that his goal is to "reduce suffering wherever you can," indicating that unborn children cannot suffer, and that unborn children don't "have human feelings."

In addition to being scientifically challenged - unborn children can feel both pain and emotions - Dawkins' comments drew criticism for his callousness towards children with disabilities.  

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus"

“It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities,” Live Action President Lila Rose told LifeSiteNews. “Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome.

“While many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born,” she said. “Those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection.”

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, told MailOnline that, contrary to Dawkins’ assertion, “People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society.”

A spokesperson for the UK disabilities charity Scope lamented that during the “difficult and confusing time” when parents find out they are expecting a child with disabilities, they often experience “negative attitudes.”

“What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information,” the spokesperson said.

Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan agreed with Rose’s assessment. "Advocates of abortion for those 'weaker' than others, or of less physical or intellectual dexterity, should remember that each of us is 'lesser' in some or most respects," he said.

According to Donovan, "we deliver a death sentence on all of humanity by such cruel logic."

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus" he said.

One family who has a child with Down syndrome said Dawkins was far from the mark when he suggested that aborting babies with Down syndrome is a good way to eliminate suffering.

Jan Lucas, whose son Kevin has Down syndrome, said that far from suffering, Kevin has brought enormous joy to the family, and "is so loving. He just has a million hugs."

She described how Kevin was asked to be an honorary deacon at the hurch they attend in New Jersey, “because he is so encouraging to everyone. At church, he asks people how their families are, says he'll pray for them, and follows up to let them know that he has been praying for them."

It's not just strangers for whom Kevin prays. "My husband and I were separated for a time, and Kevin kept asking people to pray for his dad," said Jan. "They didn't believe that Kevin's prayers would be answered. Kevin didn't lose hope, and asking people, and our marriage now is better than ever before. We attribute it to Kevin's prayers, and how he drew on the prayers of everyone."

"I don't know what we'd do without him," said Jan.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Kevin said that his favorite things to do are "spending time with my family, and keeping God in prayer." He said that he "always knows God," which helps him to "always keep praying for my friends."

"I love my church," said Kevin.

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child.

Despite this, it is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 


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Asked about Iraq on his return flight from South Korea, Francis replied that 'it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor.' Shutterstock
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Pope Francis: steps must be taken to halt ‘unjust aggressor’ in Iraq

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Pope Francis and his emissary to Iraq’s persecuted non-Muslim minorities, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, have both called on the United Nations to act in concert to protect Iraqis Christian and Yazidi minorities from the radical Islamic forces of ISIS.

Asked about Iraq on his return flight from South Korea, Francis replied that “it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor.”

He added, however, that “halt” does not mean to “bomb” and lamented “how many times with the excuse of halting the unjust aggressor…have powerful nations taken possession of peoples and waged a war of conquest!”

He also cautioned that no single nation could determine the right measures. Any intervention must be multilateral and preferably by the United Nations, he said.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Foloni, who is visiting Iraq on behalf of Pope Francis, issued a joint statement this week with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and the Iraqi bishops that urged the international community to “liberate the villages and other places that have been occupied as soon as possible and with a permanent result.”

The statement also urged efforts to “assure that there is international protection for these villages and so to encourage these families to go back to their homes and to continue to live a normal life in security and peace.”

Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, was also asked by Vatican Radio earlier this month about the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

“This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped,” the archbishop said. 

Although Pope Francis’ own remarks about an intervention in the war-torn country were carefully guarded, Catholic commentator Robert Spencer, author of such bestselling exposes of Islam as “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion,” told LifeSiteNews he believes the pope was clearly calling for an “armed intervention, though a very limited one.”  

“Only a fool would think there is another way to stop an ‘unjust aggressor,’” he said.

Spencer expressed concerns that both Francis and Pope John Paul II before him have both referred to Islam a “religion of peace,” which Spencer says is “completely false.” However, he suggested that Francis’ remarks calling for action in Iraq are a sign of a more realistic attitude towards Islam.   

On this, Spencer would likely have the support of Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, who issued a letter last week warning the West in stark terms about the encroaching threat of Islam.

“Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer,” Nona warned. “Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here.

“You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles,” he said

“You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”


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'Apparently I'm a horrid monster for recommending WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS to the great majority of Down Syndrome fetuses,' said Dawkins. 'They are aborted.' Shutterstock
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Richard Dawkins: it’s ‘immoral’ NOT to abort babies with Down syndrome

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By Dustin Siggins

In a bizarre rant on Twitter earlier today, atheist Richard Dawkins wrote that choosing not to abort a child with Down Syndrome would be "immoral."

The conversation started when Dawkins tweeted that "Ireland is a civilised country except in this 1 area." The area was abortion, which until last year was illegal in all cases.

A Twitter user then asked Dawkins if "994 human beings with Down's Syndrome [having been] deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012" was "civilised."

Dawkins replied "yes, it is very civilised. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings."

Later, Dawkins said that "the question is not ‘is it 'human'?’ but ‘can it SUFFER?’"

In perhaps the most shocking moment, one Twitter user wrote that he or she "honestly [doesn't] know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma."

Dawkins advised the writer to "abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."

According to Dawkins, the issue of who should be born comes down to a calculation based upon possible suffering. "Yes. Suffering should be avoided. [The abortion] cause[s] no suffering. Reduce suffering wherever you can."

Later, however, he said that people on the autism spectrum "have a great deal to contribute, Maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. [Down Syndrome] not enhanced."

When Dawkins received some blowback from Twitter followers, he replied: "Apparently I'm a horrid monster for recommending WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS to the great majority of Down Syndrome fetuses. They are aborted."

It is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome said they were "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child. 

A number of Dawkins' statements in the Twitter thread about fetal development are at odds with scientific realities. For example, it is well-established that 20 weeks into a pregnancy, unborn children can feel pain. Likewise, unborn children have emotional reactions to external stimuli -- such as a mother's stress levels -- months before being born. 

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