The House of Common's Health Committee wraps up hearings of witnesses on the impact of violent pornography in February. The report came out June 9 to the disappointment of anti-porn advocacy groups. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Anti-porn advocates disappointed by health committee’s report on violent porn

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  • June 14, 2017

OTTAWA – Anti-porn advocacy groups expressed disappointment in the report by the House of Commons health committee on the public health effects of violent and degrading pornography.

The majority report, released June 9, claimed “pornography itself lacks a common definition” and interpretations of what is violent and degrading are “subjective.”

It also contended studies do not show a link between viewing the material and adverse impacts, contrary to the evidence of many of the experts.

The majority report said “viewing sexually explicit material can have positive impacts in terms of promoting communication within couples about sexuality, as well as allow young people to learn about the different spectrum of sexual expression, and provide lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer, questioning, 2 spirited (LGBTC2+) communities with the opportunity to explore sexual activities outside of heterosexual norms.”

It recommended the Public Health Agency of Canada update the 2008 Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education to “address sexual health in the digital age, gender-based violence, consent, supplementary information for young people to learn about the different spectrum of sexual expressions and identities” in the LGBTC2+ communities.”

Julia Beazley, director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), had hoped the report would “in the least, lead to strong recommendations for restricting access to this material by children, and to development of a comprehensive public awareness and education strategy to address the harms of pornography.”

“We believe violent and degrading pornography constitutes a public health crisis,” Beazley said. “It impacts child social and sexual development, it shapes sexual attitudes, behaviours and preferences, and it has links to rape culture and commercial sexual exploitation.”

Defend Dignity, a national group fighting sexual exploitation, said its own research has shown “how pornography fuels the demand for paid sex, objectifies women, contributes to rape culture and is also harmful to the health of Canadians, especially children.”

“In spite of each of these experts clearly stating that education alone is not enough to protect children from the harms of sexually violent images, that the responsibility of protection should NOT rest with parents, the Health Committee recommendations are built almost entirely around education,” the group said in a release.

“I’ve spoken with thousands of parents who are gravely concerned about how online pornography has negatively affected their children’s lives,” said Jared Brock from the anti-human trafficking group Hope for the Sold. “I see almost none of it reflected in this report, and I certainly don’t see anything in here that will significantly improve the situation.”

Another activist, Jonathon Van Maren, called the report “an insult by the men of the committee, delivered in a virtue-signalling and useless document that feigns concern while actually just taking the opportunity to push their own agenda rather than taking the meaningful action recommended by the witnesses.”

Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, whose private member’s Motion M-47 led to the study, said the report “failed to take the public health perspective on violent and degrading online sexual material. The report has been hijacked in that they failed to recognize all the testimony that was given.”

Conservative members on the committee issued a dissenting report that Viersen said comes closer to what he expected.

Members of the Health Committee did not “treat the subject with the seriousness it deserves,” the dissenting report said.

“The final report is silent on the contribution of violent and degrading pornography to rape culture,” it said. “The committee heard ample evidence that violent and degrading pornography generally objectifies women, subjects women to violent acts and normalizes a subservient position for women in the minds of some viewers.”

The report is also “silent on the evidence the committee heard about how violent and degrading explicit material can be used to facilitate criminal acts against children and has a causal relationship to peer-to-peer aggression amongst youth.”

The dissenting report agreed with updating the Sexual Health Education Guidelines, but urged respect for provincial jurisdiction and respect for “parental rights and autonomy.”

It urged tougher action to ensure children can’t access pornography, by exploring having Internet providers automatically provide the filters, so that adults can then opt out of them.

They also recommended the use of age verification tools to keep pornography away from minors.

Though education was an element recommended by most of the 27 groups that appeared or submitted a brief, Viersen said it usually fell closer to the bottom of the list. “Most had recommended meaningful age verification and that did not appear in their recommendations,” Viersen said.

The report also encouraged technology companies, software and browser developers and electronics makers to “work to create better content filters and tools that respect individual privacy while empowering parents to protect children online,” a recommendation also supported by the Conservative MPs in their dissenting report.

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