Opinion Op Ed 17 Feb 2017 360 Degree: What por ...
The writer is a women’s rights lawyer

360 Degree: What porn is doing to us

Published Feb 17, 2017, 12:58 am IST
Updated Feb 17, 2017, 7:41 am IST
Pornography today is dangerous. It’s violent and extreme in its methods and provides an unreal outlook towards sex.
Millions around the world consume pornography. That doesn’t mean that almost all who subscribe to such videos or images are probable sex attackers. Trouble though, starts when you have 11-year-olds watching these clips. To really understand the problem, here are a few highlights from the works of Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Her campaign against an industry “that’s no longer benign”, has made Dines the world’s leading “anti-pornography campaigner”.
 Millions around the world consume pornography. That doesn’t mean that almost all who subscribe to such videos or images are probable sex attackers. Trouble though, starts when you have 11-year-olds watching these clips. To really understand the problem, here are a few highlights from the works of Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Her campaign against an industry “that’s no longer benign”, has made Dines the world’s leading “anti-pornography campaigner”.

The first time I personally confronted the issue of child pornography was in a case popularly referred to as the Swiss Couple Case. An elderly couple, Wilhelm Marti (69) and his wife Lili Marti (66) were caught “red-handed” while creating pornographic material using street children. They were convicted by the Sessions Court, Mumbai, in March, 2003, for seven years and were directed to pay a fine of Rs 5,000 to the three girls who were found in their custody,  just peanuts for a couple trading in the highly-lucrative global industry of generating and circulating pornographic material using poor third-world children. Since there were no specific legal provisions to address the concerns of pornography or child sexual abuse, punishment was secured by extrapolating the sections from the Indian Penal Code which addresses issues of sexual abuse, violating modesty and generating and circulating obscene material.

What was interesting during the trial was that the material confiscated at the time of arrest was stored along with the other material such as clothing, equipment, and other material used for forensic examination in a  dusty storehouse. Hence, when the trial started and the sealed material was produced in court, sophisticated gadgets such as camera and laptop had been reduced to scrap. This was the level of awareness among the investigating officers then. Much has changed in the intervening 14 years as the country went through a technology revolution and children born after 2000 live in a virtual world from a tender age.   Responding to this new challenge, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, included certain sections (sections 13 and 15) which criminalises possession and circulating obscene pornographic material.  Section 13 prescribes that activities using children for pornographic purposes shall be an offence. Section 15 criminalizes collecting and storing any pornographic material in any form involving a child for commercial purposes. But while, there are some safety measures have been brought in to protect children through the POCSO Act, the situation of young women has become extremely vulnerable due to the prevalence of pornography and this has not been adequately addressed in our recent statutes.

 

There have been news reports that women view porn in the privacy of their bedrooms and it has given them an avenue of expressing their sexuality without inhibition. However, within a gendered and class-ridden society, the easy accessibility of porn to men from varied socio-economic backgrounds is filled with dangers of an increase in violent sexual crimes. A research study conducted on viewing habits of men at railway stations — where the government has provided free internet access — revealed that 70 per cent were using this facility to view porn. In a repressive society that does not permit free intermingling between the sexes, the internet has become a place where male sexual fantasies get actualised. This has grave implications for women as violent images of female subordination and male privileges during the sexual act are projected as the norm to arouse male sexual appetite. Though a direct link between viewing porn and sexual crimes has not been established, we do have some anecdotal narratives. Victims of violent gangrapes have deposed in court that they were shown violent porn before being forced to participate in perverse sexual acts. In their recent book, Dangers of Adult Porn to women (Sage, 2017) authors Debarati Halder and K. Jayashankar explain the dangers of free access to adult pornography upon women and the devastating effect it has on the psyche of adolescent girls and young adult women.

 

There are incidents in which young women in rural India have committed suicide after their explicit photographs were circulated. The damage on the emotional well-being of women is severe and it takes years for them to heal. Sex workers have also complained their clients who view such images, force them to perform anal and oral sex, masturbation and other extremely humiliating acts. But the obvious and easy solution of “banning pornography” is not an answer as it will impinge fundamental freedom of expression. However, we need to be more innovative in our strategies when safety of women is at stake. Perhaps, the answer lies in careful monitoring and permitting limited access.  One suggestion is to make porn extremely expensive and difficult to access. Another suggestion is to restrict access to such sites in certain public places. The government though, needs to have wider consultations around these themes in order to protect the dignity of women. For children the danger is two fold — (a) being used to generate pornographic material and (b) being able to access adult porn. In a sexually-repressive society like ours, where sex education to children continues to be taboo, the curious child gathers information about sex through these pornographic material which may scar the child for life.

 

There is also no accurate data on the number of Indian children being exploited in porn — either being forced to show their sexual organs or made to engage in sexual acts — as many victims do not go to the police due to fear and shame. However, there were 96 reports of children in India being sexually exploited in online imagery in 2015, a rise of 140 per cent from 2014, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau data. The problem is global.  Majority of images are found in North America and Europe as the internet service there is most developed. The children in these countries are also exposed to sexual material and sex education. Culturally, India is very different with different codes of sexual morality operating. So when an eight-year-old views images of sadomasochist sex, the impact would be very different... it may scar the child for life or and mar the chances of a normal sexual relationship. But banning pornography may still not be a solution.

 

Certain countries have been alert to the dangers much earlier and set up child pornography hotlines. Britain’s Internet Watch Foundation, set up in 1996 to fight child pornography, reported that at that time, 18 per cent of  the world’s child sexual abuse images were hosted in the UK. After sustained efforts it has been brought down to under one per cent. This emphasises the need to set up similar measures to reach out to the child who is violated. The Ministry of Women and Child, Government of India has also set up a helpline to address this issue which has become a serious concern for lawmakers. Many lawyers who deal with the issue say Indian laws are not sufficient to effectively combat various cyber threats such as cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and sexual abuse involving grooming, sexting and the sort of pornography that children are exposed to in a digital world. The shortcomings in Indian laws need to be addressed notwithstanding the fact that the legal framework is by and large fairly enabling and can be invoked to address several cyber offences against children.

 

A UNICEF report titled, Child Online Protection in India alerts us about the gaps in terminology used while reporting the crime: “Disagreements regarding the actual meaning of terms have created confusion for policy, legislation, interventions and public advocacy. Indeed, establishing certain forms of cyber harassment as legal offences poses a challenge due to the lack of legal provisions for addressing cyber-bullying. While laws criminalise child trafficking with the intent of sexual exploitation, they do not specifically address and criminalise child trafficking with the intent of producing pornography and advertising child sex tourism online.”

 

The writer is a women’s rights lawyer and works on issues of gender and law reforms

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