Crossing borders – pornography’s mode of travel

Crossing borders – pornography’s mode of travel

If someone tries to bring a suitcase of Refused Classification (RC) DVDs through customs, they will be refused entry. Relating to sex, RC films: depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. The RC definition also refers to Child Exploitation Material (CEM), or any films that promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence. With this in mind, if you plan on visiting your Federal MP to ask what they are doing to uphold their due diligence obligation towards children, we advise that you go armed with some pressing questions

You could ask your people's representative, are you aware of what is meant by today’s definition of pornography? The definition submitted by Linette Etheredge to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, says that pornography in the online space is aptly described as:

Illegal, unclassified, gonzo or hard-core XXX, free online material that depicts individuals or groups engaging in sexual behaviours where inequity between the parties is clear, violence is observed or audible, where degradation, humiliation, punishment and extreme submission appear to be the general objective of the power dynamics or behaviour depicted. This definition springs from analysing visual material observed in free online sites such as Porn hub, Red Tube, You porn or the most extreme teen porn. This style of pornography appears to demand violence and inequity as its core script line.

Hardcore, readily available content, is not the magazine version of pornography that many of us grew up with. Searching Google for the term 'gonzo' will produce results that horrify a concerned parent.

When we compare 'today's definition' against current Federal Legislation that defines RC content, we can join the dots as to why it's so ludicrous that children have ready access to online pornography.

How does this translate? In the top 50 Australian websites by visitor numbers, there are 3 porn sites. Porn hub is one such site. It advertises on its website that Australia had 154 pageviews per Capita in 2016. A 2013/14 survey in the UK revealed that the porn site Pornhub was one of the “Top 5” internet sites for 11-16 year-old boys. On any given day, Porn hub landing page undeniably contains RC content - 1. Incest; 2. Double fisting of a woman; 3. Double penetrations; 4. Rape; 5. Teen themes (e.g. Video name: Tatooed Australian teen shower toying); 6. Adult / minor themes (e.g. Video name: Teachers give free extra points for Melissa Mathews and Ally); 7. the list goes on and on of RC content available. No age verification. No standard filters. No limitations.

In addition to RC content, the legislation also defines X 18+ films - they contain real depictions of actual sexual activity between consenting adults in which there is no violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence, coercion, sexually assaultive language, or fetishes or depictions which purposefully demean anyone involved in that activity for the enjoyment of viewers, in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; and are unsuitable for a minor to see. And R 18+ covers Films (except RC films and X 18+ films) that are unsuitable for a minor to see.

So we have clearly defined terms for RC, X 18+, and R18+ content - Federal Legislation states that all of them are unsuitable for minors to see. Online content is assessed against the National Classifications Scheme, yet the current status is that, without Digital Child Protection Buffers, minors can readily and regularly access it all.

What is going on?, you may ask.

When it comes to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), what we have is a feedback loop of non-compliance, with the eSafety Office being the only 'link' with follow through (I pick this up again below). The eSafety Office has operated the reporting mechanism for Australian residents to make complaints about offensive and illegal online content since July 2015. Their 2015/16 Annual Report said that the eSafety Office investigates, reports and takes action on material that it finds to be ‘prohibited or potential prohibited’. 

These categories are defined with respect to the classification guidelines that also apply to offline content such as film and video, and include child sexual abuse content, content advocating terrorism or instruction, incitement or promotion of crime or violence, and sexually explicit content. Responsibilities under the Online Content Scheme include: 

  • investigating complaints made under Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 to the Broadcasting Services Act into potentially offensive or illegal online content
  • notifying all overseas-hosted child sexual abuse material to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) or INHOPE, for rapid police action and take-down in the host country

When it comes to prohibited content that is not CEM:

  • If prohibited content is hosted in Australia, the eSafety Office directs the hosting provider to remove or restrict access to the content by serving a takedown notice.
  • All overseas-hosted prohibited and potential prohibited content investigated is referred to accredited providers of optional end user (PC-based) Family Friendly Filters in accordance with the Industry Codes of Practice. The eSafety Office states that accredited filters provide an important additional level of protection to Australian citizens and families wishing to safeguard themselves from offensive and illegal online content.

And here's where accountability goes out the window and the system falls down. According to Schedule 5, the Commissioner, must notify the prohibited content (‘black list’) to internet service providers so that the providers can deal with the content in accordance with procedures specified in an industry code or industry standard (for example, procedures for the filtering, by technical means, of such content). The Accredited Family Friendly Filters that the eSafety Office refers to, leads to the Communications Alliance - an ‘industry representative body’. Technically, they are ‘in charge’ of ensuring ISPs are aware of what content is listed on the ‘black list’. They provide a guide to assist Australian Internet users to understand Australia's co-regulatory framework for online content.

The Australians Communications Alliance ‘COMMENCED IN JANUARY 2000’ AND state on their website:

Each ISP must provide to its users one or more approved filter software products or services as soon as practicable.

I'm not sure what defines 'soon as practicable', but we should all be asking the Communications Alliance if 17 years is long enough. A representative of Porn Harms Kids individually phoned around 10 major ISPs, and discovered Telstra is the only company to have staff trained to discuss filters, or make mention of them on their website. Existing customers may pay to implement Telstra Broadband Protect, and new customers can have it for free. But of course, this requires people to know about it's availability, and it isn't obvious from the homepage on where to look.  All other ISP filter investigations failed our enquiry.

The Communications Alliance provides a unified voice for the telecommunications industry. It would be fair to say that their ‘monitoring’ requires scrutinising. A comparative would be an industry association for cigarette companies ‘monitoring’ the health impacts of tobacco. It's clear that the Industry Codes of Practice are not being adhered to, which according to Schedule 5, the eSafety Commissioner has a reserve power to make an industry standard if there are no industry codes or if an industry code is deficient, and the eSafety Commissioner may make online provider determinations regulating internet service providers. The industry is clearly failing our children and is non-compliant to legislation.

There is so much wrong with the current situation and it is simply disgraceful that this has been allowed to go on for so long. 100's of millions of dollars have been allocated by State and Federal Governments to address domestic violence, yet porn as the vehicle, delivers themes that support sexual abuse and rape, straight into the hands of our children.

The eSafety Office is doing a great job at improving their resources to help parents deal with the issue within their homes, yet given the nature of a public health crisis, parents alone are not able to solve this issue. The researched harms are acknowledged by key academics and legislation is in place. It's time for all Government parties and the Industry to explain to Australian mums and dads why industry codes and active legislation are not being adhered to. Legislation that would offer Australia's children a level of Digital Child Protection from content where violent, inequitable, degrading, humiliating, body punishing sex are the behaviours depicted.

When you are on your travels, remember not to bring RC, X18+, and R18+ content back through customs in your suitcase, because it will be refused entry. But while your kids are online, no such borders exist.

Correction to article: 30.8.17