The below comments are current as of September 25, 2017. Porn Harms Kids anticipates good communication with the eSafety Office and will update the below information if suggested changes are implemented.
After an extensive review of iParent and other components of the eSafety Office site, it was found that there are attempts to directly address online pornography within the iParent ‘Inappropriate, Offensive or Illegal Content’, ‘Online Pornography’; and 'School Policies/Implementing Policies' sections. Porn Harms Kids notes although there have been attempts to address potential risks and harms of pornography, there are several areas that need improving. The content falls short in some areas of providing effective information, education, resources or policy guidance to address pornography as a harm to children’s safety and wellbeing and the wider effects on society, including how pornography can lead to exploitation and grooming vulnerabilities. Porn Harms Kids has provided recommendations to expand upon content relating to the harms, improve terminology, and provide more effective solutions.
Our recommendations are listed after our full review below.
The Government Report states:
"This site provides parents and carers of young people with practical advice on a wide range of online safety and digital content issues. Useful tools are offered to help parents and carers assist children to explore the online environment safely.’’
These claims are contained within a response directly targeted at addressing the harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet. Our investigations indicate that these resources fall short of effectively addressing pornography related harms; and are inadequate in providing education to effectively address preventive measures and restorative needs.
About iParent Website:
The iParent website is run by the eSafety Office and is where parents can learn about the digital environment and keep updated on their children’s technology use. Here you can find guidance for using safety settings on your family’s web-connected devices, tips for choosing movies and games and strategies for keeping young people safe online.
The tools available on the iParent eSafety website include:
Online Safeguards section: Advice about strategies for restricting access to harmful material, such as using child-friendly safe search tools and parental controls.
Online Risks section: Advice about cyberbullying; sexting; trolling; unwanted contact; inappropriate, offensive or illegal content; and online pornography.
- The Online Pornography page within the Online Risks section of the iParent site offers practical advice from Dr Justin Coulson, Dr Joanne Orlando and Susan McLean; discussion starters and videos; and links to professional counselling services such as Parentline.
- Get Help section: Links for Parents, young people and children to get outside support when affected or concerned about the risks and harms of the digital environment.
- Other resources available on iParent Website relevant to online safety and / or sexuality related topics include: Online Safety – protecting children’s offline and digital reputation; being cybersmart; setting up online parental controls to monitor children’s online activity; social networking and privacy management; social harmony and cultural diversity; positive role modelling; violence in movies, television and video games; and consequences of uploading inappropriate images.
Review of information contained within the resource pages directly addressing pornography:
This page states that: Graphic, violent or even misleading messages about gender stereotypes and sexual practices can introduce young people to concepts about sex and intimate relationships they’re not ready to understand or able to manage.
It is important that parents and young people are informed about how it can condition a persons behaviours and desensitize violent sexual behaviour, especially towards women. There is opportunity to provide a comprehensive explanation of what pornography is using the critical porn analysis educational response, making clear how the porn industry sets out to normalise consumption of its product; and how serious the risks of potential harms are to children, particularly relating to sexual harms including exploitation, grooming, addiction and mental health vulnerabilities.
This page provides helpful general information. Two areas noted for improvement are detailed below.
This page states that: You may wish to help their understanding (of pornography) by using resources that focus on relationships recommended by their teacher or school counsellor.
Sex education is not mandatory in Australia and the National Curriculum provides very little guidance specific to sexualised content or pornography. School educators are most often attempting to navigate this arena from an uncertain or uninformed position, and therefore struggle to effectively equip children and young people to deal with the harms of pornography.
Providing this advice to parents for their teens may result in them receiving unvetted, uneducated biased opinions about pornography.
There are a number of practical, factual online information resources that parents could utilise with their teen to gain accurate sexual health and relationship information. Examples of accurate information to counteract pornography harms, including further links and videos, can be found here. This is a far better way of ensuring young people are receiving helpful information over potentially damaging or misleading information.
This page states that: You could explain how the brain releases chemicals that make us feel good if we see something we like. Because we like how the chemical reaction in our brain feels, we might keep repeating the behaviour.
There is opportunity here to explain arousal. Arousal doesn't just occur when a person sees something they like - the brain can become aroused when any sexual content, image, or video is viewed. This includes arousal to violent and degrading content, that a person may also find repulsive and troubling.
It is important to explain arousal to young people, so they are not left feeling ashamed for ‘being aroused’ by content they may also find highly traumatising. Leaving this vital information out could be confusing, and set up an untrue understanding of sexual and brain arousal. Reiterating, arousal can occur when a person sees sexual content - they may feel aroused even if they don't like it. A full understanding of the arousal science is important, especially for young people. Examples of accurate information to counteract pornography harms, including further links and videos, can be found here - in particular, the video "Is free pornography destroying our brains" is a good resource for parents to watch with young people.
This page provides helpful general information.
Further information to consider: A common question we are asked by parents is how do I speak age appropriately to my young child on this topic? There are a significant amount of specialised children’s books and resources available to support parents in this conversation. Porn Harms Kids suggests that using story books to support conversations with children is an age appropriate way to address the issue. This provides potentially uncomfortable parents, with a tool to discuss a topic they may not feel adequately equipped to do so appropriately. A list of books and other links to sites that provide detailed information to support parents of children can be found here.
It is imperative that parents become fully educated on this topic, given that it is not a matter of if children see porn, but when. More detailed information is required on the eSafety iParent site for parents, in order to equip them to be "the trusted adult" for children to turn to when they see pornography that scares or harms them.
Inappropriate, Offensive or Illegal Content Page
This page unpacks what content could be considered illegal, inappropriate or offensive to your child. It mentions what is contained within pornography, however does not mention pornography. Porn Harms Kids thinks this is mis-leading to parents and appears to try and respect ‘personal viewing choices of adults’ however potentially leaves parents unaware without question that the viewing of pornography for children holds a significant risk of harm. Therefore all measures need to be taken to protect and prevent access by children. If parents choose to watch pornography, they are equipped to discern its content, children are not, so its imperative parents understand the seriousness of this potential risk and its long term effects on the health and wellbeing of their child.
Online Safeguards Section
Filtering Software is mentioned as one tool that can be used to filter content children view, however there are no links to potential filters, including no link the Family Friendly Filter Scheme recommended by the Department of Communications and the Arts (at the date of the Porn Harms Kids Report release, information on the Communications Alliance site indicates the last time a filter was accredited was in February 2015.)
This page states that: Parental control tools tend to be better at blocking ‘adult’ or sexual content than other types of harmful content; however, it does not provide links to any resources or speak of the benefits of filtering for children and why it is important to do so. It approaches the topic of protection as a nice to have, rather than a necessity of which it is to protect our children and young people.
This page states that: If your child has been exposed to undesirable content, whether accidentally or on purpose, talk them through what they have seen; however, it does not provide links back to the new Online Pornography section to help parents with having these conversations.
As with other areas on the eSafety site, although there have been attempts to address potential risks and harms of pornography, there are several areas that need improving within policy. These include but are not limited to:
- Within the list of people to include within the Online Safety Team, Porn Harms Kids recommends the inclusion of "At least one member who is familiar with pornography harms, including how it contributes to exploitation, grooming, addiction and mental health vulnerabilities."
- The eSafety Checklist asks the question: Does the policy refer to procedures when students are exposed to explicit imagery at school? There is opportunity to extend upon guidance for policy, including for students by including questions such as:
- Do students know what to do if a peer shows them pornography?
- Are students clearly aware of the rules and consequences for showing other students pornography?
- What consequences are in place for a student that purposefully shows pornography to another student at school?
- The eSafety Checklist asks the question: Do students know how to recognise and report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or worried online? There is opportunity to extend upon guidance through provision of clear lesson plans for students that give explanation of pornography harms, including how it contributes to exploitation, grooming, addiction and mental health vulnerabilities. Porn Harms Kids recommends a Public Health Approach, and a Critical Porn Analysis Educational Response.
As stated in The Report in SECTION 5.3,
On the eSafety iParent website on the page When someone shows your child pornography: at home, school or play, the advice provided states: Expect the school will review its policies related to student use of personal screens, such as in playgrounds, classrooms, libraries, or on public transport travelling to and from school.
Porn Harms Kids advises that it is ESSENTIAL for priority to be placed on updated policies to address pornography harms by State Education Departments. Until such time, schools appear to be unable to update processes and practices. Similar action should be taken within the Independent Schooling Sectors.
Our investigations reveal that the iParent Website does not adequately cover areas such as detailed guidance for parents, young people or children on:
- Targeted preventive measures that specifically mention online pornography from a critical porn analysis view point
- The harms of pornography to mental health and addiction related issues
- The potential for pornography to be used as a grooming tool (either directly or indirectly) for sexual exploitation
- The potential for pornography to trigger problem sexual behaviours and sexually abusive behaviours towards other children
- The potential for pornography to normalize online and offline exploitation
- The potential for pornography to shape sexual tastes and desires of its viewers
- The potential for pornography to normalise exploitive and illegal sexual behaviours such as sexting
After an extensive review of eSafety and iParent website, it was found that the content falls short in some areas of providing effective information, education, resources or policy guidance to address pornography as a harm to children’s safety and wellbeing and the wider effects on society.
Policy recommendations related to the eSafety Office (found in SECTION 3.3 of the Porn Harms Kids Report). Porn Harms Kids calls for:
- The eSafety Office to recommend the establishment of a reporting and measuring mechanism to be used within health precincts and hospitals; to collate data on the number of children and young people presenting with (internal) injuries, sexual and other physical harms, and mental health harms, suspected as being attributed to pornography’s influence.
- The implementation of a complaints process for community members who want more robust legislation to deal with pornography, as opposed to relying on optional end user (PC-based) Family Friendly Filters.
- Support the government in implementing mandatory nationwide holistic sex education, utilising a public health response, particularly relating to prevention of sexual harms including exploitation, grooming, addiction and mental health vulnerabilities.
- For the eSafety Office to continue to regulate online content by managing the “Prohibited URL List”, and provide simplified processes to manage whitelisted sites where organisations can register their URL to avoid being blocked. This initiative should be implemented prior to the enactment of any URL default blocking to allow sufficient time for legitimate organisations to register, with care being taken to not block legitimate sites that provide education and support.
Digital recommendations related to the eSafety Office, (found in SECTION 4.4 of the Porn Harms Kids Report). Porn Harms Kids calls for:
- The eSafety Office to facilitate oversight of ISP membership to the Communications Alliance and compliance by all providers of internet services to the proposed updated legislation and binding codes of conduct; and issue penalties for non-compliance.
- The eSafety Office to facilitate the establishment of an accreditation body that facilitates compliance by all providers of Public WiFi, to ensure Prohibited content is blocked in public spaces. Explanation of this Digital Child Protection Buffer is outlined in SECTION 6.3.
- The eSafety Office to establish a phone hotline for parents, to assist in providing technical advice to implement and monitor home filters and device apps.
- The eSafety Office to explore initiatives that place pressure on social media companies to implement age-ratings consistent with those for films set by the Australian Classification Board [As recommended by the NSPCC]. These initiatives include (but are not limited to)
- Safe accounts automatically offered to under 18’s – with default privacy settings, proactive blocking of harmful content and mechanisms to guard against grooming [As recommended by the NSPCC]
- Penalties for non-compliance for social media companies who fail to protect children. [As recommended by the NSPCC]
Education recommendations related to the eSafety Office, relevant to the iParent website Online Pornography section (found in SECTION 5.1 of the Porn Harms Kids Report). Porn Harms Kids calls for updated content:
Provision of a resource list of children’s books for parents to use with young children to help them with conversations regarding the harms of pornography.
Provision of links to reputable, factual, holistic sex education websites for parents to refer their young people to, and that these sites adequately acknowledge and explain the harms of pornography.
Clearly explain that unless a parent uses a filtering service, their child has access to pornography whenever they have access to the internet at home, personal devices or elsewhere. Due to unfettered access to prohibited content, their child is not guaranteed from avoiding pornography in other homes, peers’ devices or public spaces.
Provision of a link back to The action we take eSafety webpage, along with the implementation of a complaints process as outlined in SECTION 3.3 of the Porn Harms Kids Report.
Reframing the conversation around arousal as mentioned in the Porn Harms Kids review (below), so that parents have information necessary to explain this fact to children and young people correctly.
Comprehensive explanation of what pornography is using the critical porn analysis educational response, making clear how the porn industry sets out to normalise consumption of its product; and how serious the risks of potential harms are to children, particularly relating to prevention of sexual harms including exploitation, grooming, addiction and mental health vulnerabilities.
Provision of more detailed information for parents to effectively understand the potential harms of pornography on a young person’s attitudes, behaviours, identity, relationships and overall wellbeing - emotional, mental and physical.
Full explanation of how pornography can shape sexual tastes and desires of its viewers and the impacts this can have on a developing child’s sexuality and future relationships, including potential to increase violence against women.
Culturally appropriate information for parents and carers on how to teach their children about the potential harms of pornography, and where to seek help if their child is displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviours. [As recommended by Safe4Kids]
Whole School p-12 education; and professional and community training recommendations related to the eSafety Office, (found in SECTION 5.3 of the Porn Harms Kids Report). Porn Harms Kids calls for updated content:
- For the eSafety Office to work with Departments of Education (State and Independent sectors) to update policies to include preventative measures for the harms of pornography, particularly related to prevention of sexual harms including exploitation, grooming and mental health vulnerabilities.
- For the eSafety Office and government to implement a comprehensive nationally mandated framework underpinned by preventative policies, education and restorative policies. This broadens the scope to sectors which include (but are not limited to) family, child and youth services; mental health and allied health professionals; universities and sporting and community groups.