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How to end the sexual exploitation of women and children without giving up our freedoms

See also: "Pornography and the Celebrity Bestiality Report - Economic trends today" of 21 Aug 09, "Would you like porn with that?" by Catherine Manning of 7 May 09, Federal Government threatens Internet censorship of 16 Nov 08, "Australia facing loss of its language, culture and environmental sustainability to mass immigration" of 26 Jun 09 by Frosty Woodridge.

Sheila Newman's article "Pornography and the Celebrity Bestiality Report - Economic trends today" of 21 Aug 09 and, before that Catherine Manning's article, "Would you like porn with that?" of 7 May 09 have caused me to evaluate my attitudes to pornography and prostitution.

As with prostitution, of which pornography seems to be merely another form, it has become increasingly exploitative in our dysfunctional 21st century world.

How Australian women are being forced to turn to prostitution

One story I heard, maybe roughly 18 months ago now, on Radio National was how a woman, ironically, employed in a 'Human Resources' department, needed to go to University in order to get the degree necessary to get her past the glass ceiling that blocked career advancement for uncredentialled employees.

Unsurprisingly, once she left full-time employment, she didn't have the funds necessary to pay her living expenses. So, like many others in equivalent circumstances, she turned to prostitution.

This kind of story has become so commonplace that many of us don't give it a second thought, but if we do, it is clearly a damning indictment of just what kind of society we have become in the past thirty years, courtesy of the 'free market' 'revolution', as well as high immigration, imposed upon this country by the likes of Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard and, now, Rudd, Gillard and Immigration Minister Evans.

Before this 'revolution', nearly all capable and talented people could expect to find relatively easy paths to rise in their chosen career1. People who did not have degrees could still eventually expect to be promoted, and on a few celebrated occasions, all the way to the very top without even having completed High School.

Now that has become practically impossible for nearly everyone who has not had the good fortune to have had parents able to pay their way through University, and have chosen all the correct career moves at the correct moments, without their careers suddenly being set back by retrenchments or other personal misfortune.

Instead, they must not only obtain degrees, but, often, also, a succession of post-graduate qualifications that are deemed current and applicable to their narrow area of expertise, in their own time and at their own expense, and so they are often faced with no choice but to pay for it all by selling their bodies.

About a year before I heard the story of the HR employee who turned to prostitution, I heard another documentary2 on the ABC Radio National featuring a woman in Kalgoorlie. She would have been entitled to a disability pension before John Howard's 'reform' of our Social Security system. After that 'reform' she chose prostitution rather than jumping through all the stupid and demeaning hoops that unemployment benefit recipients are expected to jump through.

On 28 Jun 09,one site visitor, TrueFire commented in response to the article "Australia facing loss of its language, culture and environmental sustainability to mass immigration" by Frosty Wooldridge:

"It's all over the world news about Aussie women now working as prostitutes in record numbers to get by. How gutless can Aussies get? Does anything matter to you? Stand up to your politicians and their backdoor lobbyists."

Will censorship and prohibition make pornography and prostitution any less exploitative?

Prostitution and pornography are only two of many ways that vulnerable women are exploited. The fact that many women choose those livelihoods over working in sweatshop occupations is surely confirmation of that.

Far from reducing exploitation, outlawing or curtailing porn and prostitution is only likely to either force women back into occupations even less acceptable or to make earning a living through prostitution more difficult and hazardous.

A far more effective way to reduce the sexual exploitation of women is to give them back the economic choices that more than a generation of 'free market' ideology and population growth have taken away.3

Is Porn inherently good or bad?

This brings us to that vexed question as to whether we should regard pornography and prostitution as inherently good or bad under more ideal economic and social conditions.

Clearly it meets a need, particularly for people who may be lonely, isolated or socially inept.

As long as no-one is physically or psychologically harmed and no-one is coerced to take part, and as long as children are protected from exposure to it, we should not cast judgement on those adults who choose to either make use of those services or provide those services.

However, about two years ago I found myself nodding in agreement with Clive Hamilton when he argued, as Catherine Manning also rightly does now, that our society has become over-sexualised and that our children, in particular, are exposed to far too much sexual imagery to allow their normal development into adulthood. In a debate on ABC Radio National over the controversy surrounding Bill Henson's exhibition of photos of naked, pre-pubescent children, he posed the question: "Does anyone here seriously believe that we are fighting the same old battles against censorship?" He went on to ridicule any suggestion that we might be faced with a re-run of the old fights to end the ban on "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and implied that those objecting to the ban on the exhibition of Bill Henson's photos of children had exaggerated views of the importance of the issue and of themselves.4

At the time, I, too, found the suggestion ridiculous.

How reasonable objections to the over-sexualisation of our society can be used to increase control over us

However, a few months later in November 2008,I was incensed to learn that Clive Hamilton had, in fact, given his total and uncritical support to Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's plan to impose Communist Chinese style mandatory filtering upon the whole of the Internet in Australia5, ostensibly to prevent access to child pornography. In order to prevent anyone accessing child pornography, every single request for any page anywhere on the Internet, that occured every time someone clicked on a link on a web page, would first have to be compared with a secret database of banned sites. The fact that there were ways that people with more money and/or knowledge could easily evade the filter and the enormous peformance costs that all of us would need to pay did not appear to concern either Hamilton or Conroy.

It turned out that the blacklist could well have included sites containing pornographic material that is currently legal, sites advocating euthanisa, as well as sites deemed 'terrorist' or anything else that the Government considered undesirable.

So, the answer to Hamilton's rhetorical question turned out to be, indeed, 'Yes', after all. We are, indeed, in a sense re-fighting those old battles. This time what is at stake is our freedom to access not just sexually explicit material on the Internet, but potentially any content which a Government might, at some futere date prefer that we do not see.

How could Clive Hamilton, the same person who co-edited the 2007 book Silencing Dissent6, which exposed the Howard Government's systematic suppression of dissenting views, then turn around and push for the adoption of laws to give secretive Government bureaucrats unlimited powers to tell us what we can and cannot view on the Internet? The Internet is the only mass media not currently dominated by corporations.

Clive Hamilton's embrace of the Federal Government's plans for a Communist Chinese7 style Internet firewall demonstrates how reasonable community concerns about the sexual exploitation of women and children can be twisted around in order to allow our Government to extend its control over all of our lives.

This example illustrates how, if we are not very careful, reasonable stances, such as Catherine Manning's objections to children being exposed to pornographic material at corner stores and newsagents, can be seized upon to justify censorship and control way beyond what is actually necessary to fix the problem.

I therefore think it vital that, whenever concerned citizens fight to protect children and to mitigate the exploitation of women, it be made clear that this does not entail support for measures to take away from adults their current rights to access sexually explicit material (as Catherine Manning has in her article).

See also: "Pornography and the Celebrity Bestiality Report - Economic trends today" of 21 Aug 09, "Would you like porn with that?" by Catherine Manning of 7 May 09, Federal Government threatens Internet censorship of 16 Nov 08, "Australia facing loss of its language, culture and environmental sustainability to mass immigration" of 26 Jun 09 by Frosty Woodridge.

Footnotes

1. In fact, this is a simplification. Before the neo-liberal economic 'revolution', which roughly coincided with the removal of many forms of legal discrimination against women, many women's career choices were limited. Nevertheless, even given the supposed additional freedoms that feminism has brought, many women, now working hard at their paid occupations in order to help their husbands meet massively increased living expenses, particularly housing, as well as attending to household chores, see themselves as worse off, rather than better off, than were their mothers and grandmothers.

2. Street Stories "Here for the Money" episode of 24 June 2007 currently, as of 22 Aug 09, available as a 14M MP3 file downloadable from here.

3. See 1.

4. The words I write are to the best of my recollection. They may not be precisely a video version of the debate I thought I heard is "Art Censorship And Pornography" dated 26 Jun 08 on the ABC Fora web site.

5. See "Federal Government threatens Internet censorship" of 16 Nov 08.

6. Silencing Dissent (2007) edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison, Allen & Unwin.

7. I should acknowledge here that my disparaging use of the adjectives 'Communist Chinese', in the teaser to refer to the Government's planned Internet filtering, was opportunistic. The Government's mandatory Internet filtering plans modeled on the Chinese government's existing Internet filtering system would be more accurately described as 'Stalinist'. In fact a true 'communist' society, whether of the variety that existed prior to the emergence of agriculture, or the form that may have been theoretically possible if the Russian Revolution had not been so thoroughly corrupted by Stalin, would have little need to control its citizens in the way that mandatory Internet filtering appears intended to do.