Freedom of Sexpression
Katherine Phelps Copyright April 1999
UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Australia is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as set forth by the United Nations. The whole question of Internet censorship should not even be an issue within this country. We have a right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.
Sadly, the current government sees fit to propose laws that call for the removal of all R, X and RC rated material from servers within Australia and for service providers to block all R, X and RC rated material from entering this country from the rest of the world. This is a technical impossibility.
Though the law may only ask that as soon as a service provider becomes aware of such material, they are then legally responsible to remove it, the sheer volume of material that may be R, X or RC rated which is already available and is becoming available everyday worldwide means what is removed is likely to be only a drop in the bucket, and not really prevent anyone from accessing such material if they are determined to do so. Also, service providers are being required to determine for themselves the likelihood that certain material will be R, X or RC rated. These people who have specialised in networking expertise are qualified in what way to make these determinations? In order to be safely within the law, service providers are likely to remove content far more broadly than legally required.
Furthermore, access to the Internet is a purchased service, and pornographic material on the Internet must be actively sought before it can become available upon people's computer monitors. Pornographic magazines, videos and cable channels are all allowed in this country on the basis that people will not be unwittingly exposed to this material. Interested adults must make a conscious choice. The proposed laws present a legal inconsistency.
Of course these points may all seem moot to those who have chosen to take a moral stand. On the one hand are people who find sexually oriented material offensive and perhaps even actively evil, believing that it is in the best interests of society to remove such material from public consciousness. On the other hand are people who may not like sexually oriented material, but believe that freedom of speech is a higher value that must be defended regardless of the material being delivered. Another position which doesn't get as much coverage is the importance of sharing sexual experience.
We are physical beings and human animals. Sexuality is part of our human experience from birth, not just upon marriage within our twenties. The perpetuation of our species requires that sexual acts are performed, that people seek to become mommies and daddies. We are also sapient beings without much in the way of natural instincts. Therefore, we need to be told how to execute those behaviours which ensure our continued existence. We are also capable of becoming aware of behaviours that can prevent physical or emotional harm.
I have found that often people want certain material banned because they are offended. However, if they feel they are losing an argument concerning censorship, the catch cry of "what about the children" gets pulled out. Somehow people have come to believe that keeping children from any understanding of sexuality, even their own, will somehow protect them from the dangers surrounding it.
Most people will agree that sex in and of itself is not bad. What they are concerned about are the circumstances under which it is performed and the methods used. Their fear is that by allowing people to understand the breadth of human behaviour, this will encourage people to perform inappropriate acts. However, ignorance can also cause the perpetration of inappropriate acts to go unchecked.
The fact is that if a child is being molested by a family member, older children or whoever, they need to a) know that it is safe to tell someone that they are being abused and b) have enough knowledge to be capable of expressing that something is amiss. Adult fear of sexuality is damaging to children.
If parents wish to protect their children from sexuality on the Internet, banning everyone from access to sexual information or expression online is not the answer.
The Melbourne Methodist Ladies College allows their students unlimited use of the Internet, but takes the time to discuss with them what they might find and how to handle potentially endangering interactions. In this way not only are they protected in childhood, but throughout life from the understanding they have gained from thoughtful teachers. Other schools block all Internet sites except those that are specifically related to the current course of study such as physics or English. This makes sense from a purely academic perspective of remaining focussed on the studies at hand.
Any parent who purchases Internet access, bringing it into their household, is solely responsible for their children's behaviour and experience online. Enforcing what can and cannot be accessed by anyone online out of fear that other people's children may grow up to be bad people if we don't force them to do the right thing, is plain paranoic and unreasonable. I have seen and read a little from sites that represent sado-masochism, and I can't tell you how uninteresting I find it. Others respond in the same way when exposed to certain forms of sexuality, rather than immediately being inspired to acts of supposed depravity, they find themselves drawn to tamer moments of simple intimacy.
My sense is that the issue of Internet censorship has raised its head once more purely as a way for the current government to rally more support from independent members of parliament and to gain votes with the electorate, whether or not they are serious about turning the proposed legislation into law. Regardless, I cannot emphasize how important it is to let parliamentarians know that you value freedom of expression and that you value the genuine sexual health and safety that comes from knowledge rather than ignorance.