Let's blow the whistle on internet porn

I work for a federal agency that investigates sexual crimes against minors.
I share in the recent outrage at Penn State’s leadership for not doing its duty in reporting alleged sexual abuse. During this time when national indignation has been roused against sexual crimes and their cover-ups, we must also ask if we are doing our part in “reporting” a significant contributor to sexual abuse: so-called adult or legal pornography, and particularly internet pornography.
It’s easy to cover up this problem. Studies show that internet porn is used regularly by most men between the ages of 18 and 40, and by a significant percentage of women. It’s seen as a normal part of one’s sexual life.
In The Social Costs of Pornography, however, a wide variety of medical experts and social scientists studied the harmful effects of pornography, in particular, the ubiquity, realism, and addictiveness of internet pornography. Mary Anne Layden, the Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that pornography can trigger a variety of negative behaviors and attitudes, including behaviors both illegal and pathological. Frequent users of porn report seeking out images that once appalled them, such as illegal and obscene images of S&M and bestiality. They have also reported following the slippery slope from adult porn to child porn.
This makes psychological sense. To receive the same pleasure from viewing pornography, one must resort to more and more explicit and varied images. Such range is readily available on the internet. And why is internet porn so addictive? By offering a near limitless variety of sexual objects, internet porn tends to hardwire the brain to desire more of it, more often.
If pornography addiction leads people to search for increasingly extreme and varied images, is it surprising that some eventually descend into child pornography? One leader of a national youth organization, whom the federal government prosecuted, admitted that he had frequently viewed adult internet porn, but when he came across an image of child porn, he was hooked. Recently, a local youth leader in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was arrested for having images of girls having sex with men. His ex-wife said he had “pornography issues.” He stated what “started out as a curiosity ended in a compulsion.” These stories are ubiquitous.
Any compulsion or addiction to look at child pornography is no defense to criminal prosecution. But perhaps many now “looking” instead at 10 to15 years in a Federal pen would never have downloaded child porn if the “endless of harem of sexual objects” on the internet had not first corrupted them.
Perhaps most people who view internet pornography will never possess or distribute child pornography. Nevertheless, pornography carries with it a host of other problems. Studies show that pornography impedes healthy and fulfilling sexual relationships between spouses, particularly caused by the husband not enjoying sexual relations with his wife and spending time away from his family, alone with internet pornography. At a recent convention of divorce lawyers, participants indicated that over half of divorces involved one party being obsessed with internet pornography. And so the tally of pornography victims increases.
If we are going to truly fight back against child pornography and the sexual abuse of minors, we have to fight back against its “parent.” Stockholders should divest from companies with holdings in porn. Pornographers should be required to post warnings about the addictiveness of their product, and the psychological harm it can cause. Those who produce computers should do so in ways that help people have “freedom from porn,” in the words of Steve Jobs.
Most important in the struggle to push back against internet pornography is education of the youth. Parents, schools, and communities must help young people avoid pornography, giving them good reasons to reject its allure.
Shakespeare described lust as “the expense of spirit in a waste of shame; Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme.” And this extreme, manifest in the sexual abuse of minors, is supercharged by internet pornography. Internet pornography leads to pathology, wreaks havoc on families, and endangers our nation’s children. It’s time to confront and report this abuser. Paul B. Hunker III is an attorney for a federal law enforcement agency in Dallas, Texas. He graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1992, Marquette University in 1989, and is a resident of Dallas, Texas. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.  


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