[TW: child sexual abuse] Porn blocking - a survivor's perspective

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I am a survivor: when I was a teenager, I was sexually abused by an uncle. So when David Cameron proposes a raft of measures which amount to censorship of the internet, all in the name of protecting "our children and their innocence", I find that deeply offensive.

I am not going to tell you about the potential harmful side effects of these measures, or why none of them are actually going to work. Other people can do this far better than me.

Instead, I want to move on this debate. I want to tell you about some of the factors in my environment that made my abuse possible, because maybe that will give Mr Cameron some idea of the real issues he needs to tackle if he wants to protect children [1].

Like many kids today, I grew up in an environment where parents were deeply uncomfortable talking about bodies, or sex and sexuality. When I got my first period, my mother gave me the most boring textbook in the universe to read. It covered basic anatomy and mechanics of sex, but I must admit I didn't get very far into it. A year or so later she arranged for me to have a chat with her gynaecologist, who was a friend of the family. What I would have learned from that chat, had I not had access to other materials on sex and relationships, was that oral sex is dirty and horrible and not something one should ever engage in. What I actually learned from the whole experience was that my parents were not willing to discuss issues of sex and sexuality with me. So when the abuse happened, when I would have needed to discuss those things with them and get help, I didn't feel able to do so.

Now, I appreciate the argument that simply saying "leave child protection exclusively to parents" is middle class privilege. However many parents, middle class and otherwise, would greatly benefit from some help and advice on how to approach difficult issues like sex, sexuality and relationships with their children, and how to create a safe space where children can raise concerns and ask questions without fear of being judged or getting into trouble.

Like many girls today, I also grew up in an environment where a woman's sense of self-worth was directly proportional to how liked she was by others, particularly men. That translated into being conditioned to be less confrontational, always having to be polite, being told I needed to keep the peace regardless of personal cost. This is not a great way to learn to establish and enforce personal boundaries. When the man who harassed me on the way to school told me it wasn't very nice to tell him to fuck off, I felt guilty.

Here's the thing: You know what the most insidious part of our culture is that sends precisely those hugely damaging messages to girls and women? No, it's not porn. It's romantic comedies. The idea that behaviour which amounts to stalking and sexual assault is romantic is deeply ingrained in the genre; and trust me - many more kids have access to romantic comedies from a much earlier age than they do to porn. If you want to talk about normalising the idea of violence against women, it's there that I'd start, not at rape porn. Of course this doesn't mean I want to ban romantic comedies. However, helping both parents at teachers look critically at the damaging parts of our mainstream culture and discuss them with children would protect many more children than filtering pornography.

Like many kids today, I received sex education that was patchy, focused on the mechanics and on avoiding pregnancy and STIs. Oh, and some of it was distinctly anti-abortion - talk about personal boundaries and bodily autonomy elsewhere. At no point was pleasure discussed. At no point did we ever talk about consent. At not point did a teacher make me feel like I could ask questions, express concerns or confide in them. I knew all about the mechanics of sex. I had a very good idea of what was happening to me when I was being abused. I had no idea how to stop it.

This is the biggest bone I have to pick with the government on this subject. David Cameron has the audacity to tell us that the solution to children viewing pornography is both "about access and (...) about education". Yet the kind of education he means is not sex and relationships education - it's education about "online safety". At the same time his Education Secretary can't even utter the words "sex and relationship education" without sniggering like a 12-year-old behind the bike sheds. His party (and the LibDems) almost unanimously voted against an amendment to the Children and Families Bill which would have created a statutory provision for sex and relationship education in the national curriculum.

Pornography (extreme or otherwise) and images of child sexual abuse (vile though they are) played absolutely no role in my abuse. I am not going to argue that they play no role at all in anyone's abuse, or that without the proper context they can't be damaging to children and young people. What David Cameron is doing, however, is lulling us all into a false sense of security while actively working against measures which would genuinely protect children and young people. This is not a man who is well-intentioned and ill-advised. This is a man who is deeply cynical and hypocritical; a man - and a government - incapable of doing the right thing, and only capable of doing the easy, wrong thing which will gain them votes. This is a man who should hang his head in shame.

As an abuse survivor, I find the measures outlined by the Prime Minister today objectionable, offensive and disgusting. As an abuse survivor, I demand that this government face the facts and either admit that they have no intention whatsoever of protecting children or actually put measures on the table which will do so. As an abuse survivor, I hold my head high today - but I don't think David Cameron should.

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[1] While I do believe children need protection from some things, I find the talk of protecting their "innocence" deeply squicky and disturbing. Kids do not become guilty once they find out about sex.

2 Comments

I've linked to you here, if that's okay, as you've said what I was trying to a lot more eloquently.

PJW

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This page contains a single entry by Milena Popova published on July 22, 2013 7:34 PM.

Let me vote: a public service announcement was the previous entry in this blog.

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