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‘Epidemic’ growth of Net porn cited

Briefing: Children in danger

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Congress must ensure that obscenity laws are enforced so that children are not exposed to pornography on the Internet, researchers and advocates of Internet safety said Tuesday.

Speaking at a briefing at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, researchers said because obscenity laws have not been upheld or enforced, illegal adult pornography has flooded and polluted the Internet.

"Today we are calling on Congress and the Department of Justice to ensure that the enforcement of our current obscenity laws is a priority," said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, a Virginia-based nonprofit that works to make the Internet safer for children and families. "Our children's innocence is worth fighting for."

Under the law, illegal adult pornography is known as obscenity. Obscenity is defined as graphic material that focuses on sex or sexual violence, and it includes lewd exhibition of the genitals, close-ups of graphic sex acts and deviant activities such as group sex, bestiality and incest.

"It continues to grow and to spread and has reached epidemic proportions," Mrs. Hughes said. "We are facing a national crisis that is every bit as damaging to our citizens and our culture as the oil spill is to the Gulf and the Gulf community."

Statistics show that seven in 10 children have accidentally accessed pornography on the Internet and one in three have done so intentionally. Forty percent of children accidentally access Internet pornography through innocent word searches such as "water sports."

Statistics show that the average age of exposure is 11 years old - some start at 8 years old. Any child is too young, Mrs. Hughes said.

"Imagery definitely affects children," said Dr. Sharon Cooper, a forensic pediatrician and faculty member at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine. "Adult pornography is a good example of giving children unhealthy sexual images."

Pornography normalizes sexual harm, Dr. Cooper said. It shows children a lack of any kind of emotional commitment or relationship between two consensual partners, shows unprotected sexual contact and visual examples often of violent rape.

"When a child sees this image of adult pornography, the mirror neurons that are in their brain will convince them that they are actually experiencing what they are seeing," she said.

Children are very vulnerable as compared to adults because of the presence of mirror neurons in the brain, Dr. Cooper said. Mirror neurons are part of the brain that convince us that when we see something we are actually experiencing it.

According to the American Psychological Association, over the past 12 years, girls have changed in their thinking. They are beginning to see themselves as having their only value in sexuality.

"When a child sees herself only as a sexual object, she is no longer able to demand the kind of respect she deserves," Dr. Cooper said. "The new definition of 'love' these days is sending a sexually explicit picture."

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