- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

When my son offered to help his 13-year-old friend shovel driveways in our neighborhood last winter, I felt a surge of maternal pride in his 10-year-old enthusiasm for volunteerism. His spontaneous act of service reminded me of what my parents and grandparents called “the good ol’ days.” Little did I know that this wholesome outing would cost my son’s innocence.

While they worked to clear one neighbor’s driveway, my son’s teen-age friend asked, “Hey, have you looked up porn on the Internet yet?” My son asked, “What’s porn?” His friend replied, “You don’t know? Look it up on the computer.”

I found out about this neighborly exchange only after my son followed his friend’s suggestion. My son “Googled” the mysterious four-letter word when he got home and a voluminous list of sites to explore popped up on his computer screen. One touch of the mouse prompted another. Days later, a suspiciously quick click to close a “window” as his father entered the computer room triggered our son’s confession of what he had been doing and why. He had ventured into a growing wasteland of smut and slime.

Mini-porn has become a mega-business. Revenues from mobile porn sales globally reached $1 billion last year. The Mobile Adult Content Congress met in Miami this year for its first-ever trade show. The event was such a success and interest in mobile porn services so profitable that another Congress will convene in Reno next month. Porn on the go is the reality in America, available to anyone, including — and no doubt particularly — children.

I learned, painfully, just how and why this industry is so successful. After my son told me what he had done, I asked him: “Why did you keep searching after you saw what was on the first site?” I expected him to say he was just curious, but instead he answered, “Because, Mom, it’s addictive.” I was stunned. How insightful. And how painfully true — for millions of Internet porn users around the world.

I scrutinized my son’s face. I had never seen such sadness, shame and disgust on my son’s smooth young face before and it shocked me to see unfamiliar emotions contorting his features. “Mom,” he said quietly, “I saw things I wish I had never seen.” He suddenly resembled a veteran of war.

I struggled to comfort him, to help him make sense of the twisted images he had absorbed. After he went to sleep, I reviewed the sites he had visited. The graphic digital displays I encountered disturbed and traumatized me, even though I am an adult with sexual experiences spanning almost three decades. How could my 10-year-old son, who has never thrilled to his first kiss, digest these degrading, unnatural images?

I felt as if someone had ripped my newborn away from me and fed him garbage before he had tasted the natural sweetness of milk or whole foods. How would his taste buds recover? After this unwelcome exposure, could our son hang onto what we have taught him about sex? Could he recapture the view of girls and women as whole persons to appreciate, to treasure, rather than as piecemeal objects merely to use and demean?

My husband and I berated ourselves for not having installed filtering software on our computer. We foolishly thought we had a couple of more years before having to worry about our young son doing an on-line porn search.

I tried to get the coarse images I saw that night out of mind. I wish I could persuade the purveyors of porn of how insidious it is to expose unwitting Internet users, especially children, to their freely accessible trash. I want to impress on them how wrong, how immoral it is, to profit from the most common typos, female name searches and innocuous entries that lead computer users inadvertently to “adult entertainment” sites which are illegal for minors to visit. But of course they know all that, and relish the vulnerability of our children.

Most of all, I hope my son has somehow erased from his memory, visual and emotional, the ugly scenes that stole his sexual innocence from him. Now we supervise his computer use much more closely.

Help may be on the way. Several Internet providers, including Comcast, Cox and Verizon, are introducing features enabling parents to receive daily e-mail notifications of the Web sites their children visit. AOL will enable parents to see a daily log of screen names and e-mail addresses their children communicate with.

But we’re bracing ourselves for the new wave of porn photos and videos being made available on pocketsize, portable, wireless devices. We’re determined to be ahead of the curve this time. But a computer desktop is much easier for parents to monitor than downloads or pop-ups to mobile phones, handheld computers, or portable game and digital music players. Soon there will be no limit to what our children can be exposed to when they, a friend, or a stranger press the “on” button of any cell or electronic device in any location.

The purveyors of digital porn are mobilizing. Shouldn’t we?

Kathleen Maloney-Dunn is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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