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Bishops call for action to fight internet porn

06 November 2015

iSTOCK

SOCIETY is confronted by a “floodtide of unhealthy, objectifying, sexual pornography”, the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said on Thursday, in a take-note debate in the House of Lords on pornography and its impact.

“Pornography is a very widespread feature of Western society, especially since the advent of the internet age,” he said. “In my ministry, I have come across addiction to pornography as a factor in individual marriage breakdown.

“As a Bishop, I have had two of my clergy prosecuted for downloading child sexual-abuse images, usually called child pornography. Both these priests were given custodial sentences and both are unlikely ever again to exercise the Christian ministry for which they were trained.”

He said that the “sheer volume of cases” of child-sex abuse images meant that “prosecutions are no longer routinely brought”. He quoted a University of Bristol survey, that suggested that 40 per cent of children between the age of 13 and 17 “had suffered sexual coercion of some sort, ranging from rape to being pressurised into unwanted sexual activity, often with elements of physical violence.”

He continued: “The underlying problem with pornography is that, in particularly significant and sensitive areas of human life, it encourages people to view other people simply or primarily as objects to be used and discarded.

“The danger is that, in tacitly or openly accepting the pervasive presence of adult pornography in people’s lives, we are choosing to make the attitudes which lie behind and in pornography seem normal: objectification, exploitation, and, very often, abuse.”

He was supported by the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, who urged the Government to “call pornographers to account for the negative effect of pornography on our social environment”.

He said: “There is a general anxiety in our society about pornography and its impact, not just on our children and young adults but also on adult behaviour. . .

“There seems to be an unwritten assumption, reinforced in the media, that, although it is fine to take action to protect children, adult use of pornography is not a legitimate public-policy concern, unless, of course, the material viewed is illegal. This position would be logical and defensible if pornography threatened adults with no harm; but I am not yet clear whether that is the case.”

Lord Cormack, a former member of the General Synod, said that, as a grandfather, he was “very exercised . . . about the uninhibited and unlimited effect that pornography on the internet has.”

There was an “absolute moral duty resting upon all of us,” he said, to find a solution that would “protect the young . . . from their own curiosity and desires in an age which is so different from that in which any of us in this Chamber grew up.”

He said that the Government’s voluntary scheme of “locks and checks and balances” agreed with the internet industry to prevent children accessing pornography was insufficient, and he called for a “very severe offence” of purveying pornography to children to be defined, along with “punishments that really punish”.

Responding to the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Baroness Shields, called for more evidence to show the harm done by pornography. No causal link had been proved to link the use of pornography to sexual crime.

This was necessary when considering the balance between individual rights and protections for the young and vulnerable.

On the other hand, she was concerned about the sexualisation of culture, and the way it perpetrated certain stereotypes, “particularly about men dominating women.

”The Government are committed to challenging stereotypes around sexual violence to ensure that people properly understand consent and to encourage the reporting of abuse.”

The global nature of the online pornography industry meant that the UK could not solve problems on its own, Baroness Shields said.

But the Government remained committed to preventing and reducing the risk of abuse of vulnerable adults.

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