According to the Australian Crime and Safety Survey, regularly published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there has been a significant reduction in the number of victims of sexual assault since 1995, when the Internet first crept into our daily lives. The ABS statistics include both reported and non-reported incidents of sexual assault, which is important given that only one in five incidents of sexual assault are reported to police.
According to the ABS data, between 1995 and 2005, there was a drop from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent of persons aged 18 years and over who were victims of at least one sexual assault. That is a 50 per cent reduction.
Importantly, in another recent ABS study, it was found that in 2004-5, 56 per cent of homes had internet access, up from approximately 20 per cent of homes in 1998 and 40 per cent in 2001. Thus, access to internet pornography has become much easier for a much greater number of Australians since 1998. Accordingly, the “porn up, rape down” phenomenon also rings true in Australia.
Rather than parents and parliamentarians thinking about ways to “clean feed” households so that they become internet porn-free zones, maybe they should take the opposite approach and make internet pornography freely available not only in homes, but also in schools and public libraries. But why stop there?
If we are ditching regulation, perhaps it is time to seriously explore whether content ratings on pornographic films, magazines and other materials should also be removed. There should only be regulation if the benefits exceed the costs. Professor D’amato makes the important point in his paper that there is no evidence establishing a causal connection between a student’s exposure to pornography and any tendency to commit “anti-social acts”. So, if the only effect of consuming pornography is positive rather than negative, regulation has no place and should go away.
Potter Stewart, a former US Supreme Court Justice, once said: “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.” It is time to be confident about the benefits of pornography, in particular internet pornography, and move forward as an open-minded, mature, peaceful society.
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