Porn blocking - a survivor's perspective

[TW] Milena Popova reviews David Cameron's measures on internet censorship, from a personal perspective.

Image: white picked fence by Kevin Harber CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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 workOther 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 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 swear at him, 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.

--

[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.

 

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Comments (9)

  1. Tommagenta:
    Jul 23, 2013 at 02:02 PM

    That took a lotta guts to write and publish and I agree with every single point you made. These new measures are absolutely appalling and need to be exposed and challenged for what they really stand for.

    You are a very brave, very smart and very strong person and I really admire your courage! =)

  2. Luke George:
    Jul 23, 2013 at 03:42 PM

    This puts into words far more eloquently than I ever could why this censorship bill (because it's nothing less than) is such a bad idea. I applaud you for the courage it must have taken to write this article and refer to what happened to you so openly.

    Hats off to you Milena.

  3. Benjamin:
    Jul 23, 2013 at 04:59 PM

    Although this sounds like the completely wrong word to use when talking about such a matter, this is fantastic. I am deeply sorry you had to go through abuse, and I am deeply grateful that you have felt able to talk about it. Without wanting to sound callous, I am sure this will help others understand that scapegoating porn does more harm than good - it blocks the real issues by making it an issue that can be fixed at the flick of an ISP's switch.

  4. Christopher Were:
    Jul 23, 2013 at 09:40 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this. It must have been difficult. I agree with everything you said there.

  5. Manuel Lara Bisch:
    Jul 24, 2013 at 08:33 AM

    This is a wonderful writeup. Might I suggest submitting an e-petition to yougov, Change.org or a similar site, so that Cameron and the allegedly-Liberal Democrats may finally see some numbers to suggest just how many adult voters strongly disagree with them on this issue?

  6. PMC:
    Jul 27, 2013 at 05:02 PM

    Well done on this piece. You cut right to the heart of the current hypocrisy. It's humbling that you would use your own bad experiences to benefit others in such a positive manner.

    I especially agree with the final [1] note.

  7. Matthew Smit:
    Jul 29, 2013 at 09:51 AM

    I am so glad I don't live in the UK. Time to add that to my list of countries to avoid, along with the US, Africa, Middle East and so on. Why are people so stupidly allowing their freedom to be taken away?
    I looked at net-boobies when I was a child, and now I am a perfectly normal(ish) member of society. I would be far better at raising children then most mothers I see.
    Internet porn isn't the problem, bad parenting is.

  8. Mystikan:
    Jul 30, 2013 at 03:46 AM

    I cannot fathom the pain you must have felt Milena. As a man who is uncle to three beautiful nieces I simply cannot comprehend what would motivate a man to abuse the trust and love of a child in the manner that you suffered.

    As my nieces were growing up I delighted in participating in their development, babysitting them, even taking them on holidays on occasion. They loved going out with their uncle (partly because I was less strict than their mother - my sister - and I spoiled them rotten when we went out on day trips!) At no time did the thought ever even enter my mind of molesting or abusing them. They are like my daughters, to be loved and nurtured and protected from any hurt or harm that may befall them.

    As they reached puberty and began developing into young women, they started asking about boys, sex and what it was all about. And this was where I ran smack into a problem I found impossible to handle. How could I answer their questions honestly without seeming like a creepy old paedophile? There is this toxic, misandrist attitude that has pervaded society, demonising men and male sexuality, and it is this nasty offshoot of the radical feminist movement that has introduced the very problem you describe. Parents (even more so uncles) are shy about talking to children about sex because they are terrified of being accused of the very crime your uncle committed against you.

    The hysteria has become so out of hand that adults are afraid to discuss sex with children because it is systematically hammered into us that child molesters lurk around every corner, that fear and paranoia have replaced simple trust and common sense, and this makes it very difficult for adults to broach this subject with their own children. How much harder, then, was it for me as an uncle - the most statistically likely source of child abuse - to discuss this with my nieces? All I could say was that it was not appropriate for me to discuss these things with them, and that they should talk it over with their mother and stepfather. In doing so, a barrier arose between myself and my nieces; for the first time in their lives, there was something they couldn't freely talk to me about. And there arose in my breast a hot anger - not only towards the filthy abusers who molest children, but also towards the legions of hysterical hatred-driven feminazis whose overreaction to the whole thing had driven a wedge between me and my nieces.

    So when you wonder why parents find it hard to discuss sex with their children, this is why. In their efforts to eliminate child abuse, the political-correctness brigade has waged a war on sex that is enabling the very conditions in which abuse can flourish, as it has in your case. Instead of engaging in wild paedophile witch-hunts, we should be encouraging discussion and openness about sexuality, so that parents and relatives can engage in frank, honest discussion without fear, so we can safely impart the knowledge which is the best protection we can give our children.

  9. Graham Marsden:
    Jul 30, 2013 at 09:41 AM

    @Manuel Lara Bisch:

    There is already a petition on the Governmet's site (which has been signed by over 32,000 people) against these stupid and unenforceable proposals.

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746

    However if you *really* want your voice heard you should go to http://www.theyworkforyou.com and write a letter to your MP because petitions are far too easy for the Government to ignore.

This thread has been closed from taking new comments.

By Milena Popova on Jul 23, 2013

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