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A new charity, SaferMedia, has been launched to combat the menace of the sexualisation of society.

Its demands for cleaning up the internet are likely to be fed into an official government review of sexualisation in childhood later this year.

Around 70 delegates from a range of concerned organisations met in the Grand Committee Room at Westminster for the launch on Monday. Speakers included Pamela Paul, author of Pornified, John Woods, a consultant psychotherapist at the Portman Clinic and Nola Leach, chief executive of Christian charity CARE.

The message put forward was broadly unaminous. Pornography, speakers claimed, is harmful in and of itself. It harms relationships by leading men to objectify women, and by acting as a massive drain on time available for commitment. It was the enemy of intimacy, creating unsustainable expectations of female sexuality. This was even before one took account of the effects of porn addiction.

More perniciously, pornography - or the "pornification" of culture - was directly harmful to children. Sexual predators use it to groom, to erode boundaries and to normalise the abnormal. Even without this threat pornography is harmful, with children frequently and accidentally exposed to wholly inappropriate material, such as bestiality and child abuse, speakers explained.

Speakers were also fairly unanimous on the nature of the threat. "Sexualisation" - of culture in general, and young people in particular - is the key, and is happening through a number of vectors. First the internet, which was was "affordable, accessible and anonymous", and had rapidly proliferated material that was far more pernicious than anything previously seen. That alone was enough for several contributors to argue that governments were applying pre-internet standards to the internet age.

From the floor, John Carr, a United Kingdom government adviser on Internet safety policy for children and Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety, highlighted the US First Amendment as possibly the greatest obstacle faced by those wishing to clean up the internet.

Second, Pippa Smith, a founder member of SaferMedia, stressed the risks inherent in mobile phones which were even harder to control than the PC in a child’s bedroom.

Last but by no means least came the view that sexualisation is a slippery slope, very often encouraged by official and criminal elements alike that have a vested interest in the sexualisation of children. Child abuse is not some stand-alone activity "enjoyed" by a small sub-set of the population: rather, adult porn usage is frequently a gateway to an interest in such material. More controversially, it was posited that sexualised culture (and advertising) often acts as a gateway to porn.

In this respect, one speaker cited an ad for Mikado chocolate biscuits, which was described as a "pre-pubescent girl having her fanny photographed".

However, there was also some concern that the establishment focus on sex education was leading to sexualisation by the back door.

At the end of the session, SaferMedia encouraged those present to publicise their demands, which include regulatory reform and a statutory role for a reformed BBFC in rating internet material of a sexually explicit or violent nature. They also want all R18 material to come with a cigarette-style health warning.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education welcomed the concerns of those present, and suggested that they should feed their views into a new government review of sexualisation in childhood which will launch in December.

SaferMedia is the successor to pressure group Media March, now returned as a properly constituted charity. Despite its new status, the passion that motivated the original movement is in no way abated. As Miranda Suit, co-founder of SaferMedia put it: "I am very angry, both at the harm being perpetrated by pornography, and the fact it is far worse than realised."

Dismissing the view that government was powerless to act, she pointed out that the Chinese government had demonstrated quite the opposite during the Olympics. Given the scale of the threat to society, arguments about freedom of speech and “artistic expression” were now... outdated. ®

Bootnote

Some fairly wild claims were put forward by John Woods as to the age of child access to porn and the number of child abuse sites available: he claimed 200,000, which is likely to come as a shock to the Internet Watch Foundation, whose latest figure for such sites is closer to 500 active URLs.

Woods' figures - which he later described as "just figures" - appear to track to Healthy Mind, which in turn leans heavily on commercial site TopTen Reviews. Apart from being somewhat dated, these figures have come in for some expert criticism from Forbes magazine in the past.

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