Government policy placing women and children at risk of becoming victims of sexual violence
- On 7 March 2017, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications (‘PCC’) resumed its deliberations on the Films and Publications Amendment Bill (‘FPAB’). Deliberations is set to continue during the rest of March 2017.The FPAB proposes, amongst others:
- to legalise (decriminalise) the online distribution of pornography in South Africa;
- narrowing the definition of ‘disallowed pornography’ (“XX” classification)
1.1 These objectives and steps come at the same time as many liberal democracies are waking up to the realities of the harms of pornography, as borne out by research evidence and many people’s lived experiences. These include, amongst others:
- Pornography is a cause of gender-based violence: When adult men who, for example, have a proclivity to violence, are hostile to women and are sexually promiscuous, are exposed to pornography, even non-violent (or soft-core) forms thereof, these men go out and commit sexual violence;
- Mainstream pornography degrades women and teaches aggression against women;
- Pornography teaches men that women are objects to be used and dominated, resulting in greater support for violence against women (also acceptance of ‘rape myth’);
- Pornography is addictive;
- Pornography use is a cause of erectile dysfunction and loss of interest in sexual encounters with real people (as opposed to online representations);
- Pornography causes physiological brain changes (e.g. loss of frontal lobe gray matter, where decision-making faculties are located);
- Users of pornography have a greater propensity to commit infidelity, resulting in broken families (pornography creates a demand for and fuels prostitution and sex trafficking).
The abovementioned harms put women and children at risk, at worst, of becoming victims of sexual violence and sexual exploitation at the hands of users of pornography. The harms to users, in many instances men, are equally serious. (View the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (Washington D.C.) “Pornography & Public Health: Research Summary” here.)
1.2 The FPAB proposes that only sexual expression that is accompanied by explicit violence should be legally prohibited. It proposes that the distribution of material that dehumanises, degrades or shows disrespect for people’s human dignity in a non-violent or violent manner, should be legally permissible, as long as the material does not show explicit violence. This is either evidence of the drafters not having considered the unintended consequences of their actions or of a blatant disregard of the importance of human dignity and of protecting women from sexual exploitation.
2. On 25 November 2016, as part of the 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children, Cause for Justice (‘CFJ’) delivered a Memorandum (view here) to the Minister of Communications, the Honourable Faith Muthambi to bring the abovementioned concerns to the Minister’s attention.
3. From the Department of Communications (‘DoC’) briefing papers to the PCC on 7 March 2017, there is however no indication that the DoC have taken these concerns to heart or that they view the abovementioned harms as requiring immediate policy intervention.
4. The DoC seems to hold the view that as long as children are protected from exposure to pornography, that government is doing enough to protect society from harm and to protect and promote the value of human dignity in our nation. This policy position however is a denial of the facts and of research evidence.
5. Recent developments in other liberal democracies in policy-making regarding pornography:
- Two (2) states, Utah and South Dakota, have to date declared pornography a public health crisis, the harmful effects of which require proper study and policy reconsideration.
- The Senate of the state legislature of Virginia, has resolved to declaring pornography a public health crisis.
- Resolutions to declare pornography a public health crisis have been introduced in nine (9) other state legislatures (still to be voted on). These are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas.
- The Canadian Parliament commissioned its House Committee on Health to conduct a study into the public health effects of pornography (http://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/statement-canadian-parliament-votes-study-harms-pornography/)
5.3 The TEDx movement recently released a 13-minute talk about the links between pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution and sex trafficking. (https://youtu.be/VU9v8h_OwcY)
6. The state of play is clear: As more is being learnt through research and acknowledgement of first person accounts of people affected, directly or indirectly, by pornography, policy-makers in all nations around the globe are having to adapt approaches to give effect to the realities being exposed. This is an area of shifting goal posts, as more of the harms of pornography are uncovered by research and science.
7. The FPAB is now out of the DoC’s hands and the parliamentary PCC will now have to apply its mind to whether what is being proposed is indeed in the best interest of South African society, especially women and children, who typically end up being the victims of sexual violence and exploitation.
For further queries, contact us at:
Tel: 074 355 0775
Per: M Davin
Legal Administrator and Media Liaison
Sent on behalf of Cause for Justice: Management Committee