DENVER — During Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the United States, he summed up the pornography problem when he addressed the nation’s bishops about the abuse scandals. “What does it mean to speak of child protection,” he said, “when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?”
Denver-based licensed marriage and family therapist Jill Manning says that perhaps the biggest difference between the pornography of today vs. that of yesterday is that one used to have to travel outside the home to obtain it.
“The home used to be a safe sanctuary from the world,” said Manning, author of What’s the Big Deal About Pornography? “Today, what used to be the safe haven is where children have the best and easiest access to pornographic material.”
Given pornography’s availability not only in homes on cable television, but also on the Internet and now cell phones, what’s a parent to do?
Manning said that not only has she seen an increase in clients facing problems related to pornography, but also at younger and younger ages. She said that the most common age of exposure is between the ages of 7 and 13. She estimated that the average age in the United States is 11.
“Pornography was available in the past, but not on the scale and accessibility that it is today,” said Father Tom Loya, pastor of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Ill. Father Loya gives seminars on the theology of the body. “It’s a generational addiction.”
While a number of hardware and software solutions exist for personal computers, experts say that Internet filters alone aren’t enough to protect children from viewing pornography.
Manning described filters as necessary, but “minimalistic.”
One company, InternetSafety.com, previously offered family-friendly Internet service, but now offers software applications.
Originally, InternetSafety began as a filtered Internet service provider (ISP), but over time the company recognized that most people wanted a mainstream ISP, said CEO Forrest Collier, so the business shifted its focus to a software solution that could work regardless of ISP.
Its SafeEyes software program does more than most filters. SafeEyes offers parents multiple levels of control, from allowing parents to block 35 separate categories of material such as nudity, violence or cheating sites, as well as the ability to set time limits for computer and Internet usage and monitoring of instant messaging and reception of e-mail from a friends-only list.
The program also has the ability to block information shared through social networking sites, block file sharing, provide usage reports, and has an instant alert feature that can notify a person via e-mail, cell phone or fax when a user tries to access inappropriate material. An annual subscription to SafeEyes is $50.
“The mission of the company is to provide the benefits that the Internet provides while also giving parents the tools to put boundaries around the things that they feel are appropriate,” Collier said.
The company’s software has even attracted attention overseas. It was selected by the Australian government as the only North American product eligible for Australia’s government-sponsored commitment to Internet safety education. Consumers in Australia can purchase the product and be reimbursed by the government for its cost.
Collier’s organization also provides a hardware solution that can be utilized by businesses or organizations with more than 20 computers. Collier’s products are being used by both individuals and organizations such as dioceses. In fact, the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., is in the process of implementing SafeEyes on all its parish computers.
“It’s considered a way to comply with the Charter [for the Protection of Children and Young People],” said Elizabeth Simco, chancellor for pastoral services with the diocese. “Having such a safety feature is just another step.”
The diocese is two-thirds of the way through implementation of having the program up and running on all computers at its 165 parishes. Parish schools have filters of a different kind.
Simco said the decision came at the directive of Bishop Howard Hubbard.
“If someone attempts to access a site accidentally, they are blocked,” explained Simco. “If someone attempts to access a site multiple times, that is considered intentional and a report goes to the director of IT [information technology] and myself.”
Other programs are also available. While not as comprehensive, the freeware program PicBlock detects flesh tones in images and analyzes Web pages for explicit language, blocking both.
The Problem With Porn
Pope Benedict XVI isn’t the only one paying attention to the problem of pornography. At least two U.S. bishops have written pastoral letters on the subject, examining how it is an attack on the dignity and sanctity of the human person, including Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn and Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul Loverde.
All note that because of its availability it is a problem peculiar to the present generation and that it is destroying relationships, marriages and families.
According to a 2005 study of Swedish high school students, 83% of students had viewed pornography at home through the Internet or cable television.
Manning compared the porn of yesterday to the video game “Pong.” Today’s porn, she said, is far more graphic and interactive and its themes are more “sinister, vile and explicit.”
Theology of the body authorities, such as Christopher West and Father Loya, have developed special seminars tackling the issue.
West will be addressing the problem at World Youth Day in Sydney this July. Father Loya is teaming up with Anastasia Northrup, president of the Chicago-based Theology of the Body International Alliance, to produce a DVD series that examines the problem of pornography from a theology of the body perspective.
The series has a tentative title of “Freedom in a Pornified Culture,” and is set for a late summer release from Our Father’s Will Communications.
“It will examine the extent of the problem, pornography’s effect on relationships, addiction, and how to immunize children against it,” said Northrup.
“Porn is to men what birth control is to women,” said Father Loya, who described pornography as a “holding back.”
“The man who goes to porn can easily get what he wants from womanhood without having to bother with the rest,” said Father Loya. “Like contraception, it represents a failure to give oneself entirely to the other.
“Satan has attacked the giftedness of each gender — the receptivity of the woman and life in the womb and a man’s ability to see, deal and relate with true womanhood.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.