The recent conviction of two schoolboys for the heinous murder of Ana Kriegel finally brought to conclusion one of the most unsettling and shocking crimes on this island.
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in response to the case outlined in the Dáil his intentions to finally bring in legislation that prevents minors from accessing extreme hard-core pornography.
For anyone working in the school system, this initiative, though welcomed, is long overdue, as the occurrence of students accessing pornography in the school system has increased dramatically over the last several years. With the proliferation of ubiquitous Internet and highly sophisticated smart phones our children are only ever one click away from hard-core material.
We have the perfect storm here for the minds of our children to be corrupted. As a schoolteacher and psychotherapist I have been an advocate for protecting our children against the insidious world of pornography. There is no doubt about it, viewing extreme pornography has the potential to corrupt a vulnerable mind.
The fact one of the perpetrators of Ana’s murder was found with a catalogue of horrific images on his phone should illuminate the desperate need for us all to safeguard our children from such images.
The research is quite clear on this topic, pornography dehumanises women and has the potential to disturb how a boy/girl views normal intimate relationships. I meet it so often in my clinic, young men in their twenties who have developed an issue with intimacy due to their online activity. The reason I have been so vocal about the dangers of viewing such extreme content is because I see the fall-out in my work.
Not only are young boys being damaged by it, healthy relationships are under threat when one member finds themselves compulsively viewing explicit online material.
So, why has the Government been so slow to introduce measures to protect our children? Why did they fail to appoint a digital commissioner? Critics of the Government would argue that they are putting the needs of these massive profitable social network organisations before the needs of our children.
And we must put pressure on the Government so they are not supine while our children are in danger. I’m not talking about a nanny state here, but one that genuinely cares about protecting our children from psychologically devastating material. When a child views images that are extreme and sexually violent in content it diminishes the possibility for them to have healthy nurturing relationships.
Of course, we can’t expect the state alone to protect our children. As parents, we need to talk to our children about pornography and explain how it is not a representation of intimacy or how girls/women truly are. Schools also need to do more on this issue, it is a sensitive topic but we must not shy away from it.
Children need to be educated on the difference between loving, healthy relationships and extreme violent online material. We have had far too much violence perpetrated against women in our society recently to not take this issue seriously.
That’s not to say all boys who view pornography will victimise women, of course that’s not the case but it can change how they view woman and that should be enough for all of us to finally take a stand against it.
Thankfully, this week the Government outlined that an Irish regulatory watchdog will police video content on the largest social media platforms.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) will be given wider reaching power as it will now,not only regulate Irish commercial radio and television but will now regulate video content on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Such action is commendable, but the reality remains — it is not feasible with such an avalanche of content to rely on a regulatory body like BAI, we must hit these companies where it hurts, financially. We must put the onus on them to make sure children are not accessing extreme sexually graphic material unsuitable for their age.
And the only way to do this is to fine them when they are found in breech of the legislation. It feels like finally something is beginning to happen; finally the Government is waking up to the fact that our children are being exposed to harmful online content and need protecting.
Pornography has always been around. But the absolute accessibility of it in modern times is unique. While in years gone by it was confined to the corner of some dusty top shelf, it is now only a click away.
And hopefully these new steps taken by the Government will actually have a real impact on the lives of our children and help them to have healthy and nurturing relationships because that is in all of our interests.
Richard Hogan is clinical director of therapyinstitute.ie, a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three. If you have a question, contact firstname.lastname@example.org