Cyber-Pornography and the Law

In 2010, Ruvolo (2011) notes that of the one million most popular global websites, over 42,000 (4%) were dedicated to pornography, with nearly 13% of internet searches in the previous year involving sex-related websites. In April 2005 alone, 23% of internet users worldwide viewed pornography on the web’s estimated 420 million pornography pages (D’Orlando, 2011). Though slightly dated, this data suggests what most of us already know: the production and distribution of pornography is a tremendous revenue-producing business. 2005 global pornography revenues exceeded $97 billion of which $2.5 billion was for web pornography; as more individuals have gained access to the Net, it is a valid assumption that these figures have increased in the decade since the above data was collated (D’Orlando, 2011).

The viewing and ownership of pornographic material is, of course, a contentious topic. Historically, liberals have defended the right for individuals to own or view sexually-explicit material in private as an expression of the individual rights and freedoms conveyed by the First Amendment (Stanford University, 2012). Conversely, traditional conservatives view pornography as obscene and one of many contributions to the moral demise of society (Stanford University, 2012). Nevertheless, getting two people to agree on the definition of what pornography is, and whether it is harmful, can be an exercise in frustration (Schell, Martin, Hung, & Rueda, 2007).

No matter whether pornography is liberating for women or aids in perpetuating an idea of female subservience to men, sexually-explicit material is frequently produced in illegal and despicable means (Weinberger, 2011). Seemingly innocent use by couples in private homes allows many to ignore the plight of individuals forced to make the material, and, even worse, perpetuates the creation and distribution of child pornography. The vastness of the internet, featuring millions of websites, blogs, and social sites, provides predators seeking to view or produce child pornography a shadowy realm that cannot be continuously monitored by law enforcement officials. While some perpetrators are caught- such as a New Jersey resident last week who was arrested for distributing an online broadcasting service that allowed site visitors to pay to observe sexual acts conducted by underage girls- many act with impunity for years (The Associated Press, 2016).

Child pornography, generally defined as sexual material depicting someone younger than 18 years old, is obviously illegal, and its production, distribution, and possession are not protected by the First Amendment (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015). Females of all ages around the globe are frequently sold into slavery to be used as prostitutes or to create pornography. Young girls in particular are preyed upon due to their innocence and the ease predators can frequent social media sites used by minors. Children have access to the internet at increasingly younger ages, and the ubiquitous ownership of cell phones and tablets means instant access to potentially harmful material located on the web (Hanson, 2011).

Perhaps even more confusing is whether it is immoral or illegal to view pornography on the Web as an avatar in a virtual world. Customers can have “consequence-free experimentation” with minors or experience any manner of masochistic scenarios without the fear of legal reprisal (Russell, 2008). Paying membership for sites that host these virtual worlds is growing, but is having intercourse with a minor in a virtual world illegal (Russell, 2008)? Is hosting and consuming material on these sites protected by the First Amendment, or are we, as a society, condemning future generation to have access to historically obscene material with no consequences? These and similar questions will continue as the Internet continues to become interwoven into our daily lives, business, and entertainment.

References

D’Orlando, F. (2011, March). The demand for pornography. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(1), 51-75.

Hanson, E. (2011). The child as pornographer. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 673-692.

Russell, G. (2008). Pedophiles in Wonderland: Censoring the sinful in cyberspace. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1467-1500.

Ruvolo, J. (2011, Deptember 7). How much of the Internet is actually for porn. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com

Schell, B., Martin, M. V., Hung, P. C., & Rueda, L. (2007). Child cyber issues: A review paper of the social and legal issues and remedies- and a proposed technological solution. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 45-63.

Stanford University. (2012, October 1). Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy: Pornography and censorship. Retrieved from http://www.plato.stanford.edu

The Associated Press. (2016, March 29). New Jersey man accused of prostituting young girls online. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

U.S. Department of Justice. (2015, July 6). Citizen’s guide to U.S. federal law on child pornography. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Cyber-Pornography and the Law

  1. Chris-

    The use of cyber-pornography is widespread, and your research only substantiates my statement. From a leadership perspective I have had encounters with cyber-pornography in my workplace that tie in with the posts this week on this subject and improper internet usage in the workplace. A quick story is I was walking by and saw one of my employees in the information technology department viewing a pornographic image on his work computer. Initially I was taken back. I continued on my trip down the hall with the thoughts on how to properly address this issue with him. As the top manager in the office at the time I was the final say as to what should be done because of the issue. What I did was call him and his supervisor into my office to have a discussion. Before I even said a word he started crying and said he thought he knew why he was called in. He said he had opened a personal email and the image popped up right as I was walking by. The long and short of the conversation was that I gave him a written infraction for improper computer usage and suspended him for a day, the most lenient formal process for first time infractions because I believed him. The good that came out of this was he told everyone voluntarily about the situation and fear among other employees to never open personal emails that may possibly contain inappropriate images spread like wildfire through the office. I have not had another instance of pornography in the office to address since this.

    The issue was two fold with the viewing of pornography and improper computer usage. From the pornography aspect even though I do not personally view and seek out pornography I am not morally against it so long as it is being produced and viewed legally and not being viewed in the workplace. From the aspect of improper computer usage anything that violates the rules and regulation set forth by my organization regarding usage of computers needs to be followed or the employee can find other employment. I am black and white on the issue because I understand the law and free speech issues, but a place of employment is a voluntary arrangement in my state and the employee and the employer have the free will to continue or terminate the arrangement within the law at any time for any reason. They are complex and intertwining issues that muddy the employment, management, and leadership waters.

    -A

    Like

    1. A,

      You mention pornography being produced and viewed legally outside of the workplace as being appropriate. I, of course, concur with you. However, while researching the topic this week, I realized that the line between legal and illegal concerning pornography is fuzzy and blurry. For example, if a 16-year old male takes explicit pictures of his 16-year old girlfriend, can he be accused of distributing child pornography? Hanson (2011) adds that laws must adapt to new concerns fueled by the “digital sexual revolution,” such as children willingly prostituting themselves or children sexually abusing other minors (p. 673). These are difficult questions that cannot be ignored, and reflect the darker side of humanity and the digital domain.

      Chris

      Reference

      Hanson, E. (2011). The child as pornographer. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 673-692.

      Like

      1. Chris-
        The topic of underage child pornography is an issue that has been in the media in Colorado recently because of a large sexting event that occurred in a high school http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/11/sexting_scandal_complicated_by.html. The laws that you describe have muddied the waters as far as prosecution and how the issues should be addressed. One issue that came up because of this event was a 17 year old student and his 17 year old girlfriend were sexting then he turned 18. Even though he was 17 when the pictures were taken and received he is being prosecuted as an adult in possession of child pornography. The laws are fuzzy and gray and need to be clarified so additional victims are not created in the wake or the already tragic circumstances.
        -A

        Like

  2. In my past I have had to terminate two individuals for using work computers to view pornography – it was not a hard decision for me. However, of more interest is that I have had, on several occasions, individuals who have come to me to let me know that a pornographic site came up on their computer when they were searching a topic – and they could not get the site to shut down. The IT department had to be contacted to address the issue and clear the site. This is one of the challenges of the internet – some of these sites have figured out how to infiltrate searches and pop up their sites to unsuspecting individuals. This could just as easily have occurred if a young person (e.g. child) was doing a similar search.

    The internet issue is less about pornography, as this has been around far to long for anyone to think it is going to go away. And the fight to eradicate it will go on. This issue via the internet, is more about protections and controls for unsuspecting individuals as well as the spread of it given the access the internet provides to the pornographic industry. People will do what they will at home and on home computers, but at a minimum organizations can establish and enforce their own rules about this topic and use of company devices (or time).

    Like

    1. Raven,

      Excellent points! You touch on fears my wife and I have concerning our 12-year old daughter using her tablet or PC to search the web. In order to study, she must use the internet. However, we are fearful she may “stumble” upon a harmful site, whether pornographic or violent. Even with parental controls enabled, there are too many ways for her to accidentally (or purposely) visit an inappropriate site. Our best course of action is to educate her on what she may discover on the internet. Schell, Martin, Hung, & Rueda (2007) note that over 20% of minors who use the intenet report being solicted for sex while online. This is a harrowing statistic; while the data may be nearly a decade old, it is unlikely that the activity has decreased.

      Chris

      Reference

      Schell, B., Martin, M. V., Hung, P. C., & Rueda, L. (2007). Child cyber issues: A review paper of the social and legal issues and remedies- and a proposed technological solution. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 45-63.

      Like

  3. Chris,
    I want to first commend you on a very well written post to this controversial topic. You did very well to describe the concerns objectively and I appreciated the breath of your discussion.
    I thought since this is such a heavy topic, I would lighten up your post with a story I can now laugh about related to internet pornography. Prior to my job teaching in higher education I worked at a hospital-owned orthopedic practice. As part of my practice, I would typically try to give patients some sort of home exercise program or printed material that describes their diagnosis so that once they left, they would have things to review. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) has this patient education section on their website that is available for public use and I really liked the way they designed their information so I chose to use this a great deal. The only problem I had was aaos.org is the website for this organization, but I could never remember the domain so I would often type .com instead. Well, the problem was that the .com site was a pornography site. One day I typed .com by accident, the pornography site came up and I clicked out, then typing the correct address. At the end of the day, I was called into the hospital office and questioned about viewing pornography at work. The IT department had run random checks of employee’s computers and mine had been flagged. I explained why this occurred and though they did say they understood and I was not written up, I did lose unrestricted internet privileges for 90 days at work! Not a huge deal except what this required me to do was write on a prescription pad the name of the website for patients to go look up themselves when they got home…At the top of my sheet I wrote aaos.ORG in bold letters just so I would not have a complete disaster on my hands by accidentally sending a patient home with a note saying to go look up a pornography website.
    Kristin

    Like

    1. When I was an associate dean at a community college (in the early days of the web), I was observing one of my professors, who (during the Clinton years), went to open a website for her class that was WhiteHouse dot gov. Except she typed in dot com – and opened a site with actors portraying Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinski – to her immediate horror. We all learned a lesson that day! It also suggests that we can not quickly judge what might be a simple error.

      Like

      1. Dr. Watwood,

        I have heard of the infamous whitehouse.com. Some administrative clerks used to fool young Marines fresh from admin school as part of an initiation ritual; they would ask the new employee to search whitehouse.com for data that the commanding officer needed for a report. Of course, that was several years ago, and jokes like that can result in serious trouble nowadays.

        Chris

        Like

    2. Kristin,

      I am shocked your internet privileges were suspended. In your case, I would have recognized the mistake and not penalized you. However, I have to remember that what I may consider an insignificant mistake can be extraordinarily insulting to others. This reflects my experience so far as a retiree from the Marine Corps with just barely one year removed from service. While I worked with many brilliant individuals of all ranks and cultures, much of our vernacular and mannerisms are not considered appropriate in the civilian work environment. I refer mostly to how conflicts were resolved; arguments between peers in the service were routinely more aggressive, however, once the issue was concluded, the feeling of brotherhood remained. This is not the case outside the service- I have learned that conversations must be tempered with sincere concern for the other person’s feelings. This has nothing to do with internet ethics but is a significant culture change I have had to adapt to.

      Chris

      Like

  4. You made a good point about is porn in the cyber world legal or illegal. I was meeting with some friends whom are attorneys and judges, and we were talking about this very topic. The answer on the question is no it is not illegal. Another interesting topic did surface, and that is the distribution of sexually explicit photos between underage children. In Virginia, the law is waiting to be signed saying that if it is consensual then it is not illegal, so they are not distributing porn. The reason it was changed is because many of the children were receiving sentences of being on the sex-offender list. Judges felt it was destroying their lives and giving them labels that would stick with them for the rest of their lives. Thus the reason for the reversal and now unless one of the parties said they did not consent charges are not pursued as vigorously as before.

    However, when employees view pornography at work that should be grounds for dismissal. Many organizations are terminating their employees who view porn. The work around is employees are not using work computers but their own devices to view porn while at work. Some organizations such as the federal government is having a difficult time terminating employees who admittedly spend hours at work viewing porn. A few years ago when I worked as an IT for a large school district I had to routinely monitor the servers to catch people viewing porn at work. Later, the person was terminated and when I sought employment with a neighboring district, I ran into this person again. He was also terminated from that district for doing the same thing viewing porn at work.

    People should be aware that if you use organizations wi-fi then you are subject to have your digital footprint monitored. I had a friend whose husband lost his security clearance because he felt as long as he was using his own device while watching porn it was alright. He continues to defend his right to view porn and does not see that he did anything wrong by using the military’s wi-fi. Chris you are correct in that laws have not kept up with technology, especially with regards to pornography.

    Sheila

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s