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Again with the child-porn PSAs

Sun 21 Nov 2010 by mskala Tags used: ,

I'm in Winnipeg at the moment, here to look for an apartment - and it looks like I was successful, in that I have an application and deposit in now on a place that seems pretty much perfect. Prices are a fair bit lower here than in Toronto, with the result that for only a little more than I was paying in the big smoke, I can get a significantly nicer apartment. It's a little hair-raising because it will take them longer to process my application than the length of my stay here, so if somehow I'm not approved, I'll be in trouble. But that's not likely.

There are a lot of anti-child-porn public service announcements here. Pretty much every transit bus carries at least one, usually more than one. My colleagues actually warned me about this before I came - yes, they said, it is kind of weird and disturbing, but we don't actually have massive amounts of child abuse here, honest! I'm sure it points to something interesting about the culture. But I noticed something more specific that I thought I'd highlight.

Okay, two posters. Nearly identical design, both advertising the same thing, obviously part of the same campaign. They're trying to convey that if you happen to see some child porn on the Net, you should report it to the police an unaccountable private citizens' group. I note that Canadian law does not provide a strong safe harbour for doing so, and not only possession but "accessing" it are highly illegal, with mandatory minimum jail sentences, even in the case of fictional text created without the involvement of any real children, so you should have a really good story of how you happened to find the material by accident - but never mind that. I'm interested in the subtle difference between the two posters. One shows a woman looking concerned, with the caption "I wouldn't want my kids in those pictures. SO I REPORTED IT." The other shows a man looking concerned, with the caption "I wouldn't want my little girl in those pictures. SO I REPORTED IT."

Maybe the designers just wanted some variety, so they didn't use exactly the same wording on the two posters. But would it work just as well if you swapped the two captions? I think it wouldn't; and I think the reason for that is a big clue to why this subject matter is so difficult for us to think about.


As a father of both a son and daughter, I find this interesting. It seems they've accurately noticed that there is a difference. Let's say when my son is 14 or 15, he bangs his hot teacher, I'll shake his hand. If my daughter at the same age bangs her hot (male) teacher? I'll fucking kill him. (The jury in my brain is honestly out on how I'd feel if it were daughter with female teacher.) I realize this is completely illogical, and that it's probably quite sexist. But it doesn't change my feelings on the subject. (There is also specific and relevant personal experience I'll share with you at some point.) I remember when the "Mary Kay Letourneau" bullshit was going on, I was the "victim's" age. I remember being disappointed that that story being hot news might prevent me from ever banging one of my teachers. Bitch.
Steven R. Baker - 2010-11-21 22:18
I think it's kind of harsh to kill your son just because your daughter banged her hot teacher, and you don't seem to have a plan for what happens if either of them bangs an unattractive teacher, but this isn't really the direction I had intended for the discussion to take...
Matt - 2010-11-21 23:04
What caught my attention is that both of them reported some "it", singular, where the pictures they wouldn't want their kids in (what could it be, I wonder, a gallery of drunk drivers or of missing persons? I wouldn't want anyone I know in these pictures) are clearly plural - signifying that the "it" they reported cannot have been the pictures. Rather, what they reported must have been the fact that they wouldn't want their kids in those pictures, or in the concerend man's case, it could also mean that he reported his little girl, even though her existence in those pictures is strictly conditional.
def0 - 2010-11-22 01:40
It is possible that the wording could have been "...REPORTED THEM." on the posters. I was typing those quotes from memory and only trust my memory to be 100% reliable on the part I thought was interesting, which was "kids" versus "little girl."
Matt - 2010-11-22 09:19
I saw one of the posters again and it turned out the exact wording was "I REPORTED IT." No "SO," but it was "IT" and not "THEM." I guess it's important to get this right, since we're nit-picking.
Matt - 2010-11-22 21:05
Matt, I'm inclined to think that the difference reflects simple sexism of our patriarchal society. A woman, mother, is supposed to be a "homemaker"; it's her job to take care of the little buggers. Hence "my kids". On the other hand, I strongly suspect that cultural cliche of daddy being extra protective of his little girl is nothing but an expression of the fact that in the patriarchal society young woman's ovaries are considered property of her elders. (Steven's example is perfect: why else a teenage boy having sex with a grown woman would be congratulated on his conquest, while a teenage daughter in an identical situation with a grown man would be considered defiled, raped?) So yes, swapping text in posters would make them work less well, but I don't think it tells us "why this subject matter is so difficult for us to think about". (Unless you mean that there is connection between current hysteria about child porn and society being patriarchal. In which case I apologize for being obtuse, as I don't quite see it).
Algirdas - 2010-11-26 16:56
I'll be more explicit: I think that what we call normal sexuality, and what we call horrifyingly deviant sexuality, are very, very close to each other - especially when it comes to teenagers, because we classify as "children," and therefore untouchable, a large number of persons - and especially female persons - who are adults (women) by any objective biological definition. The argument can be made that we must do this to err on the side of caution; but why we do it is a separate issue, the point here being that we DO make this classification decision. It is very hard to think rationally about "child" pornography that features women as old as eighteen years less a day, because having those ideas in our heads might force us to think about the fact that maybe we, ourselves, might be attracted to human beings in the mid-teens age range.

Make no mistake such material IS targeted by these campaigns, and a large fraction of the illegal "child" pornography both in circulation and in court cases does feature persons who are biological adults. Pedophilia under the strict medical definition of attraction to prepubescent children, is a rare disease. We've been driven by the precautionary principle - broad bans just to be on the safe side - into a situation where most normal adults, and especially men, have reasons to suspect themselves of horrifying deviancy.

I think the words attributed to the father highlight that his own sexual feelings about young women are tied into his reaction to whatever he saw. The fact that most normal adults, and especially men, will experience such connections between their own feelings and the subject matter, makes it very difficult to speak or think rationally about youth sexuality; the "I mustn't be a pervert!" filter kicks in and shuts off the conscious mind when it strays too close to certain facts.

I also think it's bad that society says parents own children, and I've written a lot about that before now. I don't believe it's limited by gender, though. Note both posters used the word "my," and it is hard to even express the concept of "a child of whom I am a parent" in English without using words of ownership. I generally don't think "patriarchal" is a good concept to use in analyzing this kind of thing. I've seen that word used too many times to support conclusions and actions that harm people. See the tagline in the banner of this page.
Matt - 2010-11-26 20:25
What about the issue with children and airport scanners? There's an incongruity there too on many different levels. Your "modest proposal" touches on that. The reasoning used to justify those scanners either should make it ok for children to go through them, OR for nobody to go through them. There's valid arguments for using an airport scanner and valid arguments against.

I believe airport scanners are wrong in the exact same way that child porn is wrong. They violate the rights of the photographed subject for exploitative reasons and the subject is in a position where they cannot refuse.

I really don't understand how people can rationalize it being ok for adults while at the same time rationalizing it as being wrong for children. My point is that there's this distinction in the minds of the demographic that is targeted by those PSA ads you saw.
Steve - 2010-11-27 03:46
Yes, I think the airport scanner thing is connected. There we've got TWO assumptions that override rational thought: One, "Privacy invasion of human beings in general is okay if it has the claimed purpose of preventing terrorism, and you are not allowed to think rationally about this"; and two, "Adults looking at naked children is never okay for any reason, and you are not allowed to think rationally about this." Hilarity ensues because these two rules conflict with each other, but they do agree on one point: you are not allowed to think rationally about it!

I think there is one way to rationalize "it's okay to scan adults but not children": adults are much more likely to be terrorists. They certainly do not have the monopoly on it, and part of the problem is that our definition of "children" includes many adults, and the youngest adults (including the ones we call "children") are some of those most likely to be terrorists. But I do think it can be said that the power to scan adults is a more valuable anti-terrorism tool than the power to scan children, and I'd agree that we should only give the security people those powers that are absolutely needed, so if there's some dispute over whether the security people should have scanners, and the arguments against scanning are equally strong in the two cases, then it could be a rational conclusion that they should have the power to scan adults but not children; the arguments FOR are stronger in the case of adults. It'd be surprising but not impossible for the best place to draw the line, to end up in between those two cases.

Note recent items in the news about persons violated by scans and pat-down searches, such as this one: http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/11/24/16297861.html

The victim was a woman in her mid-teens, NOT a prepubescent child, and that's why the story has such an emotional charge. There are many problems with scanners but one big one that's specific to the under-18 crowd is the issue of young adults whom we are not allowed to admit are adults, being sexually harassed by older adults who are or even *seem* to be motivated by biologically normal sexual attraction. That's a very common scenario. No high-profile cases yet involving prepubescent children and genuine pedophilia, because that is rare. The "children" we're most worried about scanning are exactly the ones who aren't really children, and that's precisely why we're worried about scanning them. Not many people are worried about the privacy invasion of scanning a two-year-old (though they may be worried about radiation risks and other things).

The fact that most people are not pedophiles suggests there's more temptation to abuse the power when scanning young adults... but I think it'd still be a privacy invasion even if there were no sexual motivation. Consider scanners hooked up to an image-recognition computer with the pictures only shown to a human operator if it finds something suspicious - I would still consider those privacy-invasive even if the robot did its job quite well. There are many other factors, too. My own conclusion is that the scanners are wrong across the board, but it's certainly complicated.

For readers who didn't see my "modest proposal" item on airport scanners back in January, it's here: https://ansuz.sooke.bc.ca/entry/13
Matt - 2010-11-27 08:45
Oh, and by the way, I have the right to have my pat-down search conducted by a man and not a woman, in order to lessen the sexual humiliation I might be subjected to. But what if I'm gay?
Matt - 2010-11-27 09:03
Oh, AND: I've a friend who is M2F pre-op transsexual, considers herself a woman but is going to look a lot like a man on the X-ray. Forcing her to somehow "prove" her gender so they know which kind of officer should grope her, is probably an unreasonable rights violation right there.
Matt - 2010-11-27 09:11
>the youngest adults (including the ones we call "children") are some of those most likely to be terrorists.
I am surprised to hear this, and doubt its veracity.

This seems relevant to the discussion, regarding the molestation of children in airports:

>But what if I'm gay?
What if they are?
def0 - 2010-11-27 09:25
I'm thinking of the prominence of teenagers in high-profile terrorism cases. For instance, in the 2006 Toronto terrorism case, five out of 18 arrested were "young offenders," i.e. under 18. There are numerous teenagers (or teenagers-at-time-of-capture) in Guantanamo, too. Saying "those under 18 can't possibly be terrorists, so it's perfectly safe to excuse them from scans we would consider necessary for older persons" doesn't hold water; but saying "those who are prepubescent can't possibly be terrorists" would come much closer to being a useful operating rule. The fact that our legal definition of "child" is screwy, hurts us here as well as in many other ways.

Of course someone can be used by terrorists to smuggle items through security checkpoints without being a terrorist under their own power, but that's a separate set of issues.
Matt - 2010-11-27 09:56
A person under 18 that's not a prepubescent child could be traveling alone. A prepubescent traveling alone is something that has to be arranged ahead of time. If they are a prepubescent child they will be traveling with an adult. While the child won't be a terrorist the adult could be. If the adult knows the child won't be searched but he/she will be the result is obvious. The adult has the opportunity to use the child to carry whatever they want to slip by the security measures. So again, the argument to search one but not the other doesn't hold water.

A quick google search came up with this about average ages of suicide bombs:
I would summarize that as "mostly young, but typically not under 18." Except that the numbers of people under 17 are still statistically significant that they cannot be ignored.

I know the privacy commissioner and civil service gave their blessings, but has there been a court case about this yet?
Steve - 2010-11-27 19:43
I'm not sure that the demographics of successful suicide bombers are necessarily the same as those of more general "terrorists" who we might reasonably worry about having on board planes. You're right that if children, or any other population of people or even inanimate objects (e.g. "purses with used sanitary pads on top of the contents," as in the semi-joking story that has circulated), are routinely exempted from search, then anyone who isn't exempted will use children, the elderly, purses, etc., to smuggle contraband, and that's an argument for applying the same screening to everybody and everything.

On court cases: I haven't heard of one, but a Google News search turned up this article, which mentions that EPIC has filed a recent lawsuit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/24/AR2010112404510.html
Matt - 2010-11-27 19:58
It's not much broader than successful suicide bombers. To further define it, it's just "people who are willing and able to use force on an aircraft at one of the gates past this checkpoint." Which automatically excludes a child. It's not more than that.

If someone is a mastermind terrorist that is on his way to build a bomb but doesn't have any components on him as he goes through a security scanner, whither he gets naked scanned, a pat down, or a full cavity search... nothing will find intent. That stuff is checked as best as it can be after they arrive at their destination.

Note that the point of the search should not be to find generalized contraband. That goes way way too far. It should be to protect the passengers and crew of the aircraft at the airport. And pictures and pat downs of children and/or adults go way to far given the realistic threats. It's just PR so someone can say "look at how safe you are" when really you can slip several 12 inch knives through like Adam Savage did. I traveled a lot in the UK during the IRA-Loyalist terrorist attacks in the 80s, and back when hijacking planes was far more common. Airport security didn't lose their shit about it back then, but now everyone has.

It's snake oil security. But before it's realized how it's just snake oil those "naked" pictures of both adults and children will find their way onto the internet. And the pat downs on some people (like children) will create emotional scars. Government mandated child porn. Who do we report it to then?
Steve - 2010-11-27 23:30
Government mandated child porn. Who do we report it to then?

Welcome to Paranoia! All that is forbidden is also required, and the Computer is your Friend.
Matt - 2010-11-28 07:06
This crossed my mind since it's back on HBO tonight...
Who do we report the movie "The Reader" (2008 staring Kate Winslet) to exactly? Should it matter that it won an Oscar and 14 other awards?

Note that the young protagonist is played by a 18.5 year old actor at the time of the movie's release. So the relevant scenes in the movie would have had to have been filmed while he was 17 yrs old. My limited understanding of the law says that what Bell Sympatico is broadcasting to me is child porn.

For the sake of argument let's say studio lawyers made sure the actor was 18yrs old 1 day during the sex scenes. What about the fictional screen play that says the protagonist was 15 yrs old? Or what about the New York Times Best Selling book it was based on? A fun fact is that the original novel was written by a judge. Surely he knows what he did was an international crime and who to report himself to.

BTW if this is the first time you've heard anything about "The Reader" then do NOT go look it up. I knew nothing about the movie before watching it and it kept surprising me. It was nothing that I expected. But just looking up the year it was released was full of spoilers. If you attempt to find anything out about this movie before watching it then you will spoil it completely.
Steve - 2010-12-01 19:27
Well, I also had better not look it up *online*, because of subsection 163.1(4.1) of the Criminal Code, forbidding "accessing" child pornography.

I was going to write that I imagine Hollywood movies would be unlikely to be prosecuted because of language in the statue about "the dominant characteristic of which" - a movie that happens to have a not-very-explicit underage sex scene in it is quite different from a movie that consists of nothing but hardcore sex scenes with boom-chika-wow-wow music. (Yes, this does mean that you might be able to make a legal-to-possess film into an illegal-to-possess film just by removing part of it.) There has to be some measure of sanity for the courts to interpret.

However, when I looked up that subsection number just now, I noticed that the "dominant characteristic" limitation applies to depiction of sexual organs, written material, and audio recordings, but it DOESN'T apply to visual material featuring "explicit sexual activity." That's still banned even if such activity is not the "dominant characteristic."

So I think the answer to your question probably just comes down to a simple double standard and selective enforcement.
Matt - 2010-12-01 19:46

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