Prostasia Foundation Protecting children by upholding the rights and freedoms of all
Big Brother in your pocket

The next generation of smartphones and computers could contain built-in spyware that can't be turned off, if the European Commission follows its own leaked recommendations.

Governments simply can't be allowed to get away with this. The fundamental human right of privacy extends to the digital world. That's why the government can't read your emails without a warrant. But just like the NSA programs that Edward Snowden uncovered, this new proposal amounts to doing exactly that. The only difference is the gift-wrapping: this time the packaging is "protect kids" rather than "anti-terrorism."

The Commission attempts to justify this audacious proposal on the basis that files on your device won't be directly sent to the government, only a unique identifier of them will be. But this is a distinction without a difference. If the solution that the Commission favors is adopted, it means that unique information about every image on your device is being sent to government agents. This puts your privacy at risk, especially because in the hands of repressive governments and other maldoers, it is certain to be misused.

The Commission may claim now that they will only ever be looking for child abuse images, but it would be foolish and naïve to believe this.The spying technology that the government is proposing could be used to identify any file on your device, and sooner or later, it will be. Combatting CSAM does not amount to an excuse to conduct blanket surveillance of the population. There are better ways to combat CSAM at the source, that don't require installing a 24/7 spying device in everyone's pocket... yet governments are ignoring them.

Sign our open letter to the European Commission: NO Big Brother in my pocket!

Sign now
A welcome victory in Canada

Last month the Quebec Superior Court cleared author Yvan Godbout and his publisher of child pornography charges relating to his book, Hansel et Gretel, a horror novel retelling of the classic fairy tale. This long awaited ruling is an important one because in addition to the acquittal, the parts of Canada’s child pornography on which the prosecution was based were also declared invalid for infringing Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It’s not at all obvious why a ban on fiction should have existed in the first place, without going into a little Canadian legal history. The original fiction ban, added to Canadian law in 1985, covered “any written material or visual representation that advocates or counsels sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years.” The law also allowed “artistic merit” to be raised as a defense.

The seeds of the expansion of this ban were sowed in the 2001 case of R v Sharpe. Sharpe was charged with child pornography offenses of the possession of nude photographs of adolescent boys, but also over fictional stories that Sharpe himself had written. In his defense, Sharpe claimed that the ban on fiction was unconstitutional. The court didn’t go that far: it largely upheld the ban on fiction, while inserting an implicit exception for self-produced material that wasn’t intended for distribution, and a similar exception for self-produced visual material produced by teens for their own use. The court’s reasoning for upholding the ban on fiction was expressed as follows:

While the scientific evidence is not strong, I am satisfied that the evidence in this case supports the existence of a connection here: exposure to child pornography may reduce paedophiles’ defences and inhibitions against sexual abuse of children. Banalizing the awful and numbing the conscience, exposure to child pornography may make the abnormal seem normal and the immoral seem acceptable.

The scientific evidence of this connection is, indeed, not strong. While research to date has been limited, what evidence does exist suggests, perhaps counter-intuitively, that indulgence in sexual fantasies about children is not significantly related to offending, that access to “virtual child pornography” is not associated with attitudes that sex between adults and real children is acceptable, and that the availability of such content as a sexual outlet may actually decrease rates of sexual offending against children.

Despite largely upholding the constitutionality of the law—a decision criticized by legal scholars—the court nevertheless acquitted Sharpe because his stories did not advocate or counsel sexual activity, and because they had artistic merit. This caused an uproar in Canadian society and prompted the changes to the law that have now been considered in Godbout’s case.

The two most significant changes that were made in 2005 in response to the Sharpe controversy were to broaden the prohibition on fiction to include “any written material whose dominant characteristic is the description, for a sexual purpose, of sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years that would be an offence under this Act”—dropping the requirement that it “advocates or counsels” abuse. The second change was to drop the defense of “artistic merit” and a similar exception for “educational, scientific or medical purpose,” replacing them with a requirement that the defendant’s action had “a legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice or to science, medicine, education or art” and that it “does not pose an undue risk of harm to persons under the age of eighteen years.”

With the polarization that we have come to expect when this topic is discussed, some lawmakers criticized even this much narrower defense as a “dangerous loophole,” while at the same time law scholars complained that “to subject persons to criminal penalties for simply looking at imaginary visual representations or texts, like stories or paintings, is absurd,” and predicted that the law would be held unconstitutional.

With the decision in the Godbout case, this prediction has now come true: both key provisions that were added in 2005 have now been struck down. The first provision that was declared invalid was the ban on “any written material, visual representation or audio recording that advocates or counsels sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years”—Judge Blanchard's decision (in French) found:

the absence of words "advocates or counsels", or their equivalent to the definition of child pornography, fundamentally diminishes the right to freedom of expression, particularly that of persons who wish to express in explicit terms the abuse experienced by them at the hands of pedophiles.

The second part of the law that was held unconstitutional was the requirement for a defendant who raises the "legitimate purpose" defense to show that the material “does not pose an undue risk of harm to persons under the age of eighteen years.” The judgment is a little opaque on this point, but seems to find that this condition creates a disproportionate burden upon a defendant in the case of works that do not “advocate or counsel” abuse.

However the Godbout case misses an obvious opportunity to challenge the claim, previously accepted by the Sharpe court, that fiction creates a risk of actual harm to minors, which is the constitutional foundation for banning it at all. The prosecution side-steps the need to address this question scientifically, saying “that the objectively verifiable harm is measured according to the connection with the fundamental values of the Charter and the laws relating to human rights and the international instruments to which Canada adheres, rather that by establishing a direct scientific correlation between child pornography and a form of sexual assault.”

Judge Blanchard, regrettably, accepted this reasoning by concluding: 

it does not appear unreasonable to conclude, even in the absence of scientific proof to this effect, since common sense always remains a useful decision-making tool in such matters, that for a perverse or depraved mind, any child pornography material, written or visual, will pose an undue risk for minors since it will serve to fuel a certain behavioral deviance. Human nature teaches us that everything, the best and the worst, is possible, even probable.

This reasoning transforms the concept of “risk” into an article of faith that somehow transcends rational enquiry. There is no reason why we should allow any element of the criminal law to be treated in this way: if fiction creates a risk to children, then it should be possible to examine that risk scientifically, as Prostasia Foundation is attempting to do. Our most recent blog post also explores, and debunks, the concept that simply reading forbidden thoughts can create “moral corruption” in the reader. Banning literature of any kind because of its presumed effects on the mind of the reader is “magical thinking,” and such has no place in the law.

Another area in which the Godbout falls short is that it fails to further address the ban on visual art in Canada’s child pornography law. This is more than a hypothetical concern: just to give one example, last year the Canadian Center for Child Protection had a 17 year old girl arrested for posting drawings to her blog. It also remains possible under Canadian law for someone to be convicted of producing child pornography over DD/lg or ageplay-themed photos or videos featuring 18+ adults only.

The overbroad Canadian child pornography law has also been used by ECPAT—which was a party to the Sharpe case—as the basis for its advocacy to expand the criminalization of artistic images of minors worldwide. Last year, ECPAT’s campaign made it all the way to the United Nations, resulting in a shocking committee recommendation that countries should treat artistic images as equivalent to real images of child sexual abuse.

So while the Godbout case is welcome in affirming that written works are constitutionally protected so long as they do not advocate or counsel abuse, it doesn’t go far enough. Canadian law remains unconscionably broad, and artistic expression in that country remains at risk. It is likely that as a result of the Godbout decision, lawmakers will be going back to the drawing board once again to revisit Canada’s child pornography law. We hope that the welfare of real children, rather than imaginary ones, will be lawmakers’ top priority when this happens.

New slogan competition

Writing a slogan is no mean feat so for our next slogan we are turning to our followers to help! Creative, succinct, and catchy are what we’re looking for and we’re prepared to reward winners for their efforts! We will choose our top three and those authors will receive prizes! 3rd place will receive a Prostasia sticker sheet, button, and Effie magnet. In addition to those prizes, 1st and 2nd place winners will choose from 3 themed prize packs with fun goodies. We are excited for this collaboration with our followers and look forward to reading your entries!

Submit here
Latest blog posts
In defense of thoughts
Something I didn’t think I would need to do when I started writing about fandom discourse three years ago (although that’s too charitable a name, “wank” is the more accurate…
The truth behind QAnon
Agents of the deep state are using their control of politicians and the media to bury the truth about pedophilia and sex trafficking. QAnon conspiracy theory or fact? You may…
Prevention research and stigma

We talk with Lauren Stevens, a PhD candidate in the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth who is researching in child sexual victimisation prevention, about how stigma interferes with this work.

Review: Cuties

Reviewed by Meagan Ingerman

I watched Cuties so you don’t have to, but I kinda think you should. If you are used to Hollywood movies where everything gets explained in the end and there are clear heroes and villains, you’ll be disappointed by this new Netflix film. This complicated and layered film presents, if not fully explores, several themes including plural marriage, sexualization of children, religion, misogyny, and social dynamics.

Just in case you somehow missed the storm of controversy when it hit Netflix last month, it also seems only fair to mention that the movie is potentially triggering, largely due to the age-inappropriate dance moves of its young cast. But despite all the controversy, Cuties is not about twerking or encouraging young girls to be sexual. Rather, it is about navigating girlhood in the social media age, and what the adult gaze can do to influence young girls and their developing sexuality. These are stories that are often not depicted, not because they are unrealistic scenarios, but because we are uncomfortable confronting them.

At the center of the narrative is Amy, an 11 year old Senegalise girl living in France. Like so many 11 year olds, Amy struggles with her family, her culture, her social group, and own image of herself. Dancing, the crux of the controversy over the movie, seems like her entrée into a popular social group, and also into the young adulthood that she hopes will be an escape from a stifling home environment.

I won’t lie, the parts of the movie that depict Amy clumsily experimenting with her emerging sexuality are very challenging to watch. In a narrow sense, critics are correct to say that Cuties sexualizes its main characters. Portraying them acting out sexual behaviors is a central plot point for the film. But what we see on screen can’t be directly equated with the experience of the actors. The director has described the safeguards that she took to ensure their physical and emotional wellbeing on set, including retaining a child psychologist.

Should more have been done? This question is complicated by the fact that these actors will now have to live with being associated with what is now a massively controversial film. Eventually, the actors will be able to give their own accounts about how they were affected by the filming and the social media fallout—and these accounts ought to inform how future directors and studios approach filmmaking with the welfare of young actors in mind.

But as a general principle, we should hesitate to accept that it is intrinsically harmful to allow minors to act in films about preteen or teen sexuality. Child pornography law rightly sets an outer limit on how explicit these depictions can be, and some films have been banned for pushing that limit too far. Other films, although still legal, probably couldn’t be made today. But never before has a film that merely depicts clothed children dancing been regarded as beyond the pale.

My biggest quibble with the movie (please skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers) is when Amy, an 11 year old, takes a picture of her vulva and posts it on social media, there is not nearly as much backlash as you might expect. There is social stigma and Amy loses social standing because of it. But that’s kind of it. This incident could also have been explored more on an emotional and developmental level. Not to mention the legal mess that can be made when pictures of this nature are disseminated.

In the face of the controversy that has met this film, it’s very easy to write it off out of hand. It’s harder to consider that maybe the filmmakers and the actors’ parents might have thought about the likely controversy and decided that the movie was worth making anyway. Young girls do face pressure over how to juggle their emerging sexuality and the expectations of their peers. Sometimes they do make inappropriate choices due to harmful messages from social media, and lack of guidance from caregivers. When this happens, telling them that they should be ashamed of their bodies, and that showing them off makes them no longer “innocent”, is not exactly a supportive message.

Girls are currently in a no-win situation where sexuality and innocence are concerned. They are at one and the same time supposed to be developing beings for whom sexuality is a reality, and expected to be “pure” and deny these feelings. At the end of the day, although it’s not a perfect film, I have a very hard time calling this movie exploitation for exploring this tension. I do hope that the young actors involved come to be proud rather than embarrassed of their performances, and that they aren’t scarred by the backlash.

Cuties is not for everyone in the same way that no movie is truly for everyone. Watch Cuties because you seek to understand more about what girlhood can be like at this time in history. Watch it to see a young girl’s journey. Watch it to see a different world view and how a different culture handles these issues. Watch it to observe the duality of communal support and also oppression within a religion. If you’re expecting it to live up to the controversy, Cuties will disappoint you. But as a thought-provoking foreign film about a tough issue, it’s a worthwhile evening’s viewing. 

Join this month for a bonus!
Join this month for a bonus!
This month only, you'll receive a sticker sheet, lapel badge and magnet when you join as a new member of Prostasia Foundation. Only while stocks last!
Click Here
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Tumblr Youtube Instagram
Prostasia Foundation
18 Bartol Street #995, San Francisco, CA 94133
EIN 82-4969920
Modify your subscription    |    View online