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Study seeks to understand effects of violent sexually explicit material

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MP hopes for public health strategy to combat violent pornography
By Deborah Gyapong
Photo caption: The House of Commons Health Committee has wrapped up hearings of witnesses on the impact of violent pornography. MP Arnold Viersen hopes the Committee report will include recommendations for a public health strategy that includes some legislative measures. Three witnesses on April 11 appeared via video conferencing from the United States. (Deborah Gyapong / CCN) 
MP Arnold Viersen is hoping his motion to study the public health effects of viewing violent online pornography will lead to a comprehensive public health strategy addressing the problem.
The Conservative MP’s private member’s Motion C-47 was passed unanimously last year and assigned the House of Commons standing committee on health to to study “the public health effects of the ease of access and viewing of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material.”
On April, the health committee heard from the last of 11 witnesses, including Viersen.
“It seems to be going quite well,” Viersen said. “The questionings from all sides of the table were quite positive.”
The committee heard from a variety of witnesses whose testimony ranged from “we don’t know what the impacts are,” to “the impacts are tremendous and we must do something about it,” Viersen said.
“We are looking forward to what the report is going to have to say,” he said.
The motion calls for the health committee to report back no later than July 2017.
The first-time Alberta MP said he’d like to see a strategy similar to those combatting cigarette smoking.
“We can’t leave this burden only on parents, in much the same way we haven’t left the burden entirely on parents when it comes to smoking, drinking or gambling,” Viersen said.
While a public health strategy would include education and public awareness campaigns, the government could also consider regulations such as age verification and provisions to opt in for access to online pornography rather than putting the onus on the consumer to opt out, he said.
Another recommendation could include mandatory health warnings, such as those for cigarettes, he said.
“A public health response means we cannot arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, treat, or educate our way out of this,” Cordelia Anderson, founder of founder of Sensibilities Prevention Services, of Minneapolis, Minn., told the health committee April 6. “This is a public health issue that requires us to assure conditions in which people can be healthy. We help them to make the healthy choice.”
Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said it’s “unrealistic” and “unfair” to expect parents to handle the problem on their own. “The number of apps, social media sites and websites has grown exponentially, and yet parents are expected to be able to navigate this on their own and somehow make sure their children aren't exposed to things they can't handle.”
McDonald recommended the creation of top level child-safe domain names where content rules on pornography and graphic violence are enforced.
Witness Gail Dines, a sociologist and professor at Wheelock College in Boston, as well as president of Culture Reframed, said more than 40 years of research has shown that “consuming pornography impacts men's and boys' attitudes, behaviours, sexual templates, sexual tastes, norms, values, and gender and sexual identity.”
She described pornography as a “critical human rights and justice issue, one that every government should be committed to if they are committed to girls' and women's equality.”

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