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7 Beyond the Science: Perspectives on Impact and the Public Debate 7.1 CHALLENGES TO PARENTS One of the strongest challenges that many parents face with respect to their children's exposure to sexually explicit material is their own ambiva- lence toward it. Such parents assert that they object to their children view- ing sexually explicit material, but in the conduct of their own lives tolerate it and may even seek it out. This is not to say that all parents who assert such objections behave inconsistently with their stated positions, but the fact that the adult entertainment business is as profitable as it is suggests that at least some parents say one thing and do another. And, even if they do not seek it out, many parents are active and by and large willing partici- pants in a culture that glorifies the particular style of sexual engagement and interaction that is illustrated in the media. Thus, it is important to consider what messages parents are delivering to their children. A second point to be considered is that traditional nuclear families are increasingly less common. According to the U.S. Census, the number of women living with their own child but without a husband grew by 25 percent from 1990 to 2000. The number of unmarried-partner homes increased by 60 percent in this period. Furthermore, even in nuclear families, stay-at-home parents who might provide supervision are in the minority. Of married women with children aged 6 to 17, 39 percent worked outside the home in 1960, 49.2 percent in 1970, and 77.1 percent in 1999.~ Also, there are same-sex couples living together openly in virtually For the 1960 figure, see "Employment Status of Women, by Marital Status and Presence and Age of Children: 1960 to 1998," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1999, Table No. 659, p. 417, available online at <http://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/99statab/secl3. pdf>. For the 1970 and 1999 figures, see "Employment Status of Women, by Marital Status and Presence and Age of Children: 1970 to 1999," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2000, Table No. 653, p. 409, available online at <http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/ statab/secl3.pdf>. 161
162 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET every county in the United States, suggesting that social attitudes about homosexuality may be becoming more tolerant. Overall, while parents enjoy broad discretion to raise their children as they see fit, it is likely that non-parental influences on children have in- creased over the past several decades. For example, the extent to which children are engaged with various media has increased considerably. Schools have been asked to take over responsibilities for many activities for which parents have been traditionally responsible, ranging from serv- ing breakfast to providing sex education. The Internet itself presents particular challenges for parents that are not posed by other media. The generation gap with respect to the Internet is large and profound. Perhaps for the first time, children as a group- are more knowledgeable than their parents about an increasingly perva- sive technology.2 These "digital children"3 have never known a world without personal computers, and many have been exposed to the Internet for a very large fraction of their lives (Box 7.1~. They also have the time and the inclination to explore the limits of the technology. The result is that, compared to their parents, they are more knowledgeable about how to do things on the Internet and with other forms of information technol- ogy, and more knowledgeable about what things can be done and what experiences can be had on the Internet. In practice, such expertise makes the teenager rather than the parents the in-house expert on computers, and such reliance on the teenagers whom one is trying to guide and parent presents interesting challenges not generally faced by parents in the past. Testimony to the committee provided one very clear example of this phenomenon. A teenager, knowing that her mother would "freak out" at the online solicitations and invitations to view commercial sexually ex- plicit material that she was receiving,4 simply set up an AOL account for her mother with parental controls set to "young teen," thereby blocking her mother from receiving such material. Her mother, not knowing what was being blocked, expressed surprise that her online experience was much less intrusive than she had been led to believe. 2The Children's Partnership. 1999. The Parents' Guide to the Information Superhighway: Rules and Tools for Families Online, Second Ed. Available online at <http://www.childrens partnership.org/> (October, 5, 2001~. 3Don Tapscott. 1998. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. McGraw-Hill. 4This testimony is consistent with a study undertaken by the Girl Scout Research Institute finding that "30 percent of girls (responding to the study) had been sexually harassed in a chat room, but only 7 percent told their mothers or fathers about the harassment, most fearing their parents would overreact and ban computer usage altogether." See Whitney Roban. 2002. The Net Effect: Girls and New Media. Girl Scout Research Institute, New York. Available online at <http://www.girlscouts.org/about/PDFs/NetEffects.pdf>.
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 163
164 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET Making parenting in the age of the Internet even more challenging is the fact that some real-world lessons do not carry over well to cyberspace. For example, most parents have told their children to "never talk to strang- ers." As evidenced by many new pen-pal relationships between young people in remote parts of the world, this kind of "communication with strangers" can be an invaluable learning experience that allows young people to develop awareness of global issues and even a global sense of community. However, a sense of online community can also be extremely misleading especially to neophyte Internet users in creating a sense of safety and trust that is in fact unwarranted. Rules of behavior in cyberspace are sometimes different than in real life, and new behaviors and traditions are created. These online social mores are often a mystery to parents, though their children may be quite comfortable with them. For example, technology enables multitasking to a much greater degree than has been possible in the past (e.g., conducting a number of conversations via instant messages and telephone simulta- neously),5 whereas a rule that governs many, though not all, adult inter- actions with other people is one of paying full attention. Issues with a long history in the real world play out differently in cyberspace. Parents who once fought with kids about messy rooms and telephone time must now deal with conflicts over computer usage as well. Children who always resisted the notion of sharing diaries with their parents must contend with the possibility that their e-mail might be monitored or the history of their Web visits viewed. Academic plagia- rism is much easier in an Internet environment and thus is arguably more tempting. Sorting out truth from fiction a task that has always been important is more important than ever before given the near-infinite diversity of content on the Web. Bullying always a problem in some contexts in real life has its online analogs in harassment, and is some- times protected by the anonymity provided by the Internet. Finally, there is often a large gap in what parents perceive their chil- dren are doing on the Internet and what these children report they are actually doing (Table 7.1~. This, too, reflects an all-too-common and more general disconnect between parental perceptions of their children's be- havior and what they actually do.6 5Katie Hafner. 2001. ''Teenage Overload, or Digital Dexterity?,,, New York Times, April 12. 6For example, in April 1998, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America released a study indicating that many baby-boomer parents are seriously underestimating the reality of drugs in their children~s lives., In support of that claim, the study noted that · 38 percent of parents said their teenagers might have been offered drugs; 59 percent of teenagers reported having been offered an illicit substance. . 21 percent of parents acknowledged the possibility that their teenager might have tried marijuana; 44 percent of teens said they'd done so.
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 165 TABLE 7.1 Parents' Lack of Knowledge About the Internet Activities of Their Teenage Children Parents Who Believe Child Children Who Report Activity Is Doing This Activity Doing This Activity Posting personal online profilesa Having private e-mail accountsa Corresponding with strangersa While using the Internet, someone else is regularly in the roomb Using the Internet at home for schoolwork at least once a weekb 17 percent 68 percent 30 percent 67 percent of parents report that someone else is in the room while their children are online 76 percent 45 percent 81 percent More than 50 percent 78 percent say they use the Internet when they are alone 63 percent aPenn, Schoen, and Berland Associates. 2000. Web Savvy and Safety: How Kids and Parent Differ in What They Know, Whom They Trust, September. Available online at <http://www.microsoft. com/presspass /press /2000 /novOO /safetywebsitespr.asp>. bNational School Boards Association (no date available). Safe and Smart: Overview of Re- search and Guidelinesfor Children's Use ofthe Internet." Available online at <http://www.nsbf. Org/safe-smart/full-report.htm>. None of these challenges obviate a parental role, or even a role for other adults, in ensuring a safe and appropriate Internet experience. While some children may know the technology better than their parents, parents and other adults still have important roles to play in shaping the values of their children and in teaching critical thinking and moral skills that allow children to make informed and ethical choices according to the values that are important to them. In short, the parental role is still central in teaching children to protect themselves on the Internet. · 33 percent of parents said they believed their teenagers viewed marijuana as harmful; 18 percent of teens viewed trying marijuana as risky. · 45 percent of parents believed their child might have friends who smoked marijuana; 71 percent of teens said they had friends who used it. Source: Partnership for a Drug-Free America. 1998. The Boomer-Rang: Baby Boomers Seri- ously Underestimating Presence of Drugs in Their Children's Lives. Available online at <http:/ /www.drugfreeamerica.org/NewsCenter/pats/patsl.asp?ws=PDFA&vol=l&grp= NewsCenter&cat=National+Surveys&top=Articles&Pyear=1997&Pname=patSl99x.asp&p Num=9>. More recent data from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, as yet unpub- lished, indicate similar trends.
166 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET 7.2 SPECULATIONS AND OTHER PERSPECTIVES ON POSSIBLE IMPACT As the discussion in Chapter 6 indicates, the research literature on the impact of sexually explicit material on young people is sparse and incon- clusive. Nevertheless, there are a variety of views on the potential nega- tive impact that exposure to sexually explicit material might have on children, some of which are illustrated in Box 7.2. Further, there is no reason to suppose that all negative impacts are necessarily manifested in science-based research studies. One issue of concern mentioned by many parents in the committee's site visits as being far more troublesome to them than the issue of expo- sure to inappropriate sexually explicit material is the fear that children will be physically victimized by someone whom they met through the Internet. Among many of the students with whom the committee spoke, meeting someone face-to-face whom they had initially encountered online was a common and accepted part of life, more common among girls than boys. Some of these face-to-face encounters occurred at parties, others one-on-one at malls, and in one case at a person's home. Most students knew that they should not give out personal information, such as real names and addresses, but they were generally overconfident in their abil- ity to make judgments in potentially dangerous situations. For example, the committee spoke to one teenage girl who appeared to understand that people often lie online, that meeting Internet acquaintances face-to-face can be dangerous, and that things are not always what they seem. How- ever, when asked if she would meet someone from the Internet, she said, "Sure if I had any doubts about him, I would never do so and I only do it with people I know are okay." Another type of negative impact that has not yet been studied is the damage that results from online attacks on the character of an individual youth. For example, from time to time, the facial image (a head shot) of a student may be grafted onto a sexually explicit image using a software package such as Photoshop. Distribution of such a doctored image can be quite harmful to the student whose face is on the image, perhaps in part because in many cases, it is someone in the young person's physical com- munity who has spread the rumor or image and the receiving audience are other students or friends also in the young person's physical commu- nity. On the committee's site visits, a number of students reported prob- lems with online (and anonymous) harassment in the form of spreading rumors about one's character and sexual behavior or threatening some- one with bodily harm.7 'Such behavior is similar in some ways to the use of the bathroom wall at school as a platform for someone writing nasty comments about a classmate, but electronic communi-
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 167 cation allows such rumors to be forwarded and disseminated much more rapidly with all of the attendant negative consequences.
168 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET Still a different kind of negative impact of children's exposure to graphic, adult-oriented, sexually explicit material is attributable not so much to the material per se as to the fact that exposure to such material may occur in a setting when a parent is not available to place the material into context, to explain why viewing such material is inappropriate, or to impart parental values with respect to viewing such material. In this view, children exposed to such material lose the opportunity to hear from a responsible adult making a critical point about the social assumptions underlying such images and portrayals and about values in society.
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 169 A related point was made by a mother who voiced concern because her preadolescent son was worried that something was wrong with him because he was interested in sexual pictures. She felt that his interest was a normal part of growing up but didn't know how to talk to him about it. Finally, some parents at the committee's site visits said that they saw no problem at all regarding their children's exposure to sexually explicit material, even though they recognized in general terms that there are always some bumps in the path of any child who is growing up. One mother (of two daughters and no sons) told the committee that she didn't
170 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET know she might have a problem with her daughters until she spoke with the committee and realized the issues the committee was investigating. However, it was not clear from what these parents said whether they did not know what kinds of material were available on the Internet, or if they did know about the nature and extent of that material and were not bothered by it. As for other potential negative impacts on children, the lack of a substantial base of science-based research allows only speculation. One possibility is that the sexual behavior depicted on adult Web sites and in other adult-oriented material may be emotionally disturbing to the minor himself or herself. To the extent that the dynamic range of sexual activity found on the Internet is broader than the range found in mainstream society, one might suppose that an inexperienced or naive minor could be disturbed by images drawn from the more extreme end of the spectrum. Someone disturbed by such images might report, for example, that he or she is unable to get such images out of mind, or that he or she had night- mares involving such images. Several youth who spoke to the committee reported that they were highly upset when they inadvertently encountered sexually explicit ma- terial on the Internet, but not because of its content per se. Rather, they were most concerned and worried about the reaction of their parents to such an event "My mom would freak out if she thought I was looking at this stuff!" In a couple of cases, such material had a negative impact on the individual because his parent reacted vehemently with punishment and censure. A related issue was the concern of these youth that their parents or teachers would not believe that they had encountered sexually explicit material by accident. A number of parents who testified at committee site visits echoed this concern, noting that they had not believed their children when they (the children) had said that they had happened upon such material accidentally and that the reason for their disbelief was that they had never encountered it personally themselves. Active participation in a certain kind of online culture may affect the participants because they are participating in it, as opposed to viewing it. For example, to protect themselves online, many youth obey the rules laid down by responsible adults about not giving out their real names and addresses online they lie about such information rather than withhold it. To the extent that they participate in cybersex, which for the most part relates to only the physical aspects of sexual interaction, they are involved in an interaction (often with strangers) that arguably facilitates detached sexual activity without an emotional or personal context. In such a context, sex talk in chat rooms and in instant messaging (often known as "cybersex") is constructed in public (in chat rooms) and in private (in instant messages),
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 171 is linked to strangers, has little to do with relationships, is explicit, and is often associated with the degradation of women. To the extent that respon- sible adults believe that it is inappropriate to promote lying and emotion- ally detached sexual expression, these connections to such online cultures may be regarded as damaging and destructive. A second common type of conversation in a chat room is "trash talk" that insults and demeans others. Public chat rooms provide a means through which individuals with no prior association (i.e., strangers) can interact with one another and provide no means for independently ascer- taining the identity of any given participant. When chat rooms are un- monitored (and most are unmonitored8), it is common to see explicit sexual exchanges, joking about physical violence and assaults, degrada- tion of others, aggression, and exchanges involving racial stereotypes and prejudice. Online propositions to engage in cybersex are common, espe- cially for those with identifiably female screen names. The young people to whom the committee spoke had experienced such online behavior. Consequently, many had stopped participating in chat rooms. Others just ignored obnoxious or offensive IMs, or blocked the senders to prevent them from further contact. It is a further problem that many parents have never been in a chat room and are entirely unin- formed about the types of communication that occurs in many of them. The research regarding chat room behavior is sparse. For example, there are as yet no studies that compare the impact of sexually explicit Web sites to participation in a chat room, or that examine the impact of chat rooms oriented toward sexually explicit interaction and dialog. Be- cause such channels are interactive, participants have greater control over what happens in the course of dialog, and other research on the media has suggested that interactive forms of media in which participants have greater control over the activity have greater influence and impact on the participants than those that are less participatory in nature.9 Finally, it is worth mentioning impacts on society as a whole. To the committee's knowledge, such impact has never been the subject of scien- tific research, and indeed may not be amenable to measurement. It is 8Some chat rooms are monitored. For example, a number of online services provide monitoring services for chat rooms specifically intended for young users. Monitors have the ability to send warnings, suspend users for certain amounts of time, terminate accounts, and send e-mail to master accounts (presumably seen by parents), and these abilities are in fact used to sanction misbehavior. Monitors specifically watch for inappropriate conduct in the chat room, though effectiveness depends on the attentiveness with which the monitor watches the conversation. 9S.L. Calvert and S. Tan. 1994. "Impact of Virtual Reality on Young Adults' Physiologi- cal Arousal and Aggressive Thoughts: Interaction versus Observation," Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 15~1~: 125-139.
72 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET nonetheless important to acknowledge that interactions and behavior that result in reduced respect for human life and human dignity can damage the common good and be negative for society. If Internet exposure to exploitative sex and violence helps to desensitize youth to assaults on human life and human dignity, then society, whose future is these chil- dren, will be correspondingly weakened. Objectionable speech and im- ages on the Internet, from which children should be protected or able to protect themselves, do not represent values that strengthen society. The point of protecting children before, during, or after the Age of the Inter- net is to give them time to internalize principles and convictions consis- tent with those of their parents and the other responsible adults around them, and to participate in a patient process that leads to the building of a stronger society. 7.3 RHETORICAL CONCERNS AND ISSUES OF PUBLIC DEBATE The research base described in Chapter 6 contrasts with many of the rhetorical points made in public debates over the issue of children's view- ing of sexually explicit material. For example, some individuals who believe that exposure to "pornography" is harmful to children regularly cite the most extreme examples of sexual behavior to which most people would object (e.g., sadomasochism, bestiality), but ignore the fact that some of what they would want to make inaccessible to children has been routinely available in National Geographic and Playboy magazine for de- cades. Their opposite numbers in the political debate point to the desir- ability of disseminating information about preventing sexually transmit- ted diseases, but ignore the fact that such information is widely available in other forums and that much of the sexually explicit material on the Internet has nothing to do with such issues. It is likely that both sides could reach agreement on the undesirability of exposing children to depictions of the most extreme and most graphic examples of sexual behavior, in the sense that most of those on each side, acting as individual parents, would prefer to keep their children away from such material, regardless of their age. However, they would part company on whether government should play a role; and, as importantly, they would be unlikely to agree on whether material that is less extreme in nature is inappropriate or harmful. A great deal of sexually explicit material falls into the category over which consensus among diverse groups is not easily forthcoming. For example: · Sex education is highly contentious, and some public schools avoid teaching anything about this topic because parents have such different
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 173 perspectives on what information is appropriate to proves to young people. Some parents feel that providing young people with information on birth control is unacceptable because it conveys a permissive attitude about premarital sexual activity, and some believe that it increases the frequency of sexual activity in minors. Others feel that providing infor- mation related to sexual health and even access to birth control in schools is socially responsible because it may help to reduce the rates of transmis- sion of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy by providing a place for young people to obtain information that they would not get from their parents, and cite studies suggesting that sex education does not lead to increased sexual activity.l° · Some materials address sexuality in a manner that is meant to explore various dimensions of sexual desire, and these materials inevita- bly lead to differences of opinion about what behavior should be re- garded as "normal," "healthy," or appropriate even for fantasy. The de- piction of non-traditional scripts about how people interact romantically and sexually can help to broaden the choices that people make. (The traditional script depicts romantic heterosexuality in which the male char- acter is active and powerful both in pursuit of a female partner and in sexual activity itself. The female character is portrayed as passive and coy and her power derives from luring a male partner.) Instead of turning to such a traditional scene from a movie for perspective on how couples handle intimacy, a young person could go to the American Social Health Association's teen sexual health Web site <www.iwannaknow.org> and join a monitored chat room with other teens to talk anonymously about sexuality. The chat room supervised and facilitated by an expert in sexual health could be a more productive learning experience than the messages a young person receives from a highly romanticized scene from a movie, though others might argue that such chats could give them ideas that they might not otherwise have. · Other materials depict what it means to be lesbian or gay in sexual orientation; what for some people is a description of positive feelings 10For example, the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior noted that "programs that typically emphasize abstinence, but also cover condoms and other methods of contraception, have a larger body of evaluation evidence that indicates either no effect on initiation of sexual activity or, in some cases, a delay in the initiation of sexual activity. This evidence gives strong support to the conclusion that provid- ing information about contraception does not increase adolescent sexual activity, either by hastening the onset of sexual intercourse, increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse, or increasing the number of sexual partners." See David Satcher. 2001. The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior. Office of the Surgeon General, Rockville, Md. Available online at <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/ sexualhealth/default.htm> Quly 9, 2001~.
74 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET about one's orientation is for others an endorsement of a perverse lifestyle. Having two same-sex people identified as a couple or depicting them as kissing is very offensive to some people, whereas these activities are ac- cepted without a second thought when a couple is heterosexual. · As mainstream media content grows more sexually suggestive (e.g., lingerie advertisements, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue), in- dividuals uneasy with such change might well regard such content as inappropriate. · Content drawn from mainstream art and science has been called pornographic. For example, a plaque carried on Pioneer 10, the first space probe to leave the solar system, was called pornographic because it in- cluded engravings of nude human figures.l2 On some of the committee's site visits, various parties objected to Internet images of classical Greek statues of the human body and Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. · Sexually explicit discussions may also be useful for minors who wish to remain celibate such discussions might occur among such like- minded individuals in dealing with questions such as how to manage one's sexual desires without succumbing to peer and media pressure. Extreme sexually explicit imagery to create sexual desire on the one hand, and responsible information on sexual health on the other, are ar- guably unrelated and, many would argue, easily distinguished. But much content is not so easily categorized. While some extreme sexually explicit material meets legal tests for obscenity (and therefore does not enjoy First Amendment protection), less extreme material may not. Material regard- ing sexual health, mainstream erotica, lingerie advertisements, and mod- els in swimsuits generally do enjoy such protection, at least for adults and 1lFor example, according to FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, "Hundreds of Ameri- cans have registered their displeasure at the Victoria's Secret program, and the promotional advertising that preceded it, that aired on network television [on November 15, 2001]." By Copps's characterization, most of the complainants thought some of the material was inde- cent, and many were angered because the program and ads were run during a time in the evening when children were likely to be watching and when indecent programming may not be aired in accordance with FCC rules. See <http://www.fcc.gov/Speeches/Copps/ Statements/2001 /stmjcl28.txt>. 12For example, one newspaper published the images on the plaque, but erased the nipples, saying that "[a] family newspaper must uphold community standards." Another newspa- per affiliated with a religious denomination said that the plaque should have had praying hands rather than nudes. And a major newspaper printed the image in full, but received a letter from a reader that said, "I was shocked by the blatant display of both male and female sex organs.... Isn't it enough that we must tolerate the bombardment of pornography through the media of film and smut magazines? Isn't it bad enough that our own space agency officials have found it necessary to spread this filth even beyond our own solar system?" See William Poundstone. 1999. Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos. Henry Holt and Company, New York.
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 175 often for children. Is it good or bad to know about and to see non- mainstream sexual behavior? Knowledge about such behavior might create an aversion to it, a desire for it, or simply a person better informed about it. Content and information that fall outside the realm of extreme sexually explicit imagery are thus likely to be the source of greatest con- tention, and different people fear that such content would or would not fall under regulatory efforts aimed at reducing the exposure of minors to material that is or may be sexual in nature. Describing material as "inappropriate" is value-laden, in that one person's definition of inappropriate will be different from that of another. One parent may feel that exposure of children to violence is much more harmful than exposure to sexually explicit material, while another may feel the reverse. Moreover, some parents believe that exposure to sexu- ally explicit material poses moral danger (distinct from physical or psy- chological harm and danger) to their children, while others do not. 7.4 JUDGMENTS IN THE ABSENCE OF A RELIABLE RESEARCH BASE Reliable information the outcome of rigorous research could, in principle, indicate how, if at all, exposure to sexually explicit material upsets minors, whether and how it changes their attitudes and/or their behaviors, and so on. But these effects are neither good nor bad absent a consideration of values. It is one's values that provide the basis for a determination of whether these effects are good or bad, desirable or undesirable. Consider, for the sake of argument, as a hypothetical example that is not demonstrated in the research literature, that there is a reasonably firm consensus that brief exposure to sexually explicit material does not change sexual behavior but that individual attitudes become more accepting of a variety of sexual behaviors. One person might say that this outcome is bad or wrong if children's attitudes toward certain sexual behaviors have become more accepting, even if their behaviors don't change. Another might strongly approve of the same attitude change. A third person might object to such material as tasteless, crude, vulgar, or worse. Each of these judgments would be informed according to his/her value system.l3 However, the research concerning the impact of exposure to sexually explicit material on children across their entire development span is not 13Such differences also occur among larger social groups. For a discussion of such differ- ences between nations, see Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, 2001, Global Networks and Local Values, National Academy Press, Wash- ington, D.C.
176 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET robust. While the charge to the committee, and much of the public debate, has been predicated on the assumption that exposure to "pornography" has negative effects on children, the committee has heard from a variety of analysts and scholars presenting a range of both experimental and clinical work in this area, and it has reviewed the literature as described above. What has been demonstrated is that there is no scientific consen- sus on the nature or extent of the impact of exposure to sexually explicit material on children. Furthermore, emotions run so high in this area and strongly held values relating to it are so intertwined with assessments of impact that even good empirical evidence is unlikely to change many minds. In the absence of reliable empirical evidence, some people will say, "Because the scientific evidence is lacking, we must not act precipitously." Others will say, "Even if the scientific evidence is lacking, we must act immediately." In each case, one's values and prior predispositions have a strong influence on one's assessment of a phenomenon. An individual predisposed to believe that there is a significant negative impact or that there is no significant negative impact will thus require very strong evi- dence to change his or her mind. Individuals and communities will of course include as a part of their decision-making processes their own subjective evaluations and judgments of the impact of inappropriate ma- terial on children. Thus, one sees in the public debate that judgments about the impact of inappropriate sexually explicit material on children are closely tied to the values of those making the judgments. Controversy is inevitable when these values are strongly held (as one would expect for values concerning sexuality and children) and in conflict with those of others. Even definitions of "pornography," which itself has no legal defini- tion, or inappropriate sexually explicit material, may differ based on one's world view and values (e.g., one community may object to images of scantily clad individuals, whereas another may only be concerned about exposure to images that are more explicitly sexual, such as those depict- ing intercourse). The increasing cultural and social heterogeneity of the United States implies the co-existence of different sets of values. A range of different value sets was demonstrated to the committee, and the committee heard from individuals representing a wide spectrum of views on the impact of sexually explicit material on children. These views range from the belief that such exposure is "very negative, wrong, and harmful" to minors to "not particularly negative, wrong, or harmful." This diversity of values is reflected within the committee itself, but it depends strongly on what type of sexually explicit material is being considered.
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 177 As the discussion in Section 7.3 suggests, there is some set of explicit material involving depictions of "extreme" sexual behavior that the com- mittee does believe would be highly inappropriate for viewing by chil- dren this judgment would not be made so much on scientific grounds (as the committee knows of no reliable scientific studies that address this point) as on a sense that such exposure would offend the committee's collective moral and ethical sensibilities. However, for other, less extreme sexually explicitly material, the gen- eral public and the committee itself would reflect a range of beliefs about its propriety for children and the extent and nature of its impact on children. Thus, if the committee's task were to come to consensus on the nature and extent of the impact on children of this type of less extreme but still sexually explicit material, the committee would be deliberating for a long time indeed. In short, even with the best of intentions, intelligent individuals with different values working with highly uncertain knowl- edge are likely to disagree on both likely outcomes and the desirability or undesirability of those outcomes. But coming to a consensus on the impact of exposure to such sexually explicit material on children is not the task of the committee. As noted in Chapter 1 and in the preface, the committee's task is to provide a clear explication of factors that enter into choices about appropriate approaches to protecting children from inappropriate sexually explicit material on the Internet. To the extent possible, this explication strives to provide reliable information about these different approaches, and it is intended to address that charge with analysis that is as value-neutral as possible.l4 In the end, however, values must enter into the process of selecting appropriate approaches to the issue of children and inappropriate sexually explicit material on the Internet. In particular, the weights that a decision maker assigns to various characteristics of a given approach are deter- mined by his or her values. One who believes that the impact of such material on children is "very negative" will put different weights on the various factors related to approaches to protection that are articulated in Chapters 8 through 13 and come to very different conclusions than some- one who believes the impact is "not very negative." To illustrate with a 14The committee recognizes that value-neutral analysis, especially in controversial areas, is in practice not possible. For example, values are implicit in the choice of dimensions along which approaches may be analyzed. Indeed, they are implicit in the use of the word "protect" in the committee's legislative charge, which assumes that harm and danger neces- sarily flow from children's exposure to "pornographic" material. Nevertheless, along the continuum ranging from more value-neutral to more value-laden, the committee sees its task as more aligned with the former than the latter.
178 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET small but important example: one who believes that the impact of sexually explicit material on minors is very negative is likely to weight the partial protection offered by filters heavily, and to give much less weight to the fact that filters also screen out some appropriate and useful information. One who concludes that the impact of sexually explicit material is not very negative is likely to place the opposite weights on these factors. It is with this discussion in mind that this report includes the material presented in Chapter 6, though it is sparse and inconclusive. For matters that concern parents and communities, an inadequate knowledge base cannot be used as a rationale for doing nothing. But the knowledge available, sparse and inconclusive though it is, helps to provide context that frames the choices of parents, teachers, librarians, administrators, and makers of public policy. 7.5 CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS The distinction between voluntary or involuntary exposure to sexu- ally explicit material is important. The research base described in Chap- ter 6 focuses mostly on the impact of voluntary exposure to sexually explicit material it is in the nature of most psychological research that the subjects of research consent to being exposed to various stimuli. And, as noted above, there is little reliable evidence on the impact on children of exposure to sexually explicit material. However, it is true that some such material has the potential to shock or surprise some people not expecting to be exposed to it, even if many children who accidentally encounter sexually explicit material report that they are not particularly bothered by the experience (Section 5.4.3~. The committee believes that there is a reasonably strong social con- sensus one reflected in its own deliberations that involuntary expo- sure to sexually explicit material is clearly inappropriate and undesirable and should not be occurring, regardless of one's views on the impact of voluntary exposure, and it is particularly inappropriate and undesirable in the context of minors being exposed to such material or when invol- untary exposure is the result of intentionally misleading or deceiving a minor. To the extent that risk does exist (as indicated by reactions of children to such experiences), it is likely that it is largest for children in an age group who are old enough (namely preadolescents) to engage in unsu- pervised Internet activity but young enough that they have not been ex- posed to very much sexual stimuli. Very young children are unlikely to have the technical sophistication needed to explore the Internet in a way that exposes them to sexually explicit material (e.g., they are less likely to use search engines than to stick with a set of prescreened age-appropriate
BEYOND THE SCIENCE: PERSPECTIVES ON IMPACT AND THE PUBLIC DEBATE 179 sites) and even if exposed to sexually explicit material are unlikely to have the worldly knowledge that labels such material as inappropriate. Ado- lescents especially the older ones are sexually mature, have been ex- posed to a great deal of culture and media that are suffused with sexual messages, and are often engaged in sexual activity (including intercourse). Such individuals are as likely to close a screen containing sexually explicit images as to explore it further. On balance, there is no scientific research consensus supporting a claim that exposure to sexually explicit material does or does not have a negative physical, emotional, or psychological impact on children, nor a consensus regarding the existence of a causal relationship between expo- sure to sexually explicit material and long-term behavioral outcomes in general. (Of course, what happens in the case of any specific individual is outside the scope of such research in any event.) Further, the committee has not established specific definitions of what constitutes inappropriate sexually explicit material, though it remains confident that there is some significant set of sexually explicit material on which it could reach con- sensus regarding inappropriateness. The inconclusive results from the sparse scientific literature regard- ing the impact of exposure to sexually explicit material on children are reflected in a wide spread of committee member views on this subject as well. Although Chapter 6 includes a review of empirical research that explores this topic and a discussion of developmental theories that point to how one might incorporate a scientific framework into making deci- sions about the strategies to use to guide children's Internet use, there is not a consensus either in the science or in the committee on which to base definitive and authoritative conclusions on the impact of sexually explicit material on children or on the appropriate parental, school, library, or societal response for all children. What this report can offer is data on and careful analyses on a number of factors (e.g., how children use the Inter- net, means by which children come in contact with Internet content, de- velopmental theory about a child's cognitive and emotional growth) that individuals and communities can consider in formulating a careful ap- proach to this issue. It is important to keep in mind the difference between a scientific assessment that exposure to certain kinds of sexually explicit material is harmful and a stance that exposure to such material is morally wrong. A moral stance and a scientific consensus are entirely different concepts. Each is important to discourse and action, but they have entirely different epistemological underpinnings, and even if there were a scientific con- sensus that exposure to such material had no negative impact, one could still make a moral and ethical judgment that such exposure should be avoided simply because it was wrong. A good illustration is found in the
180 YOUTH, PORNOGRAPHY, AND THE INTERNET committee's views on this subject despite a wide range of views on the underlying science regarding the impact of exposure to sexually explicit material on children, there is nevertheless some significant set of sexually explicit material that the committee would unanimously regard as inap- propriate and objectionable for children. A nation of communities with very different moral beliefs may never be able to come to a stable consensus on public policy if moral knowledge and values are the primary determinants of policy-making outcomes. Because science incorporates at its core techniques intended to safeguard the process against the influence of personal beliefs, it offers a more value- neutral form of knowledge, and as such offers a form of knowledge around which public consensus can be built. In the case of inappropriate sexually explicit material on the Internet, there is no scientific consensus on the impact of exposure to such material, and so informed decisions about practices and policies cannot be based on empirical evidence. What science can offer in this case is a careful analysis of how, when, and where young people come into contact with various types of inappropriate ma- terial. This knowledge can significantly improve local and perhaps even national dialogs on what approaches could be employed to safeguard children on the Internet. The committee's task is to explicate the factors that should be taken into consideration in determining a course of action, as well as to offer examples of existing approaches that some communities have used to address the issue. Thus, its findings and conclusions about the factors that communities should consider as they formulate policy and practices do not require either a scientific or committee consensus on the impact of exposure to inappropriate sexually explicit material on children. fudg- ments about impact necessarily affect one's calculus in weighing different factors (and hence on deciding upon recommended courses of action), but they do not necessarily affect what the relevant factors are. Research (existing or future) that helps to say when, where, and in what circum- stances exposure may put children at risk can help people to make deci- sions about what types of approaches may be the most beneficial and cost-effective, and the committee's review of current research is outlined in Chapter 6.