My Response to the “sick pornography ring”

Media commentary on the recent news story around the targeting of Australian school-girls in an online porn-swapping scheme covers fairly familiar ground, but there is potential for important insights and breakthroughs in terms of sexual education. David Sretenovic “comes out” in this blog and aims to ask paradigm-shifting questions in the quest to steer the next generation in the right direction.

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Sexual education is something I’ve taken a long-term interest in. As a teenager I didn’t want to “miss out” on the action yet I was determined not to make any rash mistakes (like an unwanted pregnancy). I went out of my way to become informed and get a breadth of views. Later I formally studied sex and sexuality within my Bachelor of Arts major. To really make my point: I’d say that sexuality and similar soul-deep topics were in fact the key driving force in my decision to become a teacher; the echelon of real-life and identity-formation was my passion well above the English, Maths and History which I became formally qualified in.

So I hope that this blog — one of my first in “coming out” as a voice in sexual education — can be read in a spirit of genuine pilgrimage towards deep and meaningful impact, particularly in the lives of the next generation. (I may well pool my thoughts into a larger publication in the near future towards the same ends).

This blog was stimulated by a news article [1] (link below) exposing a “syndicate” of Australian students involved in a systematic porn-swapping scheme based on the acquisition of both consensual and non-consensual nude images of girls in Australian schools. Specific suburbs, schools and individual girls are “requested” and then used in bartering for other illicit images. This “sick pornographic ring”, as the journalist calls it, has a massive scope — targeting over 70 schools nationally — and makes for particularly disturbing news; it comprises schools which my family members and I have attended, taught at and would consider sending our own kids to, as well as the very suburb we live in.

There are many voices seeking to capitalise on this news item: the usual religious voices and political wings, as well as anti-porn groups and others. One such voice is Sharna Bremner, an advocate behind End Rape on Campus. She is quoted in the article and pinpoints exactly what she believes is driving the perpetrators:

“…it’s not the nudity alone that they are after… What they are getting off on is the very fact that these images are not consensual and that the victims have no idea they are being exploited… It’s the idea of proximity and accessibility [girls who live in their area] that is considered arousing… the sense of power they feel over these girls, and the idea that they can own and obtain them like objects.”

In building her case for awareness of the rape-mentality, Bremner raises the familiar topics of male and female power, thrill and arousal.

While Bremner’s points are not novel within the discourse, she is taking a few lateral tangents which from my perspective conceal portals of discovery for those who dare to ask the right questions — questions which reveal the powerful undercurrents which hold sway amongst the cacophony of commentators. The following is one such question: are we as social commentators mainly saying that it’s wrong to participate in this syndicate, or in fact that it’s wrong to be aroused by such ideas?

In reality, I think the task of addressing the latter part of this question — “Are we saying that the arousal is wrong?” — is at a far different pay-scale.  But it’s well worth our while. And it’s not because finding the answer will magically fix society, but because it redirects the conversation towards us first — for example, “Is there something wrong with me if I am aroused by ‘X’ ?” We’re in turn required to be honest about who and what we allow to make judgements on our own sexuality. This framework, I believe, gives each of us a compassionate and nurturing starting point for “fixing” ourselves, others and the rest of society.

There’s a scene in the movie Black or White where Kevin Costner’s character, Elliot, refreshingly points us to a similarly confronting and powerful self-transparency. The African-American prosecutor is circling Elliot in the witness box like a vulture, certain he can expose Elliot as a racist. But Elliot’s counter-punch is earth-shattering. He says:

“Is that the first thing I notice when I see a black man, the color of his skin? Yes…Now, I don’t know why that is any more than I know why when I see a good looking woman the first thing I noticed are her breasts because I do. But if I move on to my next thought quick enough I’m not a pervert. I’m not a bad guy. I’m just mildly flawed. It’s the same thing with race. It’s not my first thought that counts. It’s my second, third and fourth thought. And in each and every case I’m in it comes down to the same thing: the action and interaction that I’m having with the person that I’m interacting with.”[2]

Elliot’s heroism is in admitting to himself his own natural instincts (both racial and sexual), and then being transparent about them for the benefit of those around. Moreover, he points to the way of salvation for all of us when we own up to an instinct with a shady underbelly. He’s firstly real, and secondly intent on goodness holding sway. Thirdly, he’s a darn good role model for those of us who are flawed, either mildly or chronically. And when it comes to sexuality for the next generation, this is the heart-hitting stuff which makes a difference when the rubber meets the road.

[1] http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/students-from-70-australian-schools-targeted-by-sick-pornography-ring/news-story/53288536e0ce3bba7955e92c7f7fa8da

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/01/23/seeing-beyond-black-or-white/?utm_term=.0bff6a82792e

Pauline Hanson: Good, Bad or Ugly?

David Sretenovic weighs in on the spanner that Pauline Hanson is in the works of Australian politics and civic life. Using John Pasquarelli’s insights as a springboard, David seeks to help folks make the most of her existence!

For me, the best type of politician — or person full stop — is one whose eyes and actions communicate this: “Despite our differences, I am no better than you are.” Is Pauline Hanson that type of politician? I’m not sure — I haven’t met or even read her autobiography yet. But I did recently read The Pauline Hanson Story by John Pasquarelli (1998) — her early political advisor’s recount of her initial rise to political fame — so I feel I’ve gotten a solid dose of her side of the story.

Perhaps the two other crucial measuring sticks I swing at politicians are these: integrity and courage. Honesty might be the common thread. If a politician can weave honesty together with an agenda which isn’t overly defensive, they stand to gain my enduring admiration. While I perceive that Pauline’s politics do tend to emanate from a defensive stance, courageous honesty itself is still a rare trait and I certainly give her points on that ledger. I think it’s a big part of why she has made political history in Australia.

Consider the following statistics. This year in Australia’s federal election, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party secured the highest number of votes outside of the two major parties and the Greens: nearly 800,000 votes (about 2.6% of the national vote). To put that in perspective, the Greens got about 2.6 million votes, Nick Xenophon 700,000, Katter’s Australia Party 120,000 and Palmer United about 26,000[1]. Moreover, in 1998 when One Nation first appeared, it secured 9% of the national vote[2]. The fact is: she has won many Australians over; swathes of Australians are saying, “Pauline speaks for me.” The kicker for me, which Pasquarelli’s book just hammered home, is that she has reached this level while swimming upstream, with the Left, the Right and the media — at least on public record — largely against her in an unprecedented coalition of efforts.

The Pauline Hanson Story was the impetus for this blog, so I’d like to share a few quotes which I think are important in getting the full picture. My goal is to help folks to be able to make the most of Pauline’s presence in our political world — Pasquarelli certainly did this for me.

  • p.117 “She was possessed of an almost pig-headed courage that enabled her to confront situations others, better equipped, would not dare contemplate. It was this quality that, in the end, would never have allowed her to throw in the towel and resign.”
  • p.135 “The weeks after the maiden speech [customary for first-time parliamentarians] were frantic and full of drama. Overflowing mail bags at the Ipswich and parliamentary post offices, bundles and bundles of letters stacked in boxes stacked on top of other full boxes, miles of faxes, reams of telephone messages, enough flowers to start a florist shop, and people lined up in the office reception area like winners at a TAB window.”
  • p.143 “ ‘Pauline Hanson is the most heavily guarded politician in Australian history with the annual cost of protecting her running at more than twice her annual Parliamentary wages bill,’ we were told. … Pauline Hanson has received dozens of threatening letters from left-wing extremist groups opposed to her views, including organisations that have connections with overseas paramilitary groups. This has prompted ASIO to judge her the highest security risk of any Australian public figure, with her security arrangements exceeded only by those for visiting overseas leaders.’
  • p.146 “ Pauline Hanson, her family and her staff should be able to go about their business and work and live confidently in a safe environment, but that is not the case at present. It is a sad indictment of our society that a determined and stubborn woman of no particular brilliance can be considered by the ‘establishment’ as such a threat that they will stoop as low as they can to destroy her.”
  • p.153 “This was Pauline’s first opportunity to appear live on a high rating show with an Australia-wide audience… with Kerri-Anne Kennerley [on the Midday show]. Pauline’s appearance was a spectacular success with the obviously average Australian audience clapping and cheering her… The station ran a phone poll on Pauline’s maiden speech … The poll question was: ‘Are Pauline Hanson’s views racist?’ Thousands of calls poured in and the result was: ‘Yes’ 6% and ‘No’ 94 %.”
  • p.302-3 “Three weeks after the maiden speech [Alan] Jones said that, of the many thousands of calls to his talkback show, 98% of them were in basic support of Pauline. … The Melbourne Herald Sun conducted an interesting telephone poll in June 1997, posing the question, ‘Is Pauline Hanson a racist?’ The paper provided twenty-one Hanson quotes to help readers make up their minds. Eight thousand readers responded, an overwhelming 81% answering ‘no’. While the Herald Sun headlined the announcement of the poll, it did not headline the positive result for Pauline Hanson, burying it instead in an article proclaiming … that the Hanson ‘race debate’ could jeopardise the awarding of the 2006 Commonwealth Games to Melbourne.”
  • p.314 “The big Parties are obviously concerned about the chances of One Nation’s electoral success. The Labor Party … have pledged to put Hanson last on their how-to-vote cards and there has been tremendous pressure placed on John Howard by many of his own people … to take the Liberals down the same track.”

All in all, Pasquarelli — who himself was sacked and later won an unfair dismissal case against Pauline — strongly makes the point of how popular and supported Pauline Hanson’s views are. He brings to the fore the magnitude of the challenge one faces if you wish to present a different perspective to the mainstream in Australia. In doing so, he isn’t reticent in revealing Pauline’s gaping personal and character flaws, which evidently left him burnt, despite his loyal and self-sacrificial efforts for her cause. I for one don’t intend to allow Pauline’s personal failings stop me from understanding what she stands for and those who stand with her.

So, which way do I lean: is she good, bad or ugly? Right now I see a bit of each in her. A bit like myself, in truth; I’m no better than she is.


[1] Combining the Senate and Lower House tallies: http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2016/results/  http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2016/results/senate/

[2] http://www.onenation.com.au/history