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.

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