The spate of pornographic advertisement is on the increase today due to the fact that sex is being used as a tool to sell almost anything. The constant bombardment of the advertising medium with sensual females and males support a growing trend of stereotypes that views women as sex tools to be toyed with. On the other hand, the child consumer is exposed to images that stir precocious erotisation.
The theological argument is that pornographic advertisements (advertisements with strong sexual undertones) corrupt public morality. The obscenities in these advertisements have a corrupting impact on vulnerable persons. It also has a corrosive effect on family and religious values. Pornography is much more widely consumed than is sometimes supposed, and it is a large and extremely profitable international industry.
The decision of the court in Heydon’s case appears to be a foremost reaction of the courts to the advertisement of pornography, howbeit through the banning of prostitution. The harms that are of most concern when pornographic advertisements are concerned are; the coercion and exploitation of women actors in the production of pornography; harms to women, both as individuals and as a group, resulting from the consumption of pornography.
The impact of these sensual (pornographic) advertisements include but are not limited to its role as a cause of violent sexual crime. Pornographic advertisements can be viewed as a sort of false advertising about women and sexuality, or as being akin to libelous speech that defames women as a group, causing corresponding harm to their reputation, credibility, opportunities and income expectations and this affects the orientation of the child consumer.
Pornographic adverts sexualises rape, battery, sexual harassment, prostitution and child sexual abuse thereby celebrating, promoting, authorising and legitimising them. By conditioning consumers to view and treat women as their sexual subordinates, pornographic advertisements undermines women’s ability to participate as full and equal citizens in public, as well as private realms. As long as pornographic adverts are tolerated and allowed to be propagated by unregulated advertisements, child consumers are at risk. However, this is not the general opinion as some writers like Dworkin throw more dirt into the ruble when he states that no reputable study has concluded that pornography is a significant cause of sexual crime.
In his opinion, the causes of violent personality lie mainly in childhood, before exposure to pornography can have any effect. In addition, the desire for pornography is a symptom rather than a cause of deviance. This is no doubt a leading cause of the hardship encountered in the bid to protect consumers especially the child consumer from the consumption of advertisements that promote pornography.
The question of whether pornographic advertisements causes harm raises tricky conceptual issues about the notion of causality, as well as empirical and methodological ones. As some liberals have argued, it seems implausible to think that consumption of pornographic advertisements, on a single or even repeated occasions, will cause otherwise ‘normal, decent consumers’ with no propensity to rape suddenly to metamorphose into rapists.
The mere fact that there may be other causes of sexual violence against women does not show that consumption of pornographic adverts cannot also be a cause. The viewing of these adverts may on its own, be neither necessary nor sufficient for violent sexual crime, yet, it might still be a cause of violent sexual crime and these other harms, if it increases the incidence of them.
It might be helpful to consider an analogy with smoking. Smoking cigarettes, on its own, is neither a necessary, nor a sufficient, condition for developing lung cancer; this is because, there are people who smoke like chimneys who never develop lung cancer and live perfectly healthy lives to a ripe old age. There are also people who have never smoked a cigarette in their whole life who develop lung cancer. Yet, it is generally agreed nowadays that smoking cigarettes is a cause of lung cancer. This is because smoking (in combination with other factors such as genetics, diet and exercise), makes it significantly more likely that a person will develop lung cancer, or so studies suggest. Likewise, it may be safe to suggest that consumption of pornographic advertisements is a cause of violent sexual crime or of sexist attitudes and behaviour generally and the child consumer must be protected from such.
There is considerable disagreement, amongst researchers as well as liberal and feminist philosophers, about whether pornography is a cause of violent sexual crime. An overall significant positive association exists between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental, as well as experimental, settings. While empirical evidence remains the subject of ongoing debate and investigation. In the absence of sufficiently conclusive evidence that pornography causes crimes of sexual violence, many liberal defenders of pornography continue to view censorship as unjustified.
However, the rights-based arguments against pornography do not rest entirely on the claim that consumption of pornography is a significant cause of violent sexual crime. The debate over whether pornographic advertisements should be censored remains very much alive and with it comes attendant problems for vulnerable persons in this case the child.
Akpan, Emaediong Ofonime
Akpan, Emaediong Ofonime is currently undergoing postgraduate studies at the University of Uyo and majors in Consumer Protection. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org