Guest opinion article by Sunili Govinnage

I’ve always thought that the title of this blog, Somebody Think Of The Children, was mostly a tongue-in-cheek dig at the use of the “child protection” argument by people who oppose freedom of speech but don’t have any logical arguments to defend their view points.

I know some of the people/organisations I am thinking of honestly do care about the little kiddies (and sure, who wouldn’t? They’re so cute), but the argument they bring forward always reminds me of nations at war using human shields to prevent their enemy attacking: regardless of what the argument is, poor, innocent (possibly crying) children are held up with accusatory stares — “Are you really going to hurt this child? Because what you’re asking for will do just that.”

It sort of makes you wonder whether, if this tact doesn’t work, they’ll try with puppies. Kind of like the animal activist group PETA’s campaign to re-name fish as “sea kittens” so that people will be more upset about the horrors of fishing.

The latest installment of the War on The Interwebs (aka Senator Conroy’s “Cleen Feed” proposal) is an op-ed in The Australian’s IT section by Childwise CEO, Bernadette McMenamin, who has spent the last 25 years working both in Australia and overseas to prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. She states that:

One of the most horrendous developments that we have experienced in the last 15 years is the dramatic explosion in the global trade of child sexual abuse images on the internet.

To avoid being called a child pornographer, or even pervert-sympathiser, I want to make it clear right now that I am unequivocally against the heinous horror of sexual and physical exploitation of children in every form.

Bernie (can I call her “Bernie”? I’m sure she won’t mind. She seems like a fun gal) is absolutely right when she says early in her piece:

The world was relatively unprepared to deal with this unprecedented phenomenon [of kiddie-porn on the Internet] and it took some years for governments, law enforcers and child protection organisations to not only understand the nature of this issue but also how we should combat this trans-national problem.

She has my support on this 100 per cent. Let’s get those dirty bastards.  But she completely misses the point in trying to argue that compulsory filtering in Australia is part of the solution to this global travesty.

Apparently the “ISP filtering of child pornography images would strengthen these current endeavors [net-safety education, law enforcement, etc] by blocking child pornography at the Internet server level” because the child abusers who rang Child Wise told Bernie they’d be less likely to act out because a “blocking mechanism would have reduced their desire to abuse children as their access to child sexual abuse images actually facilitated their offending”.

Um. Whoa? Doesn’t this scream out of a far bigger problem in dealing with offenders through more concerted efforts of mental health, rehabilitation and burning perverts at the stake?

Wouldn’t preventing the creeps from getting their peepers on child-porn merely repress a serious, underlying problem among the scum of society that might end up turning into a bomb waiting to explode as soon as the caged dogs get a whiff of fresh meat?

Filtering isn’t the solution to the horrible problem of child sex abuse. McMenamin even concedes that filtering won’t prevent the transfer of files through pervert-to-pervert networks but says:

“No one really knows whether the amount of images that will be blocked will be 20, 30, 50+ per cent but surely a reduction in any amount is worth the effort.”

First of all, a question of “worth the effort” is incredibly subjective, and secondly, how can McMenamin be sure that any child pornography will be blocked to those that matter. Surely those who seek it will go to whatever lengths necessary to get their sticky hands on whatever it is that they so despicably need.

I commend McMenamin’s reasonableness in concluding that if the trials don’t work she’ll shut up. But it just seems incredibly naive for her to argue that the whole-scale filtering of the internet in Australia, which will have much greater repercussions than just zapping out a small amount of kiddie-porn, is worth it “if at the end ISP filtering of child sexual abuse images will protect the children of the world.”

That’s a very big if.  And somehow I just don’t think that Senator Conroy is the man with the vision or the capacity to protect the children of the world.

Sunili Govinnage is a Law (Hons)/Arts (Politics) (Hons) graduate from Perth who has been an active member of the online community since she was 14 years old.  She currently blogs at and is on Twitter as @sunili.

If you’d like to respond to Bernadette McMenamin (or any of the nine Australian IT filtering ‘bloggers’), leave a comment below or pitch me an article via email.