Icelandic women take up fight to ban Internet porn

RAGING ISSUE::A change in government has fueled a fight between those who want to see access to Internet porn blocked and the defenders of freedom of speech

The Guardian, REYKJAVIK

Tue, May 28, 2013 - Page 7

“I could access pornography in about three seconds, four at the most,” said 19-year-old Geir Johann Geirsson, his laptop open on the classroom desk at Borgarn High School in a Reykjavik suburb. “If you can access the Internet you can access porn, no matter how old you are.”

However, in this small wind-swept north Atlantic nation, a battle against the multibillion-dollar industry is under way and campaigners are refusing to give up the fight, calling on the new government to put in place proposals to introduce porn blockers.

Defenders of the Internet — who claimed that proposals from the former government to limit porn promoted censorship and attacked freedom of speech — were given a boost at the end of last month, when the left-leaning administration was ousted by a center-right coalition. However, gender equality activists argue that, despite the setback, a debate has been started that will not go away.

Former Icelandic minister of the interior Ogmundur Jonasson, who proposed the change to the law, remains adamant the issue must be tackled.

“There are people who want to silence this discussion, but it is a discussion that will not be silenced,” he said. “People want to confuse this with an argument about freedom of expression, but I would say it is those who are trying to silence the debate who are not respecting freedom of expression.”

If a porn ban happens anywhere in Europe it is likely to be in Iceland, which came top of the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap report and has already implemented significant legislation to regulate the sex industry.

Former Icelandic prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir — Iceland’s first openly gay leader — backed moves to criminalize buyers of sex rather than sex workers in 2009 and banned strip clubs in 2010. Distributing porn has been illegal from as far back as 1869 and highly sexualized images of women in advertising — ubiquitous to the point of banality in some countries in mainland Europe — are rare.

However, the issue of tackling Internet access to porn, through the use of Web filters, blocked addresses and making it a crime to use Icelandic credit cards to access pay-per-view pornography, has divided opinion in the Icelandic capital. Even in the classroom in Reykjavik views on the proposed measures are varied.

“It’s silly, impossible to execute,” one student said.

“The only countries that censor the Internet are those like North Korea and China; do we want to be like them?” another said.

There is already work in Iceland’s schools to tackle gender inequality; recently all 15-year-old students were shown a sex education video by pop star Pall Oskar Hjalmtysson, which includes references to porn and consent.

During the gender equality class in Reykjavik, pupils were asked what kind of impact porn had on young people.

Eypructur Ragnheidthardottir, 18, spoke up.

“A girl could get a picture in her head of how she should look,” she said. “And maybe think she should do everything that she is told, whether she wants to or not.”

This is one reason that, while some students were against a ban, many parents were in favor, teacher Hanna Bjorg Vilhjalmsdottir said.

“I think a shift is definitely happening in Iceland,” she said. “Parents are worried about their children and students are thirsty for these gender equality classes, for example. Afterwards the girls say it makes them feel stronger and the boys too have equipment to resist the negative pressure of the porn industry.”

The move to introduce measures to limit porn was started by those working with women and children, who argued that it was having a negative impact on the sexual behavior of young people. It is these grassroots groups who insist the fight against porn is not over, despite their disappointment that measures were not introduced before the election of the new government, which they acknowledge is unlikely to push through legislation.

Guorun Jonsdottir, a spokeswoman for Stigamot, a center that helps victims of sexual violence, said: “It would make my life so much easier not to fight porn, but I have to. Why should we allow unfettered misogyny, images of rape? The argument is that we need to ban porn because it hurts our children, and that is true, but it also needs to be stopped because it is hate speech and violence against women, and affects people’s relationships.”

She said that the group would in due course be writing to all new members of parliament to talk to them about the porn ban.

“Of course the fight will continue,” she said.