Expert sees cyberspace full of risk, from addictions to child abuse


A leading expert in cyberpsychology describes a digital culture today in which children and pre-teens have virtually unfiltered access to online pornography, and she predicts that one day parents who fail to monitor their children’s online activity may be found guilty of criminal child abuse.

“I can see later down the line that parents or caregivers who allow their very young children to be exposed to hardcore pornography on their phone and on their devices …that may be considered, in terms of social welfare and social services, as the active abuse of a child,” said Mary Aiken, Adjunct Associate Professor at University College in Dublin and an Academic Advisor to the European Cyber Crime Centre at Europol for Ireland.

Aiken told Crux the widespread diffusion of sexual content online has been described in some circles as “the ‘pornification’ of society.”

This is a problem for youngsters, because “children are vulnerable to being damaged by what we call legal but age-inappropriate content,” she said, explaining that in the UK, there is currently talk of developing an “A” and “B” internet, where households who actually want porn will have to put their name on a list and sign up for it.

Currently, the exposure of children to pornography is only considered a crime when predators intentionally expose children to hardcore porn as part of the grooming process.

Part of the problem, she said, is an increase in sexual assaults on children by other children, and while there isn’t yet hard evidence to support it, her belief is that it’s related to “the availability of hardcore pornography online.”

Aiken was a keynote speaker at a Nov. 29-Dec. 1 conference on “Drugs and Addictions, an Obstacle to Integral Human Development,” organized by the healthcare section of the Vatican department for Integral Human Development.

Parents who fail to monitor their children’s online activity may be found guilty of criminal child abuse.

In addition to substance addiction, the conference touched on what experts are referring to as “new dependencies,” which include addictions to gambling, sex and the internet.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s development office, opened by saying addictions to drugs, the internet, gambling and sex, including pornography, “strongly undermine the freedom of the person, which is the fundamental expression of the dignity of every human being.”

Drugs and other dependencies “are a wound inflicted on our society, which traps many people in a spiral of suffering and alienation,” Turkson said, emphasizing the need to reach out to those weak and suffering, helping them to regain hope and take charge of their lives.

Professor Umberto Nizzoli, a member of the National Commission of Experts on Addiction and a professor at the University Institute (IPU), in Italy, said that when people become dependent on something, without it they feel a “continuous hunger” whether it’s an object, a person or a behavior.

The correct term for those who become dependent, he said, is not “addict,” but “slave,” because they lose control on both a biological and psychological level. Continue reading

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