‘The biggest public health crisis facing our children’
By Catherine Sheehan
As she travels around the country speaking in schools about the harms caused by pornography, Melinda Tankard Reist hears the same anecdotes from girls across Australia about daily sexual harassment from male students addicted to porn.
“What girls are telling us is they are subject to every day routine sexual harassment,” she said.
“Everywhere we go girls tell us they are subjected to name-calling, to touching, to being groped, to having their breasts grabbed, having their bum groped as they walk through school corridors, they’re being pressured to provide sex acts even at school.”
Girls have even reported boys masturbating and watching porn on school buses, she said.
A current trend is for boys to make “sexual moaning” noises anytime they see a girl, even during class.
“I ask the girls if they’ve experienced this, they all put their hands up including Years 7 and 8. This is common everywhere we go.”
“This is sexual harassment… if schools are allowing this to happen and if there are not real consequences for the boys, they are learning entitlement, they are learning they can get away with this.”
Ms Tankard Reist, who is a media commentator and author, speaks regularly in schools with co-presenter Daniel Principe, addressing students, staff and parents about the harms of pornography. They were recently in Hobart to address Year 7 to 10 students at St Aloysius Catholic College in Huntingfield.
Following their presentation one female Year 8 student said, “It was honest and true and the way you worded it was so perfect.”
Another said, “Everything that we might have been afraid to say, you made it ok.”
A Year 10 female student commented, “I felt guilty for saying ‘no’ [to a boy] but now I know I don’t have to feel guilty.”
Pauline Marriott, Director of Mission at St Aloysius College, said Ms Tankard Reist and Mr Principe were well received by St Aloysius Catholic College staff and students.
“They opened up the space for a wider discussion around the roles we all play in creating a safe, positive, respectful environment,” Ms Marriott said.
Executive Director of Catholic Education Tasmania, Dr Gerard Gaskin, said he was “deeply concerned” about “the growth of the use of pornography by all sectors of society”.
“Our Catholic Identity and Evangelisation Team is committed to helping all our students, in an age-appropriate manner, to comprehend and to resist the evil of pornography,” Dr Gaskin said.
“The programs offered to our Catholic schools by our marriage, family and relationships educators all support the healthy, natural sexual development and moral decision-making capacity for our students.”
“The work of the team is always challenging, sometimes confronting, but every necessary. I am pleased to say that this work is now underway in almost every one of our thirty-eight Archdiocesan schools.”
Schools across the board, whether they are faith-based or not, are equally affected by the porn culture, Ms Tankard Reist said.
“Schools have a legal duty of care to provide a safe educational environment for students. Girls are being routinely harassed at school day after day. That is violating the school’s legal obligations and legal duty of care.”
Female staff at schools were also being subjected to harassment from male students, she said.
“They hate it, they don’t like it. It needs leadership and action from the top.”
“Boys are not innately like this, we’ve groomed them, we’ve socialised them to engage in porn fuelled, porn taught behaviours. And we’re seeing it more and we’re seeing it in younger boys.”
“We’ve had boys say that after hearing us speak they’ve stopped using porn,” she said.
When they present in schools Mr Principe addresses the male students separately, while Ms Tankard Reist addresses the girls.
“This is the biggest public health crisis our children are facing, far bigger than COVID,” Mr Principe said.
“We need a whole of community approach. We need everyone engaged, from the schools to the students, to the parents.”
Mr Principe who has completed postgraduate studies in media and public relations aims to help boys recognise they are being “preyed on by a billion-dollar industry that doesn’t have their best interests at heart”.
“The global porn industry doesn’t care if they are mentally, emotionally, sexually, relationally flourishing,” he said.
He talks to the boys about healthy masculinity, healthy relationships, and how porn conditions them to see females as less than human. Porn is causing “callousness and horrific views in young men” he said.
Referring to a recent report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, he said the research clearly shows “if you consume pornography, you are more likely to be sexually violent”.
Ms Tankard Reist and Mr Principe help students “dissect” the culture around them, exposing the all-pervasive influence of porn.
“We do a dissection of the culture, unpacking toys, games, social media, music videos, porn, porn culture, advertising,” Ms Tankard Reist said. “We look at what they learn about themselves, their bodies, their relationships.
“We also look at what the research says, the harmful impacts of those objectified portrayals of women and girls everywhere.”
“Most importantly we look at what they can do about it collectively to change things.”
CatholicCare Tasmania offers a service addressing pornography addiction, including education and counselling. For more information contact Dr Lucimey Perez on 6278 1660 or 1800 819 447.