Sex & Censorship: Anomalies With ATVOD Speaker Lineup

Rhett Pardon

LONDON — Jerry Barnett, who leads, the U.K.-based free speech and sexual freedom group, says that anomalies in an upcoming ATVOD conference lineup have led to questions as to whether the event is about child protection or Internet censorship.

Barnett today published online an open letter to ATVOD board member Julia Hornle complaining that several speakers to be featured at the Dec. 12 London conference, titled “For Adults Only? — Protecting Children From Online Porn," could skew the conversation.

In addition, Barnett said that there are a number of potential speakers that have been left out of the lineup.

Barnett pointed his concern with two speakers who have been chosen for the conference: Paula Hall and Julia Long.

He said that the inclusion of those two speakers is inappropriate because their "beliefs seem out of place at a conference dedicated to child protection."

"Paula Hall is billed as chair of the Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction and Compulsivity. However, there is widespread skepticism among mental health professionals that 'sex addiction' is even a genuine condition, or whether it simply stigmatizes normal sexual response," Barnett said.

"It is worrying that you consider what many believe to be quack psychiatry to be relevant to this discussion."

Long, a spokeswoman for the morality group Object, campaigns against all forms of sexual expression, whether consumed by children or adults, Barnett said.

"Object frequently attempt to link adult material to sexual violence, although they have no evidence to back this point of view. They have claimed — without evidential foundation —  that adults are harmed by accessing pornography, reading lads mags and visiting strip clubs."

Barnett on Monday told XBIZ that the fact that ATVOD chose to invite Hall and Long as speakers to a child protection conference "casts serious doubt over the aims of this event."

Barnett in the letter said that there are a number of suitable individuals who should be considered for the conference, including Dr. Guy Cumberbatch, pychologist who has been commissioned previously by Ofcom to conduct research on child protection.

He noted others, as well, including Dr. Clarissa Smith, a professor of sexual cultures at Sunderland University, and Sharon Girling, a former police official who is a leading authority on online child abuse imagery in the U.K.

Speakers already slated for the event include Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England; Alexandra Birtles, head of external communications at TalkTalk; John Carr of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety; Reg Bailey, CEO of The Mothers’ Union; Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of The Parent Zone; Diane Duke, CEO of the Free Speech Coalition; and the ASACP's Vince Charlton.

Barnett, in the letter, said he hopes that ATVOD will respond to the requests to "put minds at rest regarding your goals in setting up the conference panel."

The conference is being built around two panel-led sessions. According to Pete Johnson, who leads ATVOD as chief executive, the first will consider  the nature of the problem, addressing questions such as:  What is the nature of the content? How easy is it for children to access? What is known about the scale of children’s exposure? What risks does it pose to children? The second session will consider possible solutions, addressing questions such as: Are media education and parental control software sufficient? What else is being done? What more could be done and by whom?

The event, chaired by Channel 4 News social affairs editor Jackie Long , will be held at the Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2, on Dec. 12 from 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m., followed by a reception.