May 13, 2020

Mitigating the Public Harms of Pornography in Africa – The Way Forward

The breakthrough made by the Internet in fostering education and development in Africa is astounding. To a great extent the Internet has spurred the continent to follow the march of progress being pursued by the rest of the world. By and large, it has facilitated access to information, education, and communication with ease. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that this blessing can be a curse if and when it is misused. Some users are being exposed to and becoming addicted to online pornography and this is taking a toll on their health.

Young people are losing study time, becoming physically violent, experiencing neurological harms, being groomed for sexual abuse by online predators, having multiple sex partners, acquiring STIs, not performing well academically, dropping out of school, and missing career opportunities due to the influence of online pornography. A survey of 381 students from Nigerian Universities found that more than 50% of students indicated that their sexual behaviors today are a product of their exposure to internet pornography. An area of grave concern for Africa is the aberrant behavior which children and young people exhibit when they are exposed to pornography which includes, but is not limited to, the self-reported increase in the hypothetical likelihood of engaging in sex with minors.

For women, the negative impacts include being cajoled by pornography to hate their own bodies, seeing sexual violence as normal, and the perception of themselves as sex objects meant to please their partners. It is important to point out clearly that the viewing of pornography by men is linked to sexually violent or aggressive behavior, sexual dysfunction, decreased brain matter in areas of motivation or impulse control, and abnormal sexual behavior.  In Ethiopia, it is reported that some young men turn to Viagra as a stimulant to impress their partners because they were not able to be sexually aroused in a healthy relationship. These impacts have affected normal relationships and are contributing to the number of broken relationships.

Because online pornography threatens the public health of the continent if left uncontrolled, some steps must be taken to combat these harms.  There is a need to rally the various publics behind the reality that pornography threatens public health and to encourage them to make concerted efforts in responding to and preventing its menace. The hard truth is that many people still do not know the harms of pornography in Africa. The standardized training guide on the public harms of pornography developed by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) can be utilized within the local understanding and has application for stakeholders across the continent.This will positively contribute to building a strong movement against pornography across the continent. With information at the disposal of agents of positive change, many of the public harms of pornography in Africa can be mitigated.

Capacity building of major stakeholders in the public and private sectors must be enhanced with the requisite knowledge, skills, and tools to address online pornography. Internet service providers and major entities must begin to see the harms of pornography and play decisive roles towards this end. Those companies that would continue to promote pornography must be named and held accountable. Such an initiative, when replicated across Africa, would give a voice to rights holders to hold corporate entities accountable for their roles in promoting public health against pornography; an impressive initiative which NCOSE does annually.

Importantly, too, Africa’s governments must make or strengthen specific laws against online pornography to serve as a deterrence for potential perpetrators. The community must be engaged from the onset so that they can assess the harms of pornography and begin to take steps against them. Households, schools, the religious community, and local and national entities must utilize traditional and modern media platforms to aid in education and advocacy. When this is done, the nuisance will be nipped in the bud and Africa can be rescued from this dreaded drug.

Alvin Winford

Alvin Winford, National Center on Sexual Exploitation Fellow

2020 NCOSE International Fellow / Programme Director, African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect

Alvin has over 18 years of working on anti-exploitation efforts in Africa. Reared by a single mother in Liberia, he faced the harsh reality of a patriarchy and harmful cultural practices which are detrimental to the wellbeing of women and children. It was at that point that he realized that he must challenge the power and control wheel so that women and children are protected against all forms of exploitation.  He believes that when children, women and men are protected against exploitation and perpetrators are accountable for their actions; sexual violence would be adequately addressed. And this niche of standing for the vulnerable connects him to the values of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Coming to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, he is of the view that he will learn so much that would enhance his work in educating duty bearers, care givers and right holders on the harms of pornography and sexual exploitation. Also, he comes at a time when the National Center is elevating its programs at international level which he would serve as one of the catalysts in preventing and responding to sexual exploitation across Africa. He is an ideal advocate, facilitator and mobilizer against exploitation. He did his undergraduate studies in Mass Communications at the University of Liberia in 2001, and graduate studies in educational administration and supervision at the University of Liberia Graduate Program in Education in 2019.

Alvin is a 2019/2020 Humphrey Fellow sponsored by the United States Department of State. The program brings to the United States the brightest across the world experienced professionals interested in strengthening their leadership skills through a mutual exchange of knowledge and understanding about issues of common concern in the U.S. and Fellows’ home countries, He is presently undergoing studies in “Trafficking in Persons, Policy and Prevention” at the American University Washington College of Law. Alvin comes from Liberia and has worked for many years with the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect as an advocate.

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