“Yes. I have watched [and accessed] porn websites,” said an old, bearded man stunning the ‘Reporter’ team who wanted to find out if it was true that Pakistan currently tops the list of porn-searching countries on Google.

As others around the bearded man laughed, the old man said: “Perhaps they may be right. What’s wrong with it? If I have watched it, then people like you may definitely have done much more …If people make porn websites, they make them to be watched.”

There may be inaccuracies in Google trends, as admitted by the Google’s spokesman. However, the team at ‘Reporter’ went to five cities including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta to find out the reality of Google trends statistics.

Though a few of the people questioned for the programme admitted watching porn websites, majority of the people, who use the internet, denied ever having accessed pornography on the internet or having even seen advertisements for such a site. Admitting to watching pornography or accessing sex-related websites on TV is difficult and whether such a personal question should be asked from someone on camera is debatable. But then, the choice to answer how to respond rests with the interviewee. Surprisingly, some of those who denied ever having searched for sex or searched for a porn website, admitted to their preference for internet browsing once the camera was switched off.

Irrespective of the debate about accuracy or inaccuracy of the Google findings, Rahia Aftab, a psychologist at Quaid-i-Azam University’s National Institute of Psychology believed that every internet user, once in a while, inadvertently comes across a pop-up porn website. The general attitude of denying the existence of a problem is a major cause of the ills facing the society.

Psychological studies have found that people who are prone to watching porn are more likely to commit sexual crimes. The rising incidents of rape and child sexual abuse in the country are indications of the sickness which prevails. The number of rape and sexual harassment cases concerning children, which go unreported because of the social stigma, is much more alarming. It is not to say that such cases do not happen in societies that are developed but those countries have security networks which provide help and counseling to the victims rather than aiding social stigma as is in our case.

Another social crime in Pakistan related to the internet is the availability of videos and pictures of innocent girls, usually made by their ‘boyfriends.’ Such pictures and videos in compromising positions are usually transferred through Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) from one mobile to another, mostly in cases in which a break-up has occurred. Many such victims suffer in silence rather than bringing their tormentors to justice by seeking help of the law enforcement agencies. In a system where people have lost hope in good governance and where society does not offer solutions, cases have come forth where victims have even committed suicide rather then looking for support structures in the society.

Only by recognising a problem, can solutions can be found. The gut reaction of the majority of the people to tackle a problem, such as pornography on the internet, is to argue for censorship. Any form of censorship is not a solution. In such cases, especially in the case of cyber monitoring, a number of freedoms are compromised if government opts for that route. The example of banning a few blasphemous websites on the instructions of a court, led to a blanket ban of Facebook throughout Pakistan. In addition, the government used the directions of the court to block a number of websites and blogs which were critical of the government.

“The government should not regulate what people access or do not access online,” said Reba Shahid, Editor of Spider magazine, Pakistan’s first magazine on the cyber world.

The solution is to create awareness about issues which are considered taboo. Children, who are most vulnerable to fall prey to cyber stalkers or become psychology affected by such websites. “Awareness is very important and children should be told about the taboo issues in a careful manner,” writes Hira Pervaiz in a message to the ‘Reporter.’

One of the Facebook fans of the ‘Reporter,” Noman Sattar, had words of wisdom to offer. “Escaping behind ‘I never do this ... ’ or ‘Muslims can't do this ...’ is no solution. A nation must accept its problems. As long as we think like [sic] we are the best, we are stuck and cannot improve.”

MNA Palwasha Khan, who was interviewed for the show, claimed that the parliament had larger issues to discuss than this one: “The parliament is a floor where much bigger issues take dominance.” Khan also said that in addition to “larger national issues” some cases of rape, highlighted by the media, are discussed by the parliament or its committees.

But the question is whether issues like watching pornography, which is identified by psychologists as an inducing factor for rape in some cases, are worthy of being brushed under the rug as a conspiracy to defame Pakistan.

Arshad Sharif is the Islamabad Bureau Chief of DawnNews. He tweets at http://twitter.com/dawntvreporter and can be found on Facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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