Submission to the Senate Committee reviewing Online Safety Bill 2021.
The committee of management of the SSEAA today sent the following submission to the Senate Committee regarding perceived dangers for sex educators posed in Australia by the proposed new online safety and censorship legislation. We intend to keep members and friends abreast of any news on the topic, as it is likely to affect us directly.
Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
2 March 2021
Dear Committee Secretary,
On behalf of the members of the Somatic Sex Educators Association of Australasia, we welcome the opportunity to respond to the terms of reference for consultation on the Online Safety Bill 2021.
About the SSEAA:
The Somatic Sex Educators Association is the industry organisation for certified somatic sex educators; a group of professionals working with clients interested in learning about their sexuality through embodied practice. Our members, who are trained, certified, and insured, work under mandatory codes of practice and ethics, and seek to provide valuable service to clients on issues of shame, sexual dysfunction, consent and boundaries, curiosity and self-expression. We believe our work to be of value to our clients and to our society, de-pathologising sex and the human body and using openness and inquiry to break down long-standing stigmas that help no-one.
In order to work effectively with clients, and to sustain their legal and useful small businesses, our members must be able to communicate widely about the services they provide. Social media and the internet generally are, as they are for all businesses, absolutely central to this effort to communicate and publicise. Our members use positive messaging in social media, their own websites, podcasts, and other internet media, around sexuality, body positivity, consent, inclusivity and pleasure as a key feature of their marketing. It is our position that this positive messaging forms a genuine public good that is under threat from Part 9 of the Online Safety Bill. Resorting to euphemism and sanitised, guarded language to get around zealous content restrictions concerning sexuality serves neither the public nor sex educators. Having genuine curious discussion around sex disappear from the public square likewise does not serve Australian society and threatens the viability of our members’ enterprise. In particular those of our members who are in various ways marginalised do not have access to traditional media to promote their work or engage their potential clients. The levelling effect of the internet is vital to their capacity to find, communicate with, and serve the people who benefit from their work.
Overseas legislation and expectations have already had a marked effect on the capacity of our members, and other sexuality professionals, to promote their work and sustain their businesses. The pathologising of parts of the body (such as, but not limited to, women’s nipples) and overly cautious responses to even the word sex in educational contexts on social media creates difficulties in communicating about sex openly and honestly; issues that the Bill seems likely to exacerbate. Removing sex-positive, respectful, curious material is likely to reinforce old stigmas and reduce the sexual and consent literacy of Australians. It is of extremely dubious merit to state that society at large finds the discussion of sex to be so dangerous or untenable, and yet the effect of content moderation has been continually to remove, or require the removal, of content that harms none, and in the case of our members, offers education to those who seek it. We express our concern to you that the provisions in Part 9, and the Bill generally, would provide another mechanism for wronging and stigmatising honest and unharmful sexual discussion, education, and expression. In doing so it threatens the capacity of our members to carry on their legal, qualified, and regulated businesses.
Beyond promotion, our members also work directly with clients over the internet, in ways that could be (and are) caught up in content moderation. Educational workshops and one-to-one work in our field sometimes include nudity and sexual self-touch, and efforts to sanitise the online space seriously risk curtailing our members’ capacity to work with consenting clients in ways that are useful to them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our members moved their in-person work online out of consideration for public health. We view further regulation of sex education material and activity online as an undeserved response to these efforts to protect our clients and the wider population.
The provision of take-down powers vested in a single, non-elected office over content that could certainly include sex-education material further jeopardises the work of our members. The Bill as it stands gives the opinion of a single unelected Commissioner the power effectively to prevent our members from working (as a group, or one-by-one) regardless of codified state legal approval for the work itself.
We ask that the Committee take into consideration the following suggestions.
1. Sexuality is not inherently harmful, and it does not serve Australian society for it to be treated as if it were. Education about sex, sexuality, sexual health, and the body is a public good and a valuable industry that should be protected from overzealous content policing of the kind threatened by the Bill in its current form. We suggest the Bill be amended explicitly to protect reasonable and healthy depictions and discussions of sexuality, and in particular, to protect discussion and illustration of sexuality for educational purposes.
2. An unelected Commissioner is not an appropriate mechanism for controlling the fates of individual sex education businesses operating legally and in good faith. At the very least, meaningful review and dispute processes should be explicitly included in the Bill. Provision of penalties for hosting/posting harmful material should be the remit of properly executed legal procedures through policing and the courts, as is the case for other kinds of harms.
Thank you again for your consideration.