Ugandans Debate Legality and Consequences of Pornography


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KAMPALA, UGANDA – Kenneth Ojok, 32, a lecturer at Kyambogo University in Kampala, the capital, says he has been addicted to pornography since his childhood. Ojok, who requested his name be changed to avoid the stigma attached to pornography here, says it has affected his personality and how he relates to others around him.

“I started reading pornographic materials from the time I was 8 years old,” he says. “This is because I wanted attention from my family and did not get it. Every time I got lonely, I would resort to reading pornographic materials. By the time I was 17 years old, I was so addicted, and it affected my self-esteem.”

Ojok says that people perceive pornography as fun, but the consequences are dire. He says he believes it has contributed to the country’s crime rate and other deviant sexual behaviors.

“It’s unfortunate that some newspapers publish nude photos of women and other forms of pornographic materials, but it gets into the minds of readers and is responsible for crimes such as marital rape and prostitution,” he says.

Ojok says at first the soft-core pornography published in local print media, such as tabloids featuring nude photos of women, satiated him. But after a while those images were no longer stimulating for him, so he began to consume so-called hard-core pornography, such as videos depicting rape and bestiality scenes.

“I started by reading pornographic magazines and newspapers,” he says. “[Then], it was no longer appealing to me. I had to go online to look for the real thing – videos showing rape and people having sex with animals.”

Ojok says his addiction has created unhealthy sexual habits.

“I did many weird things,” Ojok says. “I started masturbating, deliberately and secretly watching people having sex and having sex with people around me. Right now I am not married because I am still struggling to overcome these habits.”

Ugandans access pornography through tabloids, videos, the Internet and TV – a freedom some say is every citizen’s right. But others say pornography destroys the family and leads to an increase in sexual offenses. Nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, and church groups have been advocating against pornography and offering counseling services. Meanwhile, the government has been soliciting public opinion on an anti-pornography bill.

Adult women here reported an average of 2.2 sexual partners during their lifetime, while men reported having 6.4 partners, according to the most recent Uganda Demographic and Health Survey from 2006. Yet less than 20 percent of men and women believed married couples were faithful to their spouses. On average, 20 percent of women and 50 percent of men ages 15 to 49 reported having higher-risk intercourse – with someone they weren’t married to and didn’t live with – during the year before the survey.

In many Kampala suburbs, towns and trading centers, there are Internet cafés where users pay to browse and surf the web. The cafés are open to all people regardless of age or gender. The most popular sites include those related to sports, dating, jobs, visas, the lottery and pornography.

Halima Nansubuga, 23, an attendant in Visa Internet Café, located in the Kampala city center, says there are no restrictions on what information customers may surf. He says customers deserve the liberty to surf any information they choose, including pornography.

“This is a public place,” Nansubuga says. “We cannot stop people from surfing what they want. We allow them to surf anything they want as long as it opens.”

With the advent of multichannel TV, people also have access to pornographic material at the click of a remote. In rural areas where people can’t afford TVs and DVD players, there are video shacks where battery-controlled equipment shows pornographic movies.

Photos of nude women and other explicit material are also published in local tabloids, such as the Red Pepper, published in English; The Onion, published in English; Kamunye, published in Luganda, a language spoke by the majority of central Ugandans; and Entatsi, published in Runyankore, a language spoken by the majority of western Ugandans.

Constance Obonyo, a counselor with World Healing Ministry Church, says the primary reason people start viewing pornography is because of the media. She says peers are another big influence.

“They are bombarded with images from the media,” she says. “Then they think they will have a sneak peek at this, and then they get hooked. Others it is through peers – bad company of people.”

Those addicted to pornography and advocates against it say such addictions can have devastating effects on family life.

Steven Langa, founder and executive director of Family Life Network, an NGO that aims to restore family values, says that pornography destroys the family, which is the building block of society.

“The state of the family reflects the state of the nation,” Langa says. “We attach a lot of value to family.”

Kakande Nicholas, 29, who declined to use his real name to protect his reputation, says his pornography addiction has nearly destroyed him and his family. He says it has prevented him from finishing graduate school and has jeopardized his marriage.

Nicholas says he started viewing soft-core pornography in the media. Then, after graduating from college and starting a job as a data entrant for the Electoral Commission of Uganda, he switched to hard-core pornography.

“I used to enjoy viewing pictures of naked women in magazines,” he says. “When I was working with [the] electoral commission, I used to view videos of people having sex on my neighbor’s desktop.”

After leaving this job, Nicholas enrolled in a master’s degree program at Makerere University in Kampala. He says he would wake up early in the morning to go to the school’s Internet lab to surf for images of sex scenes. He says the images distracted him from his studies.

“I failed to concentrate in class, and up to now, after five years since I enrolled for the course that should have been for two years, I haven’t graduated,” Nicholas says.

Nicholas says his addiction is also tearing his family apart, as he has had multiple sex partners since he started consuming pornography. He says his wife found out after two of the women he impregnated showed up at his home with the children he fathered.

“Two women I impregnated have thrown children at [my] home,” he says, referring to children conceived out of wedlock whom he must now support. “My wife has given me a last warning that, if I don’t change my behavior, she will leave me.”

He says he is trying to get help but that it’s not an easy problem to overcome.

“I have started seeing a counselor, but I am still far from coming out of the addiction,” he says.

Obonyo says she tells patients in their counseling sessions that pornography destroys the institution of the family in many ways. For example, she says pornography may encourage consumers to become promiscuous and contract sexually transmitted diseases, STDs.

“It spoils people’s real relations,” Obonyo says. “It causes people to think that one can sleep with as many people as he wants and there are no consequences.”

She says this was the case with one man she counseled.

“A 36-year-old married male, college-educated, a professional and very successful financially, had an addiction to pornography, masturbation and frequenting massage parlors where he had paid sex,” she says. “He had an excellent marriage, four children and was very active in his church, where he assumed important positions of responsibility.”

But she says he couldn’t stop even though he wanted to and knew he should.

“While he felt guilty about his engagement in illicit sex, which was contrary to his religious, ethic[al] and personal values, and had the potential of seriously disturbing his marriage if found out, he compulsively continued to do that which, at a rational level, he did not want to do.”

She says he finally sought help after he infected his wife with an STD.

“This created many serious and disturbing consequences in his life and marriage,” she says.

Obonyo says pornography also holds women up to an unattainable ideal.

“A man addicted to pornography compares his wife with people they have seen in the video,” she says. “People in videos don’t have stretch marks, they don’t have bulges or even moles on their skin.”

She says this can also prevent single men from marrying.

“The unmarried go out looking for the perfect people they saw, and sometimes these people don’t exist in real life,” she says. “Some even fail to function in real life.”

Obonyo says that another man she counseled was a 30-year-old single male, religiously active and very committed to his faith. She says his pornography addiction was sexually stimulating yet paralyzed his ability to socialize with people his own age.

“He was too shy to ask adult females on dates,” she says. “So he developed intimate relationships with his 4- and 7-year-old nieces and their girlfriends, which culminated in his repeatedly sexually molesting them.”

Langa of Family Life Network says pornography is responsible for the increasing numbers of rape, defilement and incest cases reported in the country because it corrodes morality.

“What separates human beings from animals is the issue of morality,” Langa says. “In the last 20 years, there were few cases of rape, defilement or incest reported as compared to today.”

Langa says that eastern Uganda has the highest incidence of rape and defilement cases because of the prevalence of a magazine there called Seen, which is published in Kenya and sold in eastern Uganda.

“A study done in the [United States] says most rapists consumed pornography at a young age,” he says. “Other studies reveal that pornography consumers start regarding women as sex objects. As a nation where it is said pornography is rampant, then we are breeding rapists.”

Police at the Kampala central police station confirm that there has been a slight increase in sexual offenses from 22 in 2009 to 33 in 2010.

Family Life Network has been working to curb pornography in Uganda. It has a mission to restore family values by promoting marriage, honesty, mutual respect, tolerance and forgiveness. It also provides counseling to pornography victims and addicts and organizes advocacy initiatives to rid the country of pornography.

“We were the first to conduct a seminar on pornography in 2002,” Langa says. “It opened people’s eyes to its dangers. We teach young people on the dangers of pornography and have them rescued.”

Ojok says he sought help at Family Life Network when he heard about the services it offers.

“I walked into [the] Family Life offices myself, and I am recovering from the addiction and its aftereffects,” Ojok says.

Groups at churches, like Obonyo’s, are also working to counsel Ugandans addicted to pornography.

The Ugandan government through the Ministry for Ethics and Integrity is working on an anti-pornography bill to curb pornography in the country. 

The proposed law aims to eliminate pornography by meting out heavy fines and/or prison sentences ranging from five to 10 years for those found guilty of dealing in pornographic materials. It would also broaden the definition of pornography to include any form of communication – speech, entertainment or fashion – that depicts unclothed or underclothed parts of the human body.

The Cabinet has already approved the bill. The government has been consulting the general public on it.