Joan Irvine, Executive Director, ASACPJoan Irvine started with Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection in 2002 as executive director and was promoted to CEO in 2008.
Joan Irvine started with Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection in 2002 as executive director and was promoted to CEO in 2008. She has worked in business technology and association management for more than 25 years for companies that have included Systems Development Corporation, Automatic Data Processing, and Virtual Interactive Community. She advocates on behalf of online child protection in Washington and Sacramento, and participates in the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography, Family Online Safety Institute, and the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee. She belongs to the American Society of Association Executives and the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce Leadership program. She has a B.A. in human development and psychology from the University of Kansas.
What did you do before ASACP?
I have been in technology and association industries for more than 25 years. I started my career as a programmer for System Development Corporation (now Unisys) at Bell Labs. I sold technology business solutions for Automatic Data Processing (ADP) and sold e-commerce affinity programs to the association industry. I was the vice president of membership for an association for professionals in new media and technology.
When, and why, did you join ASACP? Was it a tough decision to take a gig with an agency representing the adult industry?
I joined ASACP in 2002. I wanted to work for a cause-based association because I knew that I would spend many hours of my life at work—I’ve never only worked a 40-hour week. And what could be a better cause than working for an organization devoted to online child protection? I knew that it would be a challenge because ASACP was at that point a grass-roots, volunteer-based organization. However, I am an expert at turning company vision into tangible goals and growing a company. I developed a long-term strategic plan to implement cutting-edge technology and grow ASACP into an influential and well-respected child protection association. I was used to calling on the senior executive level at banks and other heavily regulated industries, and establishing long-term relationships and customizing technology to meet their needs. I had experience at developing a community and mentoring younger people about the benefits of being active in an association. All these skills fit perfectly for what needed to be done at ASACP.
How has the industry changed since you’ve been at ASACP?
Thankfully, it has grown up—it’s gone from the “Wild West” to more business-oriented. This change was necessary if the industry was going to survive. Just as in any other maturing industry, I expected the recent consolidations. In fact, we discussed the possibility of this change at an ASACP board meeting at least four years ago. It’s no different than the banking consolidation in the mid-’80s; at that time I sold cash management services to large regional banks.
Some people saw this industry as a lifestyle. I saw the industry as a business. People were working very hard to grow their companies and needed to become more professional about their business practices to maintain their business. Plus, any industry would prefer to self-regulate than have legislators and law enforcement dictate the rules. This is no different than phone companies, ISPs, etc.
Has the mission of ASACP changed during the time you’ve been there? If so, how?
Yes. When ASACP first started it focused on its child pornography reporting hotline. The data from the hotline provided proof that the industry was not involved with child pornography. Then the government and media started to focus on children viewing age-restricted content. The movie industry has MPAA, the video gaming industry has ESRB, and the adult industry wanted its own label, so ASACP worked with industry leaders and mainstream parental control companies to developed the Restricted To Adults (RTA) website label. We wanted to create a content label that was free, voluntary, self-applied and universally available. In addition to helping parents prevent their children from viewing age-restricted material, the adult industry has been able to use RTA to clearly show their ability to self-regulate while uniting a very diverse international industry in its support of child protection, which prevented the U.S. government from passing mandatory labeling legislation.
We also knew it was important in order for the industry to be considered legitimate that it had to have Best Practices. ASACP created a self-regulatory vehicle for its members through a code of ethics that promotes the protection of children through responsible, professional business practices (ASACP.org/bestpractices.html). These practices change as technology and distribution methods change—such as the use of mobile phones to access age-restricted content. ASACP is constantly working to make sure that companies have the information they need to protect their businesses while protecting children.
What do you like most and least about the industry? How would you like to see it change for the better?
What I like most about the industry are the people. Most of them are professional business people with families who are concerned about child protection and hate that the industry has been given a bad reputation as it relates to child protection. I also like that the industry is cutting edge with its use of technology—it’s challenging, but never dull.
What I like least is that many in the industry do not understand the importance of associations to the health of an industry. Associations like ASACP and FSC [the Free Speech Coalition] do so much to help the industry, yet we both have to beg for money. The more time we need to focus on fundraising, the less time we have to work on our programs that protect the children and the industry.
People complain about piracy and government legislation, but they are not willing to donate money to the two associations that are working to help them with these issues. Other companies are willing to use the benefits of ASACP and FSC’s work but not willing to pay for it—this, in ways, is no different than piracy.
What are the current goals of ASACP?
International expansion, mainstream and government outreach, continuing to develop technology to address emerging child protection issues.
Since the internet and the industry is international, it is important to address online child protection on an international basis. ASACP is working on this expansion. Our initial plans are to start translating our websites while we work on increasing our international presence and learning the laws of various countries.
We also believe that RTA could be an important resource for other industries with age-restricted products. In the next five years, I expect RTA to be used by many industries with adult entertainment. There should be no difference among sexual adult entertainment, dating sites, gambling, alcohol, etc.
However, in order to expand internationally, reach out to mainstream companies and media, increase our influence with legislators and create new technology, we need to increase our funding. So developing new ways to raise funds is very important.
What are the greatest obstacles to achieving those goals?
Limited staff and lack of funds. ASACP is remarkably effective considering our limited resources. However, all too many times people will tell me the reason they don’t support ASACP is because there is an issue we are not addressing, yet they fail to realize the only reason that we cannot do more is because they are not financially supporting ASACP. It’s very much a Catch-22.
ASACP needs a full-time lobbyist in DC and an ASACP representative in Europe. We also need another technical person, and a public relations agency to promote ASACP so that more people can know about the industry’s effort to protect children.
The other obstacle is that mainstream foundations and corporations won’t support an association that is funded by adult, even though many of these mainstream companies make lots of money from the industry. The industry needs to begin to pressure these mainstream companies to support ASACP—the same as they support other child protection associations. In fact, ASACP recently established a charity, the ASACP Foundation, so that these companies and the public will have a vehicle where they feel they can donate.
What makes you optimistic about the work you are doing at ASACP and also about the industry in general?
The adult entertainment industry has existed for centuries and is not going away; it’s just maturing and learning to deal with current economic condition. There is less partying and more business being done—this is important to the future of the industry.
I’ve seen ASACP’s growth and success in child protection in the last seven years. Look at the success of RTA in three years: 2.2 million sites labeled with RTA; more than 5 billion hits daily to pages labeled with RTA; and a majority of parents who recognize the website label. RTA has also received numerous commendations and was named the overall winner in the Associations Make a Better World Awards.
Mainstream companies that work with “high risk” industries are constantly under pressure from their boards, customers and religious organizations to stop working with the adult entertainment industry. However, we have been able to make it known that if someone is an ASACP member, a well-respected third party has reviewed their sites for CP and developed systems to help parents prevent their children from unknowingly accessing age-restricted content.
I know that ASACP can continue to do so much more. A good example is the 18/18 initiative. I believe that the industry working together can achieve a higher level of child protection. However, it will be challenging because different countries have different laws and views about age-restrictions for adult content.
As much as ASACP is able to accomplish, there is still much to be done to keep protecting children. But I am always optimistic when I am approached by people in the industry who offer their resources and go out of their way to help us. I do believe by working together that anything is possible.
This article originally ran in the November 2009 issue of AVN.