Life Mothers & Babies

Wednesday 20 September 2017

We must protect children from the dangers of porn

Picture posed.
Picture posed.

Patricia Casey

Twenty years ago it was considered frumpish to question whether pornography was harmful.

Questioning the "right" to access pornography was seen as a violation of personal freedom, while suggesting that perhaps it should carry a health and safety warning was viewed as against the best liberal instincts.

It is now acceptable to argue that limits should and must be applied.

The availability and dissemination of sexually explicit material is responsible for this shift and the public is now deeply wary of pornography.

But as society's concerns increase, curbs on its availability are difficult to enforce since internet access to images is available at the click of a button.

The reach of pornography has now exceeded the wildest fantasies of the most hardened of sexual offenders. It is available in myriad guises and even schoolchildren have been lured into its net.

Particularly pernicious is the readiness with which child pornography can be viewed.

Two recent child murders have highlighted the role of pornography in their deaths.

April Jones, a five-year-old little girl with cerebral palsy, was abducted in October last year and her body was never found.

Mark Bridger was found guilty of her murder when shards of bone found in his house matched her DNA.

He was known to have an interest in young murder victims and lurid images of children and teenagers were found on his computer.

Another victim of a sexual predator was Tia Sharp, aged 12, murdered by her grandmother's partner Stuart Hazell.

Neither man had shown previous sexual offending behaviour and both escalated very rapidly from watching the explicit material to acting on the fantasies that it stimulated.

Both these men clearly had very disturbed inner lives, concealed for a time from the outer world, but which were fuelled by easy-to-find child pornography.

In more humdrum ways teenagers themselves are now actively participating in pornography in what has become known as sexting, ie the transmission of sexually explicit material by mobile telephones.

Studies from the US and Britain found that up to 40pc of teenagers have engaged in this, although this figure is questioned by some researchers as exaggerated.

Whatever the actual figure, sexting could have serious legal consequences since the images, if they are distributed and even if self-generated, are of minors.

Some teens are reported to be under such pressure to send sexual images of themselves that they trawl the internet for explicit images rather than say "no".

The ubiquity of pornography has resulted in the sexual inquisitiveness of youngsters being stimulated earlier and earlier.

One of the questions that is still being debated is whether so-called "soft-porn" has adverse effects on those who view it.

On one side of the argument are feminists who are anti-porn, and these include well known names such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon who see all pornography, even the soft variety, as exploiting women.

On the other side are a group known as sex-positive feminists who see pornography as enriching individuals in their exploration of all aspects of sexuality.

Associated with this group are feminist writers such as Gayle Rubin and Kathy Acker. These culture wars are far from over.

Researchers are still examining this issue also.

A 2010 study found that both violent and non-violent pornography was correlated with attitudes supporting violence against women.

And even though this was higher in respect of violent images, it was also statistically significant for non-violent images.

While correlation is not the same as causation, a footprint may be emerging in the direction of harm.

More studies are needed.

Now, more than 60 years since pornography became normalised and accepted in mainstream publications, teachers in Britain are calling for guidance in educating their pupils about its dangers.

Childhood is being robbed of its innocence.

At this point it is difficult to know what will protect our children and teenagers so that they can retain their innocence and mature through adolescence into adults who have secure relationships.

These are worrisome times for teachers and parents alike.

Irish Independent

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