One in 10 children have watched pornography by the time they are nine years old, according to “disturbing” new research by the children’s commissioner for England.
The report found that one-quarter of pupils in their final year of primary school had already been exposed. It also showed much of the material being consumed by children and young people featured violence.
Four out of five (79 percent) of those surveyed had seen pornography involving violence by the age of 18, while one in three young people have actively sought out depictions of sexual violence such as physical aggression, coercion and degradation.
The report, by Dame Rachel de Souza, also points to the harmful effects of exposure to violent pornography. Nearly half of the 16 to 21-year-olds who took part in the survey assumed girls either “expect” or “enjoy” sex which involves physical aggression, such as airway restriction.
De Souza said she was “deeply concerned” by the findings, particularly the normalization of sexual violence online, and the role it plays in shaping children’s understanding of sex and relationships.
“Throughout my career as school-leader I have witnessed the harmful impact of pornography on young people. I will never forget the girl who told me about her first kiss with her boyfriend, aged 12, who strangled her. He had seen it in pornography and thought it normal,” she wrote in the foreword to the report. “We urgently need to do more to protect children from the harms of online pornography. It should not be the case that young children are stumbling across violent and misogynistic pornography on social media sites. I truly believe we will look back in 20 years and be horrified by the content to which children were being exposed.”
The commissioner said it was “crucial” not to miss the opportunity offered by the online safety bill, which had its second reading in the British House of Lords on Monday, calling for it to pass through parliament as an urgent priority.
“Now is a vital moment to ensure that we understand the impact of pornography on children’s lives, and to legislate for a commensurate response,” she said.
The commissioner’s research, which was based on a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 young people aged 16 to 21, plus focus groups with teenagers, comes at a time of growing concern about the influence of misogynists such as Andrew Tate on young boys and men.
Among other findings in the report, 38 percent of 16 to 21-year-olds said they had accidentally encountered pornography online, while 58 percent of boys and 42 percent of girls said they sought out online pornography themselves.
One in five boys watched it at least every day in the two weeks prior to the survey, compared with 7 percent of girls, and more than half (56 percent) of frequent consumers actively sought out violent sex acts, compared with 25 percent of infrequent viewers.
The report also found that Twitter is the platform where the highest percentage of children and young people (41 percent) reported having seen sexual content, followed by dedicated sites (37 percent) and Instagram (33 percent).
And about half (51 percent) of girls aged 16 to 21 had been sent or shown explicit content involving someone they know in real life, compared with 33 percent of boys.
“This report makes for disturbing reading. Anything which normalizes sexualized behaviors in children can be exploited by online predators, who are only too ready to trick children into performing sexually on camera,” Internet Watch Foundation chief executive Susie Hargreaves said.
“These findings show we cannot underestimate the sheer number of children of all ages that are being exposed to online pornography on a daily basis,” said Richard Collard, head of child safety online policy at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “The negative and long-lasting impact this can have on children and their views on sex and healthy relationships is deeply worrying and it is essential that the government implements strong measures in the online safety bill to protect them from seeing this type of content.”
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