Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Brutalised by Porn: Feature

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Brutalised by Porn: Feature

Article excerpt

With violent and explicit images available everywhere, young people are imitating what they see. And as cases of teenage boys assaulting girls and distributing pictures of the attacks become increasingly common, Richard Vaughan asks if the 'pornification' of society is irrevocably damaging our children.

There was a time when pornography skulked in the shadows. It existed hidden from view, the territory of middle-aged men in mackintoshes. Only occasionally, in brief glimpses, did children come into contact with it. A peek at Page 3, perhaps, or, very rarely, the shocked discovery of torn pages from a "nudey mag" in the park.

But not any more. Pornography, it seems, is everywhere now. It lives in every house, clogging internet cables, tainting wi-fi connections, ready to appear on every computer screen and smartphone at the click of a button or swipe of a finger.

So saturated is society with pornography that UK prime minister David Cameron last month put forward plans to block access to online porn that would mean adults being forced to "opt in" if they want to view adult material.

The move is fraught with practical difficulties and has been criticised as censorship. But Cameron is risking the controversy because, he says, pornography has become so ubiquitous that it is "corroding childhood".

With the growth of technology, the advent of smartphones and near- universal internet connectivity, it has become easy for children to view explicit and potentially scarring material. And more than merely stripping away the innocence of childhood, many experts and campaigners believe that access to online porn is actively corrupting young people, warping their morals.

A report published in May by the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England, titled "Basically ... porn is everywhere" - a rapid evidence assessment on the effects that access and exposure to pornography has on children and young people, shows a link between exposure to pornography and "high-risk behaviour" among children, such as having casual and unprotected sex.

More worrying, however, is the impact it can have on boys, particularly in regard to their attitudes towards sex and girls.

"We know that pornography is pervasive and that a significant proportion of children are exposed to it or are accessing it," deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz writes. "We know that boys are more likely to view pornography out of choice than girls, who are much more reluctant viewers.

"Most worryingly, the evidence here shows that exposure to sexualised and violent imagery affects children ... and that there are links between violent attitudes and violent media."

Her words are borne out by the recent Steubenville High School rape case in Ohio, in the US. Two players from the school's American football team, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, were found guilty in March this year of sexually assaulting a fellow student at a party. But more than that, the two young men were part of a group that took pictures and videos of the attack. And perhaps most chillingly, the pictures and videos were then traded among students, complete with messages either praising the assailants or admonishing the victim.

In one image, two boys are seen carrying their victim by her arms and feet as she hangs, seemingly lifeless, like a deer they are about to tie to the bonnet of their car as a hunting trophy. Far from showing shock at the images, students posted messages ridiculing the girl.

The callousness, the complete lack of empathy for another human being - let alone a defenceless 16-year-old - shocked the world and trained the global media spotlight on a hitherto unknown town in Ohio. It also forced teachers, parents and schools around the world to question what effect porn was having on the psychological make-up of students.

The way in which the images of young men repeatedly violating a girl as she lay unconscious were traded between students, like baseball cards or football stickers, brought this into sharp focus. …

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