Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Warning over child access to porn

The Children's Commissioner says age restrictions apply at the cinema but society allows access to far more troubling imagery via the internet

Children who access pornography are more likely to have sex at a younger age and engage in "risky behaviours", a report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner has warned.

The office has called for urgent action to "develop children's resilience to pornography" after discovering that a "significant" number of them have access to sexually explicit images.

The Department for Education (DfE) must ensure all schools deliver effective relationship and sex education, which should include safe use of the internet, the office recommended.

The report, commissioned by the office as part of its national inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs, is based on a review of academic research including 41,000 items of literature.

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said: "We are living at a time when violent and sadistic imagery is readily available to very young children. Even if they do not go searching for it, their friends may show it to them or they may stumble on it while using the internet."

She added: "For years we have applied age restrictions to films at the cinema but now we are permitting access to far more troubling imagery via the internet. It is a risky experiment to allow a generation of young people to be raised on a diet of pornography."

The report found that access to porn can lead to young people engaging in "risky behaviours". It also said that access to porn can influence children's sexual beliefs, developing unrealistic attitudes about sex, bad attitudes towards relationships and beliefs that women are sex objects. A "significant proportion" of children are exposed to or access pornography, which can occur both online and offline, the report said.

In its recommendations, the report called on the DfE to ensure all schools provide relationship and sex education. The curriculum should cover access and exposure to porn and sexual practices that are relevant to young people's lives and experiences. The recommendations echo calls made by the End Violence Against Women coalition to make sex and relationships education compulsory in secondary schools.

Dr Miranda Horvath, senior lecturer at Middlesex University, which led the review of academic evidence, said: "It is clear that children and young people want and need safe spaces in which they can ask questions about, and discuss their experiences with, pornography. The onus must be on adults to provide them with evidence-based education and support and help them to develop healthy, not harmful, relationships with one another.

"When pornography is discussed, it is often between groups of people with polarised moral views on the subject. Rather than adopting a particular ideological stance, this report uses evidence-based research to draw its conclusions and further the debate."

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