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No proof of porn link to 60% surge in Northern Ireland sex crimes, says Queen's University academic

By David Young

Published 14/10/2016

Dr Graham Ellison
Dr Graham Ellison

A Belfast academic has said there is no evidence to link the viewing of pornography, violent or otherwise, with Northern Ireland's soaring level of sex crime.

Dr Graham Ellison of Queen's University's School of Law claimed that some academic studies actually suggest that exposure to pornography can even lead to a decrease in sexual offending.

Dr Ellison was reacting to coverage in the Belfast Telegraph after Chief Constable George Hamilton referred to research into whether extreme pornography was linked to sexual violence.

But Dr Ellison dismissed the suggestion that even violent pornography was to blame for the rise in sex offences being investigated by the PSNI.

In a letter published in today's Belfast Telegraph, the criminologist said: "The assertion that watching pornography (whether violent or not) is responsible for a quantitative increase in sexual offences is rather spurious, particularly since no sources were cited to substantiate the remark.

"However, there is now a huge volume of data from a range of clinical and social scientific studies to suggest that pornography has either no effect on a person's behaviour, or that its effects are inconclusive.

"Some studies actually suggest that exposure to pornography can even lead to a decrease in sexual offending. Just because 'common sense' tells us that something might be true does not actually mean that it is true."

Earlier this week, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton told the Policing Board that "overall sex offending has increased by 61% over the last six years, with a year-on-year increase".

Dr Ellison said that he had no opinion on why sex crime in Northern Ireland had grown so dramatically.

"I don't really have any views on how these increases can be explained over and above what was already mentioned in the editorial," he wrote in an email. "Better reporting, police recording etc are undoubtedly contributing factors.

"But the important point to emphasise is that it is notoriously difficult to read 'increases' in any crime based solely on police data."

As he explored some of the reasons for the increase in sex crime with the Policing Board, Mr Hamilton gave members a shocking example of an attack he believed had been influenced by watching hardcore porn.

"Advances in global technology mean that the use and popularity of social media and internet sites has risen at an unprecedented rate over the last 10 years," the senior policeman said.

"It is difficult to determine what causes sexual violence. A number of recent studies are looking at the possibility of whether interest in extreme pornography might be a factor.

"As an illustration, the PSNI have recently dealt with a case where a 16-year-old male claimed to have watched extreme pornography online and believed this to be normal and acceptable behaviour and went on to offend against his partner."

Meanwhile, a leading UK charity revealed more than 13,000 people had sought help to stop viewing indecent images of children in the past year.

According to a Stop It Now, a charity that works to reduce child abuse, more than 12,000 people accessed self-help resources on its website. A further 1,615 people with concerns about their online behaviour called the charity's confidential hotline.

Founder of Stop it Now Donald Findlater,said: "Men, young men in particular, need to think about their online viewing of any sexual material and make sure their behaviour is and stays legal.

"Stop it Now is in touch with many such men who started out looking at adult pornography, but who ended up looking at sexual images of increasingly younger people, including children.

"We want people to keep their viewing legal, but if they have looked at sexual images of anyone under 18, they need to stop and stay stopped.

"If they are struggling to do this, they also need to know that confidential help is available on the end of a phone or online."

Jim Gamble of child protection organisation Ineqe said his experience had convinced him there was a direct link between viewing child pornography images and real world sex crime.

"People who seek out child sex abuse images do so because they've already developed a deviant sexual interest in children," he added. "They seek out those images in the way adults might use pornography to sexually satisfy themselves. And thereby I think that people who view child abuse images fundamentally represent a risk to children.

"When comes to adults and exposure to extreme pornography, I think the jury is still out."

Belfast Telegraph

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