Editor’s note: This article includes references to graphic sexual content that may be inappropriate for some readers.
Today teenagers are viewing far more pornography than their parents realize. And the porn they’re watching is much more “hardcore” than moms and dads could possibly imagine.
These were the main messages of “What Teenagers are Learning From Online Porn,” a recent New York Times story by Maggie Jones. It quickly became one of the most read and shared articles.
While this may be a surprise to many American parents who perhaps imagine porn as merely a naked centerfold, it wasn’t to scholars like me who immerse ourselves in the world of mainstream porn. We know how widespread violent, degrading and misogynisticpornography has become, as well as the implications for the emotional, physical and mental health of young people.
In an effort to better understand the problem from a “front-line” perspective, feminist activist Samantha Wechsler and I have been traveling the world talking to parents about the issue. The question we’re asked most often is: “What can we do about it?”
‘Hardcore’ porn is everywhere
Surveys and our own experiences show that parents are deeply concerned about the easy access their kids now have to porn via mobile devices.
The statistics paint a dismal picture. A recent U.K. study found that 65 percent of 15- to 16-year-olds had viewed pornography, the vast majority of whom reported seeing it by age 14. This is especially problematic given the findings of another study that found a correlation between early exposure to pornography and an expressed desire to exert power over women.
Yet for all this concern, they know surprisingly little about what mainstream porn looks like, how much their kids are accessing and how it affects them. The Times article, however, cited a 2016 surveythat suggested most parents are totally unaware of their kids’ porn experiences. Jones called this the “parental naivete gap.”
This matches our own experiences. In the presentations we do at high schools, we ask parents to describe what they think of when they hear the word “porn.” They invariably describe a naked young woman with a coy smile, the kind of image many remember from Playboy centerfolds.
They are shocked when they learn that the images from today’s busiest free porn sites, like Pornhub, depict acts such as women being gagged with a penis or multiple men penetrating every orifice of a woman and then ejaculating on her face. When we tell parents this, the change in the atmosphere of the room is palpable. There is often a collective gasp.
It bears repeating that these are the most visited porn sites – which get more visitors every month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. Pornhub alone received 21.2 billion visits in 2015. We are not talking about images on the fringe.
Ana Bridges, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas, and her team found that 88 percent of scenes from 50 of the top-rented porn movies contained physical aggression against the female performers – such as spanking, slapping and gagging – while 48 percent included verbal abuse – like calling women names such as “bitch” or “slut.”
Bad for your health
More than 40 years of research from different disciplines has demonstrated that viewing pornography – regardless of age – is associated with harmful outcomes. And studies show that the younger the age of exposure, the more significant the impact in terms of shaping boys’ sexual templates, behaviors and attitudes.
A 2011 study of U.S. college men found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography in the past 12 months and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault (if they knew they wouldn’t be caught) than men who said they had not seen porn.
Another study of young teens found that early porn exposure was correlated with perpetration of sexual harassment two years later.
One of the most cited analyses of 22 studies concluded that pornography consumption is associated with an increased likelihood of committing acts of verbal or physical sexual aggression. And a study of college-aged women found that young women whose male partners used porn experienced lower self-esteem, diminished relationship quality and lower sexual satisfaction.
It begins with parents
Fearing for their children’s well-being, parents at our presentations, whether in Los Angeles, Oslo or Warsaw, want to run home in a panic to have the “porn talk” with their kids.
But in reality, they often have no idea what to say, how to say it, or how to deal with a kid who would rather be anywhere else in the world than sitting across from their parents talking about porn. At the same time, public health research shows that parents are the first line of prevention in dealing with any major social problem that affects their kids.
So what can be done?
Most current efforts focus on teens themselves and educating them about sex and the perils of porn. Although it is crucial to have high-quality programs for teens who have already been exposed, the fact is that this is cleaning up after the fact rather than preventing the mess in the first place.
So a team of academics, public health experts, educators, pediatricians and developmental psychologists – including us – spent two years pooling research to create a program to help parents become that vitalfirst line of defense.
That’s why the nonprofit we set up – Culture Reframed – initially focused on parents of tweens, addressing a key question: How do we prevent kids from being exposed to images of sexual abuse and degradation at that critical stage when they are forming their sexual identities?
What took shape was a 12-module program that introduces parents sequentially to the developmental changes – emotional, cognitive and physical – that tweens undergo and the hypersexualized pop culture that shapes those changes and is the wallpaper of tween lives.
For example, boys learn from music videos, violent video games, mainstream media and porn that “real men” are aggressive and lack empathy, that sex equals conquest, and that to avoid being bullied, they have to wear the mask of masculinity. Girls, on the other hand, learn that they have to look “hot” to be visible, be as passive as a cartoon princess and internalize the male gaze, leading them to self-objectify at an early age.
Navigating the porn minefield
Helping parents grasp the degree to which hypersexualized images shape their tweens encourages them to understand, rather than judge, why their girl wants to look like one of the Kardashians, or why their boy, hazed into hypermasculinity, is at risk of losing his capacity for empathy and connection. This helps parents approach their kids with compassion rather than with frustration and anger that can undermine the parent-child relationship.
Navigating all the minefields of living in today’s toxic porn culture – from sexting and poor self esteem to porn and peer pressure – is very tricky terrain, and parents need all the help they can get.
But ultimately, the Culture Reframed project is about so much more than providing parents with newfound confidence and skills. It’s about taking power back from the porn industry, which is out to hijack the sexuality and humanity of kids in the name of profit, and giving it back to parents.
Samantha Wechsler, interim executive director of Culture Reframed, co-authored this article.
Full article at The Conversation here.
A 22 year old man who was caught with child pornography involving babies, coerced a teenage girl into sending him nude photos before publically humiliating her by posting them to Instagram. At the age of just 20, Alastair Wayne Anning was found with about 10,000 photos and videos of child exploitation which he downloaded using an app he thought was untraceable. Judge Devereaux sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment, suspended after three months.
A Mackay man caught with more than 1000 “disturbing” child pornography images and videos secretly filmed his 15 year old stepdaughter showering with a friend and using the toilet. Judge Dick handed down an 18 month sentence but the man will serve just 5 months in prison before that term is suspended for 2 years.
A paramedic has been charged with possession of “disturbing, repulsive” child pornography images and movies. Police located 13 movies in total and 4426 images – the majority classified as one of the most grossly offensive type of child exploitation material including acts of penetration and sadism. Judge Burnett ordered Parsons to a sentence of 15 months jail, suspended after 2 months.
These are just a few examples of people charged with possession of child exploitation material in the last month. The sentences are very similar, and lenient, across the board.
In early 2017, Collective Shout launched a campaign to hold people who access child exploitation material more accountable for their actions. This accountability also needs to be directed towards internet service providers and their obligation to better monitor what their users are accessing.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to write a submission for the inquiry into the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2017. In our submission we agreed wholeheartedly that sentences for accessing child exploitation material needed to be increased. The above examples give you a general cross section of the types of sentences being handed down.
In addition to harsher sentencing, we also called on government to introduce legislation to increase liability for carriers (internet service providers) to more closely monitor and report on people accessing child exploitation material. Some fantastic recommendations came out of the inquiry, including increasing penalties for ISP’s for failing to pass on information, having a more formal reporting process, and allowing the Australian Federal Police to access service users personal details. Unfortunately, due to privacy laws surrounding service provider/service user relationships, ISP’s are not obligated to pass on client information.
The amendments to the Crimes Legislation Bill have already been debated twice in Parliament in 2017 and are scheduled to be debated again early 2018. At this stage, there has been no debate about the responsibilities of ISP’s, just debate around increasing sentencing penalties.
The United Kingdom has introduced “opt in” rules for people wishing to access the internet. If a service user wants to access 18+ content, they have to let their ISP know and provide their credit card details and proof of age. This allows police and ISP’s to better track people who are accessing child exploitation material. In Australia, you have to “opt out” of seeing this content or use internet filters. The UK model is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction to continue to crack down on people accessing and sharing child exploitation material.
Collective Shout will continue to lobby MP’s and work with other organisations to make sure ISP’s obligations are at the forefront of any bill amendments. Thank you so much for your support during 2017! We could not have achieved what we have without your help.
The fine line between sophistication and sexy. The Feed's Andy Park takes a look at how children and sexuality are portrayed in the images we consume and finds that standards are fluid. And they are changing fast.
Every day, everywhere, we are saturated with images of sexuality. Buy this. Click here. Like us.
But where these images become taboo is at the fringes of what we find acceptable. Especially when they involve children.
Julie Willis is a Gold Coast based photographer who specialises in photographing children from newborns right up to teenagers.
Many of the children Julie photographs are destined to be featured in magazines and advertising.
She says working with mothers who allow their children to model at an early age can sometimes have its challenges.
But it's the reaction to images of children that are viewed by some as sexual, that she can't understand.
"For me, I don't live in world where I look at children in that way or that kind of thing," says Julie. "I think it's people's interpretation of their own childhood, their own life, and whether they've got that disposition within their own upbringing that triggered something."
So is it all about our subjective view or can you draw some more objective standards on what is, and what is not, appropriate for children in media and advertising?
First let's look at how things have changed.
In the 1960s products still very much reflected social attitudes of the day. Barbie was in the kitchen, Ken was looking sporty.
But then suddenly something happened. We changed and Mattel released a new doll.Read more
I was walking … to school on my own … all of a sudden this car drove by on the main road and some guy stopped at the red light, wound down his window, stuck his head out and started whistling at me.
This is an account by an 11-year-old girl of everyday sexism and harrassment – and there are countless others like it. But few children or young people know what to do if they are whistled at, beeped at or stared at when they are out and about in public.
“Street harassment” is defined by the activist group Hollaback! as unwelcome comments, gestures and incidents in public, including on public transport. For those who experience it, walking to school, going out with friends, and using the bus, tram, train or tube can become extremely stressful. Children and young people can worry about going out in public. They can even think that something is wrong with them.
What can be done?
There are some, if limited, reporting options for children and young people who experience street harassment. But it is unlikely that such an incident could be successfully prosecuted under the current relevant UK law, the Public Order Act 1986.
Image: ShutterstockRead more
A mother has won a battle against teen clothing company Missguided who were promoting child sexual abuse imagery in their shop. A recent blog published by Elizabeth Johnston an Activist Vlogger from theactivistmom.com who educates about current events and topics that are important to families shares the following:
You know it’s a sick world we live in when you can’t even take your kids out to buy clothes without them being sexualized.
Clothing company “Missguided” came under fire recently for posting a sign on the wall of several of its UK shops that read “send me nudes.”
Yup, in an age where the sexualization of children must be guarded against every single day, “Missguided” – which also operates in the U.S.– just had to take things a step further and literally encourage the creation and distribution of child sexual abuse imagery.
If you're a child living in a society filled with sexploitation, what messages do you receive from this kind of daily environmental reinforcement?
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the UK (NSPCC), has warned that child sexploitation is being woefully underreported. The NSPCC further attribute sexploitation to children not understanding what healthy relationships look like.
Collective Shout is a grassroots campaigning movement fighting the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture. In its 2007 Task Force into the Sexualisation of Girls, the American Psychological Association defined sexualisation (as opposed to healthy sexuality) as follows:Read more
Founder of Kidz Biz Education Wendy Hill told the Sunday Mail that violent pornography is shaping primary school aged children’s behaviour.
According to Ms Hill, more than half of all Year 5 students, and almost all students from Year 6 onwards had viewed pornography online, but almost none told their parents or teachers because they feared being banned from the internet.Read more
“Rights" are things every child should have or be able to do. All children have the same rights. These rights are listed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Almost every country has agreed to these rights. All the rights are connected to each other, and all are equally important.
Sometimes, we have to think about rights in terms of what is the best for children in a situation, and what is critical to life and protection from harm. As you grow, you have more responsibility to make choices and exercise your rights.
Article 1 Everyone under 18 has these rights.
Article 2 All children have these rights, no matter who they are, where they live, what their parents do, what language they speak, what their religion is, whether they are a boy or girl, what their culture is, whether they have a disability, whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis.
Article 3 All adults should do what is best for you. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.
Article 4 The government has a responsibility to make sure your rights are protected. They must help your family to protect your rights and create an environment where you can grow and reach your potential.
Article 5 Your family has the responsibility to help you learn to exercise your rights, and to ensure that your rights are protected.
Article 6 You have the right to be alive.
Article 7 You have the right to a name, and this should be officially recognized by the government. You have the right to a nationality (to belong to a country).
Article 8 You have the right to an identity – an official record of who you are. No one should take this away from you.
Article 9 You have the right to live with your parent(s), unless it is bad for you. You have the right to live with a family who cares for you.
Article 10 If you live in a different country than your parents do, you have the right to be together in the same place.
Article 11 You have the right to be protected from kidnapping.
Article 12 You have the right to give your opinion, and for adults to listen and take it seriously.
Article 13 You have the right to find out things and share what you think with others, by talking, drawing, writing or in any other way unless it harms or offends other people.
Article 14 You have the right to choose your own religion and beliefs. Your parents should help you decide what is right and wrong, and what is best for you.
Article 15 You have the right to choose your own friends and join or set up groups, as long as it isn't harmful to others.
Article 16 You have the right to privacy.
Article 17 You have the right to get information that is important to your well being, from radio, newspaper, books, computers and other sources. Adults should make sure that the information you are getting is not harmful, and help you find and understand the information you need.
Article 18 You have the right to be raised by your parent(s) if possible.
Article 19 You have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, in body or mind.
Article 20 You have the right to special care and help if you cannot live with your parents.
Article 21 You have the right to care and protection if you are adopted or in foster care.
Article 22 You have the right to special protection and help if you are a refugee (if you have been forced to leave your home and live in another country), as well as all the rights in this Convention.
Article 23 You have the right to special education and care if you have a disability, as well as all the rights in this Convention, so that you can live a full life.
Article 24 You have the right to the best health care possible, safe water to drink, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help you stay well.
Article 25 If you live in care or in other situations away from home, you have the right to have these living arrangements looked at regularly to see if they are the most appropriate.
Article 26 You have the right to help from the government if you are poor or in need.
Article 27 You have the right to food, clothing, a safe place to live and to have your basic needs met. You should not be disadvantaged so that you can't do many of the things other kids can do.
Article 28 You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can.
Article 29 Your education should help you use and develop your talents and abilities. It should also help you learn to live peacefully, protect the environment and respect other people.
Article 30 You have the right to practice your own culture, language and religion - or any you choose. Minority and indigenous groups need special protection of this right.
Article 31 You have the right to play and rest.
Article 32 You have the right to protection from work that harms you, and is bad for your health and education. If you work, you have the right to be safe and paid fairly.
Article 33 You have the right to protection from harmful drugs and from the drug trade.
Article 34 You have the right to be free from sexual abuse.
Article 35No one is allowed to kidnap or sell you.
Article 36 You have the right to protection from any kind of exploitation (being taken advantage of).
Article 37 No one is allowed to punish you in a cruel or harmful way.
Article 38 You have the right to protection and freedom from war. Children under 15 cannot be forced to go into the army or take part in war.
Article 39 You have the right to help if you've been hurt, neglected or badly treated
Article 40 You have the right to legal help and fair treatment in the justice system that respects your rights.
Article 41 If the laws of your country provide better protection of your rights than the articles in this Convention, those laws should apply.
Article 42 You have the right to know your rights! Adults should know about these rights and help you learn about them, too.
Articles 43 to 54 These articles explain how governments and international organizations like UNICEF will work to ensure children are protected with their rights.