Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Daily Mail Article by Miranda Suit (safermedia co-founder)

On 25th November 2010 an article was published in the Daily Mail written by Miranda Suit, safermedia co-founder.  It is about the effect of internet porn upon children.  Below we have posted the full article:

Who can forget the disturbing story of the two young brothers from Edlington, South Yorkshire, who, in January this year, were jailed indefinitely for an horrific assault on two other boys?  In April 2009, aged just 10 and 11, these unnamed tormentors launched a sustained, 90-minute attack on the terrified youngsters which included stabbing them with broken bottles, glass and sticks. The victims, only nine and 11, were also subjected to humiliating sexual assaults.  The young perpetrators had been allowed free access to their father’s collection of ‘adult’ DVDs. This included not only ultra-violent horror movies, but a wide selection of pornography.

One expert who identified the link between this and the boys’ behaviour was Kevin Browne, Professor of Forensic Child Psychology at Nottingham University.  ‘The chances of these boys committing such an horrendous crime of violent and sexual assault were definitely increased by watching violent and pornographic films at home,’ he said.  These boys were from a family so dysfunctional that it was described as ‘toxic’ by the judge. But it seems even responsible parents can no longer be sure their children are not being exposed to such poten tially harmful material, because a disturbing new survey has revealed that one in three children has been exposed to internet pornography by the age of ten.

At a House of Commons conference earlier this week organised by safermedia, the charity of which I am a director, we heard the results of this survey - which also suggested that four in five teenagers regularly look up indecent images on their computers or mobile phones.  Statistics support the findings. At the Portman Clinic in London, which treats problematic sexual behaviour in all age groups, exposure to internet porn is implicated in 26 per cent of new cases involving young people.  But when we look at the material our youngsters are bombarded with, should we be surprised?

Things have moved on very far from 1999 when, as the mother of four teenage children, I became alarmed by the explicit sex which permeates modern society. With another mother, I set up Safermedia to campaign for stricter controls.  The internet was then in its infancy, and we focused on films, TV programmes and the emerging market in ‘lads’ mags’. I still maintain all of these media can play a significant role in providing ‘gateway porn’, which eases viewers and readers into seeking out more hardcore material.  But how harmless their pictures of breasts and even full-frontal nudity can seem in the wake of the disturbing images peddled in cyber-space today.  Usually involving violence, or extreme physical discomfort for the females involved, these images portray the degrading treatment of women as exciting and acceptable, validating the idea they are not only up for rough sex, but actively seek it.

John Woods, a psychotherapist at the Portman Clinic, told our conference: ‘Youngsters say it must be OK to look at the most violent and perverse imagery “because it’s there, on the Net”, and so it seems permitted by the adult world.’  These images are packaged to give viewers the quickest ‘hit’ possible, and the models appear willing to provide exactly what is required. Imagine the problems when young men weaned on such distorted reality are in relationships with women who find their partner’s sexual requests utterly distasteful because they are predicated on pornography.

Such dangers will not apply to every child. But those who have failed to form a proper attachment to the adults in their lives will be particularly vulnerable.  Young girls may find themselves lured into showing off their bodies on webcams - mistaking the attention paid to them by predatory strangers for the affection and reassurance they are seeking in real life.  Like boys, they will also be subject to unrealistic ideas of what is expected of women. Many girls who are not blonde, skinny and depilated - a pre-requisite for most porn starlets - similarly feel a lack of self-worth which may affect their ability to form proper relationships.

For both sexes, there is evidence that early exposure to pornography can lead to an increased willingness for risky sexual practices. Research at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that one-night stands, sex without condoms, and increased rates of teenage pregnancy are all associated with pornography acting as ‘a teacher, a permission giver and a trigger of negative behaviours’.
Every day 400 new porn sites go live on the Internet, yet only 37 per cent of parents have set up security controls on their children's computer

Neither is it necessary for children to seek pornography out deliberately. Many samples are virtually forced on internet users for free, to lure users into signing up for X-rated websites.
With just a few clicks of the mouse, your children can find themselves on the fringes of a dark and perverted world. And while they may not have the credit card needed to proceed, they will have already seen the introductory material.

So what is to be done? At our conference I was astonished and disappointed to hear the Department for Education plans to commission yet another report into these problems. The Government has already funded two investigations in recent years, one by parenting expert Tanya Byron, the other by clinical psychologist Linda Papadopoulos.  Both suggested the solution lay in more information for parents and teachers, and in helping them stop children from visiting such sites.

Do the Government officials who nod sagely at such advice have any children of their own?  If so, they should know the generation gap is never more obvious than when it comes to new technology.  Many parents are simply not familiar enough with computers to detect when their children have visited such sites. And even if they know how to apply the filters to stop them, these are far from 100 per cent effective. As for simply asking youngsters not to give into temptation - well, teenagers are, understandably, not known for their self-control.

The only answer is restricting access to such material. Some 95 per cent of pornographic content viewed in this country comes from servers operated by British-based companies, including BT Internet and Virgin. They and the big search engines must be persuaded that pornography should only be available to those adult users who request it.  They will argue this is technically impossible. But I would remind them of the scandal in 2006 when Google agreed to censor certain search results in China for political reasons.  If the big internet companies can apply blocks to protect their commercial interests, then why can’t our Government act in a similar way to protect our children?

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