The first year of our Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups revealed shocking rates of sexual violation of children and young people in these contexts. We obtained incontrovertible evidence that, between August 2010 and October 2011, at least 2,409 children were victims of sexual exploitation. Equally troubling was the evidence that at least a further 16,500 children were at high risk of being sexually exploited because they showed three or more risk indicators.
The Inquiry team heard children recount appalling stories about being raped by both older males and peers, often in extremely violent and sadistic circumstances, and in abusive situations that frequently continued for years. The majority of victims are female, although there is no doubt that boys are victims too.
This appalling abuse blights the lives of those affected, leaving them struggling to cope with the legacy of their abuse.
The use of and children’s access to pornography emerged as a key theme during the first year of
the Inquiry. It was mentioned by boys in witness statements after being apprehended for the rape
of a child, one of whom said it was “like being in a porn movie”; we had frequent accounts of both girls’ and boys’ expectations of sex being drawn from pornography they had seen; and professionals told us troubling stories of the extent to which teenagers and younger children routinely access pornography, including extreme and violent images. We also found compelling evidence that too many boys believe that they have an absolute entitlement to sex at any time, in any place, in any
way and with whomever they wish. Equally worryingly, we heard that too often girls feel they have no alternative but to submit to boys’ demands, regardless of their own wishes.
We commissioned this important literature review to deepen our own and others’ understanding of the impact on children and young people of viewing pornography, including extreme and violent images. Research in this area is fraught with ethical difficulties. While this report has shed considerable light on this complex and important issue, there is no doubt that much more work needs to be done before definitive statements can be made about causal links between the use of pornography and perpetrators going on to commit sexual abuse or exploitation.
It is unclear whether pornography is more extreme and violent today than in the past. What is clear, however, is that children’s access to pornography is fundamentally different from that of previous generations because of the prevalence of these materials on the internet. Explicit sex and violent still and moving images depicting rape, bestiality, the use of pain and humiliation are potentially just a few clicks away. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets and their use by children and young people to access the internet, often away from adult supervision, make it very difficult for parents to control access to these images. In addition, there is a significant problem of sexual bullying and harassment through children and young people sending personal, intimate images to others; this can have profoundly distressing consequences.
This report goes some way to answering our questions about the impact on children of viewing pornography. Our request to the researchers was that they presented to us the unvarnished evidence, free from ideology. We know that pornography is pervasive and that a significant proportion of children are exposed to it or are accessing it. 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 young people and that there are links between violent attitudes and violent media.
We are indebted to Miranda Horvath, Llian Alys, Kristina Massey, Afroditi Pina, Mia Scally and Joanna Adler for producing such excellent work within a very tight timescale.
This report contains eight recommendations and highlights further areas for research. It makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this serious and deeply troubling subject, shining a light onto issues that we as a society too often consign to the shadows, being simply too difficult to bring to the light. As one young person said to us: “Basically, porn is everywhere.”
Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England
For full report click HERE