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Basically... Porn is everywhere - Press Release

24 May 2013

The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England is calling for urgent action to develop children's resilience to pornography following a research report it commissioned which found that: a significant number of children access pornography; it influences their attitudes towards relationships and sex; it is linked to risky behaviour such as having sex at a younger age; and there is a correlation between holding violent attitudes and accessing more violent media.

The report published today by the Office of the Children's Commissioner, "Basically... porn is everywhere" - A Rapid Evidence Assessment on the Effects that Access and Exposure to Pornography has on Children and Young People also found that:

  • Children and young people's exposure and access to pornography occurs both on and offline but in recent years the most common method of access is via internet enabled technology
  • Exposure and access to pornography increases with age
  • Accidental exposure to pornography is more prevalent than deliberate access
  • There are gender differences in exposure and access to pornography with boys more likely to be exposed to and deliberately access, seek or use pornography than girls.

It concludes that there are still many unanswered questions about the affect exposure to pornography has on children: a situation the Office of the Children's Commissioner considers requires urgent action in an age where extreme violent and sadistic imagery is two clicks away.

The report is based on a review of published evidence led by Middlesex University in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, Canterbury Christ Church University and University of Kent, supplemented by a focus group of young people. The researchers identified 41,000 items of academic literature about pornography undertaking an in-depth analysis of 276 to draw its conclusions.

The report welcomes the work being done by Claire Perry, MP on internet controls, in her role as advisor to the Prime Minister. It makes a series of recommendations in addition to carrying out further research as follows:

1. The Department for Education should ensure that all schools understand the importance of, and deliver, effective relationship and sex education which must include safe use of the internet. A strong and unambiguous message to this effect should be sent to all education providers including: all state funded schools including academies; maintained schools; independent schools; faith schools; and further education colleges.

2. The Department for Education should ensure curriculum content on relationships and sex education covers access and exposure to pornography, and sexual practices that are relevant to young people's lives and experiences, as a means of building young people's resilience. This is sensitive, specialist work that must be undertaken by suitably qualified professionals, for example, specialist teachers, youth workers or sexual health practitioners.

3. The Department for Education should rename ‘sex and relationship education' (SRE) to ‘relationship and sex education' (RSE) to place emphasis on the importance of developing healthy, positive, respectful relationships.

4. The Government, in partnership with internet service providers, should embark on a national awareness-raising campaign, underpinned by further research, to better inform parents, professionals and the public at large about the content of pornography and young people's access of, and exposure to such content. This should include a message to parents about their responsibilities affording both children and young people greater protection and generating a wider debate about the nature of pornography in the 21st century and its potential impact.

5. Through the commitments made to better protect girls and young women from gender-based violence in the ending violence against women and girls action plan, the Home Office and the Department for Education should commission further research into the safeguarding implications of exposure and/or access to pornography on children and young people, particularly in relation to their experiences of teenage relationship abuse and peer exploitation.

6. The Home Office should incorporate the findings of this report into the ongoing teen abuse campaign. Future activity on this workstream should reflect young people's exposure to violent sexualised imagery within their peer groups and relationships.

7. The Youth Justice Board should include questions on exposure and access to pornography within the revised ASSET assessment tool, to better inform understanding of possible associations with attitudes and behaviour and improve the targeting of interventions for young people displaying violent, or sexually harmful, behaviours.

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said:

"This report is based on an assessment of the available evidence. It points out the gaps in our knowledge as well as providing compelling evidence that exposure to pornography influences children's attitudes to relationships and sex. 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 whilst using the internet. We all have a duty to protect children from harm - it is one of their rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - and the time has come for immediate and decisive action to do so.

"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. We do not fully understand the implications of this. It is a risky experiment to allow a generation of young people to be raised on a diet of pornography."

Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner for England said:

"As part of our Inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children in gangs and groups we have seen that young perpetrators of sexual abuse describe their activity as ‘like having been in a porn film.' This report provides the evidence to support there being a high correlation between exposure to pornography and it influencing children's behaviour and attitudes. We cannot expect children to know that sexual violence is wrong unless we teach them so.

"Children have a right to be educated and to lead healthy lives. Some parents and carers will simply not take responsibility for discussing healthy relationships and sexual health with their children, some will find it difficult to do so, and some may not have the knowledge to do so. Education is the only universal lever we have to ensure all children are safeguarded against the possible impact of pornography on them and their relationships. That is why we are asking the Government to act to make sure children are properly educated about it.

Dr Miranda Horvath, Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University 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."

Notes to Editors:

This report was commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner as part of its national Inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups (CSEGG) which was launched in October 2011. The Inquiry is led by Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner for England, who is supported by a panel of experts. Further information is available on the OCC website

The interim report of the Inquiry was published in November 2012 and the Inquiry is now in its second phase.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner is a national organisation led by the Children's Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson. The post of Children's Commissioner for England was established by the Children Act 2004. It requires us to refer to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) when planning and carrying out our work. The Children's Commissioner has a duty to promote the views and interests of all children in England, in particular those whose voices are least likely to be heard, to the people who make decisions about their lives:

For media enquires

please contact the Office of the Children's Commissioner's media team on T: 020 7346 7729. Out of hours: 07984 463927