Background and summary of the available evidence
This chapter presents an overview of key issues raised in submissions regarding
the potential harms to children and young people arising from exposure to
online pornography. It begins with a discussion of key definitions and concepts
relied on for the inquiry, followed by an overview of the statistical research
on exposure. The remaining sections of the chapter are devoted to introducing
and summarising the evidence received on the various types of potential harm to
children and young people arising from this exposure.
This chapter is intended to provide a guide to the principal matters
raised. To ensure readers can appreciate the full scope of the potential
harms that many submitters argued pornography exposure presents, the discussion
of individual harms is necessarily brief. The committee received a large number
of detailed submissions for this inquiry, many of which cited several research
papers and reports. Readers interested in particular issues this chapter
introduces are encouraged to consult the written submissions and the primary
material cited within them for further detail.
Definitions and key concepts
This section discusses the terms 'online pornography', 'children' and
'harm' in the context of this inquiry.
Online pornography—definition and
The terms of reference do not define 'pornography'. Dr Michael Flood, an
associate professor at the University of Wollongong who conducts research into gender,
sexuality, and interpersonal violence, provided the following definition:
...'sexually explicit media that are primarily intended to
sexually arouse the audience'...'Sexually explicit' representations include
images of female or male nudity or semi-nudity, implied sexual activity, and
actual sexual activity. Note that this definition is neutral rather that
judgemental, and does not involve using 'pornography' as a negative term
referring to representations of bodies and sexual activity which are
necessarily offensive, obscene, or harmful.
The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People noted that pornography
may 'range from nudity or other similar material (generally termed "soft‑core")
through to depictions of explicit actual sex, and in some cases beyond that
into the realm of fetishism, violence or other extremes'.
Ms Maree Crabbe
argued that some contemporary pornography challenges the standard definition of
pornography as the material 'is sexually explicit, and may be arousing—or
become arousing—for some viewers, but includes extreme, shocking content
to the extent to which shocking the viewer may be considered its primary
Pornography can be accessed online on websites that 'provide free video
streaming similar to YouTube'. These sites 'include user-generated
material...archival content from defunct websites and often pirate[d] content
from competitors, meaning they have enormous quantities of content that is
often available for free, without any requirements for credit cards, age
verification or email log in'.
It has been reported that in 2015 Australia ranked seventh in worldwide traffic
to one of the largest global pornographic websites.
Online pornography, however, is also available from sources other than
websites dedicated to hosting pornographic content. The authors of a 2015
report for the UK government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport compiled
a non‑exhaustive list of other means by which children and young people
could conceivably view pornographic images online or otherwise using digital
devices. The list included:
photo or video-sharing platforms;
search engine results;
interpersonal messaging apps and services;
social network sites;
peer-to-peer portal sites and torrent services for downloading
films and videos;
mobile and tablet apps;
physical sharing of devices or USB sticks; and
the dark web.
Although the terms of reference do not indicate the age groups
encompassed by the term 'children', the broader motion containing the terms of
reference agreed to by the Senate referred to children as being under 18 years of
age. This definition is often adopted in Australian legislation (where age is
relevant) and is used in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Nevertheless, it is noted that different age thresholds do exist in statute for
particular matters; a relevant example being the laws governing the age a
person is considered capable of giving informed consent to sexual activity,
which varies between 16 and 17 years of age depending on the state or
When discussing potential harms from online pornography and tailoring
policy responses, it may be useful to differentiate between young children and adolescents.
This report adopts the term 'children and young people' to refer to individuals
who are under 18 years old.
The terminology the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People uses, who
defines children as 0 to 12 years old and young people as 13 to 17 years
old, is also relied on in this report.
Harm is not defined in the terms of reference, although the first
paragraph of the motion containing the terms of reference refers to links
between online pornography and:
'measurable negative effects on brain development and behavioural
'children's acceptance of violent attitudes and beliefs',
particularly against women; and
'violence towards, and abuse of, children'.
The terms of reference emphasise the effects of pornography on the
'development of healthy and respectful relationships'.
Potential consequences for both physical and mental wellbeing are
discussed in submissions. Overall, submissions focused on physical and mental
harm to children and/or young people who:
view pornography themselves, with implications for their development
during their childhood/adolescent years and subsequent life as an adult;
are affected by other children or young people who have viewed
are affected by adults who have viewed pornography.
Unique issues presented by online
pornography and social context
As pornographic material has been available in various forms prior to the
it is necessary to consider whether online pornography presents unique
issues for children and young people.
Submissions commented on the history of pornography and the
sexualisation of western society. Professor Brian McNair, a professor of journalism,
media and communication at the Queensland University of Technology, submitted
that the 'sexualisation of western societies has been ongoing since the 1950s',
with a 'pornographication' of mainstream culture since the 1990s.
Professor McNair added that: 'At the same time as western culture has become
more sexually explicit in general terms, the more specific form of
pornography...has expanded its reach' due to the internet. He further noted that
although 'pornographic imagery dates back to ancient Pompeii...its contemporary
reach and accessibility are unprecedented'.
Flood argued that the 'cultural context' for pornography consumption by young
people is changing as a result of the 'increasing normalisation of pornography
use and the pornographisation of mainstream culture'. Like Professor McNair, Dr
Flood observed that there is 'an increased blurring of boundaries between
pornography and mainstream media and artistic representations, and an
incorporation of the language and visual codes of pornography in mainstream
media'. Dr Flood argued that these trends 'may intensify and normalise
pornography use among children and young people'.
between the availability of online pornography and the restrictions in place on
the distribution of other pornographic material, such as DVDs or printed
pornography, was noted. Pornographic DVDs and printed material are legally
restricted to people 18 years old or above and there are further restrictions
on how it can be sold and what it can contain.
The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People submitted that:
Only around one‑third of sites with sexually explicit
content actually notify the user of that content, and in many cases require the
user only to tick a box stating they are 18 or older. A few (only around 3 per
cent) use age‑verification software which requires a credit card number
or other 'adult' identification.
Despite the issues potentially presented by online pornography, it was
acknowledged that children and young people can be exposed to sexualised
content in advertisements, films, television programs, music videos and video
The WA Commissioner noted:
In examining the potential harm of internet pornography to
children and young people, it must be recalled that it exists within a wider
context of society, and certainly is not the sole or even the main influence on
children and young people.
Statistics on exposure
Submissions presented a variety of data on pornography usage. Studies
differed in terms of the age groups surveyed, how recently the research was
undertaken, and how the data were collected. Several submissions recognised
that most research on pornography has occurred in countries other than
Australia, and ethical issues mean there is little research involving children.
Nevertheless, many submitters reasoned that children are more likely to be
exposed to pornography, including at younger ages, because of the high number
of pornographic websites and high degree of internet use among children and
Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) suggested that the likelihood of
unintentional exposure to internet pornography by children is increasing given
the high number of pornographic websites.
Similarly, Dr Michael Flood submitted that overall rates of deliberate
and accidental exposure of young people to pornography are likely to be
increasing, and it is also likely that children and young people are being
exposed to pornography at younger ages.
Regarding the likely exposure at younger ages, Dr Flood noted that 'children's
and young people's internet use and access is increasing, and pornography
itself appears to be becoming a more normalised aspect of children's and
youths' peer cultures'.
Dr Flood also argued that exposure to pornography is increasing via the
internet, and that this exposure potentially involves increasingly violent,
hostile and sexist content, although Dr Flood noted that conclusive statements
about content are difficult as there has 'been little or no research which
analyses pornography's content over time'.
This section will discuss a selection of the international studies and Australian
Although Dr Flood acknowledged that there is 'no direct longitudinal
evidence' of an increase in rates of exposure in Australia, he suggested that
findings in the US are likely to be similar in Australia. Dr Flood advised that
a US study found that, after comparing data from 2000 and 2007, 'rates of
unwanted exposure to pornography had gone from 9 to 19 per cent for those aged
10–12, from 28 to 35 per cent for those aged 13 to 15, and from 33 to
44 per cent for those aged 16 to 17'.
A 2016 report based on a UK-wide survey of approximately 1000 secondary
school students commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Children's Commissioner for England found
at the age of 11, 28 per cent of children surveyed had seen
by the age of 15, 65 per cent had seen online pornography; and
of those who had seen online pornography:
boys were more likely to view online pornography through choice than
girls (59 per cent of boys compared to 25 per cent of girls), and
children 'were as likely to stumble across pornography as to
search for it deliberately'.
An earlier UK study (2013) revealed an average first age of exposure to
pornography of 11 years of age, with 100 per cent of 15-year-old males and
80 per cent of 15-year-old females surveyed 'reporting that they have
been exposed to violent, degrading online pornography, usually before they have
had a sexual experience themselves'.
Findings from the US published in 2007 indicated that the average age of
first-time exposure to pornography was 12.2 years old.
The RACP submitted that the available Australian studies have
'consistently demonstrated that a high proportion of young people are viewing
pornography on the internet'. It explained:
One study has found that 28 per cent of 9 to 16-year-olds
have seen sexual material online, though of particular concern is the
indications that the percentage is 73 per cent for 15 to 16-year-olds. Other
research found that among 13 to 16‑year-olds, 93 per cent of males and 62
per cent of females had seen pornography online. Generally, young males are
more likely to access pornography (either intentionally or unintentionally)
then young females.
The Burnet Institute advised that it recently undertook research to
address the lack of up-to-date studies about pornography use among young
Australians. The data were obtained from questions asked in the 2015 Sex, drugs
and rock 'n' roll study, which is part of a series of annual online surveys.
In 2015, a convenience sample of 993 residents of Victoria aged 15–29 years
were asked questions regarding their sexual health, sexual behaviours and alcohol
and drug use. The study found that 100 per cent of male participants and
81 per cent of female participants had seen pornography, with the median age of
first viewing at 13 years for males and 16 years for females.
In addition to these survey results, the Burnet Institute cited
research papers by other authors that indicate:
Young Australians have reported that they believe most, or
all, young people watch pornography. Both teenage boys and girls report peer
group pressure to watch pornography, and boys in particularly are likely to
believe pornography is 'cool' and share pornography among their friends.
Dr Flood cited a 2011 survey that found:
...44% of 9-16 year-olds had seen sexual images in the last 12
months, whether offline or online (defined in terms of images which are
"obviously sexual—for example, showing people naked or people having
sex")...Exposure was higher at higher ages. Among 9‑12 year-olds,
27% of boys and girls had seen sexual images, while among 13‑16
year-olds, 58% of boys and 61% of girls had seen sexual images. Focusing
on images or video seen online of someone having sex, 6% of 11‑12
year-olds, 11% of 13-14 year-olds, and 29% of 15-16 year-olds had seen such
images online in the last 12 months.
A 2006 study of 13–16 year olds found that '93 per cent of boys and
61 per cent of girls reported exposure to pornography online'. It was
noted that this study pre-dates 'the widespread use of smart phones and
one-to-one laptop and tablet programs in schools'.
of the data
The Burnet Institute and the WA Commissioner for Children and Young
People both noted that there is little research on the types or content of
material being accessed by young people.
It was also noted that the available research 'generally does not distinguish
accidental versus intentional pornography exposure', with accidental exposure
possible for many reasons. The
Burnet Institute submitted that accidental exposure can occur from 'improperly "tagged"
photos in image searches, "pop-up" advertisements, spam emails and
social media viruses...[and] processes called "mousetrapping" and "page‑jacking",
where users become "trapped" on certain websites or follow a seemingly
Studies also differ in how they define pornography and in the
assumptions they make about exposure. The WA Commissioner for Children and
Young People noted that these differences complicate efforts to analyse
research about online pornography exposure and in 'making any definitive
statements on its effects'. The Commissioner explained:
In the 2011 Rapid Evidence Assessment carried out for the
Children's Commissioner for England, the researchers pointed out that although
it was known that children and young people were exposed to and/or accessing
pornography, the studies generally were not specific about how they had defined
'pornography'. Some studies used a broad descriptor which may have encompassed
non‑pornographic websites, such as art or sexual health sites. Others
appear to have inferred that if a certain 'type' of pornography was available
on the internet, it necessarily followed that children and young people were
accessing it. What studies had been done (with young adults or adults) showed a
wide range of rates of exposure to violent sexual content, and so determining
exactly what children and young people may see on the internet is unclear.
There is also a lack of government data. For example, the Northern
Territory government advised that it does not collect trends on online
pornography consumption by children.
Key impacts and harms identified
This section outlines the impacts and harms to children and young people
from online pornography that were discussed in submissions. Evidence received
about the reliability of this information and issues to consider when analysing
it are also outlined.
List of potential impacts
Overall, the following potential impacts were identified in submissions:
pornography as a sex educator, including whether it influences attitudes
pornography as a source of distress for younger children;
pornography viewing as a habitual or 'addictive' activity;
changing sexual practices influenced by sexual practices which
are routine in pornography;
consequences for body image and self-esteem;
implications for the development of respectful relationships due
to changing male views on women, including seeing women as sex objects and
pornography normalising violence against women; and
children's sexual offending inspired by pornography.
The remaining paragraphs of this chapter discuss these potential impacts
Pornography as sex education
Dr Michael Flood submitted that the use of pornography 'informs greater
sexual knowledge and more liberal attitudes towards sex among children and
young people (and how one assesses this depends then on one's wider
Dr Flood wrote:
Experimental and correlational studies find associations
between exposure to sexual media content and for example, greater acceptance of
pre-, extra‑ and non‑marital sexual relations, the belief that
one's peers are sexually active, and a more favourable attitude towards
recreational sex...and acceptance of prostitution and pornography itself...
Dr Flood added that online pornography may also have particular
educational uses for same‑sex attracted people. He observed:
the context of a silence about homosexuality and other non-normative
sexualities in their everyday lives, young men and women may use pornography to
learn what to do when having sex, to improve their knowledge about sexual
behaviour, or as a substitute for sexual relationships.
Distress for younger children
Submissions raised the potential for exposure to online pornography to
be distressing for children. Dr Michael Flood cited a 2002 publication that
noted children and young people of various ages may react differently to
sexually explicit material. Dr Flood provided the following extract:
The youngest children may not find such images remarkable or
memorable because they do not have the cognitive abilities or understand the
social meaning of explicit images. In contrast, because they are becoming
curious about sex and are experiencing changing bodies and a changing social
landscape, those in the 9 to 12 age range may be more vulnerable to disturbing
portrayals of sex and sexual activity...[Older children] noted that they were
exposed to similar material in every other part of their lives, and they now
found it more annoying than upsetting.
Dr Flood added that some children who are inadvertently exposed to
online pornography are 'upset not by its content but by the potential reactions
of their parents'.
Pornography viewing as a habitual
Some submissions noted concerns that the use of online pornography can
become a habitual or even an addictive activity. These concerns are applicable
to both young people and adults. For example, Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs
submitted that there 'is research evidence that pornography affects the brain
in much the same way as drugs. It can become addictive'.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation submitted:
While addiction to pornography is not listed as an addictive
disorder in the American Pediatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders...many believe its existence. Some consumers of pornography
use it in ways that are obsessive, compulsive and have damaging consequences
for themselves or others...Brain studies have shown that pornography viewing is
associated with brain changes 'similar to those observed in addiction' and that
'adolescents take longer that adults to recover from...[these changes]' possibly
due to the younger age of exposure to the material.
Based on current evidence, objections have been made to descriptions of
pornography as being 'addictive'. For example, a submitter cited an open letter
signed by several academics, journalists, campaigners and others in response to
a survey by the NSPCC, which stated:
The very existence of 'porn addiction' is questionable, and
it is not an accepted medical condition. Dr David J Ley, a psychologist
specialising in this field, says: 'Sex and porn can cause problems in people's
lives, just like any other human behavior or form of entertainment. But, to
invoke the idea of "addiction" is unethical, using invalid,
scientifically and medically-rejected concepts to invoke fear and feed panic.'
Dr Flood acknowledged an 'emerging scholarship on sexual, internet, and
cybersex "addiction" suggests that some pornography consumers come to
use pornography in ways which are obsessive, compulsive, and have damaging
consequences for themselves or others'. However, he added that 'there is little
data on what proportion of pornography consumers use pornography in such ways'.
Dr Flood noted that some habitual patterns of use may be more accurately
described as 'impulse control disorders, akin to eating disorders or
Changing sexual practices and
engaging in risky behaviour
Many submissions expressed concern that pornography exposure is changing
young people's view on normal sexual practices and leads to greater
risk-taking. For example, the Australian Medical Association (AMA)
Evidence indicates that exposure to and consumption of
internet pornography is strongly associated with risky behaviour among
adolescents. The AMA is also aware of a range of studies that demonstrate a
strong link between internet exposure to sexually explicit material and earlier
and more diverse sexual practice that can result in adverse sexual and mental
The 2016 UK study prepared for the NSPCC and the Children's Commissioner
for England (see paragraph 2.23) reported that 21 per cent of
11–12 year olds, 39 per cent of 13–14 year olds and 42 per cent of 15–16 years
olds 'wanted to try things out they had seen in pornography'. Boys were more
likely to want to emulate pornography than girls (44 per cent for boys compared
to 29 per cent for girls).
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) submitted that online
pornography 'can be a disturbing introduction to human sexuality'. It
Pornography increasingly plays a significant role in shaping
social norms in relation to sexuality, and in shaping sexual tastes,
particularly among young people. This is associated with increased confusion
and anxiety as young people feel pressured to behave in ways commonly displayed
in pornography. Crabbe and Corlett (2013), in their ground-breaking Australian
research, show clearly that young men actually believe that what they are
watching provides real templates for sexual activity...Young women, conversely,
risk feeling pressured to go along with it, and to participate in sexual acts
they may not feel comfortable with.
Specific evidence about children engaging in risky sexual behaviour
following exposure to pornography was provided by Professor Briggs, who advised
that in research undertaken for New Zealand Police:
that most children had seen pornography by the age of ten, that around 50% were
engaging in casual sex by the age of twelve, that boys avoided using
contraceptives and did not relate sex with pregnancy. From the age of
twelve, children were 'partying' at weekends and girls said the aim was to get
drunk and 'get laid' as soon as possible. Neither the boys nor the girls said
they enjoyed the sex but they did it to be popular and this was the expectation
of the peer-group.
Dr Flood submitted there 'is clear evidence that pornography is shaping
young men's sexual practices', with findings to this effect from
cross-sectional studies corroborated by longitudinal studies.
Dr Flood also stated that pornography use may increase practices of unsafe
intercourse as 'the vast majority of pornography shows sex without condoms'.
Pornography viewing may also influence decisions about sexual practices,
including unsafe practices
and practices in which partners are pressured to participate. For example, it
was submitted that there is evidence 'young men are initiating sexual practices
they have observed in pornography...often to young women's displeasure'.
The Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence submitted that it 'deals with
victims of sexual violence daily' and the 'majority of the recent sexual
violence perpetrated involves porn inspired sexual acts which women and young
women have not consented to'.
A contrary perspective was provided by the Digital Industry Group
Incorporated (DIGI), which represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and
Microsoft. DIGI submitted that the 2013 study Does viewing explain doing?
'suggests that exposure to explicit material has only a modest impact on the
sexual behaviour of young people'. DIGI added:
Professor John de Wit, director of the National Centre in HIV
Social Research at the University of NSW and co-lead of the research project,
said the findings suggest that the increasing prevalence of sexually explicit
material was having less impact on sexual behaviours than previously thought.
Body image and self-esteem
The potential impact of pornography on young people's body image was
noted in submissions. The Burnet Institute submitted that there is 'conflicting
evidence' on this 'although young women have reported feeling pressured to achieve
an "ideal body" that is often represented in pornography'.
The AMA submitted that there is a 'growing body of research' showing
that 'premature exposure to sexualised images and adult sexual content has a
negative impact on the psychological development of children, particularly on
self-esteem, body image and understandings of sexuality and relationships'.
The AMA, however, noted
that online pornography is one type of the sexualised images available;
it pointed to 'sexualised representations of children in advertising and
the circulation of sexualised content through social media' as other sources.
Furthermore, the AMA commented on a possible relationship between online
pornography and a dramatic increase in demand for genital cosmetic surgery,
although the Burnet Institute noted that to date, no research has been
conducted into a relationship between pornography and rates of labiaplasty.
Self-esteem effects were also noted. The RACP referred to a study that
noted 'boys may feel they lack the virility of on-screen actors, whereas girls
reported feeling physically inferior to women they viewed in pornographic
Development of healthy and
Several submissions commented on the messages pornography conveys about
the nature of relationships between men and women, and the impression these
messages leave on children and young people. The significance of this for young
people was emphasised by the APS, which advised that '[m]any young people often
do not have the critical frameworks required to deconstruct and understand
The AMA submitted that online pornography is increasingly playing a role
in shaping young people's attitudes towards sexuality. The AMA added that
many adult websites 'feature
what can only be termed "extreme" material, which to a young
and vulnerable person without an understanding of sex education, could be quite
damaging'. The AMA:
...believes that children viewing highly sexualised
pornographic material are at risk of negatively affecting their psychological
development and mental health by potentially skewing their views of normality
and acceptable behaviour at a critical time of development in their life.
One of the issues specifically raised is the theme of male dominance and
female submission that heterosexual pornography generally conveys.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare submitted that pornography
sex acts that many women may experience as degrading, painful or violating'.
The Centre argued that this 'raises serious implications for young
people's capacity to develop a positive sexuality that incorporates mutual
pleasure, respect and the negotiation of free and full consent'.
The APS added:
Porn...gives the impression that everyone wants to have sex all
the time, but it does not teach young people that consent is crucial, nor how
to communicate with your partner how and when you would both like to have sex,
and how to respect their needs as well as meet your own.
'Sexting', which is the sending of sexually explicit photographs, videos
or messages via mobile phones, is a related concern. Collective Shout argued
that '[a] further outworking of pornography's shaping influence is seen in
the demands from boys for sexual images of girls'. Collective Shout submitted:
This year, Plan Australia commissioned a survey of a random
sample of 600 Australian women and girls aged 15–19. Key results:
Seven out of ten young women
surveyed agreed that girls are often bullied or harassed online.
58% agreed that girls often
receive uninvited or unwanted indecent or sexually explicit material such as
texts, video clips, and porn.
51% agreed girls are often
pressured to take 'sexy' pictures of themselves and share them.
82% believe it is unacceptable for
a boyfriend to ask their girlfriend to share naked photos of themselves.
44% do not feel comfortable
reporting abusive online behaviour.
However, most submissions that commented on pornography's impact on
relationships focused on the consequences of young people's exposure to
'extreme' and violent pornography. The Centre for Excellence in Child and
Family Welfare emphasised that online pornography is often violent and
aggressive as 'producers seek to push the market boundaries'. It explained:
Research conducted in 2007 showed that almost 90 percent of
scenes in pornographic videos portrayed physical aggression, while nearly half
contained verbal aggression, and that 94 percent showed the aggression
perpetrated against women. In particular, the portrayal of violence and
degrading behaviour during sex has the potential to negatively influence
children's attitudes to relationships and sexual expectations and norms.
Dr Michael Flood argued that 'the most troubling dimensions of
pornography's negative impact, among children and adults alike' are its 'influences
on sexist and violent attitudes and behaviours'.
Dr Flood cited several studies associating the consumption of pornography with
'more sexualised and sexually objectifying views of women'.
In addition, Dr Flood cited a 2007 report by the American Psychological
Association that found 'exposure to pornography...leads men to rate their female
partners as less attractive...to indicate less satisfaction with their intimate
partners' attractiveness, sexual performance, and level of affection...and to
express greater desire for sex without emotional involvement'.
On whether pornography influences aggressive tendencies, the RACP
submitted that there is 'some evidence to suggest that this is dependent on
what type of pornographic content is being consumed'. It explained:
Simple nudity may actually
reduce aggressive tendencies, whereas sexually violent pornography is likely to
increase aggressiveness. Other evidence has suggested that violent pornography
in particular can lead children and young people self-reporting higher rates of
sexually aggressive behaviour.
Dr Flood described an 'overwhelming' body of evidence linking
pornography to sexual violence against girls and women.
Dr Flood cited three longitudinal studies that 'support the claim that
pornography increases the likelihood that individuals will perpetrate sexual
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), however, submitted that
although '[r]esearch indicates that children's and young people's attitudes and
behaviour may be influenced by viewing pornography...there appears to be only
limited empirical evidence that viewing pornography causes children and young
people to engage in coercive, aggressive or violent sexual behaviour'.
Sexual offending by children
inspired by pornography
Some submissions asserted that online pornography has resulted in
child-on-child abuse. This issue featured in Professor Freda Briggs'
submission, which argued that:
Sexual exploration is a normal
part of healthy child development but children (usually boys) who are
sexualized prematurely through access to pornography or personal experience may
engage in sexual behaviours that are not within normal bounds.
Professor Briggs advised that 'young children are acting out what they
have seen and experienced, sexually abusing others in schools, kindergartens
and child care settings'. Professor Briggs argued:
There are only three explanations for children sexually
abusing younger children:
- They have been
traumatized/influenced by exposure to pornography and repeat what they have
seen. In the writer's interviews with more than 700 children...some boys
aged 6–8 years revealed that 'fun' activities with their fathers included
watching pornography on the internet because 'that's what guys do'.
They have been traumatized by
sexual abuse and are repeating what they have experienced.
They have inappropriately
witnessed sexual activity in the home environment.
All of the above constitute child abuse and should be
reported, investigated and therapy provided (by specialists) for perpetrators
and victims as well as counselling for the parents of both victims and
offenders. The problem is that neither teachers, police nor social workers
appear to be trained to take these behaviours seriously and respond
Pages 14–16 of Professor Briggs' submission summarises cases indicating
that children of various age groups who abused other children were influenced
by pornography. The cases also indicate that instances of child-on-child
abuse are not being handled appropriately. Professor Briggs stated that:
Child-on-child abuse should not only be reported to child
protection services but therapy should be provided because of the risk that (a)
the perpetrator will continue to create victims; (b) the child's premature
sexual experience will be recognised by paedophiles and s/he will then be at
risk of being abused repeatedly.
Submissions from individuals articulated how they were distressed by
media reports on children perpetrating sexual abuse against other children in
environments such as schools and childcare centres.
Dr Michael Flood also commented on the role of pornography in children's
sexual offending. However, Dr Flood warned about claims that have not been
tested. He stated:
Simplistic claims regarding pornography's role in sexual
violence have been evident in Australia lately particularly in relation to
children's sexual offending...The claim that pornography exposure is fuelling a
significant increase in children's sexual abuse of other children comes from
various quarters, including from people who work with children showing sexually
abusive or problematic sexual behaviours. Such impressions by frontline workers
are important, but they should be tested by empirical research.
In Dr Flood's opinion:
Pornography's role in children's sexual offending is likely
to be similar to its role in adults' sexual offending. Yes, pornography
exposure is a significant risk factor for sexual violence perpetration by
children and young people...There is no doubt: pornography exposure increases the
risk of children's and young people's perpetration of sexual assault.
At the same time, pornography exposure is likely to increase
the likelihood of perpetration for some children and young people more than
others, depending on their pre-existing attitudes and behaviours. In addition,
children's pornography exposure itself may be a part or symptom of a range of
forms of abuse and trauma experienced by children who themselves are engaged in
problem sexual behaviour...
Other concerns about children's sexual offending included children
becoming producers of child pornography. Professor Briggs submitted:
In July, 2008, Victoria Police confirmed that more and more
children were being reported for sex offences. An eight-year-old boy stored
pornography on a mobile phone. In the 2006 crackdown, 12% of those arrested for
downloading child pornography were adolescent boys. They also outnumbered
adults at a ratio of two to one in the manufacture of pornography...Boys aged 10
were among 61 young people accused of making child porn in 2007-8. More 15- to
19-year-olds were caught producing child porn than any age-group in 2007.
Reliability of evidence and other
Many submissions emphasised that care needs to be taken when analysing
data and individual accounts about children's and young people's exposure to
pornography. The following paragraphs outline some of the matters raised.
Dr Michael Flood argued that '[w]e must move beyond simplistic,
deterministic claims and towards more sophisticated and evidence-based accounts
of pornography's effects'.
He submitted that the impact of pornography on its viewers is mediated by
various factors, as follows:
The characteristics of the viewer, such as age, gender,
maturation, sexual experience and parental involvement.
The viewer's 'sexual, emotional and cognitive responses to the
material'; Dr Flood explained there is evidence that 'effects are greater
for people who are more active and involved viewers', although he added 'little
is known about children's and young people's active engagements with
The character and circumstances of exposure, such as 'the type of
material involved, the duration and intensity of viewing, and the context
(whether voluntary or involuntary, and whether solitary or collective)'.
The Burnet Institute submitted that:
Research indicates that pornography use is associated with
some harms (in adolescent and adult populations), particularly with
regards to viewing violent pornography and when watching pornography
frequently. These harms should be taken seriously.
there is little evidence, at least in an Australian setting, to say that
pornography causes harms in adolescents and young adults, although there is a
significant body of cross-sectional and qualitative evidence suggesting a link
Similarly, the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People submitted
that although research shows correlations between access and exposure to
pornography and various behavioural changes, 'there has not been demonstrated
evidence of a causal role for pornography' in these changes.
Finally, the Scarlet Alliance, which is the peak national sex worker
organisation in Australia, presented the following perspective in response to
claims about the influence of pornography:
The assertion that pornography
is, or contributes to, violence against women, is often stated as fact, when it
is theory that is not proven. While anti-porn advocates have heralded
studies showing a causal link between porn and misogyny, sexual abuse, and
domestic violence, an equal number of studies show no link at all. It is also
important to note that even if some studies purport to create a causal link;
this is not evidence of causation. Anti-porn advocates present anecdotal
research that gives an "extremely biased picture of pornography that
stands in stark contrast to sound scholarly research."
This chapter has introduced key concepts that are relevant when
considering how children and young people may be exposed to pornographic
material. It has also provided an overview of the possible harm that submitters
consider exposure to this material may cause to some individuals.
The following chapter discusses the various proposals that were put
forward to respond to this evidence.
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