CESE Online Global Summit: Alarming consequence of early exposure to pornography is child-on-child sexual abuse
The internet has made eased access to pornography, and the potential harm it could pose to children's well-being has been a cause for concern. Children and youth are at risk of being exposed to pornography on the internet. Many general studies note that pornography can influence a young person's expectations about sex and is also often associated with unsafe sexual practices. It creates gaps between expectations and reality. However, an alarming consequence of early exposure to pornography is the form of sexual abuse from child-on-child harmful behavior. One of the sessions from the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) annual online global summit by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) focuses on this very topic. Dawn Hawkins, host of the CESE summit, and Executive Director, NCOSE talks about the largely overlooked role that pornography plays in children acting out on other children.
Hawkins stressed the need to have a conversation about all the issues that overlap with pornography. Quoting a study that presents the seriousness of the issue of child-on-child harmful behavior, she said allegations of children committing sexual offenses against other children rose to 78% in the UK, in a period of four years. In Missouri, the state tried to pass a law that would mandate reporting so they could track incidents of child-on-child sexual abuse, a couple of years ago. Initially, they would have an annually estimated 600 cases, but in just five years after the law was enacted, there reports of 2,000 cases. Hawkins observed that approximately 50 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by other children or young people. Other studies have found that, according to records, less than 15 percent to 20 percent of those arrested for sex crimes, each year, constitute adolescents or youth.
Children acting out on other children is simply because they have witnessed the abuse in pornography, Hawkins noted. The fact that they are acting out what they are viewing is the reason why pornography is strong public health harm. While pornography was hard to access some decades ago, the internet has changed that for the worse. It is readily available to anyone that has a smartphone, computer, and an internet connection. However, it is hard to narrow down numbers regarding the youth's access to pornography, part of the problem being that one cannot directly ask kids these questions for ethical reasons. Citing an Australian report, Hawkins explained that in a survey of almost 1000 people ranging from 15 to 19-year-olds, it was found that 100 percent males and 82 percent of females viewed pornography. 84 percent of those males and 19 percent of the females said that they watched it on a weekly basis.
The common themes in today's mainstream pornography, Hawkins mentioned, are teen, incest, rape, racism, violence, slavery, and sexual torture. This indicates that young people want aggression in order to experience pleasure. So, when a young kid is watching porn to learn about sex, this shapes their perception of intercourse and intimacy. Pornography impacts the brain in a number of ways, which in turn also has negative effects on public health. Hawkins shared that 41 neurological studies since 2011 have pointed out the negative impacts of pornography on the brain. These results are consistent with 320 other studies about internet addition which support the premise that internet pornography causes addiction-related brain changes like escalation and tolerance. So while pornography has a public health impact on the user it also has a physical impact on the brain.
Young people are starting out with pornography where adults have gotten to, after many years of porn usage. "If young people are getting access to pornography, to hardcore images already extremely violent or more deviated sex acts, and they're starting young," says Hawkins, "What are they going to be deviating to or escalating to as they progress in their pornographies as they get older?"
Another public health concern with regard to pornography is increased female sexual victimization. A study from Italy found that women, especially young girls, who have watched pornography were significantly more likely to be victims of sexual harassment or assault. "At a moment in our time, when we're experiencing so much female exploitation and abuse and assault and harassment, pornography is part of the issue, part of the solution addressing this," Hawkins added. Talking about the intersection between pornography and child sexual abuse, she also centers on adults acting out on children. Adults often groom children, educate them in the mechanics of sexual behavior to encourage them, and reenact these behaviors and excite children sexually. Children look at this material and their bodies respond to it just like adults do. So, it is used to desensitize them and help them enter into sexual contact with other children as well, Hawkins explained.
"Children who are exposed to pornography during the period of time when they should be channeling their energy toward nonsexual development, are at higher risk of developing dysfunctional sexual health, attitudes, and behaviors," Hawkins stated. She termed this as pornography exposure abuse. "I believe exposing kids is tantamount to abuse and so we should call it that", she added. Pornography teaches children that hardcore violence and the acts depicted in pornography are normal and desirable. It fosters sexual miseducation and impacts youth development psychologically, physically, socially, even emotionally. It desensitizes the viewer and increases their appetite for more bizarre or violent degrading types of pornography, facilitates sexual aggression, and an early sexual debut engaging in risky sexual behaviors. "Exposure among young people leads to more lax attitudes about rape and sexual assault, even about, women's rights issues," Hawkins noted.
Pornography is changing the youth's perspective about sexual intercourse. Young men seek to imitate what they see and young women often feel pressured to do it, or vice versa. Young people are internalizing the violent and aggressive images and sexual scripts in pornography. There is also teen dating abuse, facilitated by one of the partners watching pornography regularly. 50 percent of respondents from a study of adolescent dating abuse victims reported that they had been asked to do a sexual act that their partner saw in pornography. A meta-analysis of 59 studies looking at 12 to 18-year-old males who had acted out found that they were significantly more likely to have had early exposure to pornography. They also reported higher rates of exposure to porn and significantly more atypical sexual fantasies like sex with animals, incest, pedophilia which are common themes in pornography today.
Another study, comprising data from five European countries, of 4,500 young people aged between 14 and 17 found that boys' perpetration of sexual coercion and abuse was significantly associated with regular viewing of online pornography. Furthermore, viewing online pornography was associated with a significantly increased probability of sending sexual images. This means that viewing online pornography translated to them creating their own porn and sending it out to others. In addition, male teens who watched online porn regularly harbored negative gender attitudes. In a study of 166 cases of teen males who acted out on their siblings, it showed that they had higher rates of previous sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and domestic violence exposure. Hawkins also touched upon the sexting and its impact on the youth. "Sexing is a significant predictor for dating violence, for coercion and abuse in the offline world, in the real world" she asserted. A study found that 48 percent of German students who were teenagers experienced at least one form of non-physical sexualized violence. They were three times as many girls than boys reporting that they were sexually harassed and propositioned online.