Porn’s chilling trajectory

This week, a charity that counters child sexual exploitation warned of more people seeking help for attraction to child pornography. The Lucy Faithful Foundation reports that 165,000 people in the UK and Ireland contacted its anonymous helpline ‘Stop It Now!’ over child sexual attraction in 2021 – a rise of 107%. Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, commented:

“The tens of thousands of people in the UK viewing sexual images of children don’t conform to the stereotypes – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues”.

This statement is alarming. Our perception of what a paedophile looks like – perhaps a reclusive, disheveled figure in a basement somewhere – doesn’t fit with reality. People who view sexual images of children exist in mainstream society. In our street. In our local pub. At least 165,000 people were identified in 2021 alone. The harmfulness of their actions cannot be overstated. Responding to the revelations, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said:

“Behind each of these images is a real child who is being abused and every view only creates more demand for these appalling offences.”

Another shocking aspect of this story is where people at the coal face of this problem appear to lay the blame for increasing numbers of people being interested in child pornography. Donald Findlater adds:

Many people contacting our helpline started out looking on mainstream adult porn sites, but over time they found they needed different or more extreme content.”

In other words: Adult porn is a gateway to child porn. “Many people” reaching out to the helpline are not self-confessed paedophiles. They are people who became addicted to adult pornography, became desensitised to it over time, and sought out a darker, more depraved ‘fix’. Eventually, the dark path they ventured down led to child pornography.

Michael Sheath, principal practitioner at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, explained more in an article for its website last year:

“Research has shown that sexual arousal often leads people to take greater risks in what they view online. Habituation – boredom with what they have already seen – leads many viewers to push the boundaries of their own tastes, moral constraints and legality. Searches for legal pornography may shift over time to fetishistic pornography, ‘teen’ pornography, and sometimes even to child sexual abuse material, in a series of imperceptible steps.

“Men who think of their own children as innocent and in need of their protection are at the same time able to view other people’s children as a source of distraction, sexual fascination and sexual arousal. The reality and consequences of what they’re doing often arrives with an early morning knock on the door from the police, and the life changing impact that has.

“Although most people can and do watch pornography without ever making the choice to view illegal material, for some, what they learned as a child or teenager from their unfiltered viewing of legal pornography online can lead them to making abusive and harmful choices.”

‘Mainstream’, legal porn sites are coming in for increasing criticism today. People are concerned that content hosted on such sites is harming individuals and contributing to various, harmful sexual behaviours in the offline world. A parliamentary inquiry is underway focusing on “harms associated with the production and consumption of pornography, and the adequacy of existing laws to address these harms”.

It’s no wonder. Adult sites are awash with disturbing content. Research by academics at Durham University found one in every eight titles on the front pages of the UK’s most popular porn websites describe sexual violence against women and girls. The concern is this content – ‘dramatised’ or not – is inspiring sexual violence. The inquiry will focus on the effects of this content on society as a whole.

The inquiry will also focus on the operation of the porn industry itself. Lawsuits are being brought against some of the largest operators of porn sites over “corporate indifference regarding harm caused to women and children” and “facilitating and profiting from criminal acts” including sex trafficking, child abuse, and voyeurism.

Politicians in the pursuit of truth should not be afraid to extend their investigation still further. They should examine the alarming link between consumption of legal adult pornography and child pornography. Any evidence that our current, permissive approach is fuelling this depraved situation, and harming children, must lead to robust action.

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