Don't force children on to porn sites, Mr Gove

 

The internet has done many wonderful things, but delivering porn to children isn't one of them. Everyone from women's groups to the Daily Mail is worried about this development, for somewhat different reasons. Now they've been joined by the Children's Commissioner, who has just published a review of the effects of pornography on teenagers and even younger children. You can get a flavour from the title, Basically… Porn is everywhere, which concludes that growing numbers of children are accessing pornographic material via smartphones and tablets.

The problem isn't just sexually explicit videos. Porn tends to be violent and misogynistic, promoting ideas about girls and sex which most of us would find repellent; one boy who was arrested for raping a child apparently told police it was "like being in a porn movie". The report says that viewing porn has been linked with "higher rates of sexual harassment and forced sex" among young women, and suggests it may encourage risky behaviour such as unprotected anal and oral sex.

This is far from straightforward. It's never been clear that there's a causal link between watching porn and how people behave, and the report stops short of claiming one. What seems more likely is that repeated exposure to porn normalises violence, sending the message that terrorising a naked woman is an integral part of sex. You don't have to believe that young men copy exactly what they see on their smartphones to worry about the long-term effects, or to think that they need to be challenged in sex and relationships education.

The last Labour government thought so and brought forward a Bill to make sex education compulsory in every school, including "faith" schools and academies. It was lost in the "wash-up" before the general election in 2010, and the coalition has repeatedly rejected calls to reintroduce it. Of all the Government's crimes against education, this is one of the most egregious, leaving girls as young as 11 vulnerable to grooming by older boys and men.

Earlier this month, Ofsted warned that children are being left open to sexual exploitation because they don't know how to describe inappropriate behaviour or where to go for help. Shockingly, Ofsted concluded that more than a third of schools in England were failing to provide age-appropriate education about sex and relationships – and that's despite a series of horrific trials involving sexual predators who targeted school-age girls in towns up and down England.

How much evidence does Michael Gove need? I have some here: the British crime survey found that girls aged 16 to 19 are more likely to suffer domestic abuse than any other age group. Research carried out among teenagers by the NSPCC in 2009, furthermore, found that a third of girls in the survey had already experienced sexual abuse. Should we really tolerate a situation where porn risks becoming the main source of sex "education" for some teenage boys?

politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

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