Teachers, parents and charities are rightly worried about the scale of children's access to pornography on the internet and the real harm this is causing them. However the new guidance for teachers from the Sex Education Forum is deeply disturbing as teachers are encouraged to tell pupils in sex education lessons that porn is 'not all bad', is 'hugely diverse', and to talk about all aspects of porn. Parents will surely be horrified by this.
All pornography IS bad and much of mainstream online pornography is now violent, abusive and degrading. It is about sexual exploitation by ruthless corporate interest. Viewing pornography creates sexual desire divorced from relationship, which is the intention of the pornographers and distributors who, it's estimated, are making around $100billion a year globally. Softcore pornography is a gateway to hardcore pornography and, worse, to child sexual abuse images. ornography also feeds prostitution and sex trafficking [Robert W Peters, Laura J. Lederer, and Shane Kelly: The Slave and the Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and Pornography]
The wisdom of this initiative is highly questionable, as the message this would send from a voice of authority is more likely to increase the 'normalisation' of pornography in impressionable young minds. Not only will children be exposed to discussion about 'all aspects of porn' but teachers will be expected to 'speak frankly and confidently' about pornography, and they will be directed to online resources such as Thesite.org which tells teens 'porn can be great'.
Teachers will, of course, need to have a knowledge of 'all aspects' of pornography in order to be able to discuss them with children. This is a frighteningly dangerous situation because not only are children harmed by pornography but so are adults. To know about pornography teachers will need to watch it themselves, making them vulnerable to its seductive influence. Some may be struggling already with pornography related problems or even addiction. Some may gain an interest in pornography they didn't have before and become ensnared, moving on to more hardcore porn and then even perhaps into child abuse imagery which can be a part of the progression with pornography. This is a recipe for disaster.
Cosy chats in the classroom about pornography will not stop children watching pornography if they can. Ever more explicit sex education and the distribution of contraception (often without parents' knowledge), have not prevented growing levels of promiscuity at younger ages with an attendant huge increase in STIs. Children are naturally curious about nudity and sex but do not have the cognitive ability to deal with what pornography means. This has contributed to a trend for sexting - the sending of graphic intimate images between children as young as 10 - which they see nothing wrong in, sometimes with tragic consequences when girls discover their pictures have been posted online for all to see.
A recent report by the Deputy Children's Commissioner found that out of a whole cohort of Year 9 pupils 100% of the boys were accessing pornography (and 50% of the girls); the NSPCC say 11-year-olds are now actively searching out porn on the internet; police figures show that more than 4,500 children, some as young as five, have committed sexual offences. Given such horrifying statistics urgent and robust action needs to be taken to PROTECT children and young people.
The internet is now a very large part of our children's daily lives for entertainment, socialising and schoolwork. The top priority must be a safe online environment for them. The government has announced plans for a one-click filter at network level, which blocks adult content on all internet-enabled devices in the home, and which will be offered to families with children by all four major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by the end of 2013, and will come with age verification. Increasingly, public wifi will be 'clean', as a package blocking porn will be provided to all who offer public wifi. However this is voluntary. The mobile phone industry is going to refine the block it already offers on adult content, to make it more robust. These are steps in the right direction, however more remains to be done.
"There's something wrong with a society as a whole when children say they have no one to turn to for advice because their parents - outwitted by technology, and struggling to juggle work and home life - don't really know what's going on." [Diane Abbott MP]
Parents' role has been severely undermined in recent years. According to a Department for Education report, over half of parents 'want sex education to promote the value of abstinence alongside contraception; to be taught in its "moral context" with an emphasis on marriage; and the importance of the legal age of consent' [Daily Telegraph 3 March 2013]. Parents are generally the best judge of what is right for their children but they need help to keep pornography at bay.
The simplest solution giving best overall protection is for the ISPs who deliver the pornography to introduce the full 'opt in' network-level filter, porn free by default. With strict age verification for over 18s this is not censorship. Search engines such as Google, and social media, must also play their part. No civilized society can continue to prosper when a whole generation of children are being corrupted and scarred for life.