I am writing with a heavy heart after the tragic death of Sarah Everard, the many stories of women facing sexual violence and harassment, as well as the explosion of articles about sexual abuse and rape happening in our schools. Many are saying this is partly due to the explicit, violent online pornography so readily available.
For the last nine years in the House Lords, I have been working towards bringing in measures to ensure under-18s cannot easily access online pornography, and that extreme illegal violent pornography is blocked. Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, if implemented, would have made these two actions possible, but the government decided to abandon part 3 in October 2019. Interestingly, researchers at the University of Cambridge have found men who are compulsive porn users, especially from a young age, have developed an addiction similar to a cocaine addict. Also, the World Health Organization has recognised a new condition called compulsive sexual behaviour disorder – the inability to control the use of pornography, despite negative consequences.
If explicit, violent content continues to be readily available online, it’s like trying to treat cocaine addicts while supplying them with cocaine at the same time. We have got to work together to make sure that we do not create a conveyor belt of sexual predators, who go on to commit violence against girls as is happening in schools.
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
• Gaby Hinsliff (It’s a cop-out to pin all the blame for sexual abuse on schools, 2 April) is spot-on in her criticism of all responsibility for sexual violence by boys being “dumped” on headteachers. But expecting to be able to rely on parents to raise boys who will “do the right thing” ignores the lived reality of too many children. The scale of sexual violence against children by adults is staggering. Even more shameful is society’s persistent refusal to acknowledge and deal with it. Sexual abuse within the home is largely invisible, unspoken, denied.
We know from Lorraine Radford’s research that “a large minority of the world’s children have been sexually abused and/or sexually exploited”. Do not expect abusive fathers, uncles, cousins and brothers to instil a sense of what is right in their young male relatives, many of whom are being sexually abused by the same family members.
The rape and sexual abuse of children is a scourge that knows no boundaries – not of class, race, religion, wealth or position in society. More than 30 years ago, Roland C Summit wrote of victims of sexual abuse: “The small victim of a private crime must search against fear and rejection for the adult who will listen to an unwelcome, offensive account and take action.” Society’s continued denial of the silent, hidden anguish of so many children must stop. The time for action is now.
Former deputy children’s commissioner for England
• Teenage boys are insecure. They are desperate to “prove” their sexual experience to other boys. For some teenage boys there are only two socially acceptable emotions: laughter and anger. While I agree with Gaby Hinsliff that schools shouldn’t be blamed for the abuse, we can only affect what happens in families when schools give a clear and consistent lead. From primary school onwards, boys and girls need to learn emotional intelligence and values. In secondary school, teenage boys need to be taught how to counter the dark effects of male on male insecurity.
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