Porno Britain: Are we all to blame for child-on-child sex abuse?

Two sex stories in this morning's news - but they're not as unrelated as we'd like them to be
Two sex stories in this morning's news - but they're not as unrelated as we'd like them to be
Alex Stevenson By

A society's culture is the fault of nobody - and everyone. If there really is a link between the appalling stories of child-on-child sex abuse revealed today and a culture of pornography, we should all have some serious thinking to do.

There are two sex stories in the news this morning.

One is based on research on sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain. It's fluffy and giggly stuff. More women are kissing each other. More older people are bumping uglies. With more people taking smartphones and tablets into the bed, they're getting distracted from having sex.

The other story is the complete opposite - a warning from the deputy children's commissioner that society is so obsessed with paedophiles abusing young people that the "appalling reality" of sexual violence and exploitation by children and teenagers is being ignored.


Panel members investigating this were left "aghast" by what they found. It's not just the appallingly high instances of rape, either. It's that forms of coercion or persuasion falling short of the statutory definition of consent are starting to be viewed as normal.

Does story number one really have anything to do with story number two? Is the finding, for example, that women aged 16 to 44 have had 7.7 sexual partners on average, up from 3.7 20 years ago, related to the fact that between April 2010 and March 2011 there were 16,500 children and young people at high risk of sexual exploitation?

Not directly, of course. But if one points to an increasingly sexualised society, then there might just be a case for linking that trend with the sense of drift and ignorance in British society about the true extent of sexual coercion and exploitation among teenagers.

The extremities of disrespect shown towards young women may stem from a broader contempt for girls purely driven by gender. That's the view of Participant Z3, an 18-year-old woman, interviewed in a study out today by the University of Bedfordshire. Here's what she had to say on the sexual victimisation within gang culture in Britain:

"It's just like society, innit? Like women don't get that much respect in society like a guy. A man can have a job and a woman can have the same job but a man can get paid more, do you know what I mean? It's just always that guys always have the upper power. It's just how society is, men naturally get more respect… men are just dominating it."

Put that into the context of one 16-year-old boy's story. He explains how it usually happens.

A boy and a girl go to a party. The boy has sex with the girl at the party. He then persuades the girl to have sex with ten more boys. "She's not coming to meet them to have sex with like ten boys but she'll probably end up doing that cos she's persuaded and cos she likes the first boy that she was with," this 16-year-old explains.

And now you know why the panel members were left "aghast" at what they found.

It's such a brutal story it's very hard to think this can really be something to do with there being more images of sexy women on the high streets.

Yet some believe the two are linked. "We live in an age now where the merging of sex and coercion has become normalised and this is because society has become so sexualised," says Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at the charity YoungMinds.

Actually, a closer link between the two stories comes in the form of pornography. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles finds that part of the reason we're having a bit less sex than 20 years ago is because online porn is becoming more of a substitute for the real thing.

It's the readily available nature of that pornography - which virtually every teenage male can now get access to - which is so troubling.

The question then becomes: if we're all to blame, what are we all going to do about it?

This is where the politicians come in.

David Cameron has responded to efforts to address this by taking the internet providers to task, but using filtering software to block access isn't really going to work.

Diane Abbott, the Labour backbencher, has been the most vocal on the issue this year.

Her speech about the "crisis of masculinity" in this country and the need to purge sexualised imagery from all public spaces in Britain didn't just moan about the problem, but came up with an answer.

"I think we need to clear our public spaces of worst elements of unrestrained markets - including addressing music videos that blare out at us, and our children," she said.

"The online bullying including problems around 'sexting' and 'slut-shaming'; the huge billboards that have very sexualised images of women that loom over our public spaces, and the sexualised figures of women in films that are now commonplace.

"For me the key, is putting parents back in control, and also putting open-minded family values back in our public spaces."

Will it happen? That's up to the party political leaders. They have to respond to the call to action. "This is a deep malaise in society, from which we must not shirk," concluded deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz.

There are few signs that Britain will collectively confront the issue, though. Doing so requires an acceptance of the premise that, as the headline of this piece suggested, we really are all responsible for child-on-child abuse.

You probably rejected that when you read it, didn't you? And have you really read anything here that will ultimately change your mind?

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.