'My son saw violent porn'

LIZI PATCH
Last updated 12:23 06/05/2013
Lizi Patch

THE PAIN OF DISCOVERY: Lizi Patch and her son.

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The other week, my son told me he had watched something horrible online. Something sexual, in which the young women involved seemed coerced into an act that was brutal and disgusting, not just to an uninitiated 11-year-old, prone to anxiety, but to anyone with a shred of humanity. Something that was instantly viewable at the touch of a smartphone button. Something I now know many have already seen.

He watched it because one of his new friends told him he should - because it was "funny". He was finding it hard to make friends at his new secondary school and wanted to fit in. He didn't know what he was going to see.

I know this because, from that particular day, I noticed my son becoming withdrawn. He seemed sullen and easily upset. I knew something was wrong and asked several times if he was okay. Clearly he wasn't.

During a family walk a few days later, we talked about school, how his life was changing and how he and his best friend had grown apart. Then, that evening, as I was bidding him and his brother goodnight, he said he needed to talk. So we went into my bedroom and he told me everything. He said he had been horrified watching a short video online and was unable to stop thinking about it. He told me he couldn't "unsee" it, and how he felt his childhood was effectively over. He had not told me anything as he thought I'd be angry with him.

So I was left cuddling my son, who is strung between childhood and adolescence. He told me that everything was moving too fast. We talked about his observation that you couldn't "unsee" stuff. We talked about how you couldn't go backwards. And we talked about the importance of moving forward. I told him how he needed to grow older so that the world could have a great man in its midst.

Then we talked about the porn industry and how often it portrayed women as passive beings. We talked about how women in the video he saw were real people, forced into very unpleasant situations - perhaps mums and sisters, certainly daughters - and we talked about how very far from "funny" videos like these really were. We also talked about how sometimes women chose to go into the sex industry, and that when the work was on their terms, that was okay.

We talked about why people might access porn, that being curious was completely natural. We talked about how what he'd seen was brutal and violent, but how it was also something some people could find titillating.

I was looking at this through the eyes of my 11-year-old. He could see that there were gradations of porn. Some of it, though an unrealistic view of sex between two consenting adults, was bearable and allowed you to retain a basic positive belief in the world. But then there was the degrading, shockingly violent porn that showed him a dark underbelly of an online world that until that moment was largely populated by Minecraft and Harry Potter. Faced with this hideous new information, he simply didn't know where to file it.

After watching the video, he changed his settings on his phone to strict. He was the last in his year to get a phone. I held out giving him one, not due to fear of him having access to porn, but because I questioned why someone his age needed one. A few weeks ago, however, I caved in to his peer pressure. I want him, for his sake, to fit in where he can.

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I use the internet all the time. I am very active on social media. I've seen porn - most of us have. But I recognise that this time the internet has crept up and slapped me right in the face. New research suggests that 90 per cent of eight to 16-year-olds have at some stage accessed pornography on the internet - many without meaning to. The average child is 11 years old when they see their first image. Hundreds of new porn sites go live every day, 25 per cent of internet searches are for pornographic content and on average almost 30,000 people are looking at porn at any given second.

Children have always found ways to discover the world on their own, and that's essential - it's important that adults don't interfere with that discovery and self-education. But it's our adult world that is increasingly seeping into their childhood, at the touch of a button.

And when the mark of fitting in with your mates becomes watching a "funny" video, which is essentially violent porn that changes your world in an instant, then I think we, as a society, need to reassess things.

- Daily Life

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