In 2003, a study by The Australia Institute revealed alarming information on Australian teens’ exposure to violent and hard-core pornography on the internet. And it wasn’t just the figures that were alarming. The report, entitled Youth and Pornography in Australia, said that frequent exposure to violent pornography could have long-term harmful effects on young people.
The survey showed that 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls aged 16 and 17 have accidentally accessed sex sites on the internet. And, two in five boys—38 per cent—admit to having deliberately searched the internet for pornography.
Findings suggest that exposure to pornography, especially violent pornography, may lead to increased tolerance for and participation in sexual aggression, particularly among those boys and young men who deliberately and regularly view such materials. In addition, younger children could be disturbed by exposure to such images.
‘This isn’t just about Playboy on a computer screen, or even Hustler,’ said Dr Clive Hamilton, executive director of the Australia Institute in Canberra, which commissioned the study. ‘Material that would be given an X classification or refused classification if it were on video, is easy to get on the internet by children.’
In 2003, the Child At Risk Assessment Unit at Canberra Hospital reported a dramatic increase in the number of children sexually harming other children from around three cases per year in the early 1990s to about 70 per year in 2003. Ninety per cent of the 101 children seen by the unit in the three years prior had regularly been exposed to sexually explicit imagery on the internet, and researchers at the unit suggested that exposure to pornography informs these children’s sexually abusive behaviour.
In the four years since the Australia Institute report and the findings by the Canberra Hospital, these figures have undoubtedly increased, as more teenagers and children have access to the internet and therefore are more likely to be exposed to hard-core pornography and other violent material.
The internet has also become a place where teenagers can easily access information and advice on websites that promote topics such as eating disorders, suicide, drug use and even the manufacture of weapons. There is also the issue of potential harm from sites such as MySpace and online chat rooms.
On August 9, 2007 Prime Minister Howard announced that all Australian families will have access to free internet filter systems under a $190 million Government crackdown.
The filtering technology is already being used overseas and experts predict it will lead to a dramatic reduction in offensive content seen by children The Government initiative is the latest move by authorities to protect children using the web. However, it may take years for the full rollout of the technology. [During the 2007 Australian election it came to light that a teenage boy had demonstrated how easy it was to bypass these restrictions, so it is back to the drawing board.]
See also How to talk to your Teenage Boy about P**n on this website