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  • Writer's pictureAdam Whittington

Violent porn acts occurring in sexual abuse between under-18s, report finds

England’s children’s commissioner has called for the “most robust” online protections for under-18s after publishing research examining links between sexual abuse cases and pornography.


In the second of a series of reports exploring the impact on children, Rachel de Souza said she wanted to “turn the tide on pornography’s harms to children”.


The first report found that the average age at which children first viewed pornography was 13 years of age, with one in 10 of the 16- to 21-year-olds it surveyed saying they had watched pornography by the time they were nine years old.



The latest report is based on more than 500 case files on child-on-child sexual abuse – or sexual abuse between under-18s – provided by one police force and one Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).


The Children’s Commissioner’s Office (CCO) analysed 379 interview transcripts from child-on-child sexual abuse from a police force, which took place between 2012 and 2022. It found that in 50% of the cases, interview transcripts included words referring to at least one specific act of sexual violence seen in pornography.


The most common category of sexual violence was physical aggression such as strangulation, choking or slapping, with name-calling also prevalent. The CCO found that 10% of the documents from the SARC contained at least one act of sexual violence commonly portrayed in pornography.


It found that a minority of the police force transcripts (10%) overall mentioned pornography, although that had risen to nearly a quarter of cases between 2017 and 2022. The references were most often to: watching pornography; girls being seen as a “porn star”; specific types of porn; or porn sites.


The report said that in several interviews, children who had caused harm said their exposure to pornography was excessive or unhealthy, with one stating: “I was really badly addicted to it at one point.”


In one interview, a child linked their behaviour to watching pornography, while one victim said their abuser made references to “things he’d seen on porn”. Two victims of harm said they felt they had been treated “like a porn star” by their abuser.


De Souza, a government-appointed champion for children’s voices and needs, said the new evidence from her office showed acts taking place in pornography were occurring in child sexual abuse and violence. She said the evidence added to the case for strong provisions in the forthcoming online safety bill to shield children from pornography.

Will UK’s online safety bill protect children from adult material?


“I believe we have a stronger case than ever for bringing in the most robust protections for children online.” she said. “No child should be able to access or watch pornography. Passing the online safety bill must be a priority if we are to protect children quickly and effectively.”


A review of 32 transcripts also found instances of children and police linking abuse to the perpetrator’s exposure to pornography. The CCO said the factors influencing child sexual abuse or violence were complex and multi-faceted, but said the report added to evidence that exposure to pornography shaped the attitudes and behaviour of those who watched it.


De Souza recommended that the online safety bill, due to become law this year, ensures all online platforms hosting pornography have “robust” age-checking measures in place and that measures in the bill for protecting children from online pornography are consistent across all services – including commercial pornography and mainstream social media sites.


In its current form, the bill requires pornography sites to ensure children do not access their content, and refers to implementing stringent age-checking measures. Those could include checking a user’s age via government ID. For mainstream social media sites, pornography is expected to be listed as a type of “primary priority” content that platforms must prevent children from encountering – with age verification again one of the options available.


A government spokesperson said the bill would tackle the commissioner’s concerns. “The world-leading online safety bill has been designed to cover all online sites that host pornography, including commercial pornography sites, social media, video-sharing platforms and search engines. These companies will have to prevent children from accessing pornography or face huge fines,” said the spokesperson. Under the bill, companies within its scope face fines of up to 10% of global turnover for breaches.


A series of amendments being debated in the House of Lords are seeking to strengthen the bill’s provisions on pornography, including using the strongest possible age-checking measures for pornography sites, ensuring that people appearing in pornography are over 18 and have given their consent, and stronger provisions for preventing under-18s from viewing pornography on mainstream social media sites.


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