Cum pornografia extremă a devenit o drogă de intrare în abuzul asupra copiilor (The Guardian)

Mainstream pornography sites are ‘changing what is normal’, warns child abuse expert Michael Sheath

Michael Sheath has been counselling people with what he describes as “deviant sexual interests” for a long time.

“I have been working with men who abuse children for XNUMX years. For the first XNUMX years I worked with child molesters and I still do that, but now I also work with downloaders of child abuse imagery and online groomers.”

Sheath is principal practitioner at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, counselling men who have been arrested for looking at child abuse images. He is on the frontline of what experts say is a global crisis in online child abuse. There has been a year-on-year rise in child abuse images found circulating online, and every month XNUMX children are safeguarded and around XNUMX men are arrested or visit a police station in connection with indecent images of children.

Sheath is seeing what he believes is a dangerous cultural shift in the profile of offenders, brought about by the enormous change that increasingly extreme pornography is having on the developing teenage mind.

“With our cohort of men there are two groups. The first is older men whose sexual education and awakening came before the internet. They will have in the main learned about sex with another person who gives feedback, resistance, encouragement.

“Before the internet there was a ceiling on how much porn you could consume, maybe your dad had some; you had to go to a sex cinema to watch a film. It was limited in scope and there was a stigma on its consumption.

“For the younger men who had their adolescence after about XNUMX, men up to XNUMX, they will have watched a huge amount of online pornography before they have sex with a human being. And in my personal view that makes an absolutely enormous difference.”

It is the increasingly extreme themes available on mainstream porn sites that he thinks legitimise further deviant and criminal behaviour.

“Anything you want to find you can Google. Typically these men I work with will have been watching porn that is freely available on the internet at eight, nine, XNUMX years old. This isn’t looking at naked ladies, it’s group sex, it’s rape-themed, incest-themed. And that’s at an age when I still believed in Father Christmas.”

“If you look at the videos on mainstream porn sites you can see ‘teen’ themes, ‘mom and son’ themes, lots of incestuous porn. It’s pretty deviant stuff. To watch this you have already lowered your threshold of what is acceptable. Porn is an entry drug for a lot of them.”

He adds: “There is a school of thought that these men we work with were already interested in children and went off to look for it – that they are born paedophiles. But that’s not my thoughts. I think a lot of the men we work with go down what I call a potentially escalating pathway.”

He believes that for some people watching abuse-themed pornography, increasingly widespread on the most watched sites, is making it easier for them to take the next step of watching real abuse of real children.

“Mainstream pornography sites are changing the thresholds of what is normal and I think it’s dangerous. Of course most people can watch extreme porn and walk away but I don’t see those people. What we are seeing on a daily basis is the conflation of easy access to hardcore and deviant pornography and an interest in child molestation. The link is unambiguous.”

While he acknowledges that this content is legal and defended as fantasy acted by adults, he says it is still dangerous.

“Think of young women emerging into the sexual world and meeting men who are into strangulation and anal sex. It’s not criminal, it’s not being reported, but as a social and cultural experience it’s really significant. Is incest porn chipping away at a protective taboo around incest? Probably it is.”

Over the years he has watched as the profile of the individuals appearing before him has changed, a change he sees as closely linked to the way in which some men react to watching extreme pornography at a young age.

“My earliest clients were child molesters. They tended to have been beaten, abused or have some sort of dysfunction. I’ve found in the last XNUMX years that increasingly people who view child sex abuse material don’t seem to have that history. They are mundane, ordinary people from all walks of life.”

Sheath works directly with these men to explain that they are part of a chain of abuse that is happening to a real child – they aren’t “just looking”. And it works. He sees real changes in the way that offenders think about the images they have been looking at.

“They start saying, ‘oh I just clicked, I don’t know why, I don’t fancy kids’, or ‘the children seem to be smiling’.

“One of the exercises we do is I ask the men to tell me about an image they look at, I ask the girl’s age, I say what do you reckon her name is, what does she like doing at school? They look absolutely horrified. They have never considered it. They are objectifying this child seeing them just as a mouth, or a body part. When I make them think this is a kid who goes to school and has a hamster, has a mum and dad, they don’t like that, it’s painful for them.

“We can see a huge improvement in insight. They can reach a point where they have more empathy for the child. We have evidence that our work not only reduces reoffending but brings about changes in empathy levels.

Sheath is part of a network of organisations working to tackle the enormous crisis that is online child abuse. He works closely with the police, training officers across Europe on how to watch child abuse material. “They have problems retaining officers because it’s horrific work.”

While what he does is effective, the enormous rise in online child abuse makes more funding a necessity. “I’m counselling XNUMX men at a time – and the police are arresting XNUMX men a month. If they quadrupled the number of police looking at online abuse the number of images found would quadruple. The only limits are the number of officers put on it.”

For now, most men come to him after they are arrested but he hopes to reach them earlier in future. “Men can reach us by calling our helpline Stop It Now! and they mostly do that after they have been arrested. Our aim is to go upstream to reach out to the population before they get arrested.”

Original article:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/15/how-extreme-porn-has-become-a-gateway-drug-into-child-abuse