How the ubiquity of internet porn and smartphones means that younger and younger children are accessing brutal porn. A very personal experience.

My 11 year old son recently told me he had watched something horrible online. Something sexual where the young women involved where clearly coerced into the situation, something that was purposely brutal and disgusting – not just to an un-initiated, gentle, academic , 11 year old, prone to anxiety (who has recently moved from a primary school with a total of 48 pupils to a secondary school of 1,500), but actually – as it turns out – to anyone with a shred of humanity.  The man who made it is now locked up. Something that was available to watch in an instant, at the swipe of a smartphone button, because that’s the way our beautiful interconnected world works now.  I’ll talk about safety settings and 11 year olds having phones later… and porn in a wider context.

He watched it because one of his two new friends told him to watch it – his friend told him it was ‘funny’. He is finding it hard to make friends at the new school and wanted to fit in. He didn’t know what he was going to see.

My son became sullen and withdrawn, easily upset and quick to anger. I knew something was wrong – and gently asked on several occasions if he was ok. He said, “Yes”. Clearly he wasn’t.  I guessed it was something he may have to work through without talking to me – and gave him space.

So we went for a family walk and I asked him again in a roundabout way. This often works with the other males in my family! We talked about school, about how things have changed so much, about how him and his ‘bestest buddy’ at primary school had completely grown apart. My son said, “It’s no great surprise, but it’s still sad”. He recognizes they were only so close because they were, literally, the only two boys in their tiny year at primary school… I hoped this bond would see them through the pressures of secondary school, but there was no chance once the peer pressure kicked in. He misses him.

Then that night, after the walk, as I was saying goodnight to him and his little brother,  he asked to talk to me. We went down into my bedroom and he eventually told me everything.  He told me he’d watched the short video horrified, but unable to stop (I said I knew exactly what he meant). He hadn’t been able to tell me as he thought I’d be angry with him. He told me how he could never ‘unsee it’, and, very significantly, he talked about how he felt his childhood was effectively finished. He experienced an instant and brutal loss of innocence – and whilst there is much to be salvaged, there is a lot of work to do.

So I’m left cuddling my son, strung between childhood and adolescence  – who’s telling me how much he’d like to go backwards, back to where his slumbering eight year old brother is dreaming about Skylanders. He tells me that everything is moving way too fast. And we talk about this. We talk about the bit where he said ‘you can’t unsee stuff’, and we look at strategies to deal with the stuff you now know – the stuff that has been forced into your head. We talk about how you can’t go backwards (and how so many of wish we could), and we talk about what’s good and important about moving forwards, day by day, decision by decision. We talk about how my son needs to grow older so that the world can have a great man in their midst – and that can mean anything, from finding the cure to cancer to disappearing into the Australian Bush with a box set of Percy Jackson and communing with the lizards – as long as he is happy. We talk about how it would be great to just be able to make friends really easily, but in truth, most of us are lucky to have one or two really close friends and, if they are true friends, they will back off if there are things that make you feel uncomfortable and actually, it might help them admit that some things make them uncomfortable too.

We talk about the porn industry and how it so often portrays women as passive beings. We talk about how the women in the video he saw are real people being forced into a very unpleasant situation – perhaps mums and sisters, certainly daughters  – and we talk about how very far from “funny” this video and so many other videos that are doing the rounds really are. We also talk about how sometimes women choose to go into the sex industry – that when the work is on their terms and they are in control, then that’s ok. We talk about why people might access porn and that looking at it and being curious is completely natural and we talk about the difference between what he watched and something that the majority of people might find titillating.  This is in simplified terms.

I know my son, and it was important for him to get some fac