'My son saw violent porn'

Date

Lizi Patch

When her 11-year-old son was exposed to a violent porn video online, Lizi Patch was left to explain adult concepts to a confused child.

Awkward moments … writer Lizi Patch with her son.

Awkward moments … writer Lizi Patch with her son. Photo: Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian

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I know this because, from that particular day, I noticed my son becoming withdrawn.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.

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.

This article originally appeared in Good Weekend. Like Good Weekend on Facebook to get regular updates on upcoming stories and events – www.facebook.com/GoodWeekendMagazine

65 comments

  • Wow, this was a moving article. As my son turns 8 this week I find myself starting to fear all the adolescence that comes with him growing up. He's already started locking the door when he goes to the bathroom (we are a pretty "open door" family - no secrets). He uses the computer a lot and we've talked about internet safety and if he ever sees something that he feels uncomfortable with he's to come straight to a grown up. But he's only 8, and in grade 2. Things are going to get very scary very quickly from here on out, I have no doubt.

    I worry about my children's easy access to porn and disturbing images on the net - these things aren't going anywhere. But having the tools to deal with it when it happens is the most important part. I love the way this author dealt with it, and I'll file it away in my arsenal for when things start getting gross.

    Commenter
    om
    Date and time
    May 06, 2013, 9:37AM
    • "he's only 8, and in grade 2"

      Relief teaching a class of 8 year olds at a primary school, they were supposed to look up words in a dictionary. One little boy called out enthusiastically to his friend: "Hey! Let's look up rape!"

      Commenter
      starting young
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 3:06PM
    • oh. that makes my heart so sad @starting young. these poor babies.

      Commenter
      om
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 3:45PM
    • @ om:

      Yes, I was shocked at how matter-of-factly he said it and tried to explain to him that rape is something horrible and hurts people and it is not a joke. Sadly I don't think a few sentences from a relief teacher can do much to counteract growing up in a dysfunctional family.

      Commenter
      starting young
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 5:11PM
    • We all have violent fantasies from time to time. But when it becomes the 'norm' with no narrative resolution, then it suggests unresolved issues, whether a repetitive individual fantasy or a collective porn fantasy. For men to collectively and repetitively want to watch violent and degrading sex acts perpetrated upon women who are being portrayed as enjoying it,and that being portrayed as the norm, suggests that there are a lot of unresolved issues towards women collectively. Porn may be cathartic,but catharsis isn't enough. Whatever issues men have with women need to be worked through, individually and collectively. I believe the fact that there continue to be issues about gender equality and gender roles play a significant part in the porn that's around now. Sadism isn't a healthy template for conflict resolution; and if you reply that 'it's a fantasy', then you haven't understood what I've just posted. There are a growing group of men whose lives and relationships are being significantly disrupted by the porn that's around now.

      If you bring young males up with a sense of social justice, the ability to communicate effectively, and to relate to females as fellow human beings,then the violent,degrading porn that's increasingly prevalent will be something they instinctively won't want to watch because they won't relate to it.

      The way I've dealt with it with my own son (he's 17),apart from discussing issues when he raises them, is to buy him DVDs demonstrating sex between partners that focuses on mutual respect and pleasure, as well as passion. That way, he has alternative 'practical' role models other than those promulgated by a mostly sexist, and often downright misogynist, industry that's creating increasingly extreme porn to lure customers. It becomes a vicious cycle.

      Commenter
      Mythbuster
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 9:58PM
  • This happens with every generation, just different media. I remember being shown pictures & thinking "What the hell are they doing", it's part of growing up. Education on how to use the internet & what is out there is vital at school & at home, but curious minds are always going to go looking.

    Commenter
    Lazor
    Date and time
    May 06, 2013, 9:47AM
    • No, it is completely different. Let me assume you are Gen-X or older. The porn you were exposed to, and the circumstances that it happened, was completely different to what it is now. The Internet has changed everything, and pushing it aside as just one of those "facts of life" is pathetic.

      Commenter
      Heisenberg
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:26AM
    • Heisenberg, first off the image was not porn, second I'm 28. So what is your recommendation to all those parents out there? How do they stop their kids from seeing something horrible on the internet?

      Commenter
      Lazor
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:37AM
    • You are absolutely right Heisenberg!.
      Okay all we need to do now is stop the making of porn!!
      I say you and i make some cleaver signs like "Think of the children" and we can picket line the internet!.

      Commenter
      fatdunky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:45AM
    • I'm not sure what you mean by "the image was not porn". The content of this article very clearly states that what the child watched was pornographic.
      Being 28 means the porn you were exposed to was most probably magazines or video/DVD - content that is regulated for commercial use and sale. The Internet is unregulated. Therefore, the problem has shifted and is not like it was before.
      I agree with your original statement that education is needed. But this can't be coupled with an attitude that discovering porn is just a part of growing up, especially when this porn is easy to access and more explicit than it was when we were young.

      Commenter
      Heisenberg
      Location
      thisaggression.wordpress.com
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:59AM

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