Sent to Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams and others in the Welsh Assembly

Dear Ms Williams,

CRUSH Resource

The speed of the shift to online learning and the challenges of the digital world have left schools and academies searching for guidance to protect their students. The need for relevant and evidence-based Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) has never been greater.  Regrettably, the CRUSH resource which Click Off were alerted to by a group of concerned parents in Wales, will not equip children and young people with the tools they need to stay safe.  

Whilst in theory it seems admirable that CRUSH has been developed with the participation of children and young people, in practice it is crucial that professionals do not abdicate their responsibility to prioritise safeguarding.  With reports that around ten percent of twelve-year-olds fear themselves addicted to pornography it is clear children and young people are already impacted by exposure to extreme online content, they need direction from adults.

Click Off’s analysis of CRUSH found it to be based in ideology rather than evidence; offering advice that could place children at risk of harm and exploitation.                                                 

A number of unsubstantiated claims are made in the guidance. A brief refutation of these can be found below:

There is no evidence that simply viewing pornography itself causes harm…’

As any scientist will attest, proving cause is difficult but here’s what we do know:

  • A 2015 literature review looked at 22 studies from seven different countries and found a link between consumption of online pornography and sexual aggression.
  • An academic review of no less than 135 peer-reviewed studies found “consistent evidence” linking online porn addiction to, among other things, “greater support for sexist beliefs,” “adversarial sexist beliefs,” a “greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women,” as well as “a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.” 
  • A 2017 meta-analysis of 50 studies, collectively including more than 50,000 participants from 10 countries, found a link between pornography consumption and “lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes,” whether in cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys, or laboratory experiments. 

A further reading resource linked to from CRUSH claims:

‘Pornography is fiction: a media product, not an objective depiction of real-life relationships, yet it may be the source of our children’s sexual education, with expectations adjusted accordingly.’

This is false; pornography is not a fiction, it depicts real people who are often suffering real trauma and abuse. Many performers report being victims of childhood sexual abuse when entering the industry. Some estimates suggest the average life expectancy for a performer in pornography is 37.

This is to disregard the trafficking victims who are abused within the industry; on a global scale it is estimated that 4.8 million people worldwide are victims of forced sexual exploitation. 21% of whom are children – 96% are female.  Many end-up in pornography.  Children must be told that if they chose to consume pornography as adults, they will be supporting a system which preys upon and does harm to the most vulnerable in society. 

Another statement in CRUSH reads:

‘Research suggests correlations between porn viewing and other sexual practices or orientations, such as sexual adventurousness, but (sic) what cannot state with certainty that one causes the other.’

The use of the phrase ‘sexual adventurousness’ is a clear attempt to suggest watching pornography is a liberating experience. The author could have also argued with equal (if not far greater) validity that there is a correlation between watching pornography and rape.  Arguably, ‘sexual adventurousness’ in this context is an attempt to reframe pornography as a positive force in one’s sex life. This untrue; a 2017 meta-analysis of 50 studies, collectively including more than 50,000 participants from 10 countries, found a link between pornography consumption and “lower interpersonal satisfaction outcomes.”

‘Some research argues that young people are thoughtful, reflective and critical viewers of sexual material, rather than the victim of it.’ 

It is known that pornography is often woven into the process of grooming as it functions to breakdown children’s barriers. Given this, any disclosure that a child has watched pornography should be deemed a safeguarding concern; it is not a matter of an empowered viewer critically analysing a form of media like any other.

‘Knowing the law won’t necessarily help young people deal with the grey areas they encounter in everyday life – many of which relate to how pornography is used, for instance, in public places including in school to harass or embarrass others, or within relationships. There is often a gendered dimension to this.’

As with all forms of abuse, whether it’s sending so-called ‘dick-pics’ to an unwilling recipient or ‘up-skirting’, women and girls must know that they are safe and supported to report illegal activity and boys and men must realise there are consequences to criminal behaviour.  This is not a ‘grey area’ – it is abuse.

Peer on peer sexual abuse in schools is a growing problem, one which all staff in schools have a responsibility to take seriously. Recent research by the Universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire found that a fifth of girls had suffered violence or intimidation from their teenage boyfriends, a high proportion of whom regularly viewed pornography, with one in five boys harbouring “extremely negative attitudes towards women.”  Given this, it is essential that all steps to mitigate the harm caused by pornography are taken – to fail to do so is to fail girls.  Furthermore, given the disproportionate impact on girls, the introduction of RSE that does not adequately challenge pornography will potentially open both schools and the Department of Education and Skills in Wales to the possibility of legal action in the future.

Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) must be relevant to the needs of today’s children and young people, but that does not require one to accept pornography as neutral. Just as with drugs and alcohol, pornography should be regarded as a danger to the healthy development and safety of children and young people.

An evidence-based approach, rather than one based in an academic ideology, is needed.  For this reason Click Off urge the Education Minister and Children’s Commissioner to reconsider adopting CRUSH.

Yours sincerely,