Child abuse experts and police are warning that access to increasingly extreme pornography is driving a rise in harmful sexual behaviour among young people, from sexting to watching online child abuse.
One charity that works to prevent child sexual abuse said there had been a 30% increase in under-18s contacting them, and a 26% rise in adults contacting them because they were concerned about the behaviour of a young person.
Rachel Haynes, a senior practitioner at the charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation said that since lockdown their Stop It Now! helpline – originally designed for adults – has been called by more teenagers.
Haynes says: “A large proportion of young people we work with have downloaded child sexual abuse material – the pathways they reach that by are complex.
“Porn is a contributing factor – teenagers become desensitised to what they are seeing. Sometimes they have been groomed by adults, or have been sent illegal images during sexualised chats online.”
DCI Tony Garner leads a specialist online child sexual exploitation team at West Mercia police. He said: “Quite often when we go through a door following intelligence on someone watching or sharing child sexual abuse, we find a teenager. There is a crisis here and it’s being driven by young people having access to very extreme pornography that is changing their brains.