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Why porn’s obsession with ever younger girls is putting our daughters in danger

Like every teenager in the country, my daughter has spent most of the year cooped up at home in lockdown. 

Unsurprisingly, since the arrival of summer, she has wanted to make up for lost time and get out and see her friends.

Now, however, Claire is having her freedom curtailed for a very different reason.

Every time she goes out alone, or travels on public transport, Claire is stared at or commented on by random men.

Claire is just 15. Such is the entitlement of these strangers, they seem to view her normal summer attire of lightweight dresses or t-shirt and jeans as an invitation to look her up and down.

If it’s not the drivers outside the cab office on the corner, who think it’s a perk of the job to rate passing females, it’s the men lounging in the open doorways of the takeaways, who call out ‘Nice a**e!’ 

Or the men who, on three occasions, have drawn up alongside her in cars to ask her questions and even suggested she might, inexplicably, want to get inside.

The other day she came home flustered because one driver had reached out and got so close, she thought he was going to pull her in.

She’s not safe on the Tube either; men of all ages sit opposite her so their eyes can feast on her flesh.

There was the scruffy grandpa-type who followed her so closely through the empty tunnels of our local station that she felt his breath on her neck. 

She sought refuge with a small group of passengers at the other end of the platform but still his eyes followed as she got on the train. 

She was so alarmed she slipped out back onto the platform to shake him off.

As Claire, who has chosen to speak out on this, tells me: ‘I hate the way they look at me as if they have a right. If I look back, they smirk as if to say “What’s the problem?” They have no shame.’

At first, this may sound like an age-old complaint. When I was her age, I still remember the fug of shame, powerlessness and fury when I realised that creepy adult men were checking me out as I walked home from school. 

But can we remind ourselves that this is 2020 — not 1982, when The Benny Hill Show was still on our screens?

Since I was Claire’s age, we’ve made huge strides towards equality. More women than ever are taking to the political stage. 

Men are rethinking their roles and wanting to take equal responsibility for childcare. The gender pay gap is closing. 

There have also been powerful movements, like Everyday Sexism and Me Too, specifically designed to stamp out this intimidation.

Yet when it comes to street harassment, little has changed. In fact, in many ways, it’s got worse. 

Among girls and young women aged 14 to 21, 66 per cent have experienced unwanted sexual attention in a public place, according to children’s rights group Plan International UK.

Nearly four in ten girls say they still experience verbal harassment, like cat-calling and sexual comments at least once a month, while 15 per cent say they are touched, groped or grabbed.

A recent parliamentary inquiry also concluded women and girls are regularly sexually harassed on public transport, with MPs uncovering evidence of widespread abuse of girls, even in school uniform.

No parent wants to see their daughter reduced to the sum of her sexual parts, but for me the frustration is particularly acute.

When Claire was six, I wrote a book about what easy access to violent, misogynistic pornography could mean for our daughters if it was left to mushroom unchecked. 

When I saw porn become even more degrading in the years that followed, I wrote ‘Girls Uninterrupted’, when Claire was ten, to help our daughters stand up to this onslaught.

Yet society’s denial that the proliferation of porn is a public health issue and the Government’s failure to take on the big companies means that material has only become even more extreme.

After all, the pornography industry’s business model is to persuade punters to part with their cash and buy material that’s even more hard-core than the stuff they can get for free.

All this means that the future I feared for my daughter — and wanted to help avert — has become a reality.

This is because a range of research is now showing that this harrowing material has leached into real-life attitudes to females.

The most popular genre of porn now features girls described as ‘barely legal teens’ and ‘schoolgirl sluts’. 

Within a two-second online search this week, I not only found free clips, selling themselves as ‘high school slut rape videos’, but also hundreds dedicated to showing girls of this age being ‘abused’ by ‘fathers’, ‘stepfathers’ and ‘teachers’.

One site has 27,418 paying subscribers and a total of nearly five million views. 

It comes with the promise: ‘Are you willing to watch innocent teens lose all dignity and self-respect? Are you willing to watch poor little schoolgirls get absolutely humiliated? If so, you will feel right at home.’

Many clips were advertised on the basis that they show young girls submitting to acts described as ‘painful’.

Another site sells itself as a place which is ‘your best bet when it comes to enjoying the hottest barely legal teens getting ravaged . . . in beautiful HD quality’.

Porn has also become a place where the growing practice of upskirting has become its own sexual fetish — with teenage girls particular subjects, just as they are in real life.

Indeed, according to the Plan International research, nearly one in ten girls report experiencing upskirting — in which someone takes a photograph up their skirt without their permission.

Suddenly I see why I should no longer be surprised to hear from Claire that one of her friends had a man put his hand up her school skirt as she went up an escalator.

Upskirting became a criminal offence in England and Wales last year after a year-long campaign by a woman targeted at a music festival. 

The Bill was passed only after it was initially blocked by Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope, triggering cries of ‘shame’ from his colleagues and fury on social media.

The 73-year-old has consistently blocked Private Members’ Bills because they aren’t fully debated in Parliament and believes they ‘meddle in people’s lives’. 

Offenders will face up to two years in prison for taking an image or video under somebody’s clothing in order to see their genitals or underwear.

Recent research by Fiona Vera-Gray, Assistant Professor in Sociology, and Clare McGlynn, a professor of law, both at Durham University, found nearly 2,500 upskirting clips on the landing pages of the UK’s three most accessed mainstream sites, freely and easily accessible for a first-time user.

Fiona says: ‘They are not hidden or only findable with specific search terms. Nor are they relegated to a niche specialist site in some corner of the internet.’

But as these academics also point out, the effect extends beyond the computer screen.

‘As images on pornography sites are there primarily for sexual arousal, this means that such videos, even if simulated, are contributing to a cultural landscape where men are encouraged to seek sexual gratification from a woman’s non-consent.’

Indeed porn is now so out of the box — and so fused with real life — that there is a growing number of calls to ban it from being viewed in public places, like buses and trains. 

Professor Gail Dines, president of Culture Reframed, a charity that shows parents how to make their children resilient to porn, has researched this subject for more than 30 years.

Over that time, she has interviewed sex offenders who have abused underage girls — and they themselves have revealed how quickly the boundaries between porn and real life start to blur.

Professor Dines says: ‘They told me they couldn’t even go to a shopping centre and see young girls without thinking of porn. Every time they saw a young girl, it reminded them of the porn they had seen. So this is what they were wired to do — associate them with pornography.’

Yet it doesn’t end there. Research has found that watching ‘barely legal’ teen porn is a gateway to developing a sexual interest in even younger children.

Indeed among the hundreds of ‘slutty schoolgirls’ clips, there are plenty advertising girls who are ‘extra small’, ‘petite’, ‘sweet’ and ‘flat-chested’.

Indeed, according to a 2013 study in the journal Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, such porn fetishising young girls does not just attract paedophiles.

It is also ‘contributing to the crystallisation of those interests in people with no explicit prior sexual interest in children’.

In other words, some men who had no previous interest in child pornography are being drawn down this dangerous rabbit hole.

Another study in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour found in 2016 that about half of male porn users have found themselves searching for content they previously considered ‘disgusting’ or ‘unappealing’.

For many parents, the way young girls are represented in porn is too painful a subject to contemplate. I completely understand — but it is time we woke up and mobilised.

We need legislation to prevent porn sites attracting views by showing young girls being raped, abused and harassed. 

If we stand by and say nothing, the ones who pay the price are our daughters — in too many ways to count. 

It’s the porn industry that has exposed our girls to this daily onslaught on our streets — by cynically exploiting them to such an extent that some men now believe our girls are as sexually available in real life as they are on a computer screen.

As the recent parliamentary inquiry on sexual harassment in public places concluded: ‘The damage is far-reaching.

‘It shapes the messages boys and girls receive about what is acceptable behaviour between men and women, and teaches girls to minimise their experiences of abuse.

‘The memory or fear of it affects women’s behaviour and choices and restricts their freedom to be in public spaces.

‘It can make women and girls scared and stressed, avoid certain routes home at night or certain train carriages.

‘It has a wider effect on society, contributing to a culture in which sexual violence can be normalised or excused.’ 

Now when Claire goes out, I find myself urging her to take more clothes to cover up with, as if she needs a suit of armour.

Claire responds that she should feel free to wear what she wants: ‘I don’t think I should be forced to dress differently.

These men should know they are not entitled to look at me like they own me.’

And she is so right. 

Tanith Carey is author of Girls Uninterrupted: Steps For Building Stronger Girls In A Challenging World. See www.amzn.to/3k5ddFX.

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