Minimalist iconographic rendering of an adult male filming two children as a statement against child sexual abuse
September 5, 2019

The Research-backed Links Between Pornography and Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is an atrocity that goes against the very nature of human dignity. While this appears to be widely known and agreed upon, something that many around the world don’t know is the role pornography plays in fueling child sexual abuse. Yet, when taking into account the common themes of mainstream pornography, which include teen, children, and incest, it is not difficult to see that child sexual abuse and the porn industry have closer ties than one might be aware of. 

Below we’ve broken out six connections between pornography and child sexual abuse that are important to understand.

1. Pornography Feeds the Growing Appetites of Child Sexual Abusers

Pornography has a number of public health impacts and negative consequences to the user, their network, and to society. Pornography is connected to increased violence against women, increased demand for prostitution and sex trafficking, and even to increased sexual dysfunction in otherwise healthy young men. (Learn more about this here and here.)

Pornography also can be connected to the sexual abuse of children. Consider some of the following connections:

2. Child Sexual Abusers Use Pornography to Create Plans of Action

There have been several documented cases of child sexual abusers using pornography to help them craft their plan of action for abuse. Child sexual abuse images (i.e. child pornography) often “inspire” the abusers to follow suit, in many cases even recording their sexual abuse of children to use and/or distribute as their own pornography

This article reports on the influence porn had on one man, Samuel Seager, and the abuse he inflicted on a 12-year-old girl. In the article Seager said, “Would I have done so much with her if it hadn’t been what I’d seen on the Internet? Got ideas and really started playing with the deviant part of my mind? With these cases, you don’t know what you would have done without that influence in your life… It’s safe to say that the abuse was more aggressive, pronounced or worse because of (pornography).”

Mainstream pornography often includes performers and storylines that are supposed to mimic teen and child-like scenarios.  A few samples of the titles of pornographic videos that were available for purchase on Comcast NBC Universal make it easy to see where these plans of action come from:

  • Teen Petite A-Cup Princesses
  • UK Schoolgirls Pounded
  • Innocent Easy Teens in Public
  • Sweet Babysitters Drenched in Spunk
  • 10 Best: Tiny Teen Cuties

3. Child Sexual Abusers’ Tastes for Pornographic Content Depicting Younger Performers Increase Over Time

A study done by Fortin & Proulx in 2018 analyzed data extracted from the hard drives of 40 convicted child abuse image (i.e., child pornography) collectors. What they found is that the tastes of these individuals grew more severe over time. 37.5% of the collections increased in severity in terms of both age and extremeness (measured using the Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe [COPINE] scale), meaning that the children depicted became younger and the acts became more extreme over time. They also noted that all of the child pornography collections included mainstream pornography content. 

This is consistent with research that discusses the novelty-seeking behavior of pornography users. This article on YourBrainOnPorn.com says, “Compulsive porn users often describe escalation in their porn use that takes the form of greater time viewing or seeking out new genres of porn.” The article then goes on to share the experiences many users have had of escalation of porn use and what materials are needed to arouse them, including child sexual abuse images in some cases (WARNING: contains language and scenarios which some may find offensive). A different article on the same site says, “The evidence is mounting that streaming digital porn appears to alter sexual tastes in some users, and that this is due to the addiction-related brain change known as habituation or desensitization.” A member survey produced in 2012 on reddit/nofap found that over 60% of its users described their sexual tastes as having experienced significant escalation through multiple porn genres.

4. Abusers Point Children to Pornography as a Way to Groom and “Train” Their Victims

Another way pornography is connected to child sexual abuse is the way in which the abusers use it to groom and train their child victims. Grooming in this sense is done by repeated exposure of the child to both adult and child pornography. This exposure is intended to diminish the child’s inhibitions and give the impressions that sex between adults and children is normal, acceptable, and enjoyable. Pornography is also used by abusers to arouse, instruct, and desensitize their child victims. It shows the child what the abuser wants him/her to do and teaches them that sex (including violent sex) feels good and sexual acts get rewarded

In addition, exposure to pornography greatly increases a child’s likelihood of being a victim of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or other forms of physical and sexual victimizations. This has been backed by research from various countries, including studies from the United States and Italy. According this study done by Latzman, et al., in 2011, “Early exposure to pornography may impact a child’s view of what is normative and impair the ability to avoid, deter, or negotiate from a dangerous situation…” This damaged view of what is normal in sexual relationships can and does have major effects on the children involved.

5. Pornography Normalizes Deviant and Dangerous Sexual Behaviors

Pornography also serves a role in the abuse of children and adolescents by normalizing paraphilic behaviors or disorders, such as pedophilia and sexual aggression/violence. A 2018 study by Eran Shor, PhD., found that teenagers in pornographic videos were “more likely to experience particular forms of aggression and degrading or risky sex acts. Specifically, teens were more than twice as likely as adults to be in videos featuring anal penetration, and about five times more likely to be in videos featuring forceful anal penetration with an apparent intent to cause pain.” The same study says that 90% of teenage females in videos containing visible aggression displayed pleasure, compared to 54% when visible aggression was not present. 

The researcher who put together this study noted in response to the prevalence of aggression and demeaning acts in videos featuring teenagers that it “may signal to viewers of all ages that these acts are not only normative and legitimate, but perhaps even expected.” This creates immense social pressure on young men and women to re-enact these behaviors with their sexual partners. Dr. Shor also said that “the high prevalence of unprotected anal intercourse in such videos may lead female teenagers to engage more frequently in unprotected anal sex,” thus increasing their risk for STDs. 

6. Pornography Has Been Found to Be Connected to a Rise in Child-on-Child Harmful Sexual Behavior

Sadly, adults aren’t the only perpetrators of child sexual abuse. In an article on their website Protect Young Minds spoke with a forensic interviewer at a child advocacy center who reported that her office was “seeing a ‘tidal wave’ of kids who are acting out sexually after viewing pornography.” This dramatic increase in child-on-child harmful sexual behaviors is more dramatic than even the experts originally believed. In Missouri alone, experts predicted there would be about 600 cases in a year, but there ended up being over 2,000 in the first five months! Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Heidi Olson talks in our Sexploitation? podcast about the marked rise in juvenile sexual assault that she has seen at the prominent children’s hospital she works at, siting pornography as a major influencer in the harmful sexual behavior of these children.

At the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, we’ve heard story after heartbreaking story about children being sexually harmed by other children, and in nearly every case we’ve heard, pornography has had a role to play. Take, for instance, the story of a 13-year-old boy who raped an 8-year-old neighbor girl multiple times in front of other children. The boy appears to have been addicted to hardcore pornography at the time of the incident. In another case, a teen girl in Ireland was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered just last year by two male classmates- one of whom had thousands of pornographic images on his cell phones. Cases like these happen far more often than authorities have anticipated, and it’s time to get serious about combating pornography’s role in the sexual abuse of children by anyone- including other children.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way! YOU Can Help Change It

It is disheartening and discouraging to know that there are people in the world who target the young and innocent among us, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The United States has federal constitutionally upheld obscenity laws that the Department of Justice is failing to enforce. You can take action against the injustice of child sexual abuse by calling on the DOJ to do their part to eradicate obscene materials in the US. 

You can also educate yourself and those within your sphere of influence by reading and sharing the many resources the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has available. A great place to start is the free downloadable version of “The Public Health Harms of Pornography: How pornography fuels child sexual abuse, compulsive sexual behavior, violence against women, commercial sexual exploitation, and more (hard copies also available for purchase here).

To stay on top of the latest educational materials and actions you can take to fight sexual exploitation, please join NCOSE’s email list.

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Renae Powers

Office Administrator (2019)

As Office Administrator for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Renae advances the day-to-day functioning for the NCOSE office, runs the NCOSE Online Store, maintains the various calendars and timelines for NCOSE, serves as IT, implements in-office events, serves in an administrative capacity for the Law Center, and generally meets the administrative needs to bring about NCOSE’s mission.

Prior to joining the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s staff, Renae was a flight attendant. Her experiences in the airline industry have made her a passionate advocate to end inflight sexual assault and harassment. After attending the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation’s Global Summit in 2018, she wrote a guest blog for the NCOSE website on inflight sexual assault and harassment as well as tracked down pending federal legislation which proved invaluable to NCOSE’s Fly Free Campaign. Renae has been passionate about seeing an end to sexual exploitation for many years, but for a long time she believed that there was nothing she could do to make a difference. Now she is very excited to be able to support the movement behind the scenes at NCOSE!

Renae is a student at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government. She is an alumna of Phi Theta Kappa, a National Honor Society. Prior to going to college, she graduated early from high school (with Honors) and graduated as class valedictorian at both esthetician school and flight attendant school. When she is not busy with work or school, Renae enjoys reading, dancing, traveling to new places, and participating in theatrical productions. She also loves spending time with her little brothers.

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