Esther Rantzen backs campaign to protect children from porn

VETERAN consumer rights campaigner Esther Rantzen has lent her voice to a campaign by the NSPCC to do more to protect children from online pornography.

VETERAN consumer rights campaigner Esther Rantzen has lent her voice to a campaign by the NSPCC to do more to protect children from online pornography.

New evidence from Childine, originally set up by the broadcaster turned campaigner, says the helpline is receiving 50 calls a month from children and young people who have been upset by exposure to pornography.

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Yesterday campaigners said the new evidence suggested there needed to be an “opt-in” policy – which would make it more difficult for children to use the internet to access disturbing and violent images.

Rantzen said: “As president of the children’s helpline 
Childline, I have seen with horror that the number of children calling the charity because they have been deeply alarmed by watching pornography has shot up by 34 per cent in the past year.

“These children rang because what they had seen was harmful. It’s not to be compared with the old innocent days when teenagers furtively bought copies of Health And Efficiency to look at nudists cavorting in the sun.

“The stuff our callers see is horrifying, and has stayed in their memories, haunting and frightening them. They are not alone.

“Pornography is so often heartless, grotesque and violent, no wonder it disturbs and frightens some children.

“This is not a trivial problem. The violent heartlessness of porn has seeped into our children’s real lives and there seems to have been a disturbing change in some youngsters’ behaviour.”

Childline, which is now a part of the NSPCC, is calling for an automatic opt-in filter, which would make it much more difficult for young people to access unsuitable content on the internet.

Last year the charity reported 641 counselling sessions from children or young people who were exposed to pornography. The year before 478 children or young people reported the same sort of problems.

The number of boys contacting ChildLine has increased by 70 per cent, with 269 boys contacting the charity on the issue compared to 158 the year before.

Jon Brown, the NSPCC’s lead spokesman on sexual abuse prevention, said: “With over four million pornographic websites on the internet, an increasing number of children are learning about sex and personal relationships through the warped lens of adult porn.

“Pornography sends out unrealistic messages and expectations and is a poor and damaging sex educator for young people.

“Though there are filters to block this material, they rely on users having the understanding and ability to activate them. Putting the onus on adults to make a decision to view pornography online, rather having it freely available to everyone, would go a long way to shield children.”

Cynthia McVey a psychologist from Glasgow Caledonian University said: “Some of this material might be violent or abusive – or it might show an attitude towards other people that is inappropriate.

“Children who are exposed to it might become desensitised to it – or in some cases might act out behaviour that is inappropriate.

“I am not sure how it could be done but I think an opt in system sounds like a good idea.”