The letter below was sent to Peter Wanless, CEO of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), on 10th March. It is signed by leading academics, sex educators, journalists and campaigners.
Dear Mr Wanless,
We write to express our deep concern about a report you published last week, which received significant press coverage. The report claimed that a tenth of 12-13 year olds believe they are addicted to pornography, and appears to have been fed to the media
with accompanying quotes suggesting that pornography is causing harm to new generations of young people.
Your study appears to rely entirely on self-report evidence from young people of 11 and older, and so is not -- as it has been presented -- indicative of actual harm but rather, provides evidence that some young people are fearful that pornography is
harming them. In other words, this study looks at the effects on young people of widely published but unevidenced concerns about pornography, not the effects of pornography itself.
It appears that your study was not an academic one, but was carried out by a "creative market research" group called OnePoll. We are concerned that you, a renowned child protection agency, are presenting the findings of an opinion poll as a
serious piece of research. Management Today recently critiqued OnePoll in an article that opened as follows: "What naive readers may not realise is that much of what is reported as scientific is not in fact genuine research at all, but dishonest
marketing concocted by PR firms."
There have been countless studies into the effects of porn since the late 1960s, and yet the existence of the kinds of harm you report remains contested. In fact, many researchers have reached the opposite conclusion: that increased availability of porn
correlates with healthier attitudes towards sex, and with steadily reducing rates of sexual violence. For example, the UK government's own research (1) generated the following conclusion in 2005: "There seems to be no relationship between the
availability of pornography and an increase in sex crimes ...; in comparison there is more evidence for the opposite effect."
The very existence of "porn addiction" is questionable, and it is not an accepted medical condition. Dr David J Ley, a psychologist specialising in this field, says: "Sex and porn can cause problems in people's lives, just like any other
human behavior or form of entertainment. But, to invoke the idea of "addiction" is unethical, using invalid, scientifically and medically-rejected concepts to invoke fear and feed panic." (2)
Immediately following the release of your report, the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the Tories would be introducing strong censorship of the Internet if they win the next election, in order to "protect children" from pornography.
The Culture Secretary's new announcement would probably lead to millions of websites being blocked by British ISPs, should it come into force. We would point out the experience of the optional "porn filters", introduced in early 2014, which
turned out in practise to block a vast range of content including sex education material.
The BBC news website quotes you as saying, in response to the minister's announcement: "Any action that makes it more difficult for young people to find this material is to be welcomed." We disagree: we believe that introducing Chinese-style
blocking of websites is not warranted by the findings of your opinion poll, and that serious research instead needs to be undertaken to determine whether your claims of harm are backed by rigorous evidence.
Jerry Barnett, CEO Sex & Censorship
Frankie Mullin, Journalist
Clarissa Smith, Professor of Sexual Cultures, University of Sunderland
Julian Petley, Professor of Screen Media, Brunel University
David J. Ley PhD. Clinical Psychologist (USA)
Dr Brooke Magnanti
Feona Attwood, Professor of Media & Communication at Middlesex University
Martin Barker, Emeritus Professor at University of Aberystwyth
Jessica Ringrose, Professor, Sociology of Gender and Education, UCL Institute of Education
Ronete Cohen MA, Psychologist
Dr Meg John Barker, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, The Open University
Kath Albury, Associate Professor, UNSW Australia
Myles Jackman, specialist in obscenity law
Dr Helen Hester, Middlesex University
Justin Hancock, youth worker and sex educator
Ian Dunt, Editor in Chief, Politics.co.uk
Ally Fogg, Journalist
Dr Emily Cooper, Northumbria University
Gareth May, Journalist
Dr Kate Egan, Lecturer in Film Studies, Aberystwyth University
Dr Ann Luce, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Communication, Bournemouth University
John Mercer, Reader in Gender and Sexuality, Birmingham City University
Dr. William Proctor, Lecturer in Media, Culture and Communication, Bournemouth University
Dr Jude Roberts, Teaching Fellow, University of Surrey
Dr Debra Ferreday, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Lancaster University
Jane Fae, author of "Taming the beast" a review of law/regulation governing online pornography
Michael Marshall, Vice President, Merseyside Skeptics Society
Martin Robbins, Journalist
Assoc. Prof. Paul J. Maginn (University of Western Australia)
Dr Lucy Neville, Lecturer in Criminology, Middlesex University
Alix Fox, Journalist and Sex Educator
Dr Mark McCormack, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Durham University
Chris Ashford, Professor of Law and Society, Northumbria University
Diane Duke, CEO Free Speech Coalition (USA)
Dr Steve Jones, Senior Lecturer in Media, Northumbria University
Dr Johnny Walker, Lecturer in Media, Northumbria University
Update: NSPCC's shoddy political campaigning gets picked up by the Independent
13th April 2015.
The open letter has been picked up by both the Independent and the website politics.co.uk
The Independent leads
NSPCC accused of risking its reputation and whipping up moral panic with study into porn addiction among children
The NSPCC has been accused of deliberately whipping up a moral panic with a study suggesting a tenth of all 12- to 13-year-olds fear they are addicted to pornography.
In an open letter to the child protection organisation's chief executive Peter Wanless, a group of doctors, academics, journalists and campaigners criticised the NSPCC for suggesting that pornography is causing harm to new generations of young people
Meanwhile politics.co.uk note that the NSPCC research was hogwash
How the NSPCC lost its way.
Late last month, the NSPCC released some startling findings. A tenth of all 12-to-13-year-olds were addicted to porn, it found. One in five had been shocked or upset by the things they'd found online. Twelve per cent had made their own porn.
The findings were widely reported . Immediately afterwards, culture secretary Sajid Javid promised new censorship measures, with a regulator ensuring adult sites have age verification technology to prevent young people accessing porn.
The cycle from research to reporting to promises of legislation was accomplished in the space of a morning. It was a remarkably effective operation.
The only problem was, it was all nonsense. The NSPCC research was hogwash.
Update: The Guardian enters the fray
14th April 2015.
Children addicted to porn Don't believe everything the surveys say
OnePoll was behind a recent survey revealing that 20% of people believe that smoking has improved their career opportunities . This one was commissioned by an E-cigarette company . A poll commissioned during National Ferry Fortnight for Discover
Ferries -- which had just invested heavily in improved seating -- revealed that travellers really hate aircraft seats. You get the picture.
Update: The NSPCC responds: The ends justifies the shoddy means
23rd April 2015. See article
Dear Mr Barnett
Thank you for your letter detailing your concerns about our recently launched porn campaign for young people and a poll that was published with it.
As you will be aware the NSPCC has a long tradition of campaigning on difficult issues that affect children. Our work is solely designed to make the most difference to the protection of children. Through our various services, including ChildLine, we
listen to the voices of children day in day out and it is essential that we respond to their concerns and help them confront and address issues that they find worrisome. Porn is a subject which has always drawn strong debate but that doesn't mean that we
should shy away from what children are telling us.
As you will expect we make no judgment on adults viewing porn. But we know through those who call ChildLine, that children can be worried and upset by the effect pornography is having on them. A recent European-wide piece of research into violence and
abuse in teenage relationships found a high proportion of boys in England regularly viewed pornography, and one in five harbored extremely negative attitudes towards women. High levels of sexual coercion and in some cases violence within teenage
relationships were reported. We believe that as a society we need to ensure that children are both protected and educated in the best way possible. Rather than seek to restrict debate we seek to promote it for it is only when subjects are not allowed to
remain in the shadows that they can be properly dealt with.
As a campaigning organisation, the NSPCC uses a wide range of methods to listen to the voices of children, parents, carers and professionals. We continue to explore how sensitive subjects, including pornography, are affecting young people. This will no
doubt uncover difficult and complex issues; and we must work together as a society to address these challenges.
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, NSPCC