We need to talk…online exploitation and how pornography harms children

Two important reports have been issued in the past few months that provide a much-needed focus on child abuse that is perpetrated online and through pornography.

First, Anti-Slavery Australia issued Behind the screens. Online child exploitation in Australia. According to that report, there are now over 150 million online images and videos depicting child exploitation. Over 11,000 reports were made to the Australian Federal Police about online child exploitation in 2015 alone. The report authors concluded:

…modern technology and ease of access to the internet has resulted in the proliferation of child exploitation materials now available online. Court decisions support this conclusion and reveal how offenders now have access to tens of thousands of images of child exploitation and abuse, with commentators suggesting that such high demand will result in the further growth of the online child exploitation industry.

The report made several recommendations. These included updating the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) to reflect the emergence of new technologies and to ensure that instances of online child exploitation material hosted in Australia and overseas are effectively identified and investigated.

It was also recommended that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) implement a nationwide child exploitation primary prevention education program, integrated within education programs nationally. And, there was a call for the establishment of a peak national body to engage with COAG to review State and Territory legislation.

The second ground-breaking study was issued by Porn Harms Kids, a health promotion charity that seeks to mobilise researchers, child development experts, the medical profession, NGOs and members of the community to work toward a comprehensive solution to harms to children and young people caused by accessing online pornography.

Their Porn harms kids report and its companion Statement of research highlighted deeply disturbing facts. It noted that, in 2011, 44% of Australian 9-16 year olds had seen sexual images in the previous year. This was far greater than a 25-country average of 23% (Green et al. 2011).

The report highlighted other research that demonstrated the impacts of pornography on children and young people in terms of poor mental health, sexism and objectification, sexual aggression and violence, child-on-child sexual abuse, and shaping sexual behaviours.

In response, Porn Harms Kids called for the establishment of a national action plan to respond to the crisis. There should also be an update to the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, Australia’s national plan of action to tackle child abuse and neglect, to include robust actions to address the problem.


These are timely and deeply alarming reports. They should be widely read and discussed and form the basis for action. As a society, we need to talk more openly about the impacts on children by exposure to harmful material on the internet and by pornography.

Just as constant change is the hallmark of cyberspace, so too we need to adapt rapidly and firmly to the harms caused to children in this sphere. These problems are everyone’s business. There is a critically important role for governments here in bringing together players across research, public and private sectors and the community at large to chart directions to achieve lasting solutions.

As with all other areas to do with child safety and wellbeing, the agenda remains lengthy. Yet, the needs of the many remain too great to deny urgent attention aimed particularly at addressing the causal factors which are located in entrenched societal attitudes and deeply challenging adult behaviours.

Dr Brian Babington

11 October 2017


Anti-Slavery Australia 2017. Behind the screens. Online child exploitation in Australia, retrieved from <http://www.antislavery.org.au/newsflash/286-new-report-launching-soon-behind-the-screen-online-child-exploitation-in-australia.html>.

Green, L., Brady, D., Ólafsson, K., Hartley, J., & Lumby, C. 2011. Risks and safety for Australian children on the internet. Full findings from the AU Kids Online survey of 9-16 year olds and their parents, retrieved from <http://www.cci.edu.au/reports/AU-Kids-Online-Survey.pdf>.

Porn Harms Kids 2017. Porn harms kids report. Protecting our kids from online pornography is everyone’s business. Stage 1 Action Plan: 2017-2020 retrieved from <https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwWBaocln1tsbFF2QmJ0U0NwbzA/view>.

Porn Harms Kids statement of research 2017, retrieved from <https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/pornharmskids/pages/188/attachments/original/1490760281/PornHarmsKids_Statement_of_Research.pdf?1490760281>.