lifestyle

A four-letter word is the reason why schoolgirls are hiding bruises under their uniforms.

Young love. High-school romance. The intensity of all-consuming teenage crush.

Feeling nostalgic? Don’t.

Because kids as young as 13 are bashing their girlfriends.

The terrifying issue of teenage boys physically attacking their equally-young partners has escalated so quickly that two of the state’s children’s courts have had to instate domestic violence counsellors for the first time.

Intimate partner violence between teenagers is increasing at a faster rate than amongst all other groups within our community.

Schoolgirls hiding bruises under their uniforms, lying to their parents. Once bold young women getting comfortable with fear and shame. Taking in lessons in how a boy who “likes them”, maybe even “loves them” is going to treat them. A cycle of abuse and neglect and violence kicking into motion before anyone can even vote.

Back view of a teen girl walking towards the school

“The fastest growing part of the problem of domestic violence is young people,” NSW Police assistant commissioner Mark Murdoch told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We are seeing more young people put before courts than we have ever seen.”

How can it be possible? After decades of education about domestic violence. After decades of feminism. Amid all the talk of the bubble-wrap generation, of helicopter parents and kids whose self-esteem is too damn high?  How can it be possible after decades of campaigns and billboards and footballers going on white ribbon walks?

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Mark Murdoch thinks he knows. And he thinks the answer is porn.

“Common sense would tell you there has to be a linkage between pornography and lack of respect in relationships between young people,” Mr Murdoch said.

The top policeman says that young men – no-one will be surprised to hear – consume more pornography than any other section of society, and that kids are now watching porn at an earlier age and at a faster pace, and basically? It’s screwing with their young, impressionable minds.

Before they have even entered into romantic relationships of their own, they are seeing unrealistic examples being set in pornography that is freely and easily accessible online. And young men are taking those expectations into the real world, and placing them onto their young girlfriends.

pornYoung men aged between 16-24 are the biggest consumers of online porn. 

Men’s Referral Service manager Nathan DeGuara told Fairfax that he agrees the link between teen violence and porn is explicit:

“Pornography sets up the expectations of what a man should expect from a woman. Pornography is typically about men doing whatever is it is they want to do to women.”

Of course, DeGuara and Murdoch are not alone in this. Worries about porn and children is nothing new. Ever since pornography came out from under the spare bed and sneaked into your pocket, the age at which kids get exposed to it has dropped dramatically, and the appetite for ever more shocking content just keeps increasing. And if that’s what you see, that’s what you expect will happen in your life.

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So how can we put the genie back in the bottle? How do we stop the influence of pornography over our kids, when the result is unhealthy and even criminal intimate relationships between school children?

teenage-couples-jpgFeeling nostalgic about young love? Don’t be. 

Because the conversation that we’re comfortable having, the one we’ve had for decades upon decades – about how to protect our children from porn – is not the one we need to have any more.

We need to stop talking about protecting kids from porn and starting talking to them about what porn really is.

This week. two very different, very strident voices have come out to say that we need to completely change the way that we think about porn and young people. And not even young people, children who are only just approaching their teen years.

Listen to the head of the UK Girl Guides association, Julie Bentley, talking about how we need to start teaching young girls about porn early on Britain’s Radio 4.

julie-bentley-jpgJulie Bentley, head of Girl Guides UK, thinks it’s time we teach young girls about porn. 

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“Today, regretfully, pornography is so accessible on social media that my view on this is that it isn’t going to help them by pretending it’s not there. If they’re accessing it and seeing it, then we have the responsibility of telling them that isn’t a true representation of a relationship between two people.

The idea that by talking to young people, you’re taking away their innocence, that presumes that young people didn’t know about and weren’t aware of the things. The fact is most young people are aware of a degree of life in the big wide world to which we certainly weren’t.”

As parents and as a society, our instinct is to rush away, to move the eyeballs – and the conversation – somewhere safe, stat.

But our instinct is bullshit.

Covering our kids’ eyes and our own is only making us blind to a dangerous culture of mysogyny and violence that exists in pornography.  We need to be shouting about it. And our shouts can’t just be “Look away!”

Filtering and blocking and closing our eyes isn’t working. Kids will watch porn, they will. And if we accept this then our responsibility becomes how do we ensure they’re watching it from a place of knowledge and understanding that what they are seeing is not how you behave in the real world.

We need to be saying: That’s not real life. It might be fine to imagine it, but don’t let it seep into your reality.

We need to saying: You are worth more than that.

We need to be saying: Consent, consent, consent.

We need to be saying: No-one can treat you like in a way you don’t want to be treated.

And we need to keep our eyes straight focused, unflinching and strong on what our kids are seeing.

It’s too late to look away.

If you, or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, contact 1800 RESPECT 

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