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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kids swamped with hard-core porn, says World Vision

Kids swamped with hard-core porn, says World Vision

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kids.jpg

Some of the pornographic DVDs on sale at a market in Phnom Penh.

H

ard-core pornographic movies depicting sexual acts from bestiality to violent rape

are watched by an alarming proportion of Cambodian children, a World Vision-funded

report claims.

"The issue is pretty horrific in its ramifications," said Dr Graham Fordham,

the report's author. "Pornography is acting as a 'motor' driving other social

problems."

The May 2006 study of pornography and its impact on attitudes about sexual behavior

among youth found "a significant level of exposure of Cambodian children to

hard-core pornography" in both rural and urban areas.

"Hard-core pornography is one of the 'motors' pushing men into brothels, [driving]

HIV spread and the rape of small children by young men pushed beyond the boundaries

of self-control," Fordham said.

Although no study has been able to prove a link between the viewing of hard-core

pornography and antisocial behavior, there is a significant amount of research cited

in the report that describes the negative effects of pornography, Fordham said.

The report included interviews with Cambodian children in both rural and urban environments.

Their thoughts on pornography demonstrated that the impact of hard-core pornography

does not just occur at an abstract level, said Touch Sopheap, a research assistant

who worked on the report. Many of the children interviewed cited behavioral change

in their peers as a result of pornography, she said.

"Many girls told me their male classmates really changed after they watched

porn," she said. "Boys would start using nasty words and try to touch the

girls at school. One girl told me about the boys in her class acting out scenes from

porn films during breaks in lessons which made all the girls in her class really

uncomfortable."

According to Sopheap, the title of the report, As if they were watching my body,

comes from the comments of one 14-year-old girl living in a rural village in Chulkiri

district, Kampong Chhnang, but many of the girls interviewed expressed similar sentiments.

"The girls all said they felt scared and intimidated," she said. "They

all kept saying that when they knew boys had watched porn and then they saw them

discussing it in school they felt 'they were watching my body' - it makes them feel

bad."

Cambodia's young people are particularly vulnerable because the country lacks both

informal family-based, and formal school-based, sexual education, said David Wilkinson,

an international health consultant with over a decade of experience in the field

of sexual health.

"Though sex education is officially part of the school curriculum, it is extremely

limited," he said. "Love and relationships are rarely discussed in the

home, and as a consequence many young people have few or no informed resources to

draw upon to help formulate their sexual knowledge. The limited access to sex education

increases vulnerability to the effects of pornography."

But access to hard core pornography is readily and cheaply available. According to

the report, pornographic video discs can be procured in all villages surveyed at

an average rental price of some 500 riel per night.

"[Pornographic] VCDs are usually hired from local village-level suppliers [so]

the cost of watching VCDs is cheaper than books," the report said.

The study reported that girls were more concerned than boys that their parents not

find out they had watched pornography, Sopheap said.

"The girls were all very scared to talk about [watching pornography], but it

is so widely available - they play it at funerals," she said. "I asked

them if when they had watched they wanted to watch again, and some said yes as they

were curious, some said no as they found it disgusting, but they were all much more

scared to discuss their reactions to it with me because they come from a culture

where they never talk about sex."

More readily available technology and the government's campaign to crack down on

the public sale and viewing of pornography has changed the way it is watched at the

village level, the report found.

"What has emerged now are [private] patterns of viewing that are more likely

to ensure that kids, especially girls, are exposed," said Bill Forbes, World

Vision peace and justice senior program manager.

So for an increasing number of young people in Cambodia, particularly girls, hard-core

pornography may be their first and only form of sexual education, Sopheap said.

"I think porn can be a girl's only exposure to sex before marriage," she

said. "Children don't know about sex. It is a mystery. Naturally, they want

to know, but finding out from hard-core porn must be very shocking."

Fordham said over 30 percent of boys interviewed in the report described watching

hard-core pornography as "normal," and experts are concerned it will also

become a guide for daily behavior.

"The universal lesson is that what people see is how they act - it becomes normative,"

he said. "The lack of balance of other material about sexuality is a real problem

and its part of the reason I think that this really hard-core porn is such a major

problem in Cambodia."

Research assistant Sopheap highlighted the fact that many of the children interviewed

believed that the pornography they were watching was "real."

"The porn they are watching is mostly from overseas - Thailand, Japan, the USA

- and they only watch very violent porn," she said. "When I asked them

if they thought it was real I was really shocked as they all thought it was - they

thought the movies [depicted] normal life in a foreign country."

Forbes said the distinction between reality and fiction is often missed by young

children, and exposure to pornography at an early age can blur the difference.

"It can have a real desensitizing effect," he said. "At one level,

the sex is real. While most kids know WWF wrestling is fake, with porn, children

know they are watching 'real' sex - it is then harder to offer different messages

later, to 'resensitize'."

There is evidence that the confusion between reality and pornographic film scripts

spills over into real life, the report states, citing media reports of rape in Cambodia

and Thailand where the perpetrator has claimed to be "copying" sexual acts

previously watched in pornographic films.

"Pornography takes the unthinkable and makes it thinkable," Forbes said.

"Children go from not knowing anything at all about sex, even the good of sex

- such as love and tenderness - to knowing about [what is shown in pornographic films]

such as violent rape and bestiality."

Wilkinson believes that porn is a significant factor in risky sexual behaviors among

young people.

"Research on gang rape and sexual violence, coupled with anecdotal evidence,

indicates that pornography may be a factor in propagating risky sexual behavior,"

he said.

Fordham said the fact that many young people in Cambodia are receiving their sexual

education and possibly their subsequent conception of "normal" sexual behavior

from hard-core pornography is concerning.

"If young men are watching this sort of material, and learning scripts for masculinity

and for sexual practice from these, then it really isn't going to construct them

as particularly nice, gender-aware young people," he said.

Also, there are certain culturally specific factors that make the pervasiveness of

hard-core pornography in Cambodia particularly troubling, Fordham said.

"Cambodia has some very rigid masculine values that porn really feeds into,"

he said. "For adolescents anywhere the combination of hormones with this material

is putting them under a lot of pressure, but there are some contextual factors in

Cambodia that make it more of a problem."

The government has long been aware of the problem of pornography and is particularly

concerned about its impact on a poorly educated population, said Sy Define, Undersecretary

of State in Charge of Information at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, in a November

interview.

"The Cambodian people now still have limited knowledge, they still have low

[standards of] education," she said. "If pornography is allowed to expand

freely in society it will grow and grow [so] we need to crack down now, we need to

rid our society of it before it spreads."

Pornography findings

Outcome of research conducted between March and May 2006, and released in a World

Vision report titled "As if they were watching my body."

  • There appears to be a significant level of exposure of Cambodian children to

    hard-core pornography, and children in both urban and remote areas are at risk.

  • Children are exposed to hard-core pornography of the most extreme kind, including

    bestiality, group sex, violent rape, rape of drugged girls and rape and the subsequent

    killing of the rape victim.

  • Many interviewed children claimed that the watching of such movies was normal.
  • Pornography is teaching male children violent and abusive sexual scripts, and

    teaching them that these are normative ways of being male and of relating sexually

    to women. Boys use pornography as a tool to assert masculine dominance.

  • Pornography is likely to be having a detrimental impact on girls' self-image

    and behavior. As one girl said about her peers, when they have watched pornography,

    "they are not shy any more."

  • It is likely that among boys pornography, along with the consumption of alcohol,

    plays a role in male bonding in gangs.

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