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Pornography - crime or a bit of fun?

Pornography (porn) is when people use sexual images to help them get sexually aroused (turned on). This is usually in films, magazines, in pictures or online.

Boy surfing the internet at home in his bedroom

Some people look at porn because they enjoy it, and some people look at porn because they want to find out more about sex.

But some people find it by accident, and others might get pushed or tricked into watching porn. In some cases people may find pictures of themselves that have been taken during a relationship used online as pornography.

There are some important things to remember about pornography – particularly for children and young people under the age of 18.

Is porn illegal?

It is illegal for young people aged under 18 to take sexual pictures of each other, or make sexual videos; this is classed as ‘child abuse imagery’, and is illegal even if those involved have consented. It is legal to watch or buy porn when you are 18 years old. However, there are certain subjects or images which are illegal to feature in pornography, including:

  • film or images of anyone who is under 18
  • film or images showing sexual assault or rape
  • film or images involving scenes of life-threatening violence, or acts that are likely to cause serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals.

It’s also illegal for an adult to show a young person under 18 porn, or to allow them to watch it. So anyone sending porn to you could be breaking the law. And remember, what might seem funny or sexy on a clip you find or receive from a friend might actually contain illegal images, which could get you into serious trouble if you send them on.

Should I take it seriously?

Yes. A lot of teenagers and young people have seen pornography – whether looking for it deliberately online, finding it by accident, or being sent it by someone via phone or email. If you’ve received pornography or sexual images that have upset you or made you feel uncomfortable, then you don’t have to put up with it. If the person sending you the pornography is an adult, they are breaking the law, and they could be in serious trouble. If they are under 18, whether it’s someone you know or not, they could still be committing an offence by distributing pornography.

If someone is trying to encourage you to watch pornography and it’s upsetting you, you need to talk to an adult you can trust about what is happening. If the person trying to make you watch porn is an adult, they are breaking the law; they may be guilty of child sexual abuse, and they may also be trying to groom you. You could also chose to report it to the police – they will take your complaint very seriously

If you are under 18, and someone is asking you to pose for sexual or pornographic images, or send them images of yourself, that is also illegal. It’s important to remember that if you take any sexual photos or videos of yourself and give them to a partner who you are in a relationship with, if that relationship breaks up, you may not be able to get those images back, or be able to rely on your former boyfriend or girlfriend to delete them. Think carefully about how to stay safe online. If you’re worried, it’s important that you talk to an adult you can trust about what is happening.

What can I do?

You may be feel worried, scared or angry about what is happening. Pornographic imagery can be upsetting and disturbing, and if you’re under 18, anyone putting you under pressure to look at or watch pornography, encouraging you to pose for sexual images or videos, or threatening to send out sexual images of you or post them online, is breaking the law.

It can be really tough trying to deal with a situation like this all on your own. However, lots of people find that it can help if they talk to someone. Some things you can do are:

  • Tell an adult you trust – this could be a teacher, a family member, your youth worker, social worker or support worker. It can be difficult to know how to have this conversation, so we have some tips on asking for help.
  • Think about reporting what has happened to the police; they should take your complaint very seriously, and ensure that you are referred for further support.
  • With a safe adult, you could develop a safety plan that would help you choose how best to keep yourself safe.
  • Talk to your friends. A good friend will listen to you and may help you speak to an adult.
  • Make yourself aware of how to keep safe online. This may include deleting the person from your mobile contacts, blocking them from your social networking sites or using the online report button.

If you are worried about a friend, we have some tips on how you can start the conversation and get them the right help

Someone sent something to my phone and I opened it – am I in trouble?

No, you’re not in trouble. But they may be. The first thing to do is to decide whether you want to report this to the police. If you don’t want to report it, think about talking to an adult you can trust about what’s happening.

Don’t send it on to others - you could also be in trouble if you send it on to friends or other people, and depending what the images contain, keeping it on your phone could also get you in trouble.

If the message has been sent by a friend as a joke, explaining that you don’t like receiving that sort of material, and that it’s breaking the law, could solve the problem. But if the message has been sent to threaten or harass you, or has come from someone you don’t know, you should think about reporting the crime to police.

My boyfriend/girlfriend took photos of me and now they have put them online, what can I do?

This can be a very upsetting situation, but posting sexual pictures of anyone under the age of 18 online is against the law, and there there are things you can do to make sure the pictures are taken down. Talk to an adult you can trust; they can help you to work out what to do next. You or they can contact the person who posted the material and demand they take it down. You can also report the image or video immediately to the website in question, and un-tag yourself in any photos so they’re not connected to you.

If you were under 18 when the pictures or video were taken then the law may regard them as ‘indecent images of a child’, which are illegal to make, possess or distribute. So even keeping such images on a computer or phone counts as ‘possession’, and texting them or posting them online count as ‘distribution’. These are regarded as serious crimes, and letting your former partner know that they could face a jail sentence may be enough to get them to take down the pictures. If not, you may want to think about reporting this to the police.

Watch Clare’s film to see how she took action when she was asked to share photos of herself online

You can read more about how to protect yourself on the internet in the stay safe online section of this website.

Someone’s asked me to pose for pictures

Even if you are in a long-term relationship, and feel that there’s no harm in taking or sharing naked pictures of yourself with your partner (sexting), it’s important that you understand the risks involved, both legally and emotionally.

It is illegal for anyone to make or possess indecent or sexual images of someone under the age of 18. So if someone takes sexual photographs or video of you, they are breaking the law – even if they are your partner. And if you’re under 18 then sending a naked image of yourself via text or social media is technically illegal. The law doesn’t distinguish between an indecent image of you and an indecent image of someone else, so you could receive a police caution – or worse.

If someone is asking you to pose for pictures or send images or video of yourself, they may also be trying to groom you – to pretend to be your friend, when really all they want is to sexually abuse you. This is also an offence which can lead to a long prison sentence.

And if someone has sexual photographs or video of you, you have little control over how they use them, or who they send them to. Although they are breaking the law by having them on their phone or computer, or by distributing them, it can be very upsetting for you if they do decide to send them to other people.

Talk to an adult you can trust – maybe a youth worker, your support worker, a teacher or your parents – about what is happening. You can read more about how to protect yourself on the internet in the stay safe online section of this website.

Who can help me?

You&Co – you can talk to one of our support workers on a one-to-one basis, and we can offer you help and support. We can give you advice on how rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse can affect you and how to cope with it, what to do and what to expect if you decide to report a crime to police, and how to move on from being a victim of crime. You can find out about the support available nearest to you on this website.

Rape Crisis – this organisation provides information and support for women and girls who have been raped or experienced sexual violence; call 0808 802 9999

Rape Crisis Scotland – provides information and support for anyone in Scotland who has been raped or experienced sexual violence; call 08088 01 03 02.

ChildLine – ChildLine offer 24-hour support for young people, both on the phone and through online chats and message boards, on rape, sexual assault and a range of other issues; call 0800 1111

The Mix – this website provides information and support for 16-25 year olds on a whole range of issues, including rape and sexual assault as well as safe sexual relationships. Get confidential help by telephone, email, text or webchat, for young people under 25; call 0808 808 4994.

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