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Your Kids Have Probably Seen Porn, And You Need To Talk To Them About It

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It may be years before we regain a sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of the hidden tragedies of the last 16 months is how extended lockdowns affected children, particularly through an increase in online sexual exploitation.

In April 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 4.2 million reports of sexual exploitation, online enticement, child sex abuse materials (or “CSAM”), and unsolicited pornography sent to a child. This represented an increase of 2 million reports from the same month in 2019 and 2 million more than in 2018.

Throughout 2020, NCMEC registered a 98 percent increase in reports for online sexual enticement of children. Similar spikes in online exploitation were reported in Scotland, Australia, India, and several other countries.

NCMEC Vice President John Sheehan attributes this increase to the COVID-19 lockdowns, telling Forbes that with millions of kids at home and online all day, “There’s just more instances for predators to take advantage of these opportunities.” One such pornography website, PornHub, which has come under increasing pressure for hosting CSAM on its platforms, reported a global surge of visitors from late February to March last year as the lockdowns began.

No one knows for sure how many of these visitors were minors, but research consistently finds that children under the age of 18 are among the most frequent users of porn. A 2016 Barna report found that 37 percent of teens aged 13-17 seek out pornography at least once or twice monthly and 49 percent stumble across it each month. These numbers are roughly the same as for the population as a whole (33 percent and 52 percent respectively).

Although research has determined pornography use among teens to be “normative” as far back as 2007, the challenges of the past year may have made an already bad situation worse. Instead of enjoying the safety and comfort of a loving home and a nurturing school environment, most kids spent the past year grappling with the fear of an unknown virus combined with lockdown-mandated loneliness. Those turning to porn for comfort or entertainment inadvertently traveled further

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