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Teen access to online pornography under the spotlight

Tuesday, 04 December 2018


The emotional impact of teenagers’ access to online sexual content will be investigated by Edith Cowan University (ECU) in a bid to provide harm reduction strategies.

The study, led by Professor Lelia Green from ECU’s School of Arts and Humanities, has attracted a $375,000 grant from the Australian Research Council.

Professor Green’s previous research in this area – part of an international study of more than 25,500 parents and children in 26 countries – found that most Australian teens had accessed online sexual content by the age of 16 and 36 per cent of those young people had felt bothered by it.

The new study will explore Australian adolescents’ responses to online sexual content through comparative research with teens and local investigators in Greece, Ireland and Norway.

First in-depth study with the voices of teens

The project accords with a 2017 Australian Senate Inquiry recommendation that there be dedicated research into “the exposure of Australian children and young people to online pornography”.

Professor Green said researchers would separately interview parents and teens (12–17 years) about what they’d come across on the internet and investigate ways in which parents can support young people’s more risky encounters with troubling content.

“Because this type of study hasn’t been done before, there’s a lot of basic information that we don’t know,” Professor Green said.

“This is an opportunity to start informing debate with the voices of young people themselves.

“Until we start talking to teens, we don’t know what they have found unsettling and what they haven’t, or how they would have liked things done differently and how they would like to be supported.

“What we do know though is that what parents think unsettles teens is often not what unsettles them and what does unsettle teens is often minimised by parents,” Professor Green said.

Accidental vs deliberate access

One of the themes that will be explored in the study is whether teens access sexual content online intentionally or accidentally and what harm is caused by both.

“Our operating hypothesis is that young people who are in charge of their own progress to adult content find what they come across easier to deal with.

“However, if you’re shown content when you don’t want to see it, that can be like an assault,” Professor Green said.

“We are only really ready for these kinds of information and images when we want to see them, and even then we sometimes don’t want to see what we come across when we click that link.”

Continued success

Professor Green’s grant is among other successful ECU research recently awarded funding by the Australian Research Council including:

ARC Discovery Grant:

  • Professor Hongqi Sun – Smart self-propelled nanoreactors for catalytic environmental remediation. - $410,000. (Lead: Curtin University)

ARC Linkage Grants:

  • Professor Dawn Penney - Informal sport as a health and social resource for diverse young people. - $249,421. (Lead: Monash University)

ARC LIEF (Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities) Grants:

  • Professor David Broadhurst - High throughput Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility. $415,000. (Lead: UWA)
  • Professor Paul Lavery and Professor Pere Masque – A novel ToF-SIMS facility for organic and inorganic analyses in WA. $1,267,674. (Lead: Curtin University)
  • Professor Paul Arthur – Time-layered cultural map of Australia. $420,000. (Lead: University of Newcastle)


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