Pornography forms French children's views on sex

An alleged teenage gang rape 'like some kind of virtual game' underlines survey's fears

Jon Henley
May 25, 2002

The Guardian

Concern that French children's attitude to sex is being warped by early exposure to hardcore pornography was exacerbated yesterday when eight adolescent boys were placed under formal judicial investigation for the gang rape of a 15-year-old classmate.

Details of the alleged crime, in a relatively upmarket district of France's second city, Lyons, emerged the day after the publication of a survey estimating that nearly half of France's children had seen an adults-only sex film by the time they were 11.

Claude Rozier, the school doctor who headed the government-sponsored survey, said: "Hardcore porn has become the principal vehicle for quite young children's understanding of everything to do with love and sexuality, sometimes their only point of reference."

It found that 89.6% of boys aged 16 or 17 had seen one or more porn films, For girls, the figure was 81.1%.

Most of the teenagers questioned said they watched pornography "to find out about sex", and nearly 40% said the films - almost invariably watched at home or at friends' houses while parents were out or asleep - had taught them something useful.

Benoît Felix, who runs an Aids hotline for teenagers in the Paris area, described the situation as "worrying in the extreme".

In the past five years, he said, it had become "patently obvious" that the majority of questions adolescents asked the hotline's staff were inspired by the pornography they were watching.

"They want to talk about sodomy, threesomes, group sex, gang rape, bondage," he said. "The language they use is that of the porn world; the relationship between sex and desire no longer exists.

"Teenagers' first sexual experiences are difficult enough at the best of times, but if porn films are the model things get a lot more complicated."

The eight boys detained in Lyons, aged 14 and 15, are part of a group of 11 who allegedly took it in turns on a Saturday afternoon several weeks ago to rape one of their classmates in an alley not far from their school, the College Georges Clemenceau.

Traumatized, the unidentified girl did not tell the school's pastoral assistant for more than a month.

"One boy has confessed," a Lyons public prosecutor, Robert Esch, said yesterday. "The rest still insist the girl was willing and the sex was fully consensual.

"It's quite extraordinary. Clearly, in their minds, it's as if what happened was some kind of virtual game. They seem to have no idea of the gravity of the acts they are accused of."

Michela Marzano, a philosopher and psychologist, said it was becoming increasingly difficult not to relate French children's increasing exposure to pornography to the recent surge in cases of teenage collective rape.

"Pornography is supposed to be reality, it imposes a norm that will lead many young consumers to construct a world where sexual relations are those of these films," she said.

"When they discover the real world, some of them will inevitably be disappointed and decide to stick with porn. Some will accept reality. And some will refuse the real and react in the way pornography has taught them: with sexual violence.

"Porn does not recognize that the other person might have a different urge to yours."

The French broadcasting standards authority, CSA, says 27% of video cassettes hired in France are porn films.

The police say that if adolescents cannot persuade an older friend or relative, or a videostore owner, to rent them an adult movie, automated "hole in the wall" video dispensers provide an easy option.

But researchers say that teenagers' primary source of pornography remains the television. The pay-TV channel Canal Plus broadcasts a porn film every Saturday night; most of France's cable television film channels show at least one uncensored hardcore film every evening after midnight; one, XXL, carries nothing but adult movies.

Experts say that parental control devices, most of which feature a code that is supposed to deny children access to certain channels, are rarely effective because they involve complex programming procedures which teenagers understand far better than their parents.


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