Former children’s TV presenter Floella Benjamin says boys are becoming “addicted to pornography” after figures showed hundreds of pupils have been excluded from school for “sexual misconduct”
The Liberal Democrat peer and chancellor of Exeter University blamed easy access to the internet following revelations that children as young as five have been sanctioned for serious sexual abuse, watching pornography and sharing inappropriate images of themselves.
Figures from local authorities show that almost 200 children in the Westcountry and more than 2,000 nationwide were banned from class for a raft of “sexual misconduct”, including assault, harassment and bullying.
In Cornwall the number was 22, Devon expelled 74 and Somerset saw 105 sanctioned.
Others have been excluded for inappropriate touching, lewd behaviour and sexual graffiti with the large majority of incidents concerning boys, and only 9% involving girls.
Some children were disciplined within their first year at school – when new learners are aged between four and five – while 13, 14 and 15-year-olds are the most likely to be sanctioned.
Baroness Benjamin, who used to present the BBC programme Play School, said she was not surprised by the data, having heard anecdotal evidence and received reports from charities of incidents involving very young children.
She said: “I believe one of the main contributory factors is children being exposed to pornographic online material which is easily available on the internet, and they are emulating what they see.
“They want to discover what it feels like to experience the sexual act they have seen and if they don’t achieve the level of satisfaction they expect they move on to the next girl.
She also said young boys are “becoming addicted to pornography” and that teachers needed training to detect changes in children’s behaviour patterns which might hint at their involvement in abuse.
She added: “We have to teach them that sex is about mutual respect.”
The investigation found there were more than 2,000 reported incidents between January 2010 and September 2013.
However the true figure is likely to be much higher, as nearly two-thirds of the 153 authorities contacted said they did not hold the information centrally, or refused to disclose it.
Child welfare charities and politicians described the figures as “extremely concerning” and called on the Government to clamp down on the ease with which children can access internet pornography, and to implement a “robust” sex education programme.
Jon Brown, head of tackling child sexual abuse at the NSPCC, said: “The extent of sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual behaviour and in the worst cases violence by children is extremely concerning.
“Exposure to extreme, sometimes sexually violent and degrading material is now only a few clicks away and this can warp young people’s views of what is normal and acceptable sexual behaviour.
Sexting (sending sexual text messages) is now the norm for many young people who may find once they start sending explicit pictures of themselves the situation spirals out of control.
“We need good quality, age appropriate education in schools to help young people develop healthy, positive relationships with each other, so that children understand consent, do not feel so pressurised to behave in a sexualised way, and respect themselves and others.”