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  • His internet history showed he had also watched 'vile, paedophiliac images' presented in cartoon form
  • More needs to be done to help other children addicted to internet porn, says mother
  • Comes as internet providers refuse to give parents an easy-to-use block on extreme material on home computers
  • By Liz Martin

    Published: 00:03 BST, 20 April 2012 | Updated: 09:08 BST, 20 April 2012





    Major internet firms were yesterday accused of being 'complicit' in exposing children to hardcore pornography and violence online by continuing to refuse to give parents the choice of blocking material that no child should see, but that is too easily available on every device now in the home.

    Their defiance comes despite an independent inquiry into online protection by MPs that warned a generation of teenagers were addicted to porn.

    Here, one distraught mother tells the Mail how her 11-year-old son changed beyond all recognition when he began secretly watching porn on his laptop in his own bedroom.

    Online porn is as addictive as any drug. It's enslaving hundreds of thousands of British children. I know, because my son was one of them.

    Charlie was 11 when not just his behaviour, but his entire character started changing. He'd always been a cheerful, friendly, sunny sort of chap. At his junior school he was popular with his classmates, loved playing football in the school team and was rarely in any kind of trouble with his teachers.

    Addictive secrets: Charlie was just 11 years old when he was gripped by the scourge of internet pornography (posed by model)

    Addictive secrets: Charlie was just 11 years old when he was gripped by the scourge of internet pornography (posed by model)

    Over the space of his first two terms at secondary school all that changed. If Charlie had been on Class A drugs he couldn't have been more transformed. He became withdrawn, moody and sullen. He wasn't sleeping at night. He lost his normal gargantuan appetite. He looked hollow-eyed and listless. He had none of the boyish energy and high spirits that we were all used to.

    He began writing things like 'I hate myself', or 'Charlie is s***' on scraps of paper, newspapers, books, even his bedroom furniture and walls. He drew obscene cartoons with speech bubbles filled with the filthiest words in the dictionary.

    I once rolled back his sleeve to find 'I am disgusting' scrawled on the inside of his arm. I managed to stop myself from crying until I'd left the room. But the moment the door closed behind me I broke down completely.


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    I couldn't understand. How could my beautiful boy, who could light up a room and my heart with his smile, have turned into this hollow, self-hating shell? What had I done wrong?

    Almost six months went by and still I could find no answer. Charlie was still very much a small boy. He didn't have a hair on his chin and his voice was high and unbroken. So it wasn't some kind of hormonal reaction to becoming an adolescent. And the doctor assured us he wasn't physically ill.

    Maybe it was a family issue. My husband, Mike, and I were going through a rough patch, as most couples do at one time or another. We weren't the screaming and shouting kind, but there was a sullen gulf of silence opening up between us.

    Was Charlie responding to that? Or perhaps it was the influence of his new school.

    Charlie goes to a big suburban comprehensive that prides itself on the quality of its pastoral care as much as its exam results. But even the best schools contain a few bad apples and my suspicions fell on a particular boy in Charlie's class.

    I can't prove that he started it all, but I suspected there was something going wrong from the moment the two of them first met.

    Furtive: A new study shows that four out of five 16-year-old boys and girls regularly view pornography (posed by model)

    Furtive: A new study shows that four out of five 16-year-old boys and girls regularly view pornography (posed by model)

    I knew his new friend was encouraging Charlie to play the violent video games that I hate so much and have always banned. I feared that, as the youngest of several brothers, this particular boy might also have access to cigarettes, drink and even drugs.

    It never occurred to me that the problem was pornography. But then one night my eyes were opened to the truth.

    I was going to bed when I noticed the light on in Charlie's room. It was almost 11pm on a school night, so I went in to tell him to turn off his light at once.

    Charlie was sitting in bed with his laptop in front of him — we'd bought him one when he'd started his new school, but he clearly wasn't doing his homework. When he saw me come in, he quickly closed the computer. The way he did it was so furtive that it would have aroused my suspicions even if his face wasn't stamped with the guilty look of a boy who's been caught red-handed.

    I snatched the computer from him, turned out the light, said a brusque 'goodnight' and left the room.

    Mike was away on business, so I was alone when I went to our bedroom, still holding the computer. I thought I'd better shut it down. I knew Charlie liked to play a particular online fantasy game — an entirely innocent one — and I had visions of it chugging away all night. But when I opened the laptop, it wasn't a child's game that I saw, but hardcore pornography.

    A couple were having sex. I can't possibly go into the details in a family newspaper, but this was not a normal act of lovemaking. Yet it was tame with what I discovered when I checked Charlie's internet history.

    An 11-year-old boy with no credit card had been able to access websites that presented every possible kind of perversion. Today's pornography is vile beyond description. I had never before seen or even imagined anything like the scenes of violence and sadism, the shocking mistreatment and degradation of women and, worst of all, the child abuse that now appeared before me.

    In a peculiarly disturbing twist, some of the most vile, paedophiliac images were presented in cartoon form, so that children were abused in the very medium that children most like to watch.

    And my son had been watching this, night after night, week after week. No wonder he'd become such a wreck. I wanted to run right back to his room and wrap the poor little boy in my arms to protect him from everything that he'd been exposed to. But he was asleep now and, besides, I had no idea how to tell him what I knew, or how he would react.

    Hooked: Children are growing up addicted to porn sites, but it is an affliction that affects young men too

    Hooked: Children are growing up addicted to porn sites, but it is an affliction that affects young men too

    Then, of course, I was furious with myself and filled with guilt for my failure to discover what was happening sooner. But how could I have known?
    Of course I'd thought about what would happen when Charlie was old enough to start buying all those  magazines that teenage boys love, filled with airbrushed pictures of beautiful, available starlets.

    How was I going to let him know that it was perfectly natural to find women attractive, but that he shouldn't expect, let alone want, women to be the perfect but vacuous creatures portrayed in the media?

    It had never occurred to me that his concept of relationships between men and women would be influenced by the hateful, loveless and deeply offensive way that porn degrades the female sex. It sickens me to think that Charlie and millions of his young male peers might want to treat the girls in their lives in the way that porn treats women.

    When Mike came back from his trip, I told him what had happened. Together, he and I told Charlie that we knew what he had been doing. We said these websites were very wrong, but we still loved him very much and would do everything we could to make him feel better.

    We began by taking his computer away at once. I think Charlie was glad to be rid of it. He never once asked for it back and, for the next few weeks, he seemed to rush back to the shelter of childhood innocence, reading all his old books and watching TV programmes aimed at much younger children.
    Charlie was offered counselling on the NHS and went along to a session.

    'No wonder he'd become such a wreck': Pornographic images and online chat can be hugely damaging

    'No wonder he'd become such a wreck': Pornographic images and online chat can be hugely damaging

    But the moment he realised that the counsellor knew what he'd been doing, he refused to have anything to do with her. He was just too ashamed to be in the same room as her.

    She assured us, though, that we had done the right thing by supporting rather than criticising him, and told us not to worry. Children are astonishingly resilient and she had every hope that Charlie would make a full recovery.

    Nearly three years later, it seems — I hope — that she was right. Charlie has his smile back and it's the most wonderful sight in the world.
    We never talk about that terrible time when internet porn had him in its grip. But both his computer and phone stay downstairs when he goes up to bed — and I think we both know why.

    Of course, some people will scoff at the idea that children who watch porn should be treated like victims of addiction. Surely they should be punished for their wickedness.

    Yet the internet is an extraordinarily addictive medium. Plenty of us find ourselves losing an hour because we've been glued to Mumsnet or Facebook, or can't resist clicking on another silly celebrity story . . . and another . . . and another. Grown men become addicted to online porn and gambling sites. Why should children be any stronger?

    They don't need punishment because they are already punishing themselves. Charlie was far too young to process the images he was seeing, let alone be turned on by them. He didn't even know why they made him feel so wicked and dirty. But like a junkie who needs one more fix, he couldn't stop himself going back.

    Claire Perry MP, who commissioned the report revealing the extent of the internet porn menace, has done society a huge favour. I'm lucky. My son has been freed from his addiction. Now it's time to free all the other sons and daughters trapped by pornography, too.

    The names in this article  have been changed.

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