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Spain worried by rise in sexual attacks by minors

Experts say minors are being exposed to online pornography at an increasingly young age
Experts say minors are being exposed to online pornography at an increasingly young age - Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP Emma McIntyre
Experts say minors are being exposed to online pornography at an increasingly young age - Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP Emma McIntyre

The rise in sexual assaults by minors in Spain, including several recent gang rapes, has worried officials and experts, who warn about the impact of ever-younger children being exposed to pornography.

“For the past few years, at least since 2015, there has been a steady increase in the number of sexual crimes by minors,” says Eduardo Esteban, the prosecutor in charge of minors. 

Although the increase has not been “spectacular”, there has been “a more significant rise” over the past year, he tells AFP. 

Among the more notable cases was that of an 11-year-old girl who was allegedly gang-raped at knifepoint by a group of minors in the toilets of a shopping centre near Barcelona in November.

All but two of the alleged attackers were under 14, which is the minimum legal age for criminal responsibility in Spain, and even then, only one of the older attackers was temporarily admitted to a special centre for minors. 

A similar case in the same area came to light in June. 

In Catalonia, the number of minors under 14 involved in sexual crimes doubled between 2015 and 2022, rising from 53 to 103, regional figures show.

Between January and April, one in eight — or 12.3 percent — of people arrested for sexual crimes in this northeastern Spanish region were minors, regional and police figures show. 

And in June, the ombudsman opened an investigation into the alleged assault of a 13-year-old girl at her school in Madrid by two fellow pupils. 

Such cases have sparked outrage in Spain, which prides itself on being a leader in the fight against gender violence. 

– Porn ‘like an online tutorial’ –

With a snap election looming this month, the far right has been quick to demand a lowering of the age of criminal responsibility. 

But experts say increasing the penalties is not the way to tackle a very complex issue. 

“There is no simple solution such as lowering the age of criminal responsibility and sending everyone to prison,” explains Carmela del Moral of Save The Children.

Specialists say the fact that minors have easy access to an almost unlimited supply of pornography is one of the main problems. 

“Without a decent sexual education, young people and children turn (to pornographic content) much earlier,” says Esteban, the prosecutor. 

“It’s like a tutorial, like going on YouTube to see how to fix a flat tyre.”

And with a huge variety of pornographic content just a click away, the age of first exposure is falling.

Some 15-20 percent of eight- to nine-year-olds admit they’ve already seen online porn, says Lluis Ballester, a professor at the Balearic Islands University. 

Particularly notable is the ease with which search engines offer up “violent pornography showing women in submissive roles who never contradict or frustrate male desires and who accept any behaviour, no matter how bizarre”, he warns.

This has normalised group assaults, which are often filmed, says Save The Children’s Del Moral. 

– ‘Learning through porn’ –

“Right now they are learning about sex through pornography and it’s as if they were learning to drive by watching ‘Fast and Furious’,” she says. 

According to a Save the Children study in 2020, almost seven out of 10 teenagers consume pornography regularly.

More than half said porn inspired their sexual experiences. 

“The more often they watch pornography, the less satisfying their sexual relationships are,” she says. 

Although access to pornographic content is in theory banned for under-18s, in practice there are no such controls.

Esteban wants to see “some kind of parental control with the collaboration of the social networks” and platforms.

Many other countries are also working on ways to curb minors’ unfettered access to explicit material.

France, for example, said in May it wanted to introduce a digital age verification system for accessing porn sites by the year’s end. 

Experts stress it is also necessary to improve sex education for minors. 

“The juvenile justice system works in Spain. The measures adopted with minors are effective and there is very little reoffending,” says Esteban, while stressing that more must be done. 

“With better sex education, there would be far fewer crimes committed,” he adds.

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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