HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Sarah Hamilton

Further to my letters to Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP and the Rt Hon David Cameron Prime Minister of 14 and 27 August respectively, I am writing to expand upon the most important of the points I raised.

I note that the inquiry is entitled “Policing Large-Scale Disorder” which seems to limit the scope of the enquiry to the matter of “emergency treatment” rather than cause and prevention. It is the latter which is the focus of this submission. I write from my perspective as a mother, psychotherapist and a citizen who is deeply saddened by the state of things.

My motivation in writing is not in any way political but goes deeper than that, as should the examination of the causes of recent events, which will not be understood fully from a political or socio-economic perspective alone. There is a fundamental issue of consciousness and conscience here. A vitally important aspect of the whole picture which must not be overlooked in the debate is what is in the minds of young (and not so young) people of today—what do they engage in, what do they see, what are their values.

A particular concern of mine (and many others) is that we greatly underestimate the negative effect of violent films, violent video games, internet pornography and music (and associated videos) with violent, pornographic and materialistic messages, and their debasing and destructive impact on the human consciousness.

In terms of violence in films and video games, you only have to look at films on general release and the vast number of video games available to see the depiction of psychopathic violence in abundance. Video games, in particular, are “training” their users in psychopathology, the defining feature of which in psychiatric terms is the absence of conscience.

A recent article in the journal for psychotherapists (Where Lunatics Prosper, Jeanine Connor, Therapy Today, October 2011) refers to a typical game called Call of Duty in which the character opens fire in a busy airport, killing innocent bystanders in order to progress to the next level. In another, Grand Theft Auto IV, the character picks up prostitutes and selects from three levels of service: masturbation, fellatio and full sexual intercourse. The writer states that many of the boys who access these games are still in junior school. A nine year-old boy was asked what he liked about the games and he replied “sex and killing”. The writer refers to a recent study of 10–11 year olds by Bristol University which found that playing computer games for more than two hours a day increases the risk of mental health problems by 60%. In the writer’s view, “children are damaged beyond measure by exposure to violent and sexual imagery and language, be it in the home or on the screen.” She states that adults who allow this to happen (which include those responsible for censorship I would add) are guilty of neglect. We are allowing these influences to create either trauma or a psychopathic mentality in our young people when the brain is still being “wired up”.

In terms of sexual influences, a child of any age can listen to a CD at home with someone merrily declaring “I want your disease, I want your everything as long as it’s free” (Bad Romance, Lady GaGa), “Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it. Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me” (S & M, Rhianna) and “Girls, I fuck with them. Tell em anything they wanna hear so by the end of the night, I’m fucking them” (Girls, N Dubz). The latter song lyrics and video are available online at the click of a button and epitomise the raison d’etre of too many of our young people today. Characteristically, it depicts woman as sex objects, men as gangsters and money and “bling” as the emblem of personal success and fulfillment. The only missing element, which is ubiquitous in music videos of its ilk, is guns as glamorous accessories.

As part of a current Channel 4 offering, The Joy of Teen Sex, we were shown a report on the behaviour of young people on holiday in Magaluf (or “Shagaluf” as it’s affectionately known). The orgy of extreme drinking and shameless promiscuity—in clubs, on the street—was beyond belief. Standing back and looking at it, it really did look like a snapshot of a civilization in its final death throes.

Pornography addiction is being described in the US as “our newest and most challenging mental health problem” (Wendy Maltz, Psychotherapy Networker 2009) and the same is developing here - over one quarter of all internet hits are for porn. My psychotherapy practice and those of my colleagues are now seeing individuals and couples with difficulties related to internet pornography addiction. Even more worryingly, children are regularly seeking out internet pornography, some of it degrading and extreme. Many are addicted. Violent and pornographic material stimulates the same “feel good” chemicals as hard drugs and can be powerfully addictive with more and more extreme stimulation needed over time to maintain the “high”. “Heavy” use it has been shown with pornography causes physiological changes which take some time to be reversed (The Porn Trap, Wendy and Larry Maltz, 2009).

We live in a society where addiction of all kinds is rife—addiction to violence and sex but also to celebrity, junk food and to alcohol. We now have widespread alcohol abuse and addiction beginning in adolescence. A recent survey by the Schools Health Education Unit found that 4% of 12–13 year olds admitted to drinking 28 or more units of alcohol in the previous week (The Guardian 30 October 2011). This, I have no doubt, is indicative of a much more widespread problem. Apart from anything else, the damage being done to these young brains is catastrophic.

All these—attraction to violence, pornography and promiscuity, addiction—are aspects of the same reality: a “me” culture of entitlement but no responsibility, where anything goes and pleasure, instant gratification, and self-interest are the gods. If there’s immediate personal gain in it, then it’s good. It is that culture which gave rise to the summer riots. They were not about anger or deprivation or inequality. They were born of this. If people, young or otherwise, live in this culture, feeding themselves with its toxic by-products, then it should be no surprise that their behavior is of such a low order and that elements of our society are “sick”.

Goodness is no longer an aspiration for too many because, I would suggest, everything that they “consume” confirms the message that immorality and even evil are to be revered. Increasingly, the darker side of life is favoured across the board—in music, in film, in comedy etc. Indeed, a whole portion of the year is now given over to the celebration of “darkness” and all its manifestations in the aggressive commercial promotion of Halloween. “Harmless fun” some might say, but the fact is that the message is being sold to very young children that the dark side is what we love.

It is good to live in a tolerant and free society but not a boundary-less one which is allowed, through neglect, to become amoral. It used to be that the Church was the guardian of society but it no longer has that role. We can let it fall to no one and continue to watch a civilized society destroy itself. Or, Government can take responsibility. Society, in some parts of it, is a corrupted child run wild. When a child has no boundaries, a responsible carer puts them in place. At first there is great resistance but, in time, those in their care will thrive. To this end, there needs to be a total review of censorship and the limits we must place on our freedoms.

My suggestions, though not thought through in detail at this stage, would be that all films and video games that show extreme violence and terrorism are simply banned. The whole censorship system needs adjusting so that a current 15 is the new 18, 12 is 15 and so forth. Pornographic content and profanity in music videos and music should be banned from general release, and an automatic barrier on adult material should be the default setting on all computers so that adults have to opt in by choice. It might be that these things continue to circulate “underground” as it were but at least we would spare most of our children from exposure to this damaging material. Perhaps it is time too to raise the alcohol age limit to 21 and restore restricted opening hours.

If we do nothing through a lack of strength or because we fear it might make us unpopular, we must prepare to face the consequences which, I have no doubt, will become more and more unpalatable over time.

November 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011