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Taking a closer look at violence

Posted on 28 November 2013 by Henry

Young people's experience of pornography is a hot topic at the moment, and people tend to have some pretty strong views about it. Many young people think it's potentially harmful, but they also feel this way about violent and horrific content.

In a recent survey, we asked 16-18 year-olds to indicate which types of content could be harmful to people their age, and violence topped the list:

  • 84% thought sexual violence could be harmful
  • 81% thought scenes of self-harm or suicide could be harmful
  • 75% thought showing 'violence being rewarded' could be harmful
  • and 70% thought 'violence treated as normal' could be harmful.

Then we asked them whether this content should be age-restricted, and what age restriction should apply. The graph shows that they were firmly in favour of a high age restriction for these types of violent content:

Chart showing young New Zealander's views about violent media content
Stats from Survey of Young People's Perceptions of the Classification System

In group discussions we found that young women are particularly concerned about depictions of sexual violence. Some potential harms they identified are: reliving trauma (for victims of sexual violence), being upset or shocked, and becoming fearful of contact with men. Young men were also concerned about depictions of sexual violence - one of them put it this way:

I think there're two ways to look at it. There's the one where people have been sexually assaulted, so they'll feel uncomfortable watching it because it'll bring back those dark memories... or, there's the people who almost get off on it, they get that excitement, buzz - maybe we shouldn't be feeding that. (p45)

Discussion group participants also thought that depictions of self-harm or suicide were potentially very harmful for people their own age, for people younger than them, and for society as a whole. One said that:

Suicide and self-harm are some of the most harmful things that people around my age can see. I feel that children are so strongly influenced by what the media displays to them and this can lead people to act in the same way. (p46)

Our literature review (p9) found that the way violent or horrific content is perceived and understood can lessen or heighten its impact. For example, a gory horror film is more likely to frighten young children than adolescents, while other more 'adult' content may have little impact on children and young adolescents who don't fully understand the disturbing nature of what they are seeing.

How and why young people watch violent films is also interesting. For example, gender differences were explored in the research Viewing Violence. For 14-17 year-old males, a common reason for watching horror films was to show how 'hard' they were to their friends; whereas females were likely to embrace the feeling of being scared, to express their fear, and to comfort each other. Young people were unlikely to watch these films alone.

Many young people find violent, horrific or frightening content distressing and potentially harmful to themselves and those younger than them. If you're interested in finding out more about this you can take a look at our new research. If you have any questions or comments about violent content we'd love to hear from you, so get in touch via email, phone, Facebook or Twitter.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members - they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Scream Queen cartoon

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