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Young New Zealanders Viewing Sexual Violence - Stage 3

04 July 2017

This report is the third and final component of a wider Classification Office research project that seeks to fill the identified gap in current research by giving young New Zealanders, frontline agencies, and sexual violence experts a voice to describe the effects of depictions of sexual violence in mainstream entertainment media. 

This phase of the research involved 24 paired interviews with 48 young people aged 13 to 18 from around New Zealand. Most were secondary school students and came from a cross-section of schools between deciles 1 and 10. We included a diverse group of young people including those who identified as survivors of sexual violence, LGBTQI youth, and young people from rural areas. Groups were divided by gender and age. Short, age-appropriate video clips from films and television shows were shown to participants to prompt discussion.

Download the full report - Young New Zealanders Viewing Sexual Violence Stage 3 (PDF, 1.01MB)

Insights from young people

We get entertainment content wherever we can find it online

My older brother did download illegally - it's extremely common - but they take shit down...you just keep searching. Netflix first, it's the best quality.

Younger female participant

Young people told us they prefer to access entertainment content online due to the freedom and choice it offers. They say there are few impediments to accessing content. It is common for young people to find pirated versions of movies and TV shows, however they also use legal streaming services if what they want to see is available.

Young people say it is common for people their age to view content that is (or would likely be) classified as restricted, or even objectionable. Young people report that they do not always seek out this content, and even when they do seek it out they sometimes regret this exposure.

Lisbeth from Girl Who Played With Fire
Lisbeth in a clip we showed to young people from The Girl Who Played With Fire

Adults don’t really know what we’re viewing online

My dad is completely oblivious to most of the things I now watch. Because he’s focused on his work or what he wants to do.

Older male participant

Young people say that even parents who are engaged with what their children are viewing are generally not restricting or actively supervising access. Young people say they prefer viewing content alone or with friends, rather than with parents or other family members.

One reason is that family viewing places limits on what they can view, and another is that they are uncomfortable viewing certain content (such as sex scenes) with family members. Some young people told us it can be useful to talk about high-impact content with friends after viewing, however they did not wish to do this with parents or other adults.

Young woman watching something on her Macbook

PHOTO: Steinar Engeland

We learn mixed messages from media

I’ve seen enough in movies to think that that does happen.

Older male participant

Young people told us that entertainment media was one of their primary sources for learning about sexual violence. Most had developed expectations about relationships, sex and sexual violence as it was represented in media, and many appeared to adopt the perspectives and biases of the depictions they viewed. 

Young people say that acts of sexual violence are always portrayed as negative or unacceptable in entertainment media. However, media depictions often perpetuate harmful or unrealistic beliefs and attitudes about sexual violence. This research explores a variety of problematic beliefs about sexual violence held by young people that seem to reflect such media depictions. 

Quincy and Monica from the movie Love and Basketball
Quincy and Monica in a clip we showed to young people from Love and Basketball

We think media might affect people younger than us

I don't think young people should be exposed to that sort of thing.

Older male participant

Most young people were initially reluctant to support the idea that viewing content may have direct or indirect effects on people’s attitudes or behaviours (this is known as the ‘media effects’ debate). However, on further discussion, young people tended to acknowledge that media could have an effect on the attitudes and behaviours of children or people younger than themselves – for example some suggested that children or younger teens could mimic behaviour they have seen on screen, or see this behaviour as normal in relationships. They were also concerned that younger viewers may become desensitised to high-impact content and that this may have a normalising affect with repeated exposure.

Boy screaming at computer

PHOTO: © P_ponomareva | Dreamstime.com

Viewing sexual violence is especially upsetting for survivors

I feel like it just brings back all of the emotions.

Younger male participant

Despite expressing somewhat contradictory perspectives on media effects, young people generally agreed – and demonstrated during the viewing exercises – that viewing sexually violent content has some kind of impact on themselves and others. The clips shown clearly had an emotional impact on participants, who often expressed shock, anger, sadness or discomfort. Young people told us they were particularly concerned about the impact on children or people younger than themselves, and the likely impact on victims'survivors of sexual violence. the survivors we interviewed described depictions of sexual violence as being traumatic and triggering for them personally. 

Clip from Game of Thrones
Ramsay Snow and Sansa Stark in a clip we showed to young people from Game of Thrones 

We want to be warned about things like sexual violence

I'd look on the marker, what the age rating [is]. Sexual violence, sexual content, nudity. I'd avoid the film to make sure my younger siblings don't watch it.

Older male participant

Participants were positive about content warnings generally, especially for sexual violence, and a strong message came through that more detailed warning notes on entertainment content would be appreciated by young people.

Young people told us they did check warning labels when making viewing choices for those younger than them, such as siblings. This supports the general view of most participants that people younger than them were in need of guidance and protection – and classifications or warning labels were clearly one of the tools they used to provide this.

Young woman stands in front of an art mural

PHOTO: AllefVinicius

Where to next? Using this research to help our communities

This research shows that young people are willing and able to talk about their media use and the concerns they have about content, but they are often unwilling to approach adults about this, or do not think adults are willing or able to provide guidance. Some adults may lack the knowledge and experience to discuss these topics with confidence, and so the Classification Office will explore ways in which these conversations can be encouraged at home and in schools.

Better education of young people about media effects and media literacy is necessary. Young people told us they first learnt about sexual violence either in entertainment media or in programmes provided in schools. It therefore makes sense for existing sexual violence programmes to include information about relationships, sex and sexual violence in media. To ensure young people are provided with the best resources, the Classification Office will continue to develop and strengthen relationships with schools, libraries, government agencies and NGOs involved with sexual violence prevention, youth health and wellbeing, media regulation, and online safety. 

Ma whero, ma pango ka oti ai te mahi

With red and black the work will be complete

This whakataukī (proverb) refers to co-operation: If everyone does their part, the work will be complete.

Let us know what you think

We'd love to hear what you think about this research. If you have any feedback you can find us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact us by phone on 0508 236 767, or by email at info@classificationoffice.govt.nz.

Young woman giving a peace sign, leaning against a skateboard

PHOTO: © Jason Stitt | Dreamstime.com