Keeping youth safe in the age of pornography

02 February 2017
Ashlee-Ann Sneller

Arts student Ashlee-Ann Sneller wanted to do more with her summer than waitressing, so applied to join a study of pornography consumption.

As a University of Auckland Summer Scholar she is now half way through an analysis of young people’s pornography habits.

Ashlee-Ann, 22, received one of 50 Summer Scholarships available in the Faculty of Arts, awarded to high achieving students to conduct a supervised research project over the summer months.

“I wanted a purpose over summer and what excited me the most about this topic, besides that it is so completely distinctive, is that there is a huge gap in the literature that needs to be filled,” she says.

Ashlee-Ann joins a research team headed by criminologist Dr Claire Meehan, who will use the findings in a bid to fund a larger study of the risk of online sexual harm for young people.

Her findings could also be used to inform educators, health providers and policymakers as they grapple with keeping youth safe in an increasingly digital world.

“This research is so vital because with increasing technological advancement, it is incredibly easy for youth to access and consume pornography,” says Ashlee-Ann, who grew up in Kaitaia.

Recent studies show that 30 percent of all internet bandwidth is used for pornography. Studies in Europe, Australia and the United States suggest that up to 88 percent of males aged over 15 viewed pornography within the last year.

“Youth may then regard pornography as ‘real-life’ depictions of sex instead of fantasy, thereby assimilating the behaviours and expectations associated with pornography into their own personal lives,” Ashlee-Ann says.

She adds that people often wrongly assume that she watches pornography, when in fact viewing x-rated material is not part of her research. Rather she is comprehensively reviewing previous literature on the topic and gathering material from blogs and vlogs.

Following her Summer Scholarship Ashlee-Ann is due to begin her Masters’ thesis which will explore how revenge pornography cases are represented in the media in New Zealand and Australia.

Ashlee-Ann is also active in the youth organisation JustSpeak, which aims to empower young people from all walks of life to think independently and speak out about justice issues that they care about or that affect them. 

Danelle Clayton 
Communications, Vice-Chancellor's Office
The University of Auckland