Those working with the victims of violence say there is a worrying trend of attackers mimicking the hard-core images they see in the sex industry.
Last year, the British government agreed to make the ownership of violent and extreme material a criminal offence punishable by three years in jail. Despite universal access to British media, Ireland has not even begun to debate the issue.
The silence on this side of the Irish Sea is frustrating women’s groups and those working with the victims of rape and sexual violence.
University College Dublin lecturer Dr Geraldine Moane has been at the forefront of research attempting to make people aware of the affect and infiltration of extreme pornography.
“There is much more violence and aggression and it is very frustrating trying to get the impact of this different type of pornography across to people.
“The problem is that people don’t ask about it so it doesn’t come up, people just do not seem to have made the connection between pornography and sexual violence.
“Most people don’t think about it because the debate has not taken place and people have not made the link. Instead they just see pornography as a release or an outlet,” she said.
Last year, Dr Moane published research conducted on her psychology students. It showed 92% of men and more than 60% of women had viewed pornography.
This comes two years after the findings of the National Crime Council report on Domestic Violence.
It found in 13% of cases of relationship-based sexual abuse, pornography was involved — either by forcing victims to watch it or partake in scenes similar to it.
People are also stumbling on the material at a younger age than before. In 2001, a study carried out for Women’s Aid showed 94% of Dublin school boys and 68% of school girls had a previous interaction with pornography.
Crucially, even before the widespread proliferation of broadband, in three-quarters of cases involving boys, their access point was the internet. However, it is not the mere act of viewing pornography the groups find most troubling. Instead it is the accessibility of hard-core material online and through mobile phones.
The British law was not published because of a collective moral epiphany. It came in response to a campaign run by a mother whose daughter was killed by a man addicted to violent porn.
Liz Longhurst collected 50,000 signatures of support after her 31-year-old daughter Jane was found strangled in 2003.
The murder trial of her killer Graham Coutts heard he was addicted to web-based pornography and had a neck fetish.
The Rape Crisis network in particular is concerned about the rising level of violence being associated with sexual crimes in this country.
Marian Duffy of the Limerick Rape Crisis Centre said while violence has always been a part of sex attacks, the methods are getting more sinister.
She said in 91% of cases a victim will be known to an attacker and when histories emerge through counselling the use of pornography is becoming an increasingly common denominator.
Dr Moane’s work backed this up and recently her analysis of international research showed pornography to be a factor in abuse.
“In the clinical literature there are many case studies of offenders where it is clear that the use of pornography played a role in their offending,” she said.
She cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that somebody who uses pornography will change into a sex attacker. Instead she said it is more common to see attackers use pornography to desensitise themselves to other human beings when they have already decided to act.
“There is a thought that because women can get pleasure out of it and can be seen to apparently get pleasure out of it they do not make a separation between normal sexual activity and pornography.
“The first thing that happens in their fantasy world is that this is OK or this is going to be exciting. It breaks down their inhibitions and their internal inhibitors.
“It seems the whole business is to promote porn and promote it all as harmless fun,” she said.
This mimics patterns in child abuse where the consumption of pornography will increase as a paedophile approaches the stage where they are ready to physically interfere with a child.
Dr Davina Walsh, senior psychologist at the Granada Institute in Dublin, said in both strands of pornography it can act as a comforter for men in times of stress, which they use to justify what they are doing.
However, she said those who progress to physically abusing children will have other social or lifestyle issues apart from their use of pornography.
Dr John Hunter works at a US centre for juvenile sex abusers. He said pornography is an increasingly influential factor in the mind-set of offenders.
“It is very dangerous because it increases the arousal in young people to unnatural levels when they do not have the ability to cope with it. It is a major issue at the moment in treatment services. In the 1960s and 1970s people might get hold of a magazine or pictures but now from very young age they have access to such extreme material and it is not just straightforward sexual intercourse; it is really violent stuff,” he said.
Like Dr Moane and Dr Walsh, Dr Hunter stressed pornography could not be separated from other problems in an attacker’s mind.
“It is dangerous to rate one factor above another when understanding the mind of a sex offender, but it is a significant problem.
“It starts with something that does not stir up the guilt too much and that develops a tolerance for more extreme material.
“It is becoming a gateway. People can wander into something without ever making a conscious decision to go that far,” Dr Hunter said.
Kate McCarthy is a leading member of the Irish Freedom from Pornography Campaign. It was established in 2005 to combat the growing infiltration of adult material in Irish culture.
She wrote her thesis on the issue and said by allowing pornography to go unchecked this country is effectively supporting the abuse of women across the world. “If pornography is the handbook to the sex industry it is worth considering the exploitation of women and the crime and profits involved in that ‘industry’.
“Women working in the sex industry are extremely vulnerable. They are open to all forms of abuse, including rape and physical abuse, and can be punished for using protection, thus running the risk of contracting HIV/Aids or other sexually transmitted infections,” she said.
It is also a major concern of the campaign that the culture of pornography is considered normal and transferred onto younger generations without question.
After interviewing groups across the country, Ms McCarthy said people felt young girls were being encouraged to live like mini-porn stars.
“Pornography has moved from being an underground industry into the area of mainstream entertainment. The marketing of pornography has succeeded in making it chic and fashionable.
“Playboy logos can be found without difficulty on the pencil cases of small children. Lads’ mags offer sexual liberty to women provided the women subscribe to a male definition of sexuality all seen within the context of harmless fun.
“It is getting increasingly difficult for women in Ireland who so choose to evade pornography. The images are becoming imbedded in our culture,” she said.
The vulnerability pornography imposes on women is not the only area of concern. American author Robert Jensen recently published the book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. He argues men suffer from their use of adult material because it warps their sense of reality and lessens their appreciation of sex.
Mr Jensen said it is a battle people on the anti-pornography debate are losing in the face of a very rich and powerful production industry.
He retains hope the mood will eventually swing against the extreme content but this can not be guaranteed and if recent trends are anything to go by, it will get worse before it gets better.