Why do so many men think it’s okay to brazenly watch PORN in public?

Ellie Chapman was using her laptop to update her CV in the local library when her attention was first drawn to a man using a public computer a few feet away.

In his early 60s, he had his back to her but his screen was very much in 23-year-old Ellie’s line of sight. And on it was content no one should expect to see in a public library.

Glancing up from her work, Ellie was stunned to realise the man was watching images that could only be described as pornographic.

Ellie Chapman, 23, said she witnessed a man watching a pornographic movie on a computer while in a library in Pontypridd

Ellie Chapman, 23, said she witnessed a man watching a pornographic movie on a computer while in a library in Pontypridd

Ellie Chapman, 23, left, said she witnessed a man in his 60s, right,  watching a pornographic movie on a computer while in a library in Pontypridd

‘I couldn’t believe it — it was absolutely awful,’ says Ellie, who’d only just moved to Pontypridd and was using the library because she’d not yet got broadband at home.

‘And to make it worse, he kept adjusting his crotch area. I don’t think he realised I was sitting behind him, because when anyone else walked past he would quickly switch screens to look at his email.’

That anyone would consider it appropriate to view pornographic content in a public library demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the sensibilities of others, yet such behaviour is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Earlier this month, a high-flying City lawyer was caught allegedly watching porn on his work computer by a lawyer at a rival firm, who could see directly into the man’s office from his own building just across a narrow lane.

The partner at the firm Hogan Lovells, who was earning a six-figure salary, has now been suspended for watching an ‘adult film’ and will face an investigation.

Natalia Grigoriou, 25, a teacher who lives in north London, was at a bus stop at 8.30pm one evening in January this year when she realised the man next to her was watching porn on his phone

Natalia Grigoriou, 25, a teacher who lives in north London, was at a bus stop at 8.30pm one evening in January this year when she realised the man next to her was watching porn on his phone

Natalia Grigoriou, 25, a teacher who lives in north London, was at a bus stop at 8.30pm one evening in January this year when she realised the man next to her was watching porn on his phone

Where once the viewing of pornographic material was something to be done behind firmly closed doors, it is now so utterly unremarkable that it’s openly viewed on buses, trains, in the pub, even in public libraries.

Last month, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee concluded that problems relating to the onslaught of porn are now so widespread that it is as much of a threat to public health as cigarettes.

MPs said the viewing of porn in public, along with a swathe of related activities, was a new form of sexual harassment and called on transport providers to take action.

But as Ellie and other women we have spoken to can attest, even blocking access to certain material on public Wi-Fi networks cannot serve as a total filter.

What, for instance, about images embedded in emails or downloaded material? What about the many mobile phone users who don’t bother to log on to Wi-Fi as they travel but use their own phone network?

In most libraries, filters on public computers do exist but they are not impermeable.

‘I spent about 10 minutes wondering what to do,’ says Ellie. ‘There was a crèche with children singing nursery rhymes on the other side of the room, which made it all the more shocking. I was messaging my mum and my boyfriend asking them: “What should I do?”

‘My adrenaline was pumping. I’m only 5ft 1in so I was intimidated and I was worried what he would do if I said anything.

‘In the end, I went over to a woman on the desk and explained what I’d seen. I pointed at the man and she went back to her office to speak to someone else — but by the time she came back he’d scarpered. I think he saw me when I got up and realised what I’d seen.’

Ellie later learned the man was a library ‘regular’.

Other accounts suggest this was far from an isolated incident. In the summer, a man was filmed viewing pornography at a library in Slough, Berkshire. His response when he realised he’d been seen? ‘What are you filming me for?’

On public transport, where it is not uncommon for women to find themselves travelling alone at night, the experience can be chilling.

Natalia Grigoriou, 25, a teacher who lives in North London, was at a bus stop at 8.30pm one evening in January this year when she realised the man next to her was watching porn on his phone.

‘We were probably waiting for the same bus,’ she says, ‘and at first I thought he was slightly tipsy. But then he answered his phone and seemed to be able to talk normally, which reassured me.

‘When he ended the call, he sat down again and all of a sudden I heard women moaning and groaning. Instinctively, I turned my head and saw what he was watching — I just couldn’t believe it.

‘He realised then I could see and hear what he was watching, but rather than switch it off, he put in some headphones and carried on.’

Matters escalated when the bus arrived and the man sat opposite Natalia. He continued to watch and began to touch himself intimately.

‘I didn’t know what to do,’ she says. ‘I was in shock but I was also afraid. The bus driver couldn’t see him and there was no one else near us.

‘My mind went to places I didn’t want it to go to. I was scared what he might continue to do to himself and what he could do to me if he was aroused. Yet I was rooted to my seat.

‘Luckily for me, he got off after the third stop. Looking back, I can’t believe he behaved that way in front of me. He was in his early 30s and looked like a normal guy. That’s the disconcerting thing.

‘I’m much more careful now around men when they have their phone out on their lap on public transport. I’m always on alert.’

There are other reports. Samantha Warwick, 32, from Sutton, South London, was on her way home from work when she found herself sitting next to a ‘good-looking, 20-something man’, openly watching porn on his phone, so blasé he could have been catching up on the news.

‘He had headphones in and seemed so normal but what he was watching was quite graphic — not the sort of thing you expect to see on a train.’

Samantha decided to ignore him and continue her journey, though she admits she’d have felt differently had she had her child with her.

Then there was mother-of-three Karen Thornton-Brown, who went to a family-friendly pub in the Gosforth area of Newcastle for a late-morning meeting only to encounter a middle-aged man with a glass of wine watching a distinctly lurid video on his phone.

‘I ordered a coffee and noticed a man two tables along with a glass of wine, looking at his phone. Then I heard heavy breathing and looked up to see him fumbling with the phone. It was quite clear what was on his screen. He’d obviously clicked the volume button by mistake.’

Karen was stunned but says the man did, at least, appear shame-faced. He made a quick departure, leaving his drink, when he realised he’d been spotted.

Such incidents are, in many respects, a sign of our increasingly hi-tech times. Global sales of ‘top shelf’ magazines have plummeted since the advent of the internet, but it’s a different story online, with the porn industry said to be worth in the region of £76 billion worldwide.

The pace of technological advance has made access to pornography frighteningly easy — as simple as a tap on a smartphone screen. It’s been estimated that as many as one in four clicks are porn-related.

But what makes anyone think that it is acceptable to inflict their viewing on those around them?

Suzie Hayman, a counsellor, agony aunt and trustee of the charity Family Lives, says: ‘If we go back even just 15 years, porn was something you had to put quite an effort into obtaining: it was a brown paper package, the top shelf, it wasn’t easy. There was a certain amount of shame attached because of the effort you had to put in.

‘Fast forward to now and it is the ease of delivery that I think has made it all so mainstream.’

She maintains the crossover of fashion choices and dance moves once associated with the sex industry into the mainstream as another factor in normalising the viewing of pornography.

And, of course, the more an action is repeated by other members of a group, the more normal and acceptable that action becomes.

Last year, security experts Norton by Symantec reported that a survey indicated as many as one in six people had used public Wi-Fi to view adult content.

The damaging effects of the proliferation of pornography have been well documented, with children being particularly vulnerable to its effects.

In 2016, a study by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, the NSPCC and Middlesex University found that 53 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds had viewed online pornography, and 42 per cent of 15 to 16-year-olds said it has given them ideas of sexual practices that they would like to emulate.

Hayman says this in itself is dangerous. ‘A lot of pornography is violent, abusive and transgressive, and it objectifies women.

‘Young men are picking up the message that your own satisfaction is what’s important, that the woman will give in; that it’s okay, everyone else is doing it. And that’s the message girls are getting, too.’

Adults, too, are damaged by the spread of porn, with couples reporting sexual problems and increased isolation. But are the men who choose to watch porn in public doing so for some kind of twisted sexual gratification?

Dr Thaddeus Birchard, clinical director of the Marylebone Centre for Psychological Therapies, says some men may be doing so as a way of shocking or attracting women. In other cases, he adds, it may be as simple as male brain chemistry at play.

‘The brain chemistry of arousal, particularly in men, shuts down the capacity to consider consequences. Just think of Bill Clinton.’

According to British Transport Police, in 2017 they were called 30 times to reports of people watching porn on the rail network but made no arrests. In 2016, it was 26 times with six arrests.

It’s a drop in the ocean, one suspects, given the accounts that litter social media forums.

British Transport Police, Transport for London and other public transport bodies have all encouraged anyone who has felt uncomfortable by the viewing of pornography in public to report it.

But what, realistically, can authorities do?

Clare McGlynn, Professor of Law at Durham University, says public order offences could apply, but ‘only if the porn-viewer was causing a real commotion, being threatening or harassing, or otherwise engaging in some form of abusive anti-social behaviour’.

Other avenues include the common law offence of outraging public decency, which requires a ‘lewd, obscene or disgusting’ act breaching contemporary standards of ‘public decency’, and the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, originally designed to reduce the advertising of sex shops.

But, while watching porn in public could fall under the Act, prosecutions ‘are extremely rare and the threshold of obscenity/indecency relatively high’.

McGlynn says the ‘key issue is the underlying sexual harassment.

‘People viewing porn in public know they are making others uncomfortable, or worse — and they are comfortable with this.

‘Worse, this is part of the kick they are getting from watching porn in public.’

 

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