Stealth Addicts and Silent Victims: Increased Internet Risks During COVID-19
With the whole world in lockdown, Internet use has exploded. It has become the primary way for millions of quarantined people to pass the time, stay connected to others, and escape from the overwhelming anxiety of the unknown.
On March 29, the World Health Organization (WHO), even encouraged people to play video games and several U.S. game companies supported this suggestion by making their products available for free. There is some irony in the WHO endorsement however, in that it wasn’t that long ago (2018) that it added “gaming disorder” to its very own diagnostic manual, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11),acknowledging its addictive qualities.
WHO’s seal of approval brought attention to, and threw the door open for, new and moderate players to “dive into the deep end” of online gaming and, for the 0.8% 25% of gamers who are already addicted, to freely indulge in their own special “drug-of-choice.” But no one had to push anyone “into the deep end,” really. The prolonged isolation of COVID-19 has opened the door to Internet escapism of all forms.
Dr. Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the US National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), recently commented that, "every risk factor for gambling addition is spiking right now, and the same is true of Internet and gaming addiction.” He went on to caution, "there could be a wave of addiction, quite a big wave to follow.”
And a significant part of this wave will involve our sexuality. Millions of young people and adults are stranded at home without access to affection or to sexual outlets. Usage of popular dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr has grown substantially as people are stuck at home. Tinder, for example was the highest grossing app in the world in March, according to market intelligence company Sensor Tower. Whether these contacts remain online, as some form of cybersex activity, or proceed to romantic/sexual contacts as yet remains unclear.
Pornography consumption has increased as well, with Pornhub, one of the largest online pornographysites, reporting an 11.6 increase in March alone. Distressingly, an ever- increasing percentage of the pornographic content viewed online has been of children.
At this point you may be tempted to stop reading this article, telling yourself that it doesn’t apply to your work. After all, you don’t even work with clients who look at pornography, much less child pornography! However, this article will attempt to explain why it is highly likely that you do, in fact, have clients that are, at the very least, at risk of being draw into illegal aspects of Cybersex activities, if not already engaging in some form of risky or illegal behavior.
Furthermore, you may be legally mandated to report their activity! Many therapists are not aware that, since 2014, we have been mandated (via AB 1775) to report anyone who even looks at child pornography. While, once again, you might think discovering this about a client would be an exceptionally rare occurrence, it is a much greater possibility then you would imagine- particularly if you work with adolescents.
Because California has no specific laws regarding teen sexting, teen offenders must be tried under adult statutes, can suffer significant repercussions socially, financially, and legally for their behavior. Hence, if a young teen client mentions she sent a topless picture to her boyfriend, guess what, you’re mandated to report her for the “production and distribution of child pornography”
Given that the enforced isolation necessitated by COVID-19 has most probably created or worsened addicted and illegal Cybersex activities that we may be challenged to address and even report, I would like to familiarize you with the issues and provide some ideas and resources managing them within your practice.
Scope of the problem
- Adult entertainment ranks 7th on the list of leading categories utilized online
- Pornhub, one of the biggest providers of adult material, boasts of 92 million visitors a day
- 30% of men and 3% of women are daily viewers of porn
- 13% of men admitted to a porn addiction
- Due to the progression of porn addiction, viewers can be drawn into more shocking, even illegal aspects of pornography--such as child porn--chasing the “high” they can’t get from regular porn anymore
- There are an estimated 45 million images of child pornography online
- Playpen, the world’s largest child pornography website, reports it has over 150,000 users around the world
Even apart from child porn, both therapists and divorce lawyers have reported a significant negative impact by the Internet on marital relationships. One poll of lawyers actually broke this down into categories:
1. Excessive time on the computer - 47% of cases
2. Excessive in chat rooms, which tend to be highly sexualized - 33% of cases
3. Obsession with porn sites - 56% of cases
4. New love met online - 68% of cases
Tragically, children are also being swept away by this surge of online sludge, both as viewers and as victims:
- 90% of youth between the ages of 8 and 16 claim to have seen pornography
- Children under 10 years of age now account for 22% of porn viewers under 18
- Many children find their parents’ porn
- 10% of 12to 13yearold users fear they may be addicted to porn
- Commonly used children’s apps like Snapchat, Twitter, & Kik have been saturated with both pornography and pedophiles
- Children online are at risk of being sexually exploited, molested, and/or kidnapped
- A high percentage of sex addicts in treatment reported early exposure to pornography as a key factor in the development of their addiction
As previously mentioned, sexting (the sending, receiving, or forwarding of sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, between electronic devices) between young people or between a minor and an adult, is illegal in California and you may be mandated to report it.
With so many more young people and adults online, for so many more hours thn before, the chances of encountering Cybersex Criminal Activities (CCA) are much greater. Here again, you may be mandated to report these activities.
- Soliciting another person for sex with intent to pay/sell--prostitution
- Meeting with a minor with sexual intent
- Revenge porn--posting sexual images of someone without their permission
- Sextortion--demanding sexual images/acts or money be given at threat of blackmailer sending acquired sexual images to friends/family
- Sexual Cyberbullying--harassing and/or stalking someone
Unfortunately, your clients are not likely to disclose their online pornography habits, their casual or illegal sexting, or their own victimization. Given the personal nature of these activities and the threats accompanying most criminal behaviors (like solicitations of a minor or sextortion), they are likely to remain stealth addicts and silent victims.
Therefore, as professional caregivers, we are morally, ethically, and legally obligated to assess for and address Problematic Cybersex Activities. And the first step in beginning this process is that of overcoming our own denial. Just as we finally recognized the impact of alcoholism on individuals and families thirty years ago and started aessing for it, we must make Internet use and abuse assessment a normal part of our ntake process.
Even a simple CAGE-like assessment (for alcohol) can be useful in opening a conversation about Internet use and possible problems. I’ve developed a model I use called the “PCOC” that addresses the core elements of addiction: Progressive, Compulsive, Obsessive, and Consequences. An example of your questions might look like: PHas your use increased over time? CHave you tried to cut back or stop? OAre you preoccupied with thoughts of being online; what you’ve seen? CHave people complained about your use? Spent more than planned? Gotten into trouble at work/school?
But what happens if a teenager or adult client does reveal some form of reportable ?
Legally, you are mandated to report to CPS and/or the police. And, while failure to do so is only a misdemeanor, extenuating circumstances a case may result in significant charges, fines, and even loss of your license. If you would like more information about AB 1775:
If you have concerns about AB 1775, it is currently in the California Supreme Court due to efforts to repeal it. Dr. Don Matthews, of the Impulse Treatment Center in Walnut Creek, CA has been fighting the bill for six years and has asked for financial support to continue his efforts: https://www.gofundme.com/f/stopAB1775.
Additional assessment tools are available at: netaddiction.com and recoveryzone.com.
Educational resources for addressing PCAs are availablethrough: netaddiction.com andzurinstitute.com/internet-addiction.
Treatment resources: Unfortunately, there are no local treatment facilities for Internet-related activities. As far as I know, there are only a few local therapists who have any training in this area and, of those, I believe I’m the only one that also has training in sex-related Internet issues. If any of you have such training, please let me know so I can add you to my referral list.
Elaine Brady, Ph.D., MFT
1190 S. Bascom Ave., Ste. 130
San Jose, CA 95128
Congratulations on your APA convention submission acceptance!
Great news... better late than never!
Our proposed advocacy symposium submitted to the 2020 APA Annual Convention in DC was accepted by Div 31!
This means that SCCPA, PAU and CPA's will be showcasing the awesome advocacy work and mentoring we all do in DC! See confirmation from Dr. Tyson Bailey, Div 31 Convention Chair.
Now it will be coordinating with Assemblyman Evan Low's schedulers and see if he can be there in-person or we will need to do a video of sorts.
Symposium ID 20493
Title: Psychologists' impact on public policy and law: Legislative collaboration with results.
Brief Dx: Psychologists often undervalue the impact their psychological science and clinical expertise add the development of healthcare policy and legislation. Legislators collaborating with psychologists are most effectively introduce laws.
Chair: Jorge Wong, PhD
CA Assemblyman Evan Low
Joshua Heitzmann, PhD (SCCPA Member-at-Large)
Aimee Zhang, MS & William Chan, MS (SCCPA Student Co-Chairs & PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium)
Maureen O'Connor, PhD, JD (PAU President)
Jorge Wong, Ph. D.
CA Licensed Psychologist
-Past President, Santa Clara County Psychological Association
-Past President, California Psychological Association
Divisions I, II & VII
-Past President, San Francisco Psychological Association
-Asian American Psychological Association
-American Psychological Association
Div 12, 18, 31, 45
Evan Low's Lunar New Year Fundraiser was a Success! February 7, 2020
More photos: Assemblyman Evan Low's Events 2020
Pancakes & Politics, Dec 8th
This is Congressman Josh Harder of the Central Valley alongside SCCPA Board Members Billy Chan and Jeff Becker in a picture taken by Board Member Neda Kharrazi at the Zoe Lofgren Pancakes & Politics fundraiser this past Sunday. The fundraiser was held to protect/re-elect six California House of Representative seats (including Josh’s) that were flipped last year. Because of all the activity in Washington D.C., Zoe did not attend as she was prepping for the Judiciary Committee Impeachment hearings this week.
She sent a videotape explaining her decision for remaining in Washington that morning, discussing her Congressional work this term, the importance she places on helping to fund vulnerable California House Democrats to get elected and thanking all of us in attendance at the Pancakes and Politics event.
by Dr. Jeffrey L. Becker
Update on August 19th SCCPA Meeting with Senator Jim Beall's Staff