Online pornography “a teaching manual” for child-on-child sexual abuse

NEWS  |  Kaley Payne

Thursday 21 January 2016

An increase in the number of reported cases of child-on-child sexual abuse has been linked to an increase in access to pornography for younger children, says an international child protection expert.

Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs from the University of South Australia says recent incidents at Trinity Grammar School in Sydney, where a Year One student was found to be encouraging other students to perform sexual acts on each other in the school toilets, is not an isolated incident. She published a report in 2014 which says children as young as five are displaying problem-sexualised behaviour.

“Melbourne Children’s Hospital treated 350 new abusers aged four and upwards in 2013/2014, more than double from the previous year,” she said. “Online pornography has become a teaching manual for abusers of all ages.”

Professor Briggs says that child-on-child abuse has been happening across the board for years, and it’s increasing. She says one of the biggest problems is that teachers in particular haven’t been trained to differentiate between what is normal, healthy sexual experimentation and what isn’t.

“The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11.”

“Normal experimentation is along the lines of ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’, where you’ve usually got friends with equal participation and it’s really to check out if we’re all made the same way. That’s perfectly normal,” says Professor Briggs.

“What is not normal behaviour is when children seek or force or offer oral sex. And that’s a common theme that’s coming through both in schools and kindergartens. It happens in toilets and even in cubby houses.”

Professor Briggs says there are two reasons why children display this type of sexualised behaviour. The first is that they’ve been abused themselves, and the second is they’ve seen pornography. She says both are “emotionally disturbing” and that’s why children seek to reenact it, to help them come to terms with the trauma, and share it with other kids.

Melinda Tankard Reist is co-founder of Collective Shout, an advocacy group for the end of sexploitation. She is a popular speaker in schools and says there is a growing body of literature connecting exposure to pornography and child-on-child sexual abuse.

“We know that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11, and children are not developmentally or cognitively equipped to deal with what they’re seeing. It gives them all sorts of ideas about relationships, sexuality and their bodies. Children are mimics, they copy adults on what they’re seeing. And so they’re acting it out,” says Ms Tankard Reist.

“This is a public health crisis and our children are on the frontline.”

She says there isn’t a school that she’s spoken at that isn’t dealing with the impact of pornography use among children. It’s why Collective Shout is helping to organise a symposium in February called ‘Porn Harms Kids’ at the University of New South Wales. It brings together academics, child development experts, educators, mental health professionals and advocates for children and young people to look at responses to the growing body of evidence about the harmful impacts of pornography on children.

“This is a public health crisis and our children are on the frontline,” says Ms Tankard Reist. “We have an unprecedented assault on the healthy sexual development of our young people. And we’re starting to see the fall out from that in schools.”

Both Professor Briggs and Ms Tankard Reist say one of the most important things parents can do for their children is talk to them.

“We have to have conversations with our kids about it that aren’t shame-based if they’ve seen pornography,” says Ms Tankard Reist. “We don’t want to make them feel bad because they’ll go underground with it and they won’t get the help they need.”

Professor Briggs says it’s important to teach children the right vocabulary around sex from a very early age.

“They need to have the language to be able to report something. Giving silly names for the penis or vagina puts children at a disadvantage. If they’re touched inappropriately, they need to have the right language to report it accurately and be taken seriously,” she says.

Professor Briggs suggests a good place to start is a book called Everyone’s Got A Bottom, published by the Queensland Government and available from Family Planning QLD online. It is appropriate for preschool-aged children.

http://pornharmskids.org.au/

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