Pornography and Child-on-Child Sexual Abuse

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The abuser-teacher is often pornography from the Internet.

Years ago, when I heard that a child had sexually abused another child, I’d think, “He learned that behavior from someone,” meaning that the child who instigated the activity was likely abused himself (or herself). Someone older, likely an adult, had sexually abused the child, and he (or she) was acting out those harmful behaviors on another child.


Today, although adults still sexually abuse children, the abuser-teacher is often pornography from the Internet. If a child has a digital device, even a phone, he or she has easy access to graphic, often violent, sexual images.
 
There is a growing understanding that children who engage other children in harmful sexual behavior are victims too. Their undeveloped minds have been assaulted by explicit pornography, often streaming video, whose images implant themselves in the brain even faster than photographs.
 
Parents are usually unaware that their children—preteens as well as teens—are finding pornography through their digital devices or being shown pornography by their peers. By the time an adolescent reaches the age of 18, 81 percent of them will have seen pornography. Most parents will be shocked to learn that boys as young as 11 and 12 are calling a hotline for help because they think they are addicted to pornography.
 
Today, the images and videos are not like the old Playboy. A researcher previously at the University of Rhode Island found that 88 percent of scenes from 50 top-rented pornography videos contained physical aggression against the women in the videos.
 
Pornography teaches children that the violent, cruel, and extreme acts they see in pornography are what sex is. Children are then acting out these scenes on the children closest to them: siblings, neighbors, and friends. University of New Hampshire researcher David Finkelhor found that over a third of sexual offenses against children reported by police were committed by other children. That was 10 years ago; the problem has significantly escalated since then.
 
Parents often find out about child-on-child sexual abuse after serious harm has been done, including a teen’s already established addiction to pornography.
 
Children are most likely to access pornography through commonly used, popular, digital apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Netflix. Earlier this year, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation put Snapchat on it it’s Dirty Dozen list. Although the digital apps have rules banning pornography, a quick look reveals that the rules are constantly being violated.
 
The harm to children caused by pornography and child-on-child sexual abuse are serious and recovery is often so difficult that prevention has to be a priority.
 
I hope I have raised your awareness about this serious problem and you want to learn more about how to prevent child-on-child sexual abuse to your children and community. I suggest you start with Kristen Jenson’s excellent materials at Protect Young Minds.
 
By far the most important act of prevention is to talk to children—and you need to start younger than you think. Many preteens and almost all teens have already been exposed to pornography. Learn how to talk to them about what they have seen.
 
If you want to help stop digital apps from exposing children to pornography, you can support the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s campaign-- #FixAppRatings —which aims to prevent children from gaining easy access to the worst, common digital apps.
 
The two most important steps to ending child-on-child sexual abuse are awareness and prevention. First, learn how harmful and prevalent child-on-child sexual abuse is, and learn about the role of pornography in perpetrating the harm. Next, take steps to prevent exposure to pornography and the risk of children acting out what they have learned on other children.  You can also get involved in campaigns to prevent popular digital apps from giving children easy access to pornography.
 
 
Donna M Hughes
Eleanor M and Oscar M Carlson Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies
University of Rhode Island
Member of Board of Directors of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Co-founder, Citizens Against Trafficking 
DignityForAll.dmh@gmail.com


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