Monday 25 September 2017

'Porn in playground' fuels rise in 'child-on-child' sex assaults

Shocking rise in number of child rape and sexual attack cases reported to helpline

Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

MORE than 600 children were the victims or perpetrators of rape and sexual assault last year - with some "increasingly violent teen-on-teen" incidents linked to pornography, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Disturbing new figures reveal 618 parents, professionals and schools contacted the Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) helpline in 2014 to report the rape and sexual assault of children - an increase of almost 500 calls since 2011, when 132 calls were placed.

The cases include 'adult-on-child' assaults and 'child-on-child' assaults - both with and without a history of sexual abuse.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, CARI CEO and former Fine Gael TD for Dublin North West Mary Flaherty said a growing number of child-on-child assaults are occurring on the playground.

"Schools can be very good at watching for signs of change, but it's very important for supervision and for management to be aware that this is a real issue," she said.

Speaking about a primary school referral, she said: "There was a big age difference and it's by no means the first we have come across in the school setting," she said, adding that sexualised bullying may be "necessarily secret" as it's "particularly shameful" and hard to admit.

"Children have fallen off the search light because all the focus has been on historic and adult abuse," said Ms Flaherty, adding that a broad and open societal debate is seriously needed as "we're not just going to close down pornography".

She admits the increasingly sexualised nature of society makes it an extremely difficult problem for parents and teachers today to monitor.

"Frankly it's not easy to protect from," Ms Flaherty added. Quoting the parent of a young victim of child-on-child sex abuse, she added: "We teach our kids about stranger dangers but never think about warning them about other kids."

The charity boss said the modern "obsession" with porn is having a huge impact on our children. "Particularly with boys we would certainly think that porn is linked, it is a completely changed world, in terms of exposure, so it's a very big challenge," she said.

Ms Flaherty also argued the country's child sex abuse victims - now up to 3,000 new allegations every year - are being "failed on many fronts" due to service cuts.

She told the Sunday Independent: "It's in the communities, it's in the schools and it's sometimes in families themselves where victims aren't heard. They are not being believed step one and there is a level of proof required that's almost impossible to achieve," she said, adding CARI has experienced huge service cuts in recent years.

"We have alerted the HSE to this growth in a problem that needs a solution and at the minute we have waiting lists," she said. At least 50 children - from all over the country - are awaiting access to CARI services in Dublin and Limerick.

The new CARI data also reveals that 129 people - mostly mothers - contacted the therapy and counselling service about their young child's inappropriate or harmful "sexualised behaviour".

These include: pornographic interest; sexually explicit conversations; pulling another child's skirt up or pants down; petting and French kissing; preoccupation with masturbation; simulating foreplay with dolls or peers with clothes on. More serious examples include sexually explicit conversations with significant age difference; touching genitals of others; forcing exposure; simulating intercourse; and genital injury not explained by accidental cause.

In response to the worrying growth in young cases with no history of sexual abuse, CARI developed a policy to work with children up to the age of 12 who are exhibiting sexually harmful behaviour. Children aged 13-17 are referred to other specialised units for adolescents. But this does not go far enough, according to the foundation, which is calling on schools, parents and the Government to "seriously increase" efforts.

Ms Flaherty said: "If you look at all the pop videos, they are practically simulating intercourse, children are learning to gyrate in a very sexual way from very young. Clothing and everything is so hyper-sexed, film in general is very open and then you get to accessing porn and that is extensive, there is no doubt."

Although 97pc of primary schools and 98pc of post-primary schools in Ireland have Relationships and Sexuality Education programmes in place - dealing with a range of issues including pornography - exposure is "just a step away".

According to the Department of Education, 96pc of primary schools and 100pc of post-primary schools have centrally provided content filtering - through which access to pornography is blocked. "All schools that accept a broadband service from the Department are required to confirm that they have an acceptable use policy in place," a spokesperson said.

However, it is up to each school to determine how and when students access the internet and how they are supervised. Last May, an advisory group on Internet Content Governance made a series of recommendations on internet governance issues, including encouraging internet service providers to provide parental control products as part of their service.

However, the Department of Communications admits it "has never actively considered" introducing a requirement for providers to block legal content, "due to legal and operational reasons".

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News