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The rise of peer-on-peer child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is always a tragic event, it can be even more devastating when the abuse is perpetrated by another child. Sadly, peer-on-peer child sexual abuse represents one in every four cases in Australia and this is continuing to increase.

The below image further outlines just how prevalent this issue is for Australian children and parents.

Peer on peer sexual abuse

“Once a person has been sexually abused the emotional scars left can be debilitating,” says Shine Lawyers abuse law expert, Lisa Flynn.

"As a community we need to be doing everything we can to stop this alarming increase in the incidence of peer-on-peer abuse. We need to know how to identify where the risk exists, how to respond to it when it happens and how best to support victims to minimise the long-term effects of the abuse.”

Trying to unearth why peer-on-peer child sexual abuse is a growing concern, Act for Kids, an Australian charity for those at risk of child abuse and neglect, undertook research. Their research revealed that three-quarters of respondents blame problematic sexual behaviours on access to online content.

Problematic sexual behaviours are not just direct sexual abuse acts but are also behaviours that fall outside of general curiosity and natural exploration between children. Often undetected by parents, children can display problematic sexual behaviours from as early as two years old.

While the research overwhelmingly revealed that people blamed problematic sexual behaviours on access to inappropriate online activities, it also worryingly showed that parents are not taking measures to protect their children online.

Miranda Bain, Program Manager and Psychologist at Act for Kids, says: “There is a lack of knowledge amongst parents of what constitutes problematic sexual behaviours in children and how these behaviours have the potential to lead to more harmful peer-on-peer abuse.

“While there are a number of places children might learn problematic behaviours, easy access to age-inappropriate content is a major factor in influencing these young minds.”

When considering this, it’s frightening that the research has also unearthed that two-thirds of parents fail to secure their devices with passwords and one in two allow their children unsupervised access online.

As technology is evolving at such a fast pace, it can be difficult for parents and carers of young children to keep up. As a result, the 98% of children under 10 who already use devices, are left exposed to pornographic and violent content. Concerningly, the research also showed that two-thirds of parents to children under 12 feel they need more education on how to protect their kids from accessing inappropriate content.

What can parents do?

There are plenty of online resources that can help parents learn about technology and how to protect their children online. The federal government’s eSafety Commissioner website is a wealth of information for parents and is a good first step. Visiting their section on how to Tame Technology, deals specifically at how to use parental controls on all types of devices and streaming services.

Parental controls are a must for children who are using devices, but they shouldn’t take the place of parental supervision. It’s important for parents to set daily screen time limits for your children and also select locations where they are allowed to use devices, such as a lounge room or kitchen where they can be monitored.

It’s also important to have ongoing conversations with your children about what they see and do online. This will help them to protect themselves as they grow into adults.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 26, 2019.

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