Peer-on-peer child sexual abuse is a growing concern among parents. One in four child sexual abuse cases in Australia involves one child abusing another.
"As a community we need to be doing everything we can to stop this alarming increase in the incidence of peer-on-peer abuse.”
Online pornography linked to child sexual abuse
Australian charity Act for Kids undertook research trying to determine why peer-on-peer abuse is increasing. The study identified three-quarters of respondents blame problematic sexual behaviours on access to online content.
“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,” says Miranda Bain of Act for Kids.
Children can be exposed to pornography accidently while using search engines, by their peers through instant messaging or social networks, or may deliberately seek out explicit content.
“There is a definite correlation between the increase in child-on-child sexual abuse and the accessibility to pornography on devices”, says Lisa Flynn.
“Children are being exposed to sexualised imagery that their brains are not developed enough to see which is not okay, but it is happening.”
Australian schools and institutions are failing to protect students
As sexually explicit content becomes easier for children to access, schools and institutions are failing to respond.
There has been a significant increase in enquires from parents of abused students considering legal action against schools.
Too often schools fail to record potential instances of sexual abuse, or even fail to inform parents of any incident occurring. Victims of peer-on-peer abuse should receive specialist counselling, rather than be ignored and risk suffering further trauma, says Lisa Flynn.
“This is inexcusable, it is absolutely not the time for inaction, or as we have seen in some cases, to be trying to protect a school’s reputation.”
What can Australian parents do to prevent peer-on-peer child sexual abuse?
The best way for parents to keep their children safe is to talk through what is inappropriate sexual behaviour.
“Now is definitely the time to be teaching our children that their peers should in no way be touching them inappropriately, invading their personal space or speaking in an inappropriately sexualised way,” says Lisa Flynn.
Parents should discuss with their children what to do when confronted with explicit online content.
The federal government’s eSafety Commissioner website can help parents stay informed on how children are using the internet and how to minimises its risks.
The Tame Technology section is particularly helpful, explaining how to use parental controls on a range of devices.