A local news report in Kansas City should spark the interest of every parent. Children's Mercy Hospital has noticed a trend in the child sexual assault cases they encounter: half of the perpetrators of these crimes are children themselves. Nurses at the hospital think porn plays a prominent role:
"I think that was kind of shocking to us all as we were collecting this data, is that almost half of our perpetrators are minors," said Heidi Olson, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Coordinator.
The SANE program's data shows perpetrators are likely to be between 11 and 15 years-old.
"Another thing we're noticing is a lot of those sexual assaults are violent sexual assaults, so they include physical violence in addition to sexual violence," said Jennifer Hansen, a child abuse pediatrician at Children's Mercy.
..."To sexually assault someone else, that's a learned behavior," said Olson. Nurses are also finding more and more that pornography is playing a role in these cases. That can include a victim being forced to see porn, a victim reporting that the perpetrator said they'd watched porn, being forced to do something shown in a pornographic video, or a victim being recorded doing a sexual act.
They also noted that kids are often exposed to porn at extremely young ages:
Hansen and Olson says they're noticing kids are being exposed to porn at very young ages, around 4 or 5 years-old. They say a child can develop unrealistic and dangerous ideas about intimate relationships by being exposed to violent, graphic porn.
"We know that it's probably multi-factorial. I think there are lots of things that contribute to this, but that is the question; How are we, as a society, failing in such a way that we have 11, 12, and 14-year-old boys, primarily, committing violent sexual assaults?" Hansen said.
SANE nurses can't always identify who a perpetrator is, because they work with victims, but said they've had young perpetratros tell them they've watched pornography and acted it out on someone else.
The nature and content of porn is also changing for the worse:
"Pornography is different today than it used to be. So, 80 percent of the 15 most-viewed films portray women being hit, spit on, kicked, called degrading names. The kinds of behaviors we wouldn't want our children, or anyone, to act in. Pornography has become more violent," said McCreary.
This may shock us, but it shouldn't. What else can we expect? The average child gets his first smart phone at the age of 10. That means many kids are getting phones even earlier. Just ask any third grade teacher about all the 8-year-olds coming to class with iPhones.
Once a kid has a phone, it is only a matter of time (and probably not a lot of time) before he accesses, tries to access, or accidentally stumbles across, highly objectionable content. It would be difficult to overstate the effect the exposure has on this developing mind. This is not at all akin to a teenage boy finding his dad's Playboy, as the old trope goes. This is extremely graphic, disturbing, often violent sexual content, consumed by a child who does not have the psychological faculties to cope with or understand what he's seeing. As his young mind marinates in this filth, his ideas about himself, his sexuality, women, love, and romance are all being shaped by it. The word "traumatized" is greatly overused these days, but it applies in this case. Children exposed to pornography suffer trauma. And the trauma is all the worse because we don't recognize it or treat it as such.
It is not surprising that a boy who starts watching hardcore porn in third grade might be a sexual abuser by seventh grade. He's been training for it. He's been indoctrinated into sexual perversion. He's been watching sexual violence for years and learning to take pleasure in it. His devolution into sex predator seems almost inevitable. It's a wonder more boys don't end up the same.
So, what can we parents do to save our children from all of this? Putting a parental lock on the phone isn't going to do the trick. They aren't consistently effective, and kids, generally more tech savvy than their parents, can figure out a way around them. The best way to parentally lock a cell phone is to not give your child a cell phone in the first place. Or, if he really "needs" one, give him an old fashioned flip phone with no internet capabilities. His friends might laugh at him for being so out of date, but that's a small price to pay. The price to keep your kid up with the technological trend is far, far steeper, financially and in every other imaginable sense.
This isn't fail-proof, of course. Your kid's friends will still have smart phones. He can still be exposed to objectionable things. But it's at least one positive, concrete step toward protecting a child's innocence. It won't solve the problem completely, but it will help. And, as parents, we need all the help we can get.