In my last post I wrote about the issue of child abuse perpetrated by children who had been exposed to pornography at a young age, with particular reference to the submission of Professor Briggs to the Senate Inquiry on the harms of pornography.
Briggs notes that one of the big issues for carers and teachers is identifying the difference between normal sexual curiosity and behaviour that is the result if sexual abuse or exposure to pornography.
Considering the number of children in her study who watched porn with their fathers for fun, Briggs argues that “if a child is so psychologically harmed that he is replicating what he experienced, this constitutes reportable child abuse and intervention is essential” (p. 9).
So, considering that there are some sexual behaviours in children that clearly aren’t normal, it begs the question: what is normal?
If you want to read what Briggs has to say in full, check out her submission, particularly pages 14-18. You can find it here.
Regarding normal sexual curiosity and experimentation, Briggs writes:
“Natural, healthy sexual exploration by young children involves voluntary involvement and equal sharing in information-gathering from looking at (rather than touching) each other's bodies to see if they are constructed identically. It’s about “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine” with equal participation. Children involved tend to be same-age friends at the same developmental level. Normal sexual curiosity is occasional, short-lasting and participants are easily distracted. There is intermittent activity with high interest at age 4-6 years and again at 8 years. This does not usually leave participants with a sense of shame, fear or anxiety. It may include fun and teasing, such as, “I dare you …” . Young children act out gender roles playing at “mums and dads” or “doctors and nurses”. They begin to recognise that it’s “naughty” when they are caught by adults who respond emotionally. Thereafter it becomes more daring, exciting and secretive. Participants are embarrassed when caught but don’t understand what the fuss is about.” (p.14)
Following this, Briggs outlines what problematic behaviours look like in children according to their age.
The main takeaway here has to be that parents and teachers need to be more switched on in recognising normal v problematic behaviours. Briggs notes that one main problem is that people often respond emotionally rather than asking thoughtful questions of kids. Briggs also notes that people are slow to call the police when the perpetrators of abuse are children. Further intervention is necessary.
Hopefully the Senate Inquiry consider this research. From here we need to consider how to properly protect children, and protect them from an earlier age than most people would dare expect.