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What Porn and Shame Have to Do With Child-on-Child Sexual Assault

By September 10, 2020No Comments
This Guest Piece Was Written By Heidi Olson, RN, BSN, CPN, SANE-P, SANE Program Coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital in KS and MO. 10 Minute Read. Trigger Warning.
TRIGGER WARNING
The following post contains descriptions of abusive scenarios involving children. Reader discretion advised.
Let’s be Honest—Pornography Fuels Child-on-Child Sexual Assault

By Heidi Olson, a SANE Certified Pediatric Nurse in Kansas City

As a nurse, you hear certain pieces of advice repeated throughout your career.

The best and most accurate advice comes from the mouths of those older, wiser, and experienced nurses who have seen it all, and somehow continue to trudge along throughout grueling 13-hour shifts. These nurses always give some version of, “Trust your gut,” while you struggle to figure out what is wrong with your patient. As a new nurse, this concept makes no sense. You want facts, charts, vital signs, and numbers. But as you grow, you realize, that “trusting your gut” gives insight into the unspoken, vital pieces of a situation.

I am a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) at a large children’s hospital. My job is to collect evidence, look for injuries, provide support, and testify in trials for victims of sexual assault. If you’ve ever heard of a “rape kit,” SANE nurses are the ones who collect the evidence for the kits.

Brain Heart World

My first gut instinct

I remember distinctly, where I was sitting, several years ago, when my gut told me something was off. I was talking to the parents of a 5 year-old-girl who had been sexually assaulted by her 12-year-old brother. The father of the children stumbled upon the assault, and there were no questions as to what kind of violation took place. As the tearful parents grieved and asked, “Why would our son do this?” my mind pondered those same questions.

Here is the reality: children learn these types of sexually aggressive behaviors. Children don’t instinctively act out sexual violence on each other. They don’t instinctively want to violate or push sexual boundaries with their siblings or younger children. These things are learned. Of course, many children who act out in sexually harmful ways have been victimized themselves, but what my intuition told me, was that there is an unspoken factor occurring in many assaults.

Related: Porn Has Fueled A 400% Rise In Child-On-Child Assaults In The UK

Many sexual assaults occur because of what perpetrators have been exposed to via their screens. Children watch violent sexual acts, with no previous direction or insight into what is normal, healthy, sexual behavior, and then perform these sexual acts on other children. This is extremely concerning as pornography is more accessible and violent than ever, which correlates with the rise of child-on-child sexual assault.

As my mind raced over these thoughts, the mother of the children blurted out, “Well, we have found a lot of porn on our son’s phone lately. Do you think that has anything to do with this?” I knew in that moment that these two things were completely intertwined.

Normalizing Abuse Isnt Normal

They can’t drive, but they’re committing assault

When I became a SANE nurse, I thought the typical perpetrator was most likely going to be a creepy older male in his 60s, who lured kids into his basement with lollipops, but I was wrong.

The biggest age range of perpetrators that I see in my hospital is CHILDREN. In fact, in 2016, 2017, and continuing this year in 2018, our biggest age range of people committing sexual assaults are children ages 11-15 years old.

Let that sink in for a minute.

These kids aren’t even old enough to drive. Yet, they are committing the most sexual assaults in our region. To put this in an even bigger perspective, my hospital sees one of the highest volumes of sexual assault victims in the United States. Our numbers are large, meaning these young perpetrators are not an anomaly.

Related: Uncovering How Porn Fuels Sexual Harassment In Schools

I was alarmed by the amount of 11, 12, and 13-year-old perpetrators I was seeing. I started looking through our past sexual assault victim’s stories and found hundreds and hundreds of records of sexual assault survivors who were perpetrated by another child. Pornography is often a driving factor, and sometimes the only factor that influenced a child to act out in a sexually harmful way. As I have studied our data, and seen more and more patients, it’s imperative that we understand the way that pornography is creating devastating effects for children across our country.

Watch: Expert Heidi Olson Talks About the Role Porn Plays in Child Sexual Assault

The growing trend of child-perpetrated sexual assault

The children that I see are not in a vacuum. Stories of child-on-child sexual assault are ringing out all over the world. The trend is growing rapidly. With pornography being so widespread and easily accessible, more and more children are viewing and subsequently acting out what they see on vulnerable children. Often their younger relatives. It’s not just young boys, we are seeing young girls as perpetrators as well.

The solutions are not quick or easy. There’s shame involved with families who have a child sexually act out on another child. Most families do not want to talk about, or admit that this tragedy has occurred within their family. There are not many specialized therapy groups or any court-mandated services that cater to this issue, so there are limited resources for healing. To compound the issue, we live in a culture that continuously normalizes pornography, and refuses to acknowledge the ugly truth that it fuels sexual assault and rape culture.

Related: “No Consent, No Problem”: How Porn Sells Abusive Nightmares As Sex Fantasies

In these quiet moments of tragedy, in the Emergency Department, while the dust settles and families try to make sense of what is happening, I hear the truth. I clearly see the correlations. I hear the confessions that pornography influenced sexual assaults. I hear the truth that pornography was made of a victim, shown to a victim, or was the direct reason why a child acted the way he or she did.

I have seen things that I cannot write about, violence that is hard to fathom, let alone explain, moments that have left me nauseated and in tears. Things are inflicted upon beautiful, innocent children, at the hands of other children. Brutal assaults are carried out by the hands of teenage boys who believe that sexual violence is “normal.”

I see kids who think that anal and oral sex are normal before they’ve even gone through puberty. I come face-to-face with stories about kids who do not listen when a victim repeatedly tells them, “no.” Why? Because they’ve seen the violence, the strangulation, the slapping, the name-calling of women a thousand times in pornography and think that it is “normal “sexual behavior. Then they act it out, leaving behind a wake of destruction for themselves, and their victims.

Fortify

Both perpetrator and victim, and the role shame plays

There are so many heartbreaking elements to this subject, and it’s important to remember that the perpetrators are also victims.

While I do not condone their actions, and stand with victims of sexual assault, children who are acting out sexually are also victims of a culture that will not protect them. A culture that allows them to be exposed to sexual violence while calling it “normal.” A culture that does not offer services for children who are addicted to pornography and acting out. A culture that does not allow children today to have childhoods filled with adventure, innocence, and wonder; but instead is filled with airbrushed naked bodies, violent sexual acts, and the demolition of an entire generation of kids who have been sexualized since they could look at a screen.

Shame plays a leading role in silencing both the victim and the perpetrator from seeking help or speaking up. Most victims feel that the assault was somehow their fault, and wade through a confusing and devastating reality, trying to make sense of what happened. Children who view pornography and act out in harmful sexual ways often feel that they cannot tell anyone what is happening. Sex, masturbation, pornography, and sexual assault are often topics that are never brought up in homes or by caregivers. Shame sends the message that speaking up will result in being humiliated, rejected, and pushed away.

Related: Is There A Connection Between Porn Themes And Sex Offender Characteristics?

Shame perpetuates the devastating cycle of silence, abuse, and addiction to pornography. Children who are exposed to pornography rarely speak up or seek help from an adult, afraid of what the reaction will be. Parents, caregivers, and guardians have to create an environment where it’s safe to talk about “taboo” issues. Otherwise, children get lost down a dangerous path of viewing more and more pornography, and eventually act out what they’ve seen on other vulnerable kids.

The United States is seeing thousands upon thousands of our children being sexually assaulted every year, which also means that thousands of children are deemed perpetrators every year. This reality has massive ramifications on both sides of the equation in terms of mental illness and adverse health outcomes. What will the world be like in 20 years when an entire generation of adults have all experienced sexual violence and trauma at the hands of each other?

My gut instinct proved to be right. Pornography is fueling one of the best-kept secrets of our time. Childhood innocence is being destroyed at lightning speed.

But the good news is that we can help.

Charcoal And Gold PKL

How we can protect, validate, help, and educate

One of the best things a parent or caregiver can do is responding with validation toward your child. Whether your child was the one assaulted or your child was the one who confessed to struggling with pornography, they should be met with grace and acceptance. If a child says they were assaulted, believe them! Research shows that children (and adults for that matter), do not lie about sexual assault. They should be met with responses like, “You’re really brave for telling me that. Thank you.” Protect the child who has been assaulted, do not put them in situations with the perpetrator. To interact with the perpetrator is unsafe and re-traumatizing.

The same validating response should be given to a child who says they are looking at pornography. Shame creates isolation and silences children from speaking up or seeking help. When shame is taken out of the equation, there are much better chances of children healing, growing, and speaking up in the future.

Get help. Kids’ brains need help sorting out trauma and early sexualization. Therapy is needed for children who have been assaulted and children who have acted out in harmful sexual ways.

Engage. Children often accidentally stumble upon porn while innocently searching for other things online. Talk to your children about porn before this happens, and make it safe for kids to speak up when they see something. Check your children’s screens and devices frequently. Children who habitually look at porn, are more likely to act out. Check and see what your kids are looking at. Talk to your children about their bodies. Empower them by telling them that other people should never be taking pictures of or touching their private areas because their body is precious and belongs to them.

Educate. Talk to others about online safety. Discuss the correlation between sexual assault and pornography, and about keeping kids safe. The more people are aware, the better chance we have at protecting our kids.

Go with your gut

While this topic is heavy and overwhelming, I think it’s imperative that we realize the insidious world that pornography is creating for our kids. My last piece of advice is, “Go with your gut.” If something doesn’t “seem right” with your child, it’s not. Create a safe environment through talking and actions. Provide a space where your child knows they can disclose that they have been abused or are struggling with what they’ve seen online. Express that your children will be met with kindness and protection rather than shame or denial.

Safety and validation from a caregiver make all the difference in the world to a child’s healing process.

About the Author

Heidi Olson (RN, BSN, CPN, SANE-P) is a Certified Pediatric Nurse and a Certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). She works as the SANE Program Coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital in KS and MO. Heidi has a wide range of experience in pediatric and forensic nursing and her current role includes performing forensic exams on children who have been victims of sexual assault, following up with victims and their families after discharge, communicating with law enforcement, child protective services, prosecutors, the FBI and educating the healthcare staff on topics regarding children and sexual exploitation. Heidi also serves an expert witness for the prosecution during trials for victims of sexual assault. In the last year and half, Heidi has performed and reviewed almost 700 pediatric sexual assault cases. Heidi has presented over 100 times in the last year about recognizing human trafficking, the harms of pornography, sexual assault and sexual exploitation in various settings from nursing schools to national conferences. Heidi enjoys rainy weather, coffee, her family and true crime podcasts.

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