January 14, 2012
Sydney Morning Herald
VICTORIAN children as young as five are being referred to specialist programs to address sexually abusive behaviour - and the number of minors exhibiting such behaviour is exploding.
The availability of pornography through portable devices drastically affects a child's understanding of acceptable sexual behaviour, according to experts, and is being blamed for the rapid escalation in cases.
In 2010-11, there was funding for 237 places in 13 locations across the state in problem sexual behaviour programs provided by the Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA). But demand far outstripped funded places - the programs had 414 participants.
CASA statewide convener Carolyn Worth said the problems had worsened in the past year and many areas, particularly rural centres, needed more funding. The younger children (aged five to nine) were often - but not always - referred to the program because they were victims of abuse, Ms Worth said.
Many of the program's participants were boys, Ms Worth said, but there were some girls, including an 11-year-old who was sexting (where a person sends sexually explicit picture messages of themselves).
''Clearly it [pornography] desensitises you, it probably gives them a strange idea of what's an appropriate way to interact with, mostly, women,'' Ms Worth said.
''If they've spent a lot of time watching it, they don't have any idea of how you actually negotiate having sex with somebody. They just don't understand it.''
Victoria's Child Safety Commissioner, Bernie Geary, said the world was impacting on children in ''a rather frightening way in some cases'' and parents needed to be aware of what their children were doing online and with their mobile phones, many of which now had internet capability. ''I'm not sympathetic with parents who are not close enough to their children to protect them, because that's part of the role of being a parent,'' Mr Geary said. ''If you're prepared to put your child out there in a world where they're going to be inundated with this sort of information [pornography], you need to be able to a) protect them, or b) expect what the fairly miserable consequences will be.
''This is more and more a wake-up call for parents. Don't wring your hands about this, don't expect schools to be the saviour, this is something that begins at home and should be tackled proactively at home.''
Attendance at the CASA program was voluntary, Ms Worth said, and in some cases criminal offending was too serious for referral.
She said behaviour typical of a 10-to-14-year-old participant included touching other children inappropriately and forcefully, forcing other children to conduct inappropriate acts on them, or acting threateningly and aggressively to younger children. For 15-to-17-year-olds, it was sexual assault or involved other young children.
Mr Geary said it was important not to blame children for the circumstances they were in.
''It's not as if children are acting out more these days than they used to, it's just that the adult world is pushing this information at children much more vehemently than they ever did before and that's why it's become necessary … to cope with that,'' he said.