Sexual aggression in children, experts say media to blame

An important article appeared in the Sunday Mail about the sexualisation of children. The article details the concerns of child experts and advocates who are seeing an increase in incidents of sexual aggression and assault in children as young as 6 and 7 years old. The 2008 Senate Enquiry is mentioned and the point is made "little if, anything has been done and now things have taken a far more sinister twist."

Are our children being damaged by being exposed to a barrage of sexualised images and products?

THEY can be our greatest achievement, our greatest hope, but are our children being damaged by being exposed to a barrage of sexualised images and products in a society many argue is now X-rated? 

These concerns aren't new. This didn't just happen yesterday.

Alarm bells began ringing several years ago when child-health experts, lobby groups and parents campaigned against the way advertisers and marketers were targeting children, from dolls wearing sexy outfits to padded bras for eight-year-old girls.

The Senate Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media Environment was set up in 2008 and made several recommendations about the portrayal of children in print and advertising material and on radio, TV and the internet.

Little, if anything, has been done, and now the issue has taken a far more sinister twist.

The phones at Bravehearts' Arundel headquarters run hot most days with disturbing stories of children being abused by adults.

But another deeply concerning trend is also emerging.

Carol Ronken, a criminologist with the organisation for seven years, has noticed a growing number of concerns about children abusing other children in a sexual fashion.

``In the past, it was exploratory play amongst young kids, but there has been a big increase in children being more aggressive and threatening and sexual behaviour you would never expect from kids four to five years old,'' Ms Ronken says.

She has even had childcare workers phone the organisation, which fights child sexual abuse, asking for help.

``We've had two centres in the last month with teachers saying, `Oh my God, how do we handle these kids?''' she says. ``It's not show and tell, it is assault. You don't want to label kids offenders  they are too young  but it is aggressive sexual behaviour.''

An Education Queensland spokesperson says they do not keep figures on inappropriate sexual behaviour in schools. Nor do police, as the ``offenders'' are legally too young to be charged, but they do have figures in New South Wales.

Five years ago the Bureau of Crime Statistics recorded 13 sexual assaults committed by children. By 2008, it was more than five times that.

Dr Joe Tucci, from the Melbourne-based Australian Childhood Foundation, says Victoria is in the grip of this increase, too. A decade ago Dr Tucci, a psychologist and social worker who counsels children showing inappropriate sexual behaviour, only saw a handful of cases. Times have changed.

``We started 10 years ago with 10 referrals a year. Nowadays it's up to 150. Ten years ago we were referred kids as young as seven involved in maybe pulling their pants down. Now it is penetrative acts, simulated or actual sexual acts and it starts at seven and eight,'' he says.

In Queensland, there have been plenty of reports that have made it into the media spotlight. In September last year, three Year 1 and Year 2 boys were alleged to have sexually assaulted  classmates in a primary school in Brisbane's north.

The same year, on the southern flanks that melt into the Gold Coast, a five-year-old boy allegedly assaulted  two other kindergarten children.
Bravehearts counsellor Sam Vidler works with  kids who  display sexualised behaviour.

``One young boy was five and was going out of his way to act out sexually with other children,'' she says. ``There was no known cause  he was from a good family.''

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston has her own theories.

``It's a result of an environment highly suggestive and charged sexually  kids live in an X-rated society now,'' Ms Johnston says.
Dr Tucci agrees.

``Kids are fed a diet of sexualised images on the internet, in magazines, on TV advertising and kids are sponges for this sort of stuff and mass exposure legitimises it,'' he says.

The warning signs are everywhere. Read the full article here.

One of the issues raised in this article is the fact that the 2008 Senate Enquiry which was to address these very issues has had little if any impact on the sexualisation of children in Australia. A review of the enquiry scheduled to take place in December 2009 still hasn't happened. What does that say about how much concern we have for children when the success or otherwise of the recommendations hasn't been evaluated?

Why hasn't the review happened?

Put simply, a lack of political will. Politicians are busy people and they will respond to what they perceive the community is most concerned with.

Eating disorders, anxiety, sexual aggression in young children.  Are we concerned about that?

Collective Shout currently has a campaign accessible from the front page of our site, The Sexualisation of Children in Australia. This campaign urges everyone to make their voice heard by writing to their members of parliament, calling for the review to take place. Some have already done this, however we need many more to join in.

This is an election year

Australia has an election scheduled for August 21. The time to contact your members of parliament is now. If you haven't already done so, please read through the campaign page The Sexualisation of Children in Australia and follow the steps to take action.

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