On 8th September 2017, Solicitor General, Alison Di Rollo of the Crown Office hosted the Education Summit in Glasgow on “Children, Young People and Sexual Offending” with the mantra “prevention is better than prosecution”. John Swinney, deputy First Minister and Education Secretary, gave a key address and called for “an integrated government solution” to the surging problem.
The Reward Foundation welcomes the joint initiative to address the rise in sex crime by children and young people through preventative education. We are already contributing to this through our classes in schools.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) figures showed that between 2011/12 and 2015/16 the number of people aged 17 or under accused of sexual offending rose from 350 to 422, an increase of 21%.
There were 1,600 victims of sexual offending in that age group, a rise of 34%, while there was a similar rise in the number of children accused of a sexual offence against another child.
The children’s charity NSPCC said “sexting” was a major problem for young people who were often ignorant of the law.
At the Education Summit, criminologist Professor Simon Hackett of Durham University cited key new research that included 3 recommendations (see photo above) by juvenile sexual offenders on what may have helped them not to offend: “Help their management of pornography use;” “reform their sexuality education” and “redress their victimization experiences”. That means to make them feel safe.
The main suggestion by the Solicitor General is to teach what behaviours constitute a criminal offence. This is very necessary, but insufficient in itself. As Professor Hackett pointed out “understanding the pathways into offending” are key too.
We would urge the government to include lessons on the impact of internet pornography on young people in any new PSE curriculum as well. That is what The Reward Foundation teaches along with identification of relevant sex crimes. Here’s why.
Internet pornography has a legal as well as brain development and health dimensions.
First, at the core of sex crime is the concept of consent. It strikes at the abuse of power. Internet pornography on the whole models abuse of power by emphasizing domination of women, feminized men and racial minorities. The consent is fake as the video performers are paid for their acting. Porn videos are commercial productions manufacturing often taboo sexual acts to create maximum sexual arousal. They do not reflect the kind of consensual behaviour we want our young people to develop as they explore loving relationships.
The most popular forms of pornography according to Pornhub, the largest distributor worldwide, are incest porn, teen porn and lesbian porn. Research shows that almost 90% of the content of the most popular form of porn include physical and verbal violence mainly against women. Racial minorities are also a target of abuse and domination. The most disturbing form of pornography is that depicting the abuse of children who have no power to give consent.The most disturbing form of pornography is that depicting the abuse of children who have no power to give consent.
The fact that most problematic sexual behaviour occurs within the family begs the question if the popularity of incest pornography may be a contributing factor too? That is one for the researchers to look into.
Brain Development and Health
The brain development trajectory of young people is an important factor. At puberty children are driven by nature to be curious to learn about sex. This is when they start to sexually condition their brain to the stimuli they experience, creating an arousal template that will inform them of what turns them on in future. As their brains become used to one level of stimulation they need and will seek out something more intense to avoid feeling flat.
Around puberty kids are also at their most vulnerable to the development of addiction. Sexual arousal is increased when the images are shocking or taboo. It raises adrenaline levels that in turn produce more dopamine. This triggers the brain changes that cause addiction, the inability to stop despite negative consequences. Escalation to more shocking stimuli is a hallmark of the addiction process too. With drugs, a person needs more of the same drug, with pornography, they need new, different and more shocking to get the same high. Internet pornography is emerging as a form of behavioural addiction.
For a child curious about sex, the internet is the obvious place to go. As so many now have smartphones and tablets there is in effect little or no barrier to their exploration. Getting round filters is relatively easy for many. Their brains quickly imprint the highly stimulating hardcore images that they see. Those pleasure pathways are reinforced with every video they watch and physically respond to. The internet produces an unending supply of material with all levels of intensity.
In the meantime teaching children about the impact of pornography on teen brain development is necessary, along with what is a sexual crime, if the rise in children’s sexual offending is to be stemmed.
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