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Equipping Children’s Advocacy Centers to Safeguard Young People From the Harms of Pornography

Growing evidence links pornography exposure and child sexual abuse. Another growing trend? Child-on-child sexual abuse. In the UK, children are now the biggest perpetrators of sexual abuse against other children. What is driving this trend? Many blame the ease of accessibility to violent pornography and a lack of awareness, understanding, and action from adults.

“The reality is that as long as adults turn a blind eye to this issue and children continue to have unfettered access to violent pornography, this heartbreaking trend will continue to rise,” said Heidi Olson, Culture Reframed Clinical Consultant and Certified Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

Culture Reframed’s latest initiative aims to drive awareness of this issue and provide much-needed support to the professionals at Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) — those who provide direct support to children experiencing abuse. Currently, there are no standardized protocols to investigate and address pornography’s effect on child sexual abuse.

“When clinicians or parents see behavioral issues or problematic sexual behaviors in their patients or kids, nobody considers the role that pornography exposure plays,” says Olson. “Therefore, we often miss the root cause of the issue.”

In 2023, Culture Reframed formed a multidisciplinary task force comprising front-line child protection professionals, national and international sexual assault nurse examiners, forensic nurses, and allied healthcare professionals. As an expert in the field who has been avidly expressing her concerns on the matter, Olson will lead this initiative with Culture Reframed’s Dr. Mandy Sanchez. They are supported by Culture Reframed Founder & President, Dr. Gail Dines, State Chapter Liaison for Western Regional CAC, Dr. Amelia Siders, and Josh Bissell, Program Director and Forensic Interviewing Specialist at the CAC of Michigan.

Dr. Siders said there is a strong desire for resources from these multidisciplinary teams. “There is a need to create a common language related to how we talk about this issue at CACs,” she said. Providing training, prevention, and treatment tools for clinicians will enable them to better identify when pornography is a factor and protect children from further harm.

Addressing the Need for CAC Resources

Culture Reframed’s task force of experts is collaborating to develop materials for CACs and affiliated professionals working with young people. These resources will be made easily accessible to anyone interested.

“Through our extant review of the literature, we have discovered that there is minimal literature related to routinely assessing for porn exposure or best practices in medical settings, forensic interviews, therapy, et cetera,” said Dr. Dines. “Additionally, there is an overall lack of porn-critical screening tools, questions, processes, collaboration, and resources for professionals working with children in these settings.”

To develop the resources, three smaller working groups were created, composed of experts in specific fields: Clinical/medical; forensic interviewing and criminal/legal; and telemental health/education/research. Each of these groups will create child-centered, trauma-informed materials that integrate a porn-critical lens to aid in the following:

  1. Understanding the harms of hypersexualized images and pornography on children
  2. Knowledge of what to look for in terms of prevention and intervention
  3. Increased confidence in talking about sexual culture — including pornography — with families

Ultimately, the task force is creating a digital collection of educational materials and resources. The resources currently in production include:

  • Screening questions to facilitate discussion of access to and effects of hypersexualized social media and porn
  • Educational one-pagers and “Best Practice” toolkits for clinicians and medical staff
  • Informational videos to be distributed across social media platforms (think TikTok), created by professionals for professionals
  • Call-to-Action video from law enforcement personnel to others in the field on the importance of this topic
  • Pre-screening questions with specific questions and a scenario bank for forensic interviewers
  • A self-paced training program for professionals working in and with CACs who care for young people experiencing assault

The resources will be available through Culture Reframe’s website and distributed through the regional and state Child Advocacy Centers in the U.S. and safeguarding organizations in the UK.

“We believe these resources will fill a huge gap in knowledge and practice by helping professionals to have effective conversations with children and parents about pornography, screen for problematic porn use, and manage disclosures,” said Dr. Sanchez. “Ultimately, we believe that this work will raise awareness and shift the cultural narratives about the impact of porn on kids, as well as foster the institutional change necessary to improve child protection and safeguarding.”

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