Newsletter Number 22, January 2024
Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2024.
The new year is the time to welcome in the all of the positivity that accompanies making a fresh start, leaving past issues behind or aspiring for something better. I'm hoping that 2024 is a great year for growing my business, making more professional connections and continuing to learn - both academically and from the knowledge shared by others.
When considering the subject matter for this months' newsletter, I envisioned that it would be uplifting and joyful. For some, the Christmas period is the opportunity to bring friends and family members together, to share gifts, enjoy fabulous food with loved ones, take part in significant traditions and to remember the humble events of the nativity 2,024 years ago.
As time has gone on the commercialism has ramped up exponentially; along with the cost of presents, the amount of food and drink consumed, the financial stress and the proximity of dysfunctional relationships over a prolonged and intense period of time. As a primary teacher my thoughts at this time of year - particularly when the wrapping paper has been disposed of and the tree is looking rather limp - have always moved to the negative aspects of this holiday for families in crisis. Among all of the jolliness and festivities are the stressors that push some over the edge.
Data from reliable sources show the increase in alcohol consumption and the misuse of other substances, the incidences of theft and shoplifting, the rise in divorce rates and the prevalence of domestic abuse in the months of late December and early January. For those who are lonely - while surrounded by people or not - seeking out the company and comfort of others can and does have devastating consequences.
A few days ago I was unaware of how much the information I gained from reading a recent report would bring to my consciousness and remain with me for so long. It has occupied my thoughts during my waking hours and disturbed those when I should be asleep. So, in the hope of a catharsis, I'm sharing details of the report and my concerns here. By the way, for my own wellbeing a pampering session will be following the publication of this newsletter; the perfect way to 'dump' my thoughts.
Trigger warning: This content may be distressing for readers.
Please consider if reading it will adversely affect your emotional wellbeing.
Self-care is important.
The 2023 Report by Childlight, the Global Child Safety Institute, highlights the nature of offending against children in Australia, the UK and America.
“Men in Australia, the UK and the USA who report online sexual offending behaviours against children also report being 2 to 3 times more likely to seek sexual contact with children between the ages of 10 and 12 years old if they were certain no one would find out.”
The exact number of child sexual abusers in the UK is unknown and I don't know if such a study has been conducted before. For me it makes very disturbing reading, in part due to the participants’ escalation from watching pornographic material to engaging in sexual abuse with young people between the ages of 10 and 14. In 2020/21, 31,600 child sexual abuse crimes were recorded in England and Wales alone.
A significant factor in this report is the motivation of perpetrators who were CERTAIN no-one would find out. The sexual abuse of a child of any age is deplorable and there are many reasons for 10 to 14 year olds not disclosing their experiences to someone who could support them. This in no way detracts from the horror, fear and trauma of their abuse.
It leads me to question how many offenders target much younger children who are not in a position to talk about incidents of sexual abuse to a trusted adult. In the mindset of the abuser, they may believe this GUARANTEES that their behaviour will remain undetected.
For babies and pre-school children, there is a far less likelihood of the opportunity or vocabulary to express their experiences. In addition, the perpetrator may be known to the child, so they have no concept that what is happening to them is wrong. Participants in the study reporting historical sex offending tend to adhere to denial of abusiveness, offering excuses, justifications or non-acceptance of their behaviour.
Commonly individuals refuse to take responsibility for their appalling, criminal and exploitative actions. Such individuals negate the long-term impacts of trauma and lived experience that distorts the emotional, behavioural and relational wellbeing of those harmed. Yet a staggering 80% of people in the UK caught with images of child sexual abuse avoid prison sentences.
Intra-familial child sexual abuse may involve parents, other adult relatives, foster carers, a parent’s partner or siblings. Also, it is thought that between a quarter and a half of all harmful sexual behaviour displayed by children and young people involves peers, step-siblings or young close relatives such as cousins, nephews and nieces.
Others who have close links with the family may perpetrate abuse routinely while the child is in their care, such as a family friend, babysitter or the leader of a children's group. Those who are ordinarily in a position of trust can be involved in the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material, such as images or videos, in child sexual exploitation and in the organised abuse of children by multiple abusers. There is also evidence of a correlation between child abuse and domestic violence.
Approximately 15% of the men surveyed for the report would consider having sexual contact with a child if they knew no one would find out. This equates to millions of men across the three countries. From these samples, nearly 10% reported that they had committed at least one type of sexual offending behaviour against children online at some point during their lifetime.
Recognising and responding to incidents of sibling sexual abuse can be difficult, not least because it often challenges commonly held conceptions of what sibling relationships are like. Home environments are common contexts in which child sexual abuse occurs, accounting for almost half of all child sexual abuse offences reported to the police in England and Wales. Children who disclose intra-familial abuse are not always believed as parents or carers disbelieve what they are being told about someone within their family or a close friend.
Child sexual abuse in the family often starts at a young age and may go on for many years. Abuse by a parent or carer may be especially traumatic because of the betrayal, stigma and secrecy it involves. Much intra-familial sexual abuse remains unidentified. Children may be afraid of their abuser, not want them to get into trouble or believe the abuse is their fault.
The study informs attitudes and behaviours of men around online sexual offending that leads to the offline abuse of children. Measures must include:
securing more and longer custodial sentences
effective rehabilitation pre- and post-release
preventative approaches when men report a sexual interest in children
robust regulation of online platforms used for circulating images of abuse
raising awareness of the harms against children and the wider society of sexual offending against those who are particularly vulnerable
Some sex offenders will argue that the possession and viewing of fictional child pornography is a victimless crime. However, it is important to acknowledge the victimisation that can occur during the production of non-fictional pornography; there is a documented link between those who view child pornography and those who actively engage in offending.
The study was based on ‘The Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Myth Scale’. Read the report here: The nature of online offending against children: Population-based data from Australia, UK and the USA | Childlight
Whilst the Childlight study is based on sex offending of males, it is recognised that female sex offenders exist too.
Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. It might go a little way to raising awareness, changing the course of 2024 and even lead to helping just one potential victim of child sexual abuse.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of child sexual abuse, you may:
call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000
email help@NSPCC.org.uk or
complete a report abuse online form.
You can also contact
The Children's Society: childrenssociety.org.uk