Australian Senate Inquiry Report into Children Harmed by Porn

The Senate Inquiry:

On 2 December 2015, the Senate referred the inquiry into harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet to the Committee, consisting of:

  • Senator Larissa Waters, Chair; 
  • Senator David Bushby, Deputy Chair;
  • Senator Anthony Chisholm;
  • Senator Sam Dastyari;
  • Senator Jonathan Duniam; and 
  • Senator Anne Urquhart. 

The harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet Inquiry included looking into trends in children’s consumption of pornography, the impact of this on the development of health and respectful relationships, harm minimisation methods used in other jurisdictions and possible measures to be implemented in Australia. 

Fighting for Justice Foundation made a submission to this inquiry. 

The Committee’s Recommendations: 

On the 13 September 2016, the Senate agreed to the Committee’s Recommendation that this Inquiry be re-adopted in the 45th Parliament with a reporting date of 23 November 2016.

The four major Recommendations of the Senate Inquiry Report into Harm Being done to Australian Children through access to pornography on the internet released on the 23 November 2016 are as follows: 

Recommendation 1

The committee recommends that the Australian government commission dedicated research into the exposure of Australian children and young people to online pornography and other pornographic material.

Recommendation 2

Following completion of the research referred to in recommendation 1, the committee recommends that the Australian government commission an expert panel to make recommendations to the government regarding possible policy measures. The panel should include experts in a range of relevant fields, including child protection, children’s online safety, education, law enforcement and trends in internet usage.

Recommendation 3

The committee recommends that state and territory governments consider the adequacy of:

  • their current policies on, and responses to, allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by children within schools; and

  • the training on child protection matters provided to individuals employed in, or preparing for employment in, roles that could involve children.

Recommendation 4

The committee recommends that the Australian government consider the adequacy of the information available to parents, guardians and teachers on how to keep children safe online, including whether existing resources such as the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s iParent website can be promoted more effectively.

The full Report of the Senate Inquiry into Harm Being done to Australian Children through access to pornography on the internet can be found here. 

Fighting for Justice Foundation’s Recommendations: 

On behalf of Fighting for Justice Foundation, Andrea Tokaji also made legal observations which was published in the Western Australian Jurist Law Journal titled: The States Due Diligence Obligation to Children Harmed by Porn – found here, which looked at the rise of children sexually abusing other children as a result of watching porn on line, and the need for restorative justice measures to be applied in the context of the State’s due diligence obligations to protect children from harm. 

With 36% of internet content being pornographic – there has been a recorded rise in the viewing of pornography on line by children.

Professor Freda Briggs revealed that during interviews with more than 700 children for an Australian Research Council study, young boys between the ages of six and eight admitted that they and their dads watched pornography together for ‘fun’ because ‘that’s what guys do.’

The law is inconsistent, however, in relation to the protection of children to the exposure to pornography in the private or household sphere

One little boy’s behavior has become so over sexualised, he has to be chaperoned at all times because of the risk that he may start playing “sex games” with other children. The reason? His young mind viewed online pornography, and now – he simulates oral and anal sex at play time.

The number of children sexually abusing other children has risen steeply, with treatment services such as the Royal Children’s Hospital Gatehouse reporting that pornography and family violence are fuelling the trend, and saw 350 new cases in the past financial year – more than double the previous year.

Researchers confirmed that the age of the offender does not determine the degree of harm caused to victims. Abuse by a school peer or sibling can be just as frightening and harmful as abuse by an adult.

Anxiety, fear, and suicidal ideas and behaviour have also been associated with a history of childhood sexual abuse, and male victims of child sexual abuse show disturbed adult sexual functioning, and there is evidence that compulsive viewing of pornography, particularly in adolescents, changes the brain chemistry – that pornography affects the brain in much the same way as drugs.

Watching porn can become addictive.

Pornography changes children’s attitudes toward women and sex.

The Australian Federal Police have identified children’s exposure to inappropriate content and sexually explicit material, including pornography, as a critical challenge of the digital age, and the Victorian Police report that the number of young child sex offenders has increased and victims are getting younger and younger, and children as young as three and four were referred for treatment for sexual aggression.

Because of a lack of capacity of a child recognised under criminal law, and the required criminal element of mens rea in any conviction, the actions of the child perpetrator are at the moment being ignored as ‘normal childhood developmental sexual experimentation’, which has a risk of being normalised in the child’s minds. This may lead to the perpetrator child reoffending into their adolescence and adulthood – given a lack of action to deter, condemn or discus their harmful behaviour at the time of the incident.

The State is not intervening, and children are not being held accountable for their actions. So, what should the State be doing? What can wider society do?

In accordance with Fighting for Justice Foundation’s Recommendations made in our Submission, as well as legal observations made in the Western Australian Jurist Law Journal titled: The States Due Diligence Obligation to Children Harmed by Porn –Fighting for Justice Foundation recommends two major initiatives to deter, prevent and protect children from ongoing harm, including: 

  1. The launch of a national education prevention diversionary program addressing: the affects of gender-based violence, consent, rape laws, sexual harassment, understanding expectations, and developing respectful practices, the rights of women, respect of women (worth, value, dignity) and human rights principles – ACT Human Rights Act, the power of healthy relationships; and
  2. The implementation of a restorative justice conciliation process for victim and perpetrator child who are below the age of capacity recognised by criminal law as committing an offence – so that the victims has a chance to tell their story of hurt and harm, and the perpetrator child has an opportunity to understand the implications of their actions, apologise, recognise the severity of their behaviour, and understanding that our society does not think such behaviour is ok. 

Both approaches seek to protect, prevent and facilitate rehabilitation, recovery and understanding for the child in a safe, therapeutic, supported environment. 

Please do contact Fighting for Justice Foundation should you wish:

  1. to support us in the launch of these initiatives in 2017 through donor funding;
  2. if you are a School who would like to pilot the education prevention diversionary program with your students; or
  3. if you know children who would benefit from restorative justice reconciliation for this very sensitive and unique matter. 

We need to respond to this growing epidemic together as a society – ensuring the health of all children in our community – and their protection from all forms of harm. 

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