Child on Child Sexual Abuse blog post--image of sad girl

What is driving COCSA: child on child sexual abuse?

Child on child sexual abuse–also known as COCSA– is on the rise.

When I heard the above fact announced more than once at last year’s Darkness to Light Envision conference, I was concerned. Because growing up, I experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an older, more powerful child.

It’s an uncomfortable idea to consider, one child sexually abusing another; however, the fact of the matter is:

70% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by another child.

Recently I asked a child safety expert the reason for the increase. I had a theory. I believed sexting was the problem. Not only was the practice of sending sexually explicit images of kids via electronic devices leading to sextortion scams, perhaps it was leading to nonconsensual sexual activity between minors. I was wrong. My friend told me:

“Experts in the field believe the increase in child on child sex abuse (COCSA) may be due to pornography.”

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Exposure to pornography in general has been linked with adolescent dating violence and sexual aggression…”

But teens aren’t the only kids experiencing child on child sexual abuse. 

Some sexual behavior and exploration is normal in young children—ie. spontaneous activity between kids of a similar age. However, experts consider other sexual behaviors harmful. 

According to defendyoungminds.com, harmful behaviors may:

  • Take place between children at least two or more years apart in age
  • Behavior continues despite parenting strategies (such as discipline)
  • Cause harm or potential harm (physical or emotional)
  • Simulate adult sexual acts or sexual acts popularized in pornography

In this news story on child sexual abuse, 

Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City is seeing a disturbing trend: Children are abusing children. 

“I think that was kind of shocking to us all as we were collecting this data, is that almost half of our perpetrators are minors,” said Heidi Olson, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Coordinator. The hospital noted the offenders tend to be between 11 and 15-years old. Victims were typically girls aged 4 to 8 years-old.

“Another thing we’re noticing is a lot of those sexual assaults are violent sexual assaults…

So they include physical violence in addition to sexual violence,” said Jennifer Hansen, a child abuse pediatrician at Children’s Mercy.

Which begs the question, where are kids learning to combine sex with violence?

As stated in this blog post,

“88.2% of the pornographic content studied included aggression both physical and verbal.”

New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof agrees. In his opinion piece for the New York Times titled, “The Children of PornHub,” Kristof notes, “Its site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.”

In addition, the number of searches for videos featuring underage individuals is alarming.

On PornHub, the 10th most visited website in the world, “a search for ‘girls under18′ (no space) or ’14yo’ leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos.” 

Some people accuse child safety professionals of being prudes because they raise concerns about pornography. But Kristof says, 

“The issue is not pornography but rape.

“Let’s agree that promoting assaults on children or on anyone without consent is unconscionable. The problem with Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein was not the sex but the lack of consent — and so it is with Pornhub.”

Is PornHub doing anything about this problem? Sort of. Not really. The Netflix documentary, “Money Shot: The PornHub Story,” points out that where Facebook employs 15,000 moderators to search for illegal content on its platform: ie. child sexual abuse material, nonconsensual activity, etc., PornHub’s moderators number 30. Plus, Porn Hub requires these individuals to view 800-1,000 videos each day, a daunting task.

But what of the connection between child on child sexual abuse and pornographic content? The staff at one hospital sees it clearly.

The nurses at Mercy Hospital noted that according to victim accounts, pornography was a factor in many incidents, 

Including, “…a victim being forced to see porn, a victim reporting that the perpetrator said they’d watched porn, being forced to do something shown in a pornographic video, or a victim being recorded doing a sexual act.”

Another account, provided by  NCOSE (National Center on Sexual Exploitation), features an 8-year old girl who was raped multiple times by a thirteen-year-old neighbor boy, who appears to be addicted to hardcore pornography.”

Adding insult to injury, the boy “…had his younger siblings and the sibling of the victim ‘watch’ the sexual assault as if it was a play.”

The website, defendyoungminds.com, shares an Alabama news story quoting a local child advocacy center: 

“We had (cases) that the child has said, ‘I learned that from the internet,’ and we’ve had children that are basically describing an addiction to child pornography and then they try it out … 

We had a case recently where the victim is only 3 years old and the [sexually aggressive child] is only 10 or 11 years old …”

That Alabama child advocacy center’s forensic interviewer said, “…that her office is seeing a ‘tidal wave’ of kids who are acting out sexually after viewing pornography. Employees of the advocacy center are ‘stressed out’ and terrified of the ramifications of this new trend.”

Of course, this information is alarming and upsetting. So,

How might parents and caregivers address the problem of pornography leading to child on child sexual abuse (COCSA)?

The NCBI study mentioned above says, “Prevention strategies might include, “Comprehensive prevention strategies for TDV (Teen Dating Violence) may consider the potential risks associated with exposure to violent pornography, particularly for boys, and provide an alternative source of education about healthy sexual behavior and relationships.”

The NCFamily Policy Council suggests: 

  • Placing home computers in public spaces in the home
  • Equipping all media devices with Internet filtering and monitoring software

This article by defendyoungminds.com includes a number of resources for protecting kids, reporting child on child sexual abuse(COCSA), and dealing with your child if they display problematic sexual behaviors. The good news is, if such children get help early, they tend to not reoffend.

Since child on child sexual harm seems to be connected with the viewing of pornographic content, it’s important for parents and caregivers to answer their kids questions about sex, as suggested here, and to also learn how to activate parental controls on their family’s devices. Check out some parental monitoring options here.

 

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