More specific sex education should be considered at primary school level, according to one of the speakers at an international conference on the treatment of sex offenders which opens in Dublin today .
The National Organisation for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers conference will run until Friday and, for the first time, will feature a public information session, entitled ‘Let’s talk about — understanding sexual abuse causes, consequences, and prevention’.
That event, to be held tomorrow night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, will feature contributions from Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, and Sharon Beattie, director of Safeguarding Ireland.
It forms part of a programme that also includes presentations by international experts such as Michael Seto, director of the Forensic Research Unit at the Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research, Canada, and Anne-Marie McAlinden of the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast.
Dr McAlinden’s presentation is on ‘The role of “grooming” in child sexual abuse and exploitation’.
She stressed that, despite a media focus on online grooming, the grooming of children was increasingly complex and can just as easily happen offline, in real-life scenarios.
She said that the issue of grooming was “very difficult to deal with”, not least from the perspective of parents, as increasing numbers of children have access to smartphones. She said there were also cases of peer-to-peer grooming and sexual exploitation among teenagers, but that grooming could happen in “multiple situations”.
“It is not just about children being abused online,” she said. “It is very important to come back from the ‘stranger-danger’ complex as well.”
Dr McAlinden said a pro-active public health approach to informing young people about sexuality and any dangers they might face was required — something which could include sex education being introduced at an earlier stage in a child’s education.
“I think there is a balance to be struck between educating them too soon, but I think this needs to start in primary schools,” she said.
“It is about protective knowledge. We live in a very hyper-sexualised culture.”
Dr Seto’s presentation will concern online abuse, and he said there could be “two overlapping populations” online: Those that watch distressing images but who do not go on to commit offences themselves, and those who do.
On the number of abusive images online, Dr Seto said not enough was known about their production. He said there were so many people online exchanging material that even doubling the number of police monitoring it “would not be able to put a dent in it”, although he is optimistic that solutions would be found.
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