Surge in fears over sexualisation of children

The number of parents contacting a therapy and counselling service due to their young child’s sexualised behaviour has jumped by over 70% in the past year.

Figures to be published today by the Children At Risk in Ireland (CARI) organisation highlight growing fears over the exposure of children to pornographic material, leading some to “act out” in sexualised behaviour.

CARI’s national clinical director Dr Niall Muldoon, said the increase in contacts made to its help- line over sexualised behaviour in children below the age of 12 showed there was a need for parents and schools to address the issue of internet access and availability of inappropriate material.

The CARI annual report will be launched today and will show a 12% rise in answered helpline calls and therapy hours.

It will also call for increased resources, given that in recent months CARI has closed its outreach service in Cork, despite a growing need for therapeutic services.

It is the number of contacts made to the CARI helpline on the specific issue of sexualised behaviour in children which is causing alarm, however, coming weeks after a European Commission Safe Internet Programme survey of families in 25 EU countries showed one-in- 10 Irish children had watched pornography online.

The CARI figures show that 122 people contacted its helpline in 2010 to report sexualised behaviour in children, and last year the comparable figure rose to 212.

Dr Muldoon said sexualised behaviour in children was classified as that “harmful to themselves or somebody else” and included inappropriate touching and masturbation in public.

He said while the rise in reports of such behaviour was down, in part to greater awareness among parents, there was also likely to be an actual increase in instances of sexualised behaviour, with greater internet access a “contributory factor”.

“It is a younger generation having a different set of norms around sexual activity,” he said. “There is a bigger risk now with the availability of images that young people can access and do not understand.”

Dr Muldoon said while previous generations may first have seen such material in their mid-teens, children as young as 10 or 11 were now viewing sexual images, often shown to them by others.

He said it required a “joint effort” from parents and from primary schools to address the issue, although the main role would rest with the primary care giver.

CARI recommends that parents worried about what their child may be viewing online seek advice from websites such as netsmartz.org and childnet-int.org.

It also recommends a website called reassureme.com operated by a Dublin-based company which allows parents to monitor internet usage among all computers in a home.

* www.cari.ie

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