Porn Is Causing Children to Sexually Assault Other Children

Nurse Heidi Olson’s voice carries a caring and kind tenor, but her horror stories are heartbreaking and set in homes that look a lot like yours and mine.

Children influenced by pornography are sexually assaulting other children, said Olson, a sexual assault nurse examiner who works with children only. This isn’t older teens having sex. No, she describes 6-to-10-year-olds acting out adult sexual behaviors, and they are mimicking what they see in pornography.

“We are seeing a rise of perpetrators who have no risk factors except for exposure to pornography,” said Olson of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO. “Pornography is influencing children to sexually act out, assault, and hurt their peers like we’ve never seen. There is a direct correlation between these two things.”

In the past, children who acted out sexually were almost certainly victims themselves, Olson told an audience at a Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation conference. Other risk factors include growing up in an unstable home and a child being diagnosed with mental illness. While those factors remain true, Olson and other professionals are seeing a direct correlation between early exposure to pornography and children mimicking adult sexual behaviors and sexually assaulting (including raping) other children. Of the 1,000 children who reported their sexual abuse to the hospital in 2017, the majority of the victims were girls around 4 to 8 years old. Each year, Olson said, Children’s Mercy receives an increasing number of juvenile sexual assault reports.

Several studies are backing up what nurses and counselors are describing. For example,  a 2016 study with 4,564 young people aged 14 to 17 found that students watching pornography:

  • had a significantly increased probability of sending sexual images
  • were more likely to perpetrate sexual coercion
  • were significantly more likely to hold negative gender attitudes

“Boys’ perpetration of coercion and abuse was significantly associated with regular viewing of online pornography,” the study said.

Who is harming who?

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that juveniles commit more than one-third of all reported sex offenses against minors, and the majority of offenders are between 12 and 14. Juveniles are also more likely to have younger victims and male victims.

Children’s Mercy Hospital found in 2018 that the most concentrated age group of juvenile perpetrators was males between the ages of 11 and 15. Victims were commonly younger, Olson said, with nearly 26% aged 0 to 3 and 30% ages 4 to 7. Girls represented 86% of the minor victims and 14% were boys.

“Many victims disclose that pornography was involved in their sexual assault,” Olson said.

Among issues that trouble Olson is that children 10 and younger are acting out what they’ve seen in porn. Too graphic to tell here, she describes a case of a 7-year-old raping his 6-year-old sister. One mom found her 10-year-old and a 10-year-old friend in a sexual act, and they described how they watch porn together. Another mom found an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy naked in the bathroom together, and both had been suspended for watching pornography at school.

Related: Five Ways Our Culture Is Grooming Your Daughter for Porn

While these are the most serious reenactments, I had a kindergarten teacher describe seeing two children mimicking intercourse in her classroom though the children were clothed.

“Admittedly, the thought that 5-,6-, and 7-year-old children would express hurtful sexual behavior towards other children is difficult to fathom. It is, however, a reality that needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency. And as hard as it may be to believe, there are children who will molest other children,” a report in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy concluded.

The report went on to say “…[it’s] unlikely that children have suddenly become more innately interested in sexuality. Rather, is probably more a matter of having been exposed to sexuality through the vast array of sexual messages and information that exist in today’s technological society.”

The Connection

Though children should never see pornography, it happens often in our culture because so many children have unfettered access to phones and the internet. Children are showing other children pornography. It is difficult for a child to look away from pornography because it taps not only natural curiosity but also powerful neurochemistry that is paired with an underdeveloped brain.

Children also have many more mirror neurons than adults. Simply explained, mirror neurons allow you to see something and it feels like you are doing it. It’s why you recoil when you see a batter get hit with a baseball, or your heart races when you see runners cross a finish line. And mirror neurons are at work when watching porn and they help ignite the arousal and rewards centers of the brain.

“Pornography is affecting how our children and young people view themselves and how they think about relationships,” said psychologist Dr. Justin Coulson. “It brings with it some significant risks for our children. Some people copy what they’ve seen in pornography. This is a problem because so much pornography today is violent.”

What You Can Do

Research shows when parents spend more time with their kids there is a huge and positive impact. Good parenting in stable and nurturing homes was associated with young people delaying sex and lower use of pornography.

Quality time shooting hoops, playing with Legos®, and having a Bible study are great, but intentional prevention is also required. As parents we must train, protect, and have ongoing conversations starting early.

Related: Porn Must Be an Ongoing Conversation with Your Kids

First, train your kids to know what pornography is as soon as they are old enough to know where their bathing suit area is located.

I speak to thousands of parents year after year. There are many resources available for training our kids, but I always recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures and Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. Always? Yes, always. This read-along book is one of the best tools available for parents to train and prepare their kids for the day they will see porn. It describes pornography in an age-appropriate way and gives them easy directives that they should turn away, run to a trusted adult, and tell them what they saw. Turn, run, tell.

I highly recommend the Virtue in Media series from Protect Young Eyes. These are videos you watch with your kids (K-8th grade) to teach biblical digital citizenship. Your kids will learn God-honoring ways to use today’s technology and set boundaries for your home.

Second, use technology to protect and monitor how your child uses their devices.

Filtering is not enough.

In a 2016 Barna Research study that interviewed families about porn use, every family interviewed accessed porn if filtering-only was being used. Eleven percent of the homes accessed porn daily and 16 percent accessed porn at least weekly. Filtering or blocking software blocks mistakes and accidents, but tweens, teens, and adults beat up filters until they find a way around them. 71% of kids say they intentionally hide online activity from their parents.

Accountability software shows intent, curiosity, or when a child or teen is trying to circumvent a filter. Accountability software should provide easy-to-read reports that create opportunities for conversation. But reporting software is only good if you use it consistently to have conversations with your kids about their world and their use of technology.

This brings us to our third point: have ongoing conversations.

Use a calendar to create reminders to talk with your child about specific topics. This will encourage you to schedule conversations and do research to be prepared for good talks with your kids. Getting in the habit of chatting in a safe and warm environment will make it more likely that your child will report pornography, abuse, and other issues.

Know the warning signs of child sexual abuse. There may or may not be physical signs of abuse, but you may notice a child being more fearful, depressed, anxious and even suicidal. A child may have inappropriate sexual knowledge or act out inappropriate sexual behaviors. Kids who are assaulted may look up what happened to them on the Internet, Olson said, and they become engrossed and even addicted to pornography and are susceptible to sex addiction.

“We’ve seen an increase in girls ages 10 to 14, who are (sexual assault) victims, and are now creating their own pornography and sending it to people online.” Olson said.

Children who are sexual assault victims and the children who commit sexual assault both need help. Labeling a child for life as a sexual predator isn’t helping, but it happens often, in multiple states. Professional and parental perceptions about youth with problematic sexual behaviors need to shift from labeling a child as a sex offender to recognizing them as child first who can be helped, said Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance (NCA). Intervention is critical for victims and offenders to provide healing, justice, and prevention of future assaults.

Children with problematic sexual behaviors are much less likely to continue their behavior as an adult with strong support and effective counseling. The NCA provides a number of resources and guide to help.