Holding uncomfortable ideas up to the light and challenging public thinking on difficult topics was the aim of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas held in September.
With increased reports of online child sexual exploitation, it was a timely topic on the agenda as Australia faces an epidemic of the crime type.
ACCCE and Human Exploitation Acting Commander Jayne Crossling lent her expertise in the child protection field to the event as a panelist on harmful thoughts.
The session looked at the window for child sexual abuse prevention and discussed the need for earlier engagement with people concerned about their sexual thoughts and behaviours towards children, in the hope that fewer children become victims in the first place.
“Law enforcement has traditionally struggled with the idea of offender prevention but given the increasing in offending we recognise that we have to start exploring whether early intervention is possible, alongside an associated evidence base,” Acting Commander Crossling said.
Other panelists included Emma A. Jane, Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales; Georgia Naldrett, Stop It Now! Australia Manager; and panel Chair Dr Michael Salter, Scientia Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of New South Wales.
Panelists revealed that in surveys of the dark web, 50 per cent of respondents to an online survey who accessed child abuse material indicated they wanted to access help. It was stated that there are communities of ‘virtuous paedophiles’ on the web that create their own self-organised support groups to minimise their consumption of child abuse material and risk of abusing children in their lives. This may be due to the lack of support services for people who recognise they have problematic thoughts.
The National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse has supported a trial of Stop it Now! being conducted by the Jesuit Social Services (JSS), noting that the program is designed for adults.
The forum discussed the gap that remains for young people (aged under 18 years) to access help for harmful thoughts or behaviour towards other children. Much of the help available caters for support only after criminal involvement.
This is problematic because a child must commit a crime (and likely harm another child) before they can access help. JSS spoke about a platform they are creating for children that is primarily based online, with chat functions. This is based on surveys on what information children are seeking and engaging with.
It was concluded that collaboration between Stop It Now! type initiatives, law enforcement and the judicial system could assist with earlier identification and treatment of problematic thoughts and behaviours.