It will have come as a shock to many this week, to see a young 24-year-old Dublin woman charged with the defilement of a child, a teenage boy. This is something we have not really seen in Ireland up to now. A very young woman, who if convicted of the alleged offence, will be registered Sex Offender. The reported allegations involve a student from the school she worked in, who was under 17.
Parents should watch this case with interest because, while it is unusual to see allegations of this nature, being made against woman who is so young in Ireland, it is certainly not unique elsewhere. In fact, this type of offence being perpetrated by females, appears to becoming more and more common in other countries such as the UK and the US.
The very thought that a young woman could commit a sexual offence on a child, is an uncomfortable one. However, female sex offenders do exist. This is not something new. It is important to ask whether, are we are now only just becoming more aware this occurs, or is it now on the rise. Certainly the number of females who have committed similar offences reported in news media outlets, appear to be increasing. In the UK and the US, we have seen over 20 female teachers in the last two years charged, or convicted with a sexual offence involving a minor in the school where they taught.
While no one can definitively state a reason female teachers would engage in this behaviour, we do have a concern about an influence the online world may play. There has been an enormous increase in the accessibility of pornography. The over use and consumption of pornography, has well established links with sexual deviancy. We are also seeing boundaries breaking down. Figures of authority, such as young teachers, have a very prominent online presence on social media. Most young people do. Very often their profiles are fully accessible, which allows students not only to connect with their teachers, but also communicate with them in a way never before possible.
In an online world, relationships develop quickly, far faster than they would in the real world. This is mainly due to our need to fill in the blanks, when we are engaging with someone online. Unlike the real world where we have the use of all of our senses, sight, sound, touch taste and smell, the online world can leave us with minimal information such as text. In a real world environment we have the ability to read other signs such as the body language. When deprived of this, our brain will attempt to fill in the blanks for us, as we are missing out on information we require. Our perception of a person we are communicating with in an online environment, may be completely different, were we to have the same conversation a person in the real world.
Often people are far more open online, and share information about themselves they never would to a person, they just met in person. When we share information which is personal, this encourages the other person to do the same with us. Most of you will have had the experience of a friend entrusting something personal to you, once you receive this information, sometimes we then feel the need to entrust them, with something we consider personal to us. Relationships and trust, can develop very quickly from this type of open exchanges.
In an online world, we are also fully in control of what information we choose to share. Therefore, our perception of a person is limited. Based only on what we can gather from the selective information, which has been shared with us. How we conceptualize this information will influence your decision making process, when deciding on how you should interact with them. The ability to control what information you share, literally allows you to be anyone you want to be online. The persona created may be anything but, who the person is in real life. our perception of the individual we create can be the total opposite of who the person actually is in real life.
In 2017, a University of Swansea Study found that it took less than 20 minutes to groom a child online. Adults are as susceptible to grooming as children. Once an online connection is made, relationships can progress very quickly. Sexting among young people has reached a point of almost no return some time ago. This has become an acceptable part of the relationship building phase. We have been surprised by the number of both male and female students claiming, the other sex are worse for sharing unsolicited images to each other. As this behaviour becomes more of a social norm, where does it leave the real world introduction of relationships? What risks are there for those who see this as a normal behaviour?
Boundaries are being excessively crossed. It is a harsh reality, adults are exchanging explicit images with adults, children are exchanging explicit images with other children, and some adults and children will end up sharing explicit images with each other. The sending of unsolicited explicit sexual imagery is more common than most parents know. In fact parents would be astonished how normalised this has become. Many children are just casually deleting images without even a thought, or letting parents know they are receiving these images. Teachers receiving an unsolicited image like this from a student, may also delete the image rather than report it, for fear a claim might be made they had sought the unsolicited image.
We now are, where we are. Our opportunity, to right this ship before heading in to these seas, have passed. Instead, we must now prepare for what lies ahead. The matter brought before the court this week, was shocking. Unfortunately, it will be the first of many to come, of that you should have no doubt. These cases are becoming increasingly common in other jurisdictions. The common denominator in all of them, is the online contact between student and teacher. The influence of pornography and the exchange of sexualized imagery.
This has now landed firmly on our doorstep. As a society, we very quickly need to ask ourselves, what if anything we can to do address such a serious matter. Do we march rapidly in the footsteps of the UK, Canada and the US? These are but a few of the countries, who have been attempting to address this issue for many years and are losing their battle. In Ireland, many have chosen to take the Islander approach of, “it’ll never happen here”. Well it has, and it is.
It’s time to tell those, who’s responsibility it is to protect our children, to get off your asses and begin to address this. It is beyond belief we live in a society, where we are still wondering how to address Cyberbullying, while the very moral fibre of an entire country is being cast aside. The answer will not be to throw the baby out with the bath water, rather to discover what caused these events to happen, learn from it and then try as best we can to prevent it from happening again.