Updated: Jan 4
This is an interview with Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids for the Women in Security Magazine.
This is an interview with Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids for the Women in Security Magazine. We interviewed her to learn more about her organisation and her services to protect children.
"This is a public health crisis we can no longer afford to ignore. Children’s unrestricted access to pornography can and must be addressed. Perhaps this is the child protection issue of our time."
What first piqued your interest in working to counter children’s access to pornography and its impact on them?
The internet and technology have transformed the way we learn, create, connect and are entertained. It has given our children access to the world but has also given the world access to our children.
Whilst our children gain immense benefits from being online there are also risks. I observed the increase in the number of children online and saw a corresponding upward trend in cases of online grooming, child sexual abuse and exploitation, sextortion, youth-produced sexual content, image- based abuse and exposure to pornography.
Portable electronic devices in particular changed the way pornography is accessed and how pornography accesses children. Whilst pornography is not new, thenature and accessibility of pornography have changed considerably.
Knowing that children are growing up in a world where it’s impossible to avoid sexualised media and pornography I’ve worked tirelessly since 2015 to develop and deliver workshops to address the harmful effects of pornography on children and young people.
Knowing that many parents, carers, educators and other professionals working with children and young people often struggle to start much-needed conversations and education I’ve developed and delivered practical, strategy-rich workshops to educate, equip, empower and support people who live and work with children and young people.
The main purpose of your website seems to be to offer your services. There’s a limit to what one person can achieve. Do you find demand for your services outstripping supply and do you plan to expand?
I spent 21 years working in a government organisation and seven years working in the not-for-profit sector.
At this point in time, I don’t plan to expand eSafeKids. I believe in collaboration over competition and continue to work with a number of organisations and individuals across Australia to address this public health crisis.
You have some informational/instructional videos on eSafeKids. Any plans to develop interactive online training for parents and/or people who work with children?
This year I plan to develop online training for parents, carers, educators and other professionals. I will also continue to develop and source free and accessiblecontent to support the trusted adults in children’s lives.
At what ages do you see child access to pornography becoming an issue? Do you think most parents understand the extent to which pornography has become part of children’s online experience, especially very young children?
It’s not a matter of ‘if’ children will see pornography but ‘when’ and the when is getting earlier and earlier in their lives. In Australia, the age of first exposure is reported as being between eight and 10. Pre- pubescent exposure to pornography is particularly problematic.
I think parents are largely unaware of the nature and prevalence of online pornography. This is concerning given we know exposure and access to pornography can have a negative impact on children’s health, well-being and safety.
Pornography’s effect on children and young people is amplified by the absence of adequate education and conversation in the home, school and wider community. Many parents and carers are unaware of how readily available pornography is. Pornography is the primary, and in many cases, the only education children and young people receive about relationships and sexuality.
Concerningly, a significant portion of pornography children view either accidentally or intentionally contains violent images and themes. Research has found exposure to pornography can result in; children displaying harmful and problematic sexual behaviours, child-on-child sexual abuse, sexual aggression and violence, sexism, objectification, risky sexual behaviours and poor mental health and wellbeing.
Studies also suggest frequent viewing of pornography may reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, contribute to young men forming unhealthy and sexist views of women and sex, condoning violence against women and developing sexually coercive behaviours.
The Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children had a focus on “better understanding and countering the impact of pornography given increasing evidence showing a correlation between exposure to online pornography and the sexual objectification of women and girls, the development of rape cultures and the proliferation of sexual assault.” There may also be other impacts, on things such as body image, mental health, academic performance, addiction and erectile function.
Where are children getting most of their access to porn today: from dedicated porn sites, or from social media services like Facebook, TikTok etc?
Children with access to the internet on any device at home, at a friend’s place, at school or in any of our community spaces are at risk of exposure. Pornography is readily available through most online sites and services our children use. It is now harder to avoid pornography than see it. Online services, apps and platforms frequently contain illegal, hurtful and harmful content. For many children, it’s too much, too soon. Many pornography sites are not age-gated and the gating on those that are is often ineffective because users self-certify their age. The most common ways children are exposed to pornography are; being shown it/sent it by someone, googling sexual terms and unintentional exposure – advertising, pop-ups etc.
Do you think the major social media platforms should do more to protect children from pornography and if so, what?
The Strengthening Online Safety: Empowering Australian Parents To Keep Their Children Safe Online report, to which I contributed, highlighted that anticompetitive behaviour from a handful of major tech companies is preventing parents from adequately protecting their children online.
Big tech companies have clearly demonstrated they are unwilling or unable to self-regulate. Sadly, and with devastating consequences, children’s fundamental human rights are not prioritised. Big tech is exploiting its market dominance at the expense of children and families. At the moment for the most part parents and carers are the first and last line of defence.
Until big tech does more to safeguard children from pornography and other illegal, harmful and hurtful content, the responsibility rests with us, the trusted adults in children’s lives. This is a public health crisis we can no longer afford to ignore. Children’s unrestricted access to pornography can and must be addressed. Perhaps this is the child protection issue of our time.
The Protecting the age of innocence report, to which you made a submission, came out in 2020 with six recommendations.
Do you feel they represented an adequate response? What is your view on actions, if any, that have been taken to implement those?
Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which means Australia has a duty to protect children from harm. There is a substantial body of national and international research that demonstrates children are being harmed.
The Protecting the age of innocence report made a number of recommendations. One of which was for the creation of the eSafety Commissioner to lead the development of an implementation roadmap for a mandatory age verification scheme for online pornography. Extensive consultation and research are being undertaken to identify what proportionate, effective and feasible age verification and infrastructure would look like. Whilst this is a positive step forward to safeguard children it will not be a silver bullet and will not be without challenges. Even the most robust controls will not prevent children and young people from being exposed to pornography. This means accurate, comprehensive, inclusive, shame-free relationships and sexuality education is essential.
What do you see for the future? The latest thing seems to be virtual reality porn, which, according to one article, “transforms users from passive observers of sexual fantasies on screens into active participants in immersive erotic experiences.”
Is it going to be possible through formal and informal education, technology, parental guidance, etc to stem the tide?
What do you see as the consequences if we fail to do so?
VR pornography is already here and with the Metaverse on the horizon the need to protect children has never been greater. A recent large-scale study of 150,000 pornographic videos demonstrated that one in eight titles advertised to first-time users of the top three porn sites described sexually violent, coercive and non-consensual content. This is what our young people are seeing. This is what our children are seeing. It is fair to say pornography is playing a key role in creating a climate in which sexual violence and coercive and non-consensual behaviours are normalised and eroticised. If we fail to act the consequences for our children and future generations will be devastating.
The internet poses a particular challenge because those seeking to victimise children take advantage of the relative anonymity that online interaction provides. As the internet and technology continue to advance,the opportunities for child sex offenders and other financially motivated criminals to sexually exploit children will continue to increase. This has created an ideal criminogenic environment because there are abundant opportunities for crimes to be committed, highly motivated offenders, a lack of coordinated and effective regulation and an absence of adequate parental supervision, education and conversation.
In the absence of adequate education in the home, school and wider community, pornography is the primary and in many cases, the only education children and young people receive about relationships and sexuality.
eSafeKids provides evidence-based Reducing the Harm: Talking About Pornography workshops throughout metropolitan and regional Australia and internationally. These workshops can be delivered face-to-face at your location or online as a webinar.
Visit the eSafeKids website to view a range of child friendly books sourced to support parents, carers, educators and other professionals.
Join the free eSafeKids Members’ Community and access content to read, watch, listen to and download.
Consider parental controls. Parental control tools can assist with monitoring, restricting, limiting and filtering what children and young people do and see online. There are many tools available and they all offer different functions. Parental control tools can be used to assist, not replace, ongoing participation, supervision, education and conversation.
About The Author
Kayelene Kerr is recognised as one of Western Australia’s most experienced specialist providers of Protective Behaviours, Body Safety, Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kayelene is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation, drawing on over 24 years’ experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes. Kayelene delivers engaging and sought after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. Kayelene believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility and everyone can play a role in the care, safety and protection of children. Kayelene aims to inspire the trusted adults in children’s lives to tackle sometimes challenging topics.
eSafeKids strives to reduce and prevent harm through proactive prevention education, supporting and inspiring parents, carers, educators and other professionals to talk with children, young people and vulnerable adults about protective behaviours, body safety, cyber safety, digital wellness and pornography. eSafeKids is based in Perth, Western Australia.
eSafeKids provides books and resources to teach children about social and emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, gender equality, consent, body safety, protective behaviours, cyber safety, digital wellness, media literacy, puberty and pornography.
eSafeKids books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).