Heidi Olson: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)
Trigger warning: This episode contains graphic depictions of child sex abuse- listener discretion is advised.
Full disclosure: the topics discussed in this episode are heavy, but absolutely essential to consider when it comes to protecting children in our community. In this episode of Consider Before Consuming, we sat down with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Heidi Olson. Heidi works specifically with children at a children’s hospital in Kansas City near the border of Kansas and Missouri. Fully expecting to be dealing with cases where adults were the perpetrators, Heidi was shocked to see that, in 2017, almost half of the perpetrators who walked through her hospital’s doors were minors. After learning more about what pornography is like today and how easy it is for a child to access it on their devices, Heidi describes to podcast host, Garrett Jonsson, “all of the dots started to connect in my mind…a lot of these young perpetrators are being exposed to mainstream pornography and they are acting out what they are seeing.” Listen as Heidi explains the risk of kids becoming victims and perpetrators of sexual assault due to exposure of pornography, and learn what we can do as members of society to combat this rampant issue.
Caregivers: if you’re looking for a way to keep your family safer online, check out our friends at Bark. In partnership with parents and schools, Bark has helped to protect over 5 million children by proactively monitoring text messages, YouTube, emails, and 24 different social networks for potential safety concerns including cyber-bullying, suicide ideation, depression, sexting, and online predators.
Listeners can try Bark for free for 30 days by going to ftnd.org/bark.
FROM THIS EPISODE
- Article By Heidi: What Porn and Shame Have to do with Child-On-Child Sexual Abuse
- Article: Objectification vs. Empathy
- Article: Caregivers, This Study Shows that Kids as Young as 7 are Accessing Pornography
- Documentary Series: Brain, Heart, World
- Article: 37 Year-Old Goes Undercover as 11 Year-Old, Here is What She Learned About Child Predators
- Video: Heidi Olson, Truth About Porn
- Perpetrators of Sexual Violence
- Darkness to Light
- Study: Trading Later Rewards to Current Pleasure: Pornography Consumption and Delay Discounting
- Study: Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors Associated With U.S. Early Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media
- Book: How Pornography Harms by John D. Foubert Ph.D.
- Video: Pornography and Violence, John D. Foubert, Ph.D.
Garrett: What’s up people?! I’m Garrett Jonsson and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug. Before we jump into this conversation, we want to let you know that during this conversation we discuss child sexual assault. Listener discretion is advised.
Today’s conversation is with Heidi Olson, she is a SANE nurse; SANE is an acronym which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. This conversation was very eye-opening for me, learning from Heidi helped open my eyes to just how prevalent child sexual assault is, and how porn consumption can increase the number of assault cases. Of course it was a heavy convo. But it was also inspiring to learn from Heidi who is on the front lines helping to keep kids safer. Speaking of keeping kids safer, if you’re a caregiver, then you should check out Bark. First of all it’s easy to use and it’s effective. Bark is a technology that can identify threats and/ or signs of danger such as cyber bullying, suicide ideation, depression, sexting and internet predators. Simply put, Bark can help keep your kids safer online. Normally Bark does a seven day trial, but for our listeners Bark gives you 30 days to try it for free. Visit ftnd.org/bark that’s ftnd.org/bark or click on the link in the episode notes to try Bark for free for 30 days.
With all that being said, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Heidi: I don’t know if I have anything to say for that long, but… [laughter]
Garrett: [laughter] Just joking. Um, okay, cool. So we are excited to welcome Heidi Olson to the podcast. Consider Before Consuming as you know, um, that’s, I’m, I’m assuming just the name gives it off that we want people to consider things before consuming pornography and um, we’re excited to have a conversation with you and learn from you. Um, some of our episodes we try to always have like some, a little bit of a reality check, which can be heavy, right? We also like to throw in lots of hope and so I think today we’ll be a little bit of both, right?
Garrett: From your experience.
Garrett: So we’re, uh, we’re excited for this journey of this conversation. And you said that one of the things you enjoy doing outside of work is to listen to podcasts and drink coffee. So right now you’re drinking coffee and you’re on a podcast. [laughter]
Heidi: Yes, it’s a dream come true.
Garrett: Interesting. Um, and then coffee every day. Is that a must?
Heidi: Absolutely. Usually multiple cups.
Garrett: Nice. How many cups have you had today? It’s 9:30 AM and we’re in D.C. and how many cups has Heidi Olsen drink today?
Heidi: Only one, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not on my A game.
Garrett: If she’s falling asleep then… [laughter] Um, well, Heidi, if you would get us up to date as to kind of who you are, what you’re doing.
Heidi: Yeah, so I am a sexual assault nurse examiner and I specifically see children. So I work at a children’s hospital. And if you’ve never heard of sane nurses, that’s our acronym or what we do. We treat all of the sexual assault victims that come through our emergency departments. We have to, I live in Kansas city and we border, if you haven’t been there, States. So we have an ER in Kansas and one in Missouri. Um, so I go to both emergency departments and essentially we are trying to collect evidence off of these kids’ bodies. So if they’ve been sexually assaulted within five days, we feel like that within that timeframe we can find DNA from a perpetrator. So we’re looking for skin cells, hair cells, semen, saliva, um, that would be on their body. And then we also do a really thorough genital exam because all of them have been sexually assaulted.
So we want to make sure that part of their body, um, is healthy. We’re looking for sexually transmitted infections, sometimes giving medications for those depending on their age. And then we also want to make sure they’re safe. So we do a lot of safety planning. We don’t want to send a kid home to a perpetrator or backup to the streets or kind of whatever circumstance them in. Um, and then we get subpoenaed to testify in court as well. Um, just sometimes it’s at a state level, sometimes local, federal, just depending again on what the case was that we saw.
Garrett: I think for a lot of our listeners in our day to day, we don’t think of stuff like this.
Garrett: And in your day to day, this is kind of what you have to deal with and have to help these kids deal with.
Heidi: Right. I think most people are generally oblivious to the fact that child sexual abuse is so incredibly rampant in the United States. It’s happening all of the time. We see about one to two sexual assault victims every single day. And in the last two years I have either performed or reviewed well over a thousand sexual assault forensic exams. So I mean, we’re just seeing an huge number of victims and we also know that the vast majority of children did not disclose their sexual abuse or it takes them about two years to disclose it. So we’re seeing maybe 5% of the children who are being sexually abused in our community and we’re still, you know, seeing one to two kids every day. If you think about what that means, there are thousands of kids who are being sexually assaulted in the United States every day, which is really overwhelming.
Garrett: That is, um, one of my questions is how do you deal with this? What made you choose this occupation?
Heidi: Yeah, it’s, it’s really heavy for sure. There’s no denying it. Um, that’s probably the number one question I get asked by people is like, “How do you do this job?” Um, so I think you have to feel passionate about this population to have any type of longevity in this field. I think when people go into it like, “Oh, it’ll just be an extra job.”, or like “I can make money.” or whatever. Like not that that’s the motivation for most people, but they get burned out so fast. They usually don’t even finish orientation because it’s just like, “Oh no, I didn’t sign up for this amount of secondary trauma.” Um, so I think what motivates me has been my own life experiences. And um, when I was in high school, one of my really good friends was sexually abused by a well known adult in our community and our community just divided.
Half of the people supported him. He was actually a pastor in our community and the other half, I mean, so half of people were blaming her. She’s a child. Um, the other half supported her. And I think in that moment I just felt like I want to stay in that place and say, I see you, I hear you. I believe you. Like I want a lock alongside you the best I can. And so of course we don’t live in a perfect world. So with kids in the ER, I usually don’t never see them again. But you know, for those three hours were together, I can validate them and say, “I see you, I hear you. I know this is painful. I believe you.” I think that that matters. And so that motivates me to keep on doing this. And I feel like if we can honor these kids and do a good job and advocate for them, someone needs to be doing that.
So we have a really broken criminal justice system. We, a lot of these kids aren’t believed, they go back home to really dysfunctional families and, and so like, I can’t fix all of those things, but I can make them feel safe hopefully for a moment in time. And I think for me that’s a motivator. Um, but I have definitely had to learn how to take care of myself and set boundaries and say no to things in this job. Because if you go in thinking you can save every kid, I mean you’re gonna burn out and be jaded so incredibly fast.
Garrett: So a couple of things. As you were talking, you mentioned that you were validation to the kids. Like, “Hey, I believe you.” and your acknowledgement of the pain that they’re going through is important to the kid. And I just kind of wanted to emphasize that the, yeah, it must be important for them. One thing that I would see as a benefit to the kid hearing that acknowledgement is that they’re kind of acknowledging you’re acknowledging that this is not okay. And when it comes to abuse, sexual abuse, the kids are kind of often groomed to think it’s okay.
Heidi: Absolutely. And I think even just being able to help them put language to what’s going on, you’re like, Hey, this isn’t okay. It’s not okay for an adult to treat you this way. I think there’s almost a sense of relief of like, okay, I think I was having red flags. But then exactly, they’re groomed into it a lot of times. And so I think being able to um, to validate that is huge. And there’s research that shows when first responders or parents kind of, whoever a kid tells first believes a child their mental health outcomes are far better than kids when no one believes them or won’t validate them. They really struggle. Of course you’re saying something so vulnerable and then imagine everyone would be like, yeah, no, that, that didn’t happen to you.
Garrett: Yeah, that’s, so do you know the percentage, like if a kid is validated that first time, that first interaction when he or she first tells an a to a trusted adult, is there some type of study showing that what percentage of kids are going to kind of speak up for themselves and intervene or get out of the situation in a healthy way?
Heidi: That is a great question. I cannot think of off the top of my head like an exact statistic. I’m sure that type of study exists. I’d have to go like back through your articles, but um,…
Garrett: That’d be interesting.
Heidi: Yeah, it would be really interesting. I know for sure that, I mean we do know when a child is believed, they typically are only telling us kind of the tip of the iceberg of their assault. And so when they’re believed in validated, they feel safe to tell more and tell more.
Garrett: Which makes a lot of sense.
Heidi: Um, yes. So it’s, it’s really important for us to believe in that we believe.
Garrett: And it’s part of the investigation?
Garrett: Okay. Interesting. Um, well one thing that you mentioned that kind of sparked a thought in me was that it was a well known adult or oftentimes it’s, oh, in your case it was a well known adult.
Heidi: Yes, yes. It was a pastor.
Garrett: And one of the thoughts that was sparked in me was the Larry Nassar a documentary. Have you watched that by chance?
Heidi: I listened to a podcast that NPR did on it, but I haven’t watched the documentary.
Garrett: Yeah. My wife and I actually were able to watch it and it was very sad to see that he was so well known in the community and he was just exploiting the situation. And one of the saddest parts about this Larry Nasser example is that one of the girls that he abused it was, she was the girl that sparked this whole flame, like this whole fire of girls coming out. She was the initial spark because she wasn’t one of his patients because what he was his excuse again and again was, “Well, we’re just doing medical procedures here.”
Garrett: And so she came out and said, “No, he, he abused me and I’m not a patient of his.” So then that sparked courage and others to come out. And one of the things that I’m was very sad to me was that her dad, the girl who came out and made this spark, um, and started this, um, kind of enabled the others to fill the Curtis to speak out as well. Her dad didn’t believe her for years. So that was very sad to see that she was having to deal with that and her life. Is that, I wanted to ask you, have you noticed or have you had any examples where, because one person has spoken out, whether it’s a kid or an adult where a heavy has given other people courage to speak out?
Heidi: Yes, that happens a lot. About 90% of children know their abuser and so quite frequently we will have kids in a family where one speaks up and then, you know, the two younger siblings are like, yeah, “That’s happened to me too.” I’ve seen that more times than I can count. We’ve also had teenage girls that will come in and say, actually a few months ago. I took her this really sweet teenage girl. She was sexually assaulted by a quote unquote friend. And then she said, when I told my best friend that had happened to her five days before by the same guy. And so we absolutely, a lot of perpetrators are repeat offenders and they will groom and sexually assault multiple people. That is definitely a pattern. Um, so yes, we haven’t never had like the Larry Nassar case where there’s hundreds of victims connected to one person, but that easily can happen when an institution protects someone and they continue to groom and perpetrate.
So really being able to stand up for that one person hopefully stops that cycle. So many people have experienced sexual abuse, sexual violence, exploitation, um, and it matters. Like that is a big deal. And you did not deserve for that to happen to you. I think sexual abuse is so insidious because there’s so many confusing elements to it. Like a perpetrator will make you feel like it’s your fault or you deserved this or you are seducing me. And then we live in a culture. “Well, what were you wearing? Were you drinking?” Like instinctively it’s your fault if someone decides to sexually abuse you. And so I think to speak up, it’s, you already know there’s like this wall of exactly that’s going to come for you and, and it’s something that happened to your body in such an intimate way that that is traumatizing in and of itself.
And then to have all these people be like, no, I think you asked for it. Like, you are a slut, this is your fault. You know, those kinds of messages. So I guess my message would be, I get why it’s really, really scary to speak up, but it has to be the probably bravest thing in the world to say that that has happened to you, but it matters because a, we don’t want a perpetrator to continue to do this, but B, you deserve to have support and help surround you. Like that is not something that people can handle on their own. Um, as much as it might feel like, “No, I got it together. I don’t need to tell anyone like that.” It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal. So, um, even if it feels like, well, “I don’t want to like go to the police or whatever.”, like then I would just encourage if you’ve experienced any type of sexual abuse or violence or exploitation or whatever it looks like, like just even talking to a therapist about, Hey, I need to get all these like, thoughts and feelings out and have someone say like, yeah, that wasn’t okay.
There’s power. And I think speaking things out loud and, and having another human say, “Yeah, that’s not okay. That was not your fault.” That’s really healing. Um, but some States don’t have statutes of limitations, so if you are sexually abused as a child or even five years ago, some States you can go back. Um, and again, I think the criminal justice system isn’t perfect. I don’t think everyone should maybe go down that route if it’s going to end up being more traumatic than it’s worth. Um, but there are types of recourse or ways to have some semblance of justice? I think so. Um, I wouldn’t just chalk it up to a lost cause, you know, if it’s like, “Well, I never said anything before.” I think it’s worth speaking out about even if it happened 30 or 40 years ago. I agree. And I know from,
Garrett: I think it’s for all of us humans, no matter what we’re dealing with to speak about it can be very challenging, but so empowering.
Garrett: And so we just kind of want to encourage you, listeners, if you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse or if you’re a caregiver, you need to have these important conversations. Um, Heidi, what, what advice would you give to caregivers on conversations that they can have to prevent this kind of stuff from happening?
Heidi: Yeah, I think that’s really important because I think a lot of times in our society we put the focus for prevention on victims. So “Don’t walk alone.” “Don’t go out late at night.”, don’t, whatever. Like it’s your fault you have to prevent this. Um, but I think especially with parents, it’s an adult’s job to protect a child. It is not their job to protect themselves. And I think some of the things parents can do to empower their kids or even just to give their kids language to be able to speak about this. So teaching them the correct anatomical names for their body parts is really huge because we’ve had kids make disclosures and we don’t know what they’re talking about because they’ve been taught that their private parts are called like, you know, a cookie or a cuckoo or whatever. And it’s really hard to know.
Garrett: Are you saying that the groomers would teach that?
Heidi: No. Parents are teaching their kids, Oh you call your vagina, you know, cuckoo or whatever. Well then it’s really hard say for a daycare person when the kid saying “My cuckoo got touched.”, it’s like, “Well what is that?” “What are you talking about?” So this kid’s trying to disclose abuse because they don’t have the language to do it. It can get pushed aside or discarded. So it’s actually incredibly important to give kids the language to say, “Hey, this happened to me.” But obviously that’s on the prevention side. I think it’s important to empower kids with knowing what abuse is. Cause again, a lot of times they’re being groomed. It’s hard for them to know is this normal or not. So to say like “It’s not okay for anybody to touch these parts of your body. You can say no if someone wants to hug you and you don’t want that.”, you know, even early stages of this is what consent looks like. You have control of your body. You don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. I think it’s really empowering. Um, and I think a lot of people didn’t grow up with those kinds of messages. It’s just kinda like, “Well, go give that person a hug.” Like you have to do it. It deep down teaches you of like you don’t really have a choice in certain circumstances.
Garrett: That makes sense. One thing that we tried to do with our kids is let them speak for themselves. There we have six year old, a four year old and a one year old. And so with our foreign six year old, when we go to Chick-fil-A or shout out Chick-fil-A, when we’re, wherever we go, we have them order for themselves at four and six years old. Or like if we go to the doctor, we have the doctor talk directly to our kids and our kids talk directly to the doctor and we won’t answer questions for them. I mean if it needs to be…
Garrett: and I say that because I kind of, I agree with you and what you said resonated, like being able to say no to. If they don’t want to hug then you can say “No.”
Garrett: And I think it’s important for kids to do that. So I was just wondering if you had any, this is kind of, I don’t know if you’ll have an answer to this, but what can us parents do? Like what practices can we put into place to help our kids speak for themselves? It’s easy to say go and talk to your kid and tell them it’s okay to say “No.” But then it’s another thing to like make that happen and able the key empowered the kid to actually do this. Any tips on that?
Garrett: Have you ever thought about that?
Heidi: Not in depth, but I feel like what you’re saying with your own kids is that’s incredible. You know, to give, to empower kids of like, “You’re strong enough to do this, you’re smart enough, you got it.” Like I trust you to do this. That’s huge. I think that builds a lot of resiliency in a kid of like, “I can do it and like my parents are proud of me for doing this.” I think that’s really powerful, so I think that can translate into a lot of things. Even with the same thing of like, “I don’t want to hug this person.” for a parent to again give that positive affirmation of like, “Okay, that’s fine.” That teaches them really strong. I think lifelong lessons of like, “I’m not going to get shamed, I’m not going to get in trouble, and I stood up for myself.”
Garrett: No, that’s awesome. I actually asked you that question just to validate my parenting. [laughter] So…
Heidi: [laughter] Well done! [laughter]
Garrett: Just joking. No I was really looking for other tips, but no, that was good. Um, interesting. Well I, if you would, um, I’m trying to think of that five day window in questions that are, some of our listeners may have around that five day window and, and maybe some of our listeners will be within the five day window.
Garrett: and they’re like, “I don’t want to, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be, it’s very, it’s an, it’s an invasive process.” Right? The exam?
Garrett: And so there’s some hesitancy there and there’s trauma.
Garrett: And then they’re going to have more trauma having to come get the exam. And so if you could maybe talk a little bit to the importance of coming as soon as you can?
Heidi: Yeah. So because a large part of a forensic exam is collecting evidence, then of course the sooner that you come to the hospital, the higher the chance that we can find evidence on someone’s body. So if someone hasn’t showered or they solve the clothes from their assault, those types of things, those are incredibly helpful. In a criminal investigation, the entire intent behind collecting evidence is for a criminal investigation. And so I think that strikes fear into a lot of people who feel like, “Oh no, I don’t want to file a police report.
Garrett: Because that’s going to disrupt their family life.
Heidi: Exactly. And so if you’re adult, the good news is you can have a forensic exam by law, you can go to any ER and request one and you don’t have to file a police report. You get to make that decision as an adult.
So you can have what we call an anonymous kit, be done. They, so they still collect all of the evidence and some programs have different timeframes. We used fi we use five days based off of research just of what we have found and not found after five days. But they can find DNA typically longer and adults because usually there’s semen in the vagina and that lasts longer. Kids are typically not always assaulted, penile to vaginal. So adults are typically longer timeframes, but either way you can have a forensic evidence kit be done or like traditionally people called them rape kits. And, um, that can stay in the hospital for you know, years and you can say three years from now, be like, “Okay, actually I have a support system in place. Now I’m ready to do this. I want to file a police report.” You can go back and change your mind and then they can move forward with that kit.
But children don’t have that option. And it makes sense. Like we want to protect kids. We live in a society where I want to believe that we have good intentions towards children. We have to file a police report towards someone who is intentionally harming a child. So whether it’s physical or sexual abuse or both, we’re going to make a police report, we’re going to call child protective services. Um, and so within that five day window for a child, obviously we’re collecting evidence, but even if they’re outside of that five day window, it doesn’t mean that a kid can’t have some type of justice. Um, they can still go to court based on a child’s disclosure, um, maybe based on their genital exam, based on other factors that are going on. So, even if we can’t collect evidence, we still recommend a child coming in just to get a medical screen. So just to make sure their body is safe and healthy, um, and then it will move forward from there. So the five days doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have medical treatment or that it won’t go to the police or anything like that. That’s just purely an evidence related thing. Um, the other piece to this that I think is confusing for a lot of, of victims and parents is with kids. The vast majority, so about 95% of sexual abuse victims do not have genital injuries after a sexual assault. And there’s many reasons for that. But a lot of it is the genital tissues heal really quickly and they stretch a lot even in children. And so a lot of times when we look at a kid’s genitals, they don’t have an injury. And perpetrators typically won’t cause a really violent injury in a child cause they want continued access.
So if we look at a kid and say “Everything looks normal.”, doesn’t mean they weren’t sexually assaulted. Um, but sometimes prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to move forward. So say a kid, a three year old only discloses what happened to them once, which is not uncommon. So they don’t have a repeated disc, you know, consistent disclosure, there are three, we don’t see any injuries. That’s not uncommon. Say we’re outside of the five day window. A prosecutor, I say like, I just don’t have enough to move forward. We absolutely believe this happened. Kids don’t lie about being sexually assaulted, but they may drop the case or say it’s unsubstantiated. So I think that’s hard for a lot of people because they’ll say like, “Well then I guess it didn’t happen.” That’s not true. That’s just because that’s, we have to have a certain burden of proof and sometimes it’s hard to have that level of evidence
Garrett: As you’re talking. I honestly got a little bit physically ill as some of the descriptive things you were saying. And it’s like as we sit here and talk, I don’t even realize the trauma that’s happening to the kid and the secondary trauma that’s happening to people like you. But I got a tiny taste of it cause I got physically ill for a moment as you were talking. And I just want to state that every person is entitled to a life without sexual abuse.
Garrett: And so we kind of need to build a culture that is a little bit healthier.
Heidi: Oh my gosh. Yes.
Garrett: To build a culture that speaks out when we need to speak out and enable people to speak out and…
Heidi: … and support them.
Garrett: Exactly. Um, well this podcast is about the harmful effects of pornography.
Garrett: Some of our listeners might be thinking, “Why are we considering this?”
Garrett: “Why are we considering this when we’re talking about the home for a harmful effects of pornography?” Um, Heidi, can you talk to that a little bit? How is pornography, um, associated with child sexual abuse?
Heidi: Yes. This is really heavy and it’s, I will try not to be incredibly graphic, but, um, this is really hard…
Garrett: And one thing, just so you know, we’re fine with you being graphic and just for our listeners, it’s going to be graphic, but we’re going to use this. She’s going to use the scientific terms.
Garrett: And so it’s, it’s appropriate. It’s an eyeopener.
Heidi: Yes. So this is hard to listen to. I will acknowledge it, but I think it’s one of the most important topics that we can discuss. And it is happening with such scary frequency, but no one is discussing this. So I’ve been a sane nurse for about four years and you know, of course I learned all the kind of typical sane nurse things and this is what perpetrators are like and blah, blah blah. So in my head I sort of had this stereotype, you know, what you see on the news and you hear stories from people of what perpetrators are like that they’re, you know, 60 years old live in their parents’ basement. They lower kids, you know, with lollipops, kittens or whatever, you know, like these dumb stereotypes that aren’t entirely correct. And that’s what I’m thinking. I’m going to go see a kid who’s been assaulted by an adult.
Okay. So that’s what I’m mentally prepared. And as I keep getting called in to see patients, the perpetrators ages that I’m writing down is 11, 12, 13 over and over. And so I just like the first few months of being a sane nurse felt this burden and started to wonder what is happening a. why are we not talking about the amount of children who are sexually abusing other children? And B. why are they doing this? Like what is prompting a 10 year old to, you know, rape a five-year-old, what is going on? And so a few months later I actually came to the uh, Global Summit that we’re at. It was in Houston that year and they talked about pornography a lot. And I had a little, I guess sort of basic knowledge that mainstream pornography was violent and those types of things. But I mean that sitting through session after session about what pornography is like today and what a child will access within, you know, two seconds of being on their phone or in front of a screen. It just like all of the dots started to connect in my mind of I bet a lot of these young perpetrators are being exposed to mainstream pornography and they are acting out what they are seeing.
Garrett: So that was your hypothesis?
Heidi: Yes. And it just made so much sense with like the type of assaults that we were seeing. Um, a lot of these kids are, they’re coming from across the board in terms of like socioeconomic status and demographics. So it’s not just, Oh, these are all kids who are in foster care or like, you know, we’d sort of have the stereotype of like, well, they’ve probably have been abused themselves. I mean these are kids in an intact families that we would say are quote unquote normal or you know, like shouldn’t have a lot of risk factors, but they all have access to screens. And so sure enough, I started to see that connection that parents would start to tell us, “Yeah, our 12 year old son sexually assaulted our five year old daughter.
We found porn on his phone.” and it just, yes, there has to be a connection here. Um, and so our nurses have started to ask questions about pornography now and there’s just pornography is used, is a factor, is connected with so many sexual assaults. I mean with adults as well. So you know, when you hear stories of an adult who is sexually abused a child and then you know, they find, you know, a thousand images of child porn on their computer, it’s kinda like, well, yeah, of course. But that same thing is also applying that kids who are sexually abusing other kids, they oftentimes have been exposed repeatedly to pornography. So they’re acting out what they’re seeing. A lot of these kids also have, may have other risk factors, so maybe they do have their own trauma, their own abuse attachment disorders. But then looking at pornography is just like pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s just fueling that behavior. Um, so we absolutely are seeing just this huge correlation between child on child sexual assault and then pornography being a factor in the perpetrator’s decision to act out. And that has been so I think overwhelming and disturbing. In 2017 almost half of our perpetrators were minors and we saw 450 kids that year. So hundreds kids?
Garrett: Just in your location?
Heidi: Yes. Just in Kansas city.
Garrett: So this isn’t part of your job, so I don’t know if you’re gonna know this, but do you know of any science or research or research that shows a link between pornography and then sexual abuse?
Heidi: Yes, yes. So I know John Foubert, I’ve looked at his information in the past and he cites one study that says children are more susceptible to what they see on pornography. The more they view it, the more likely they are to act it out. And then I just saw another study on his website. It’s fairly recent and they had interviewed perpetrators who were 21 that had committed assault assaults when they were juveniles. And the vast majority of them said that pornography was a factor in that. Um, so I think the more research that comes out, of course there’s going to be this correlation that um, pornography was an influencer in that choice. And some ways I think it, you know, people might say like, “Oh this is confirmation bias. You know, you had this idea and then you’re putting it together.” But there are times that we may not even ask about it and it comes out, you know, that someone says, a child tells us, Oh, this person showed me porn or we get a disclosure that it’s directly related. We had a teenage girl who was raped by her brother. He came into her room and said, “I was looking at porn and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.” Like you cannot deny that that was a factor for him. He what he, those images he had in his mind, he then acted out on his sister and that I am sure has destroyed and decimated their family.
Garrett: You mentioned that nurses in your location have started asking questions about pornography. Is that part of the official examination process now?
Heidi: Yes. So for our nurses, our hospital, if we feel like it’s appropriate, we will ask questions about pornography. So if it’s on little kids, we typically are asking the parents, um, if they know anything about the perpetrator. And unfortunately a lot of these young perpetrators are related to their victims because it’s easy access. A sibling is someone they have access to. Um, and so we will ask and if the parents, I mean I think there’s probably a lot of shame and telling us, but that they will tell us, you know, yes. I found, I remember I had a parent told me “Yes, my 13 year old son wasn’t masturbating and filming it on his own phone.” We found him looking at porn. Um, so we will note that and we’re keeping track of these things in the database. We also look at the types of assaults that are being committed.
So do they reflect the types of pornography that kids are exposed to? Um, and then with teenage kids we can obviously ask those questions and we do. So did you send naked pictures to the perpetrator that they sent naked pictures to you? Did they show you porn? Did they disclose? They were looking at porn? You know, we ask what’s born a part of this in any way, shape or form. And oftentimes it is, and again, a lot of times it’s grooming. So even with adult perpetrators they’ll show a child pornography to normalize this experience. “Oh see everyone does this, this adult touching this kid. It’s normal. It’s okay.” Um, so porn is absolutely used as grooming for perpetrators all across the board. I’ll also give the caveat that I think perpetrator is way too strong of a word for a child who’s committed a sexual assault.
I, I have empathy for these kids. I think they have, they’re victims of a culture who has not protected them. They’ve been given a smart phone with no restrictions or limitations. Like of course they’re going to stumble on porn and be like, “This is awesome and terrifying all at the same time.” And so I, I think youth with problematic sexual behaviors or something like that is probably a better term. But we use the term perpetrator when we chart and legally, so it’s just kind of stuck in my head. But um, I’m not saying that these kids should be thrown away or that there’s no hope of, you know, them changing or anything like that. I don’t want to sound like I’m against them. I very much, I think it’s really sad.
Garrett: You’re their advocate as well in some ways.
Heidi: Yes. Yes.
Garrett: One of the things you mentioned was that you said, “Of course they’re going to stumble upon porn. They’re giving, they’re given a phone and of course they’re going to stumble upon porn.” Well, I think a portion of our listeners might disagree. They might say, “My kid doesn’t look at porn. He or she is a good kid.”
Heidi: Oh, every parent tells me that my kid will never be the one that’s going to look at porn, so, okay. Yeah. They might might not be. When you look at their search history, they may not be searching for porn, but they’re being shown porn in the locker room. They are being shown porn on the bus. Kids are watching porn in class. Their friends are talking about porn, their friends have done loaded Pornhub’s app and are looking at stuff you can lie or you can stream porn directly with your Snapchat and Instagram. So it doesn’t have to be on your kid’s search history. You can literally find it anywhere. And even if you’re just accidentally searching for something. For example, last week I watched a trailer for a documentary that was about this whole epidemic and this um, film company in New Zealand, they’re creating document about how porn is affecting kids.
And so I was watching the trailer at work, so I thought work would just have like filters, right? The next activity that popped up was how to give head. So I’m like, “No, get outta here before I get fired from my job.” I was not searching for that content. I’m at work. I thought it would be filtered. Nope, it just popped right up. So if I, as an adult, I’m trying to like make good informed choices. As a kid it’s, it’s almost impossible to not be exposed to it at this point in time. It is everywhere. And then we know kids like their brains are not fully developed. So I think about being in high school and if something was really shocking or crazy, like you wanted to show somebody else, right? Like, “Oh my gosh, guess what I saw!!!” well, we didn’t have smart phones when I was in high school. Thank God. Um, but of course kids are going to be like, “I saw this really horrific thing in porn. Look at it. I want you to share this experience with me. You know, that’s happening because that’s how kids brains work. Um, and so I think when parents are like, no, not my kid. You have to wake up. Your kid could be awesome and resilient and say, no, the porn industry is coming after them, unfortunately.
Garrett: Well, one of the challenges we face as a society is that we have parents trying to describe pornography, but there are two different generations. It’s two different things.
Garrett: And so there’s a little bit of a disconnect. The phrase that you used that I thought was interesting was you said that when kids are first exposed to pornography, it’s very probable that they’re going to feel awesome and terrified at the same time.
Garrett: Can you maybe talk to that a little bit more as, give us a little bit more insight on as to why that might happen or how that can be confusing?
Heidi: Yes, so I completely agree. I think most parents I talk to or most nurses or just any adults that I’m giving a talk to you about child and child sexual assault or pornography, they’re so shocked by the level of violence that is in mainstream pornography tape. There is a grand Canyon size chasm between what kids know pornography is like and what parents think. So they’re imagining like Playboy from 40 years ago and like, “Oh my child saw a naked woman online. Like, okay, that’s probably not great, but whatever, you know, boys will be boys.” kind of thing. They have no idea what their kids are being exposed to. And so, um, pornography by what it is, it creates a physical, physiological response in our bodies. Like, if anyone sees pornography, you’re going to have a reaction to it. You can’t help it. It’s a reaction.
Garrett: The large percentage of people, not everyone, but…
Heidi: Yes, you’re right. [laughter] Thank you. The large percentage of people, you’re gonna see it and you’re gonna have feelings towards it that you cannot control. Like you’re going to be curious. You may be on, you’re getting this dopamine response in your brain, which feels really good. So that’s the awesome part. Like, Whoa, I kind of liked that. But the images that kids are seeing are extreme violence. So it’s not like an image of, Oh, these people are having kind consensual sex with each other. It’s a man being incredibly violent towards a woman and slapping her and calling her names and um, just this huge level of sexual violence that’s being normalized. So for a kid to see, you know, anyone be abused as traumatizing, but then you’re seeing it in a sexual image of it. It’s really confusing.
Garrett: And the person that’s receiving the abuse oftentimes, shows pleasure.
Heidi: Yes. Exactly. So then that’s confusing because what is that teaching kids? It’s that you should be violent. And then for girls you should enjoy it.
Garrett: And some parents might be thinking like, well my parent, my kid’s not going to watch violent material. And one thing that I would say is that, and you can kind of give your opinion as well as like even if they’re not seeking out this aggressive and violent type of pornography, it’s sitting on the same shelf right next to pornography that appears to be very consensual.
Garrett: So your kids are, if they’re walking down this road searching for pornography, it’s very probable they’re running across aggressive and violent porn.
Heidi: Oh absolutely. Yes. I completely agree. And I think that even the problem with kids looking at, even if it was like something that we thought was quote unquote consensual or there wasn’t violence or things like that at the very like basic level, it is teaching kids that it’s okay to objectify. It’s okay to look at another human in a sexual way and as an object. And that’s really dangerous. So I think all the way around pornography’s incredibly damaging to anybody’s brain, but especially at developing brain. But then when we added that level of violence, it’s creating so much sexual trauma between kids. And so I’ve heard studies that kids today are having less sex than they’ve ever had before. So I think some people are like, “Okay, great, that’s a win.” But I think really what we’re seeing is that yes, boys are learning from porn.
Like you should be violent girls like it. Exactly like you’re saying, these women’s reaction in porn is that they enjoy it. They’re not saying “No.” Um, and so then they try that with a girl they have sex with. And of course it doesn’t feel good. It’s horrible. Nobody’s enjoying the experience and they both walk away feeling really disillusioned, lonely, and think, “I don’t want to do that again.” And so porn is, is not helpful in teaching about sex at all. But when we see statistics, like “Great kids are having less sex than ever.”, it’s not a win. These kids’ sexuality has been decimated by what they’re being taught.
Garrett: Yeah. Um, we’ve covered a lot of heavy topics. Um, Heidi, we’re looking to you for some hope. Can you give us some hope in this happening? What’s the good side? What’s, where’s the momentum at?
Heidi: Yeah. I can give some hope. I think that’s really important. Um, so I think the hopeful thing is that people are having conversations about this, like the fact that there is a podcast about this or that people are even willing to sit in an audience and listen to this is incredible. I don’t know that that could have been done even five years ago. The fact that people will stand up and say like not everything about pornography is awesome, even though it’s a message that gets pushed all the time. Um, but something that I’ve even seen in my own city that has been really helpful is this last year I testified, um, before the Kansas Senate committee and I talked to them about porn and about child on child sexual assault and they passed a bill that was actually just signed into law that any kid in state custody in the state of Kansas will, that has committed a sexual assault will have specific therapy for kids with problematic sexual behaviors. So any kid in foster care that’s committed sexual assault gets therapy that is specifically for this issue, which is amazing.
Garrett: We kind of talked about that a little bit. Them being also a victim.
Heidi: Absolutely. So I think that’s huge.
Garrett: Teaching them correct and healthy behaviors.
Heidi: Exactly. And better coping mechanisms. And the recidivism rate is actually really low for kids if they’ve gone through therapy. So if a kid has committed a sexual assault, they go through proper therapy specifically for this issue, their recidivism rate is 3% so the chance that they will re-offend again is 3% that’s amazing. With adults, it’s much higher. So I think if we can intervene with kids and say like, “Hey, this isn’t healthy.”, you know, like how do we learn how to have like healthy relationships with other people?
There is a lot of hope for these kids. They go on to lead healthy, productive lives. Um, but with adults it’s, it’s almost like, I don’t want to say it’s too late, but I heard a talk a couple of months ago that a therapist said, by the time an adult perpetrator is caught, it’s likely they’ve assaulted 240 people. That is just mind blowing. But it’s if a kid who is assaulted,…
Garrett: Do you remember which stat that is?
Heidi: Um… Marianne Laden is the one who told it to me.
Garrett: That does sound…
Garrett: That’s a big number.
Heidi: Yes. Yeah. I have to ask her if she can tell me where she got that.
Garrett: We can look it up too. So you said…?
Heidi: So with kids they haven’t committed that many assaults typically. And so I think if we can intervene after they have started going down that road, there is hope for them to not grow up to be a perpetrator spending the rest of their life in the criminal justice system in and out of prison. Um, so I think that’s really hopeful. It’s really helpful to me to see different, I think even in Kansas city religious groups coming together to say like, “Hey, how do we get on board with this? How do we teach kids about healthy and porn?”
Um, all of those things really make me helpful. So I’m grateful people are having conversations about it. Uh, yeah.
Garrett: I don’t know if you know about Fight the New Drug and nonreligious non legislative nonprofit. And so when you said that you’ve seen religious groups come together and it gives you hope, I think it’s also important. You need the those who are not religious to come and speak out and speak for these kids that oftentimes can’t speak for themselves. And we need everyone in this conversation.
Heidi: We do. And I think because of the amount of children who are currently being exposed to pornography, like no one can be left out of this. Like everybody has to be on board.
Garrett: Well we appreciate everything you’re doing. You’ve uh, examined over a thousand kids?
Garrett: I just want you to know, Heidi, that what you’re doing is great and thank you. You seem like a very cool person. You have a nose ring and a little cool tattoo. [laughter]
Garrett: It was just a very good conversation and so much good insight from a person who’s been on the front lines. So we appreciate you, Heidi. Thanks for coming.
Heidi: Thanks for having me.
Thanks for joining on this episode of Consider Before Consuming. Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious, and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography, by raising awareness on it’s harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
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