Unhealthy sexual culture embedded

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the latest case of sexual exploitation of girls by schoolboys.

The case reportedly involved senior boys from an unnamed secondary school who got girls drunk before performing indecent acts on them, photographing the activity, and posting the pictures online.

The case was reported to the school, and police were involved, but the boys only received warnings about their behaviour.

The circumstances have disturbing parallels with that of the self-proclaimed ''Roastbusters'', the group of teenagers who boasted online about having sex with drunk girls, some as young as 13.

While the details are unclear, what the latest incident signals is concerning.

It is unclear whether the girls involved were minors, but they were intoxicated, so the issue of consent is to the fore, and the legal ramifications clear.

The boys reportedly uploaded the images to a private Facebook page, which would indicate they were aware their actions were wrong.

By getting the girls drunk, there appeared to be an element of premeditation.

As senior pupils, preparing to leave school for further education or the workforce, it is hard to believe they were not aware of the ethical and potential legal implications of their actions.

Indeed, they are likely to have been taught about online and personal conduct as part of their schooling.

Their actions demonstrate a lack of respect for women - and that is blight on society.

Such predatory and abusive behaviour is not new.

In recent years, it seems there has been a never-ending stream of revelations of historic sex abuse cases, often involving those in positions of authority.

The sentencing last Thursday of another teacher in Northland adds to the shameful list.

The climate is changing slowly.

While it is encouraged - and therefore somewhat ''easier'' - to report sexual offending, it still takes immense individual courage to do so.

But sexual offenders still thrive - and the online age has provided another medium in which their actions can be perpetuated.

The situation is not helped by our sexually saturated environment we have created, which can be difficult for many adults to navigate, let alone impressionable children.

It is increasingly difficult to explain fundamental messages about respect and consent to youngsters when the competing ones about sexual desirability and availability are pervasive in our modern culture.

Schools, cyber safety groups and the Government (through its recent Harmful Digital Communications Act) are trying to do the right thing.

But the messages must be followed through with meaningful action, which has not occurred here or in the Roastbusters case.

In lieu of any criminal prosecution (which could have considered various appropriate sentencing options), it is to be hoped stringent measures have at least been taken here, including targeted education and monitoring, so the boys are aware how unacceptable their actions are, and are armed with the right skills for the future.

There is a certain argument to be made that boys are victims of the society we have created, and deserve help and support through early intervention.

But it must be remembered there are indisputable victims here - and potential future victims to consider.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority report into the Roastbusters case said police let those victims down.

It would be appalling if history was repeating, and nothing was learnt from that episode.

Even if punishment is deemed the last resort for these boys, protection and support should be the priorities for these and other females.

That means doing everything possible to dispel the attitudes behind these actions before they become entrenched and perpetuated in the all-too frequent pattern of sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse.

Victims should not have to live in fear and shame, and shoulder the burden of responsibility.

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