Emma Rush, who co-wrote the Australia Institute reports Corporate Paedophilia: The sexualisation of children in Australia and Letting Children be Children: Stopping the sexualisation of children in Australia and who I’ve published here before, wrote a response to a piece by Emma Tom in The Australian last weekend. It didn’t get published there, but it will get published here.
It is a matter of grave concern that children continue to suffer sexual abuse, and in large numbers. And it is understandable that survivors such as Emma Tom (The Australian, March 20) have strong opinions about what does and does not cause child sexual abuse. But her suggestion that the sexualisation of children has no impact on the prevalence of child sexual abuse is at odds with the views of Australian leaders in child health, welfare and development.
Late in 2006, when the debate around the sexualisation of children was running hot, an open letter was published in this newspaper, signed by representatives of twelve child advocacy organisations including the Australian Centre for Child Protection, Childwise Australia, and the Australian Childhood Foundation.
Their views about commercial practices that prematurely sexualise children were unequivocally expressed – these practices ‘set young children up for inappropriate and dangerous roles and behaviours, and make them more vulnerable by far, to sexual danger and harm.’
With respect to the impacts of child sexualisation on adults, the American Psychological Association Taskforce on the Sexualisation of Girls reported in 2007: ‘When girls are dressed to resemble adult women … adults may project adult motives as well as an adult level of responsibility and agency on girls. Images of precocious sexuality in girls may serve to normalize abusive practices such as child abuse, child prostitution, and the sexual trafficking of children… the sexualisation of girls may also contribute to a market for sex with children through the cultivation of new desires and experiences.’ (p. 35)
No-one who speaks out against the premature sexualisation of children claims it is the sole cause of child sexual abuse. Such a claim would be as ridiculous as Tom’s suggestion that the premature sexualisation of children plays no role: the causes of child sexual abuse are acknowledged by experts to be complex.
Dr Emma Rush
Lecturer in Ethics and Philosophy
Charles Sturt University