The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the recent sentencing of Daniel Morcombe’s killer along with the imprisonment last week of former television star Robert Hughes after being found guilty of nine sex offense against three underage girls, have all heightened public attention on the scourge of child sexual assault.
There is deep distress in the community that defenceless children are used in such evil ways. But the broader culture that encourages the abuse of the children goes unaddressed. The same loathing that is directed toward child sexual abuse has not been extended to the mainstream promotion of paedophilic fantasies for profit.
Predators are emboldened and more networked through thriving internet child porn rings. But there are other drivers of the trade in children’s bodies. Products in local newsagencies, milk bars and retail outlets and online, normalise and eroticise child sexual assault.
Bookworld, Barnes & Noble and Amazon have been exposed for selling hundreds of rape and incest titles in categories emphasising terms like “taboo,” “forced,” and “reluctant.” Titles included Daddy takes my Virginity, Daddy forces himself on little teen, Daddy’s Sex Slave and I tempted Daddy.
On the same site as Bookworld’s Father and Daughter Erotica section, was Repair Your Life: A Program for Recovery from Incest and Childhood Abuse. There are currently 30 titles listed under ‘‘Daddy Fantasy’’.
Amazon was forced to withdraw The Paedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Childlover’s Code of Conduct, written by a paedophile. But other pro-paedophile titles continue to be promoted.
Novels with incest themes typically eroticise sex between an older male relative, a father or sometimes uncle, and a young, virginal daughter or niece. We know that the prevalence of abuse by men known to victims, such as family members, is particularly high. So why allow publications that normalise it? Read more
As published in the Sydney Morning Herald 14 April 2014
Adelaide couple Mark and Matt, both 29, have acquired Thai-designed newborns Tate and Estelle through commercialised surrogacy overseas. According to Adelaide’s Sunday Mail, the dual boy-girl delivery an hour apart by caesarean section to separate surrogate women for gay parents is believed to be an Australian first.
These babies have a complex genealogical history.
They were conceived from eggs extracted from a single Caucasian donor woman (country not identified), separately fertilised with the men’s sperm, then implanted into two Thai women who acted as surrogate mothers.
Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, and adoption by gay people not allowed in South Australia. The men spent $80,000 to obtain the children.
I’m not about to make a case that Mark and Matt won’t love the children or provide good homes for them. And it’s not just gay men engaging in reproductive tourism in developing countries – an estimated 500 couples a year are doing it, with figures showing a tripling in three years.
What most concerns me is the complete erasure of the mother in these acts of global womb renting by wealthy Westerners. This latest case highlights this mother disappearance.
There is no mother in the story. A graph shows the men as ”Biological Fathers”, the women as ”Surrogate 1” and ”Surrogate 2”. Elsewhere they are ”women”, not ”mothers”.
The birth mothers won’t ever be contacted or shared in photos, even though it was their voices the babies heard and responded to in-utero, their bodies who nourished and sustained them and prepared for their arrival. Read more.
Rosie became pregnant at 17 last year. She was labelled a slut. Melissa, 14, ran away from home so her parents couldn’t force her to have an abortion.
Jackie, 33, had a violent partner who didn’t want their baby. There was no public housing available and refuges were full. She slept in her car.
Kat, 32, was threatened by her boyfriend. She says: ”I decided when I saw my little boy kicking on the screen I was going to keep him. I knew this would make me a single parent – I had been told in no uncertain terms I was on my own unless I ‘toed the line’.”
These are just some of the stories of women I am aware of who decided to have a child in difficult circumstances – even though it meant bearing the label ”single mother”, with all its alienation and stigma.
They wanted their babies. They were determined to be the best mothers they could be. All did it tough. But their love for their child pulled them through. It’s the kind of love you need when you’re being marginalised, told you are a bludger and a leech. Even that you are to blame for the ills of the world.
Senator Cory Bernardi in his book The Conservative Revolution suggests there are higher levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls ”who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother”. Read more here
When pictures of the female players with full-forward breasts were splashed everywhere following Legends (aka Lingerie) Football League games in Sydney and Melbourne this month, it underscored what has been a losing year for women.
Little publicity is given to women’s sport in general. Did you even know there are female gridiron teams, where players wear full protective clothing like men? But attention wasn’t a problem in this case. ”It’s far better than watching netball,” wrote Aaron Langmaid in Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
The high ratio of photos to text online was significant. Camera angles captured bikini-topped flesh and skimpy undies in reports that failed to even mention the score. Women’s bodies were on display, treated as a spectacle.
There were few advances for women in other public areas either. Australia now has fewer women in cabinet than the government of Afghanistan.
The Human Rights Commission has shown that sexual harassment remains widespread in Australian workplaces and that attempts to address it have stalled. The Bureau of Statistics presents similar disturbing figures on the harassment and stalking of women.
Victims of sexual harassment and assault continue to be blamed for what is done to them. The Victorian parole board review found that deadly mistakes had been made in the release of women’s assailants, leaving them free to strike again with ferocity. Read more here.
If Tracy Connelly were alive today and living in France, it’s possible she might have found a way out of prostitution. She would have at least known that the society she lived in cared enough to want to help her out. But Tracy lived in Australia and was murdered on July 21, by a man suspected of buying her for prostitution on a street in Melbourne.
Australia, like France, has ratified Article 6 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which requires member states to take ”all appropriate legislative and other measures” to deal with the ”exploitation of the prostitution of women”.
But there is little assistance available here to help women like Tracy free themselves from that life. A small number of struggling support services get by on negligible government funding, even though there are an estimated 26,000 people involved in prostitution here.
A small and very hungry girl is searched by her teacher, who finds five grains of wheat in her pocket.
The teacher beats her to death in front of her classmates.
A teenage boy witnesses the public execution of his mother and brother.
A man is made to help load the corpses of prisoners dead from starvation, put them in a pot and burn them. A mother is forced to drown her baby in a bucket.
Are these the accounts of witnesses to crimes against humanity in a concentration camp or torture chamber of the past? Something from Auschwitz, perhaps, or acts committed under Stalin or Pol Pot?
No, these are human rights violations committed in the 21st century in the modern day prison camp ludicrously named the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The horrors inflicted daily on up to 200,000 prisoners have not, as yet, penetrated the minds and hearts of most people.
North Korea’s camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and 12 times as long as the Nazi extermination camps. Yet we’ve barely noticed. Read entire article here.
Molly, 16, (at their request, only first names are used) was asleep in the home of a friend after a party a year ago when a boy snuck into the room.
The schoolgirl from regional NSW says she felt powerless. ”I felt threatened. I guess I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, that all he wanted was sex.
”I do think he knew I didn’t want to do it, but he also knew he would be able to force me to anyway, and I do believe he had power over me.”
When others heard about it they called Molly – a virgin until then – an ”attention seeking slut” who was ”asking for it”.
Aurora, 16, was at a party where a drunk boy tried to assault her. If not for her friend’s intervention, she would have been raped.
”A friend had to pull him off me so I could get away. If she hadn’t been there I don’t know what might have happened. I am, petite, 5’6′, he was at least 6’4. He could have easily overpowered me.” She was shaken and distressed for days. Neither girl reported what happened.
This is the reality for so many girls in their sexual experiences. And the pressure isn’t just from strangers.
An idea floats around that girls are sexually freer than ever. That they are exercising ”agency” in their sexual decisions and having great sex lives. That’s not what I’m hearing as I talk to girls all over the country.
For so many girls it appears the boy calls the shots. It’s submission disguised as freedom. Many feel they are not allowed to say ”no”.
And the stories girls used to tell me at 16 and 17, they are now telling me at 13 and 14.
Somehow, despite the women’s movement, despite ”Girl Power” sloganeering, girls have become disempowered.
Shannon is bright, articulate and confident. I met her at a Tasmanian school recently. She is a leader among her peers. Yet she captured what so many girls are experiencing: a struggle to assert themselves in relationships with males.
”I felt this overwhelming feeling of being lower than my boyfriend,” she said. ”I felt as though he was the male therefore he was dominant over me and I was there purely to fulfil his physical needs.
”I feel my needs, both sexually and emotionally, come second to my partner’s.”
At a private girls’ school in Melbourne, girls shared their experiences. Jen, 16, said: ”When you are in love they are allowed to treat you however.”
”If you say you want to wait, you are asked ‘why?”’ said Marly, 16.
”Girls want love and they are willing to compromise themselves to get it,” said Marina, 16. ”They need that validation. Boys feel they have more worth. They often think when they are in love, even when he treats you badly, they think this is meant to happen, I deserve this, this is how relationships are meant to be.”
”We are stuck in mindset of them having power over us,” said 16-year-old Micaela. Samantha, 16, believes girls are taught by media and popular culture that having sex will give them a sense of worth. ”If you don’t have sex he will leave for someone else.”
A 15-year-old Tasmanian student, teased for being a virgin, was planning to ”get it over and done with” with a 19-year-old she had met twice. He was happy to oblige, telling her feelings didn’t have to come into it. She told me this with tears streaming down her face. It was clear she wasn’t ready.
Girls say that it’s hard to keep feelings out. ”Girls get affected more, they are more emotionally connected and think they are in love,” said Marly.
”For girls sex is more of a sacred thing with someone you love. With boys it is seen as more of a joke … they have a different mindset. Girls have different attitudes, guys don’t seem to care that much,” said Jen.
Girls describe being touched inappropriately, frequently pushing away unwanted hands.
”At parties boys come up and just touch you,” said Micaela. ”You are there as an object. If you don’t do what they want they call you frigid”.
But girls are growing tired of being reduced and degraded in these ways. They are increasingly demanding respect-based relationships in which their wishes and desires are treated equally, not last. ”I stand up for myself now,” Aurora told me.
The sexual landscape is grim, but let’s hope more girls are empowered to follow Aurora’s lead. Listening to girls’ experiences and supporting them to stand up for themselves – as well as calling boys out on their abusive and too often criminal behaviour – is more helpful to them than persisting with media fantasies about the wonderful and liberated sex lives of Australian girls in the 21st century.
A female teacher at a Tasmanian school where I spoke on the objectification of women could not stay to hear the end of my talk.
The images I showed were too confronting, bringing back traumas suffered two decades ago.
”The very acts that have become part of my trauma were there on display as a part of mainstream culture,” she said.
Do advertisers, editors, fashion, music and video-game producers think about how their violent images traumatise female survivors of sexual abuse and degradation?
T-shirts in surf stores depict women naked, bound and splattered in blood. Mainstream advertising shows women pinned down in simulated gang-rape scenes, tied up in cars boots, buried, chopped into pieces, decapitated. Women are shown as passive, vulnerable, often naked and as sex aids.
These images, among 200 in my presentation, took Genevieve back 20 years.
Once an idealistic young person, Genevieve worked hard to turn her love of acting and performing arts into admission to a prestigious performing arts school.
”It went without saying that you did not get in just on talent, but on marketability,” she says.
”I remember consciously dressing in a low-cut body suit and tight jeans aware that my acting skills were only part of my ticket in. From that moment on, I was a commodity and accepted treatment as such.”
Groomed by a lecturer, she ended up drugged and sexually assaulted for three days by five men. Each played out fantasies that were listed in explicit writing on the walls. Because of their power and status, she didn’t go to the police, fearing retribution.
She also felt that being cross-examined in the courts would retraumatise her. She had seen what had happened to other victims.
What Genevieve suffered came back to her as I spoke. Seeing my images caused her to panic. Her heart beat rapidly, she went into a hot sweat and she felt herself dissociating and losing time.
She says she felt retraumatised. ”I could feel a rising wave of fear. I’ve spent 20 years rebuilding my life. Every day I have to make a wall between me and the world. I’m so busy trying to protect myself. Deviant behaviour is now on public display every day.”
Do those who profit from the images they use to sell things even care about the impact on women like Genevieve? She is worried about the normalising of these images to children. ”What hope do my boys have of knowing where the line is? What hope does a girl who experiences these things have of getting understanding and support when she is confronted by constant exposure to images that say it is OK?” Genevieve asks.
Two years ago, Brian McFadden (his fiancee at the time, Delta Goodrem, was an anti-violence ambassador) released a song titled Just the way you are (Drunk at the Bar), which contains the lines: ”I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage … I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage.”
In response, one survivor wrote in a comment on my blog:
”So, Brian McFadden, do you think this is something to poke fun at? Does my story deserve its own catchy tune and rounds of laughter and applause because you were so clever to come up with something witty that ultimately diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings about it?”
Such imagery and words, as used by McFadden, create a harmful cultural narrative about what it means to be a woman today. Media and popular culture reflect values. Any reading of the social landscape tells us women are really only good for one thing: to be used sexually.
Anti-violence campaigner and sexual assault survivor Kate Ravenscroft points out that one in three women is a victim of violence, yet the trauma of their experience is diminished and belittled.
The cultural messages that make violence appear sexy are part of the same culture in which victims of sexual assault have to survive.
”Seeing that violence treated flippantly, carelessly, can be devastating,” she says.
Women like Genevieve battle to control rising panic most days, everywhere they go, because the acts done to them are on display so casually, with the tacit approval of governments who love to repeat a mantra that self-regulation is working. It’s not, and it’s real women who are hurt because of it.
In December 2008, aged 39, Rachael Lonergan was diagnosed with aggressive triple negative breast cancer.
The Sydney freelance media strategist spent 2009 in treatment with two operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and more.
Lonergan considers herself recovered. ”They never say never, but so far, so good,” she says.
But what continues to make her sick is the way women’s breasts are sexualised and objectified by companies who pinkwash their motives by supporting breast cancer charities, especially during October – Breast Awareness Month.
Lonergan has written a complaint to underwear brand Bonds about its new ”Boobs” campaign.
”My ‘donation’ to research in the form of malignant flesh should not be devalued, by my cancer being reduced to a Benny Hill punchline,” she tweeted recently.
Bonds has set up Boobs billboards in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Its website promised to ”reveal everything”, which, unsurprisingly, was its new bra range. Bonds also has a partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).
One in eight Australian women will develop breast cancer. On average, seven women die from breast cancer every day. This year it’s predicted 14,940 women will get the disease, but juvenile boob-centric campaigns trivialise it. Should we be about ”saving boobies” or saving lives?
”I honestly thought this year the ‘pink industry’ had moved beyond the ‘awareness via titillation’ strategies and was so mad to see the Bonds work,” Lonergan says.
”I attended an NBCF forum in August where the chief operating officer assured me that they take all marketing partnerships seriously and would never do anything to denigrate survivors. I told her of a number of off-colour examples they’ve supported in the past and she claimed they had a new attitude to these things. Apparently not.”
Breast cancer survivors take these pinkified sexed-up campaigns personally. They survived, but for many their breasts didn’t.
The sexification of breast cancer ”awareness” means you mainly see women with perky breasts intact, and you’d hardly know the average age for contracting the disease is 60.
”Every woman I know who has been through the same thing has issues with how their breasts look and feel after surgery,” says Lonergan.
”You get cut apart and chunks removed, burnt with radiotherapy, nerve damage and then all the time confronted by breast-cancer-charity-approved campaigns saying, ‘Your worth as a woman is in having perfect, undamaged breasts,’ is just so depressing. It affects … self-confidence, relationships. I just don’t accept that there is a greater good being served by these kinds of campaigns.
”No one makes sexual jokes about men who require prostatectomies to save their lives, do they?”
Sexualising breast cancer campaigns is nothing new. Slogans have included ”Help The Hooters”, ”Save The Jugs”, ”Man Up, Save Second Base”, ”Save The Tattas”, ”Save The Headlights” and ”We’ll Go a Long Way for a Good Rack”.
The Grosvenor on George topless bar in Brisbane boasts of selling ”the world’s first boob-shaped pizzas”. Proceeds go to breast cancer charity the McGrath Foundation.
The Nena and Pasadena clothing company (N&P), co-founded by new Sydney Swans star Buddy Franklin, promotes the Tour de Crawf bike ride supporting Breast Cancer Network Australia. He has appeared on N&P’s social-media sites with the network’s branding. But N&P gear pictures women headless or faceless, handcuffed and positioned in degrading poses such as on all fours or curled up on the ground.
TITS (Two In The Shirt) is a porn T-shirt brand sold at City Beach. Their range includes images of women in lingerie ”checking” each other’s breasts. A ”Check 1 Check 2” T-shirt shows a topless woman checking her breasts. Semi-dressed women shown breast to breast are shown adorned with the pink ribbon.
Nominated for best apparel at Adult Video News awards, proceeds from the ”Tits for Tits” range also go to breast cancer groups.
I’m not saying breast cancer awareness campaigns haven’t been effective – and certainly they receive more funding than cancers that don’t attack breasts. Responding to critics of the Bonds campaign, NBCF chief executive Carol Renouf says, with the money pledged by the company, the ends justifies the means.
But boobs-for-a-cause campaigns demean women by appealing to the potential loss of a sexual object, rather than the potential loss of her life.
It felt like I had arrived at a wedding. The girls were dressed like brides. Their hair was immaculate. Their necks were bedecked with jewellery. Happy chatter filled the air as they awaited the biggest event of their lives so far.
These were slum girls, Dalits, on the lowest rung of India’s class ladder. Their lives before then had been spent collecting rags out of stinking piles of garbage, to sell for their family’s survival.
But today they would graduate.
There were many who believed such girls were not worthy of an education. Going to school was just for the wealthy and privileged, not to be wasted on ”untouchables”.
But a Christian NGO gave them this gift. These girls were not unclean but worthy of dignity and respect. Worthy, even, of an education. The basic human right of education belonged to them as much as anyone else.
I was travelling in India with two girlfriends and two of our daughters, visiting aid projects. I was given the great honour of giving out the graduation certifications.
After the ceremony, the girls joined together and sang We Shall Overcome in Hindi. We all cried.
The girls now had hope; not just for themselves, but for their whole families. They were the first in their families to learn how to read and write. No more wading through muck and slime to scavenge something to sell to be able to eat.
I realised anew that day the power of education, not just in the life of one individual girl, but to break entire cycles of poverty.
A new film, screening in Australia for the International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, drives this message home with compelling and intimate force.
Internationally acclaimed, Girl Rising shows the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world.
It tells the stories of nine girls born into cultures where girls come last.
”It’s a simple fact,” narrator Liam Neeson says, ”there is nobody more vulnerable than a girl.”
Girls are marginalised and discriminated against, denied opportunities due to harmful traditions and social norms. There are 66 million girls currently out of school. And yet, educating a girl can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation.
If India enrolled 1 per cent more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 per cent more as an adult. Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children.
A child born to a literate mother is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school.
Girl Rising chronicles the struggles they face in this fight for an education: early marriage, extreme poverty, child slavery. In daydreams they picture rows of sharpened pencils at desks, the chant of the alphabet, of school uniforms and shelves full of books.
Suma works as a bonded labourer in Nepal. Sold at six, and called ”Unlucky Girl” by her owners, she sleeps in the goat shed, eats scraps from her master’s plate and is beaten daily. Eventually social workers enrol her in a Room to Read night class.
They demand she be set free, telling her owners that bonded slavery has been illegal in Nepal since 2000. Suma becomes the last bonded worker in her family.
”I am my own master now,” she says. ”After me, everyone will be free; I feel like I can do anything.” Suma wants to use her education to help all girls get to school.
Azmera is 13. Her widowed mother is under pressure to marry her to an older man. But her older brother says he will sell everything he has to keep her in school, thus avoiding a fate that will see 38,000 girls married today.
Amina, in Afghanistan, is married as a child to a cousin. ”My body is a resource to be spent for pleasure or profit,” she says. But she wants to change things for other girls.
”I will speak. I will not be silenced. I am the beginning of a different story.”
She lays out a challenge to all of us. ”Don’t tell me you are on my side; your silence has spoken for you.”
As the film tells us: ”These girls hold our future in their hands. If they get what they need incredible things will happen.”
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