MTR guest blogger for The Australian Childhood Foundation
This blog article was authored by Melinda Tankard Reist. Melinda is best known for her work addressing sexualisation, objectification, harms of pornography, sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence against women. Co-founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation. Melinda is also an ambassador for World Vision Australia, Compassion Australia and the Raise Foundation. She is named in the Who’s Who of Australian Women and the World Who’s Who of Women. – See more
When 5 year olds create porn themed images – in class
The school principal was perplexed.
I had just delivered a keynote on the impact of sexualisation and pornography exposure on children and young people at a conference of school leaders in NSW.
During the break she approached me, opened her phone and revealed an image created by a group of 5 year old boys, at the Catholic primary school she headed in Sydney. It showed two women, scantily dressed, in provocative poses.
The boys, along with fellow pupils, had been asked to prepare an in-class assignment using the pic collage app to make pictures. This is what the boys stood up and presented to the class.
One was so pleased with the work he inserted his face in between the woman’s bodies at breast height. These little boys didn’t think they’d done anything wrong.
This incident is just yet another outworking of the impact of a pornified world on our children.
Children being hurt. Children hurting others.
Everywhere I go I hear stories. Of children using sexual language. Children touching other children inappropriately. Children playing ‘sex games’ in the school yard. Children requesting sexual favours. Children showing other children porn on their devices. Children distressed by explicit images they came across while googling an innocent term. Children exposed to porn ‘pop ups’ on sites featuring their favourite cartoon characters or while playing online games.
Educators, child welfare groups, childcare workers, mental health bodies medicos and parents are reeling. All are struggling to deal with the proliferation of hyper-sexualised imagery and its impacts on the most vulnerable – children whose sexuality is still under construction, children for whom pornography becomes a template for sexual activity, a ‘how to’ manual for future use.
Porn before first kiss
Pornography exposure – for young men at least – is at saturation point. Research has shown some worrying trends related to earlier onset exposure.
According to some sources, the average first age of exposure to pornography is 11 years, with 100% of 15-year-old males and 80% of 15-year-old females reporting that they have been exposed to violent, degrading online pornography.
Children are seeing violent depictions of sex, torture, rape and incest porn. Boys are having their sexual arousal conditioned by depictions of extreme cruelty, seeing women being assaulted in every orifice by groups of men. And all this before their first sexual experience – even their first kiss.
The late Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs, AO, warned that online pornography was turning children into copycat sexual predators. In her submission to the 2016 Senate inquiry into the harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet’, she drew links between pornography and child sex abuse, paedophilia and child-on-child sexual abuse.
Professor Briggs cited a distressing litany of attacks on children by classmates, including a four-year-old boy requiring a chaperone to stop him assaulting other children in ‘sex games’ at a South Australian kindergarten, a six-year-old boy who forced oral sex on kindergarten boys in the school cubbyhouse and a group of boys who followed a five-year-old girl into the toilets, held her down and urinated in a ‘golden shower’.
Teaching children that sex is about use and abuse
The Australian Medical Association has also spoken out, with vice-president Stephen Parnis saying the internet was exposing children to sexually explicit content that taught that sex was about “use and abuse.”
“There are increasing levels of aggression and the physical harm resulting from sexual acts is becoming more apparent,” he said.
The Australian Psychological Association has added its voice to rising concern, describing the “impact on young people’s expectations of sex, sexuality and relationships [and] increases in sexual violence amongst children and young people.”
Over the past decade, we have seen a growing trend of younger children engaging in problem sexual and sexually abusive behaviours generally aimed at younger children – in other words, children sexually assaulting children… Pornography is providing too many 10-year-olds with the mechanical knowledge to anally, orally and/or vaginally penetrate younger siblings, cousins and acquaintances.
In a submission to the Victorian the Royal Commission into Family Violence, Etheredge & Lemon stated that:
Intra-family (within family) sexual violence or sibling on sibling sexual violence is the most common assault pattern of children being treated for Problem Sexual Behaviours (PSB).
Online pornography is regularly accessed by children treated for PSB each year in Victoria
75% of 7 to 11-year-old boys and 67% of 7 to 11-year-old girls in treatment for PSB reported early sexualisation through online pornography.
Sex offences by school-aged children have quadrupled in Australia in only four years. Authorities cited attribute increased exposure to online pornography for the rise. The Australian Psychological Society estimates that adolescent boys are responsible for around 20% of rapes of adult women and between 30% and 50% of all reported sexual assaults of children.
A growing body of evidence
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that children who view pornographic material are at risk of harm to their psychological development and mental health at a critical time in their development.
In 2012 the UK Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to pornography has a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.
In the foreword to the 2012 report Basically … Porn is Everywhere, Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England Sue Berelowitz highlighted violence done to girls by porn-influenced boys:
The first year of our Inquiry … revealed shocking rates of sexual violation of children and young people… The Inquiry team heard children recount appalling stories about being raped by both older males and peers, often in extremely violent and sadistic circumstances, and in abusive situations that frequently continued for years… The use of and children’s access to pornography emerged as a key theme… It was mentioned by boys in witness statements after being apprehended for the rape of a child, one of whom said it was ‘like being in a porn movie’; we had frequent accounts of both girls’ and boys’ expectations of sex being drawn from pornography they had seen; and professionals told us troubling stories of the extent to which teenagers and younger children routinely access pornography, including extreme and violent images. We also found compelling evidence that too many boys believe that they have an absolute entitlement to sex at any time, in any place, in any way and with whomever they wish. Equally worryingly, we heard that too often girls feel they have no alternative but to submit to boys’ demands, regardless of their own wishes.
A 2012 review of research on ‘The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents’ found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires.” The authors found that “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed.”
On the issue of sexualisation generally, the biggest study ever, of all the research published in peer-reviewed, English-language journals between 1995 and 2015 found:
consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.
Sexual harassment and bullying, a daily experience for girls
This exposure shapes and conditions the sexual attitudes and behaviours of boys which plays out in the lives of girls. Young women I encounter tell of sexual harassment, bullying, pressures to send sexual images and porn-inspired sex acts. I documented their experiences in the article Growing up in Pornland: Girls Have Had It with Porn Conditioned Boys (which seemed to strike a chord, becoming the most read article ever published by ABC Religion and Ethics).
We are engaging on an unprecedented assault on the healthy sexual development of children. The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible. Sexual conquest and domination are untempered by the bounds of respect, intimacy, and authentic human connection. Young people are not learning about intimacy, friendship and love, but about cruelty and humiliation.
If we are serious about addressing epidemic levels of violence against women, we have to address the drivers of that violence. Pornography can no longer be ignored as one of those drivers, by eroticising and normalising violence as ‘sexy’.
Education can help
We can do better than this. As professionals in the field who work with children, you have the passion and influence to offer a counter-attack of education and mentoring. Programs should strive at least for the following. We need to help young people critically analyse porn’s messages and help them understand what they are seeing does not reflect reality. We also need to help empower them to navigate their highly sexualised world, resist unwanted sexual activity and seek relationships based on respect, and authentic human connection.
The pornographic experiment on the healthy sexual development of our children must end now.
UK Glamour Magazine has included Suri Cruise in its annual list of the world’s “Best Dressed Women”
Up there with Samantha Cameron and Alexa Chung, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter is rated number 21 – ahead of Lady Gaga and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Suri Cruise is 5 years old. This little ‘fashion icon’ still needs help dressing herself and uses a dummy. She is not a woman and Glamour UK shouldn’t have included her in the list. Doing so contributes to the unremitting adultification of celebrity children (and non-celebrity children). It invites us to see Suri Cruise as much older than she really is, which is dangerous to her.
Here’s what I had to say about it on Channel 7’s Morning Show last week. Journalist Melissa Hoyer and parenting commentator Yvette Vignando felt the same way.
Botox injections for 8 year old pageant girl
In the latest installment of ‘horrors inflicted on small girls in the name of child beauty pageants’ comes this story, about an 8 year old in the US who undergoes Botox to keep up with the other girls in the tough world of pageants.
Kerry Campbell has admitted that she regularly injects daughter Britney with Botox. Apparently Britney had complained about the wrinkles on her face – after they were pointed out by other pageant children- so her mum thought it a good idea to administer Botox. “Kids are harsh and being confident is something she has to be with them,” Campbell said.
You can watch her interview with Good Morning America here:
In my view mother and daughter are both victims of beauty culture, and especially of child beauty pageant culture, which reeks with over the top beauty and grooming practices, sexualised dance routines and expensive glitzy costumes. Five year old child beauty pageant ‘star’ Eden Wood is being touted for interviews with Australian media with a price tag of up to $20,000. Oh, and she’ll be doing her Las Vegas Showgirl routine when she gets here in July.
How many more reasons do we need to keep child beauty pageants out of Australia? Please join the campaign. Sign the petition, join the Austrailan’s Against Child Beauty Pageants facebook and attend the protests country-wide May 24.
Sexualisation, violence, commercialisation, commodification: Right to Childhood conference hears evidence of harm to children
The Right to Childhood conference last Friday at Sydney’s Wesley Centre was a wake-up call to a society hell bent on forcing children to be exposed to imagery and messages which wreak havoc on their physical and mental health. Initiated by Dr Ramesh Manocha of HealthEd and co-sponsored by Collective Shout, close to 400 people heard expert evidence on just how bad things are for children and young people: and how all the indicators on health and wellbeing are set to worsen if not addressed as a matter of urgency.
Here’s a sample of some of the media coverage, and some related media treatment this week of issues impacting children.
Channel 10 News Segment: Right 2 Childhood Seminar
Advertisers blamed for increasing sexualisation: The World Today
Advertisers using ‘same tricks as sexual predators’
…Ms Hamilton says her research indicates modern advertising is becoming increasingly exploitative, especially towards children…
“I have done a paper recently which looks at how the corporations do market products, whether it is clothing or cosmetics or whatever – toys – to kids, and interestingly they use exactly the same tools as sexual predators do to groom children,” she said…
Another speaker at the conference, writer and social researcher Melinda Tankard Reist, says she is sickened by deliberate marketing – often with sexual undertones – to children as young as six months.
“They are very callous. I mean this is one of the reasons we use the term corporate paedophilia, because corporations are in a sense abusing children,” she said.
“They are driving childhood out of children and we see this as a systemic assault on childhood…” Read full story here
Advertisers should own up to harmful images says Australian Childhood Foundation
ADVERTISERS would have to publish “impact statements” detailing how their ads could harm youngsters, under a plan being pushed by a children’s lobby group.
Australian Childhood Foundation chief Joe Tucci said children as young as six were showing inappropriate sexual behaviour, which he blamed on saturation levels of violent and sexually explicit images in advertising, music videos, and computer games…
His call for companies using sexual or violent images to produce the impact statements comes amid growing concerns over the sexualisation of children.
Dr Tucci told a Sydney conference yesterday that 200 children showing inappropriate sexual behaviour were referred to his group a year, compared with 10 children a year a decade ago.
“There are children displaying aberrant sexual behaviour who can’t even tie their shoelaces yet,” he said.
“We ask children in counselling where they get these kind of ideas,” he said. “They pick out magazines, they pick out pictures and videos…” Read full story here
We disagree and believe the industry has had its way too long. See Collective Shout’s submissions here and here which argue that self-regulation has failed.
Kids too afraid to eat
CHILDREN as young as four are being hospitalised for eating disorders after refusing to eat and going on dangerous diets in their quest to be thin.
The largest eating disorders clinic in NSW, based at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, has reported a 270 per cent spike in the number of children being admitted to hospital over the past decade.
Even more alarming is the rise in the number of children being treated as outpatients at the hospital – it has increased more than 10-fold, up from 298 in 2003 to 3157 in 2009.
Clinic co-director Dr Michael Kohn said patients are getting younger.
“The average age for presentation is decreasing and the reason is the stress on young people has increased, so that those people vulnerable to develop eating disorders are doing so at a younger age,” Dr Kohn said.
…Melinda Tankard Reist, of lobby group Collective Shout, which is organising the petition to ban child beauty pageants, said presenting children in such a way was tantamount to child abuse. ”I think any Australian who cares about the welfare of little girls doesn’t want to see them dressing up like Tammy Faye Bakker or Joan Collins,” she said.
Collective Shout’s petition, which has more than 1200 signatures, will be sent to federal Minister for Early Childhood Peter Garrett and Victorian Minister for Children Wendy Lovell…Read full story here. And great to see 95% of voters in an SMH poll are also opposed to child beauty pageants in Australia.
Child Beauty Pageants: the misconceptions
“Being a little Barbie doll says your body has to be a certain way and your hair has to be a certain way. In girls particularly, this can unleash a whole complex of destructive self-experiences that can lead to eating disorders and all kinds of body distortions in terms of body image.” Read full blog article by Collett Smart here.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
“Melinda Tankard Reist is at the forefront of helping…educate the public on the link between pornography and violence…” – Di Macleod, Director, Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence
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‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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