I heard this ABC Background Briefing Program while driving this morning. I arrived at my destination but couldn’t get out of the car, so riveted was I by the appalling treatment of these remarkable women who spoke out about a child abuser in their midst – and beyond that, by their phenomenal courage. It’s hard to believe what they have endured. If women like this are not supported for speaking out, then others won’t step forward and the scourge of child abuse will grow worse.
Agnes, Veronica and Joyce – my colleagues and I stand with you and honour you.
Women speak out about ‘cone of silence’ around child abuser Dootch Kennedy
Speaking out about child abuse is difficult, and often resisted. But after a prominent Aboriginal leader was jailed for the repeated sexual assault of a young girl—and despite an ongoing campaign to keep his critics quiet—some Aboriginal women are taking a stand, and calling on their leaders to do the same. Bronwyn Adcock reports.
Earlier this year, a prominent Aboriginal leader and activist from the Illawarra region in coastal New South Wales, was sentenced to 17 years’ jail for the repeated sexual assault of a young girl.
Roy Noel Kennedy, known as Dootch, pleaded guilty to four charges of sexual assault.
I was always fearful that coming forward and telling the truth would create backlash from my community.
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT
In the woman’s victim impact statement, which she read in the Wollongong District Court earlier this year, she described always feeling like she hated herself.
‘I struggle to live every day without feeling very anxious and lost,’ she said.
‘I think I feel this way because I have lost so much in my life. I was never able to be the little girl I wished I could have been.’
Kennedy’s assaults resulted in her having a baby at 15, another at 16, and then a miscarriage with twins when she was 17.
‘My miscarriage with twins was also very hard,’ she said.
‘Even though it was a forced pregnancy, they were still my children.’
The woman, also from the Aboriginal community, described how she never got to finish school, and how she now struggles with her mental health.
‘I feel like my mob don’t believe me, and talk about me when I am not there,’ she said.
‘I was always fearful that coming forward and telling the truth would create backlash from my community. Especially because in our community Dootch was seen in a positive light, and as an elder he has a lot of power and responsibility.’
Dootch Kennedy was one of the Illawarra’s most powerful and prominent Aboriginal leaders. He was a respected elder, the chair of the local Aboriginal Land Council, and the leader of the Sandon Point Tent Embassy.
On the day he was sentenced to 17 years in jail, two local Aboriginal women, Veronica Bird and Agnes Donovan, organised a small group to come along to court to show their support for the survivor.
However, a much larger group turned up at court to support Dootch.
‘They were getting right into our personal space and they were making comments, “We know where you live, we know who you are,”‘ says one woman who supported the survivor, who only wants to be known as Sue.
‘The supporters of the perpetrator were photographing us quite often with their mobile phones.’
Veronica Bird was targeted for verbal abuse, mainly about the fact that the Illawarra is not her country.
‘It was more about the fact that I don’t come from here, “you have no right” to be doing what I’m doing,’ she says.
‘He didn’t call me what he usually calls me—he did that later, when I went outside the courtroom. He always makes reference to me a baboon, a gorilla, those kinds of statements.
‘I’m not a traditional owner, and so therefore, “you had no right”? I had no right to be speaking out against Dootch or anyone else in relation to this matter.’
Inside the courtroom, the abuse continued, this time from Dootch Kennedy himself as he was led into the dock.
‘He was disgraceful,’ Veronica Bird says.
‘He came in and he saw his family and he saw us sitting there, and the victim, and he saw the amount of people that was supporting her.
‘Then he looked over at his family and said: “Did you see all the ass wipes sitting on that side of the courtroom?” And then he stuck his finger up, he was sticking his finger up, laughing—it was like a joke.’
Breaking the silence around child abuse
Outside the court, Veronica Bird held an impromptu press conference, where she dropped a bombshell.
‘The community has had a cone of silence around it for so long,’ she said.
‘I am only a newcomer to this community, and didn’t realise that there was this deep-seated secret that was being held by members of this community.’
The secret she was talking about was rumours that Dootch’s crimes were long talked about within the community, even as he rose in power and prominence as a leader.
Joyce Donovan, an elder in the Illawarra, says it was never a secret—his crimes had been talked about for ‘a long, long time’.
‘We knew because people say, whether you live on the north coast or the south coast, that person only has to tell one person, it might be a friend, and that spreads like wildfire,’ she says.
‘We knew, we knew what was happening and we probably know more than the courts know.’
Joyce Donovan has long been an outspoken advocate of breaking the silence around child abuse. She says her community is struggling to confront not just Dootch’s crimes, but those of others.
‘This happens in mainstream communities too,’ she says.
‘I think in our community it is just the taboo was on the subject then, you couldn’t speak about it, no one wanted to hear.
‘I have been to meetings where young women have stood up and cried and said we need to speak up, and elders say “you can’t”. I’ve seen those young women stand up and cry.’
Some women are now calling on their leaders to start taking a stand.
‘They don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to know about it, and yet there are these organisations out there that can make significant change, if they were to stand alongside Agnes Donovan and Veronica Bird, and my elders and all the other black women out there that are saying enough is enough, this won’t be tolerated anymore,’ Joyce Donovan says.
Paying a price for speaking out
The two women who rallied around the survivor at court, Veronica Bird and Agnes Donovan, are paying a price for speaking out. They say they’ve been abused on Facebook with photos of gorillas, monkeys, and bunches of bananas.
Veronica Bird says she wants to make sure that lessons are learned, from the experience of having Dootch Kennedy rise to such a position of power.
She describes events at a recent meeting of an Aboriginal organisation to discuss governance.
‘We were putting together documents, and to ensure that people sitting on our board were reputable people, and I said I want to ensure that whatever we do, we ensure we never allow someone like Dootch Kennedy to sit on that board,’ she says.
‘But you had someone sit there—because I mentioned his name—and say I don’t believe we should mention people’s names.
‘I said, you have got be kidding. This man, it’s public knowledge, this man is in jail for what he has done, but you don’t want me to mention his name? I mean, this was last Wednesday.’
The ground-breaking symposium ‘Pornography and harms to children and young people’ held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney last Tuesday has been declared a major success.
Hosted by Collective Shout, the Australia-first event brought together leading academics, researchers, educators, psychologists and youth and child advocates to examine the harmful impacts of early pornography exposure. Emceed by Andrew Lines of the Rite Journey, speakers including Dr Michael Flood, Maree Crabbe, Dr Joe Tucci and Susan McLean, unpacked the global research as well as examining local experience, to a standing-room only audience.
I also addressed the symposium on ‘How girls are harmed by porn-conditioned boys’ (pic above). I unpacked how girls and young women were affected by porn-using boys in their everyday lives. From my introduction:
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible.
Sexual conquest and domination becomes all important, untempered by the bounds of respect, intimacy and authentic human connection
Young people are learning about f—ing but not about making love.
Young men are being conditioned and shaped by the messages they imbibe from pornography, given a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls. Viewing porn often reinforces the idea that girls are always available for sex.
Girls are under extreme pressure to give men what they want, to adopt pornified roles and behaviours, their bodies merely sex aids. Girls learn that they are service stations for male gratification and pleasure.
I drew from stories girls themselves relayed to me in schools around the country, including demands for naked selfies, boys sending them ‘dick pics’ and porn videos uninvited (including to girls as young as 12), inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, comments about their bodies, being ranked in comparison to porn stars, demands for porn-inspired sexual acts, boys not respecting denial of consent, being mocked or having rumors started about them for resisting unwanted sexual activity.
After canvassing the research on how boys and young women socialized by porn act out on women and girls, I looked at ways forward so that girls can stand up against warped notions of sexuality conveyed in pornography and seek relationships based on mutual respect and care.
I quoted Tiffany, 15, who wrote to me through Facebook:
Hi Melinda. I was really touched by what you had to say and you opened my eyes to what sort of world we live in and as a 16 I’m disgusted and amazed and what girls my age have to go through. You said something about being asked for nudes and that and personally I didn’t know what you meant by that as I haven’t been asked to do that… Until today. To tell you the truth I wouldn’t of known what to do about it if you didn’t speak about it and I’m very grateful to you. The boy asked me for a photo or video and I said no that’s when he called me lame but I immediately told him I am more than just my body and you shouldn’t treat me like a piece of meat and instantly blocked him. Thank you for telling me that and I hope I have done the right thing and myself and other girls are taking part in taking action on this case and we want to make a difference. I want to help girls feel like they are worth something…
MTR on ABC QLD
There was a great deal of media interest in the symposium, with many speakers giving media interviews throughout the day. Here’s an interview I did with Steve Austin of ABC QLD.
Symposium to hear evidence of online porn harms to children
Sydney – Leading academics, educators and child advocates are set to gather on Safer Internet Day February 9, at the University of New South Wales to discuss the harmful impacts of early pornography exposure on children, including medical problems, emotional harm, abusive mind-sets and risky sexual behaviours.
The ground-breaking symposium will hear a growing body of evidence that children are increasingly being harmed by premature exposure to graphic sexual content online.
The Australian-first symposium will discuss the latest findings from a diverse range of multidisciplinary stakeholders including researchers, child protection experts, psychologists and sexologists. Speakers include:
Associate Professor Dr. Michael Flood (University of Wollongong) on pornography and masculinity
Maree Crabbe (Project Coordinator Reality and Risk) on violence and pornography
“Cyber Cop” Susan McLean (Cyber Safety Solution), on the problem of pornography in schools
Psychologist Dr Joe Tucci (Australian Childhood Foundation), on the links between exposure to pornography and problem sexual behavior including children acting out on other children…
Symposium spokesperson Coralie Alison of Collective Shout, said the community rightly expected children, who were being exposed at an unprecedented rate, to be protected from unsuitable content.
“However, despite the best efforts of parents and teachers, the reality is that children today are just one click away from a deluge of violent, degrading, aggressive content – much of it showcasing the abuse of women.”
According to the research to be presented at the conference:
“There is growing evidence that this is a public health crisis, with a generation of children on the frontline.”
Other speakers include Liz Walker (Youth Wellbeing Project), Dr Caroline Norma (RMIT University), Dr. Helen Pringle (UNSW), Dr Lesley-Anne Ey (University of South Australia), Holly-Ann Martin (Safe4Kids), Hugh Martin (Man Enough), Collett Smart (Psychologist) and Melinda Tankard Reist (Author, Collective Shout).
Company slammed for aiding sexual fantasies for young girls
On Tuesday night, young Melbourne supporter (and kayaking buddy) Verity Thompson sent me a link through Facebook messenger, to the website of Chemist Warehouse, which featured a disembodied ‘virgin pussy’ – a replica vagina of a young girl with ‘realistic hymen’ just waiting for a man to ‘pop’. Many people send me links to horrible things most days and while I (and Collective Shout) don’t have the resources to action everything, this product demanded a response. I shared with my activist colleagues and, within hours of us taking to social media about it, the product was removed from Chemist Warehouse’s site. While this once again demonstrates the power of collective action, we have to ask: why did Chemist Warehouse think this product was OK for them to flog in the first place? Where are its corporate ethics? And where is the Pharmacy Guild in all of this?
Here’s how News.com, Daily Mail and Smart Company reported on our win.
Chemist Warehouse pulls Virgin Pussy Palm Pal ‘realistic hymen’ sex toy from its website after backlash
Campaign group Collective Shout slammed the retailer for stocking the product.
“Since when have chemists become defacto sex shops? Chemists are supposed to be selling products with medicinal and health benefits, not promoting pedofilic fantasies and eroticising young girls for profit,” Melinda Tankard Reist, co-founder of Collective Shout, told news.com.au.
Ms Tankard Reist said she had seen similar sex toys before, including a “Lolita Teenage Vibrating Vagina” and “realistic” sex dolls made to look like nine-year-olds, but never at a chemist.
“We see a lot of horrible things in our line of work as you can imagine, but this is incredible. For a company that might want to be seen as having corporate social responsibility, this seems like a radical departure,” she said.
“Don’t they care about the wellbeing of girls in the community? Why would they want to contribute to these fantasies of young girls existing to be ‘popped’ or ‘deflowered’?”
Chemist Warehouse removes virgin sex toys following social media backlash and activist campaign
Caitlin Roper from Collective Shout told SmartCompanythis morning the product sexualises girls and was clearly inappropriate for a chemist to be selling.
“We come across some pretty awful things in the course of some of our other campaigns, but I think with this one I was really genuinely surprised to see this item sold by a chemist under the guise of sexual health,” Roper says.
“I thought, what does aiding men in their sexual fantasies for children have to do with their health or wellbeing? We have campaigns to shed light on this epidemic on child sex abuse in schools and churches, but as a culture we continue to sexualise girls and present them as sexually appealing and even available.”
If you are an artist and you abuse a child, never fear: the art world has your back, writes Melinda Tankard Reist.
Artists who commit sexual violations are too often considered above the law and deserving of special treatment.
Their brilliance is given deferential treatment: they exist in another moral universe where the rules governing everyone else don’t apply. Oddly, this deference does not apply to parking tickets.
Whether the art objects are photographs, films, pieces of pottery or woven tapestries, their makers are often bestowed with godlike qualities. Queensland art gallery owner Andrew Baker describes Torres Strait Islander printmaker and sculptor Dennis Nona, for example, as having ‘invented the visual language of his people’. Simon Wright, author of Dennis Nona: Time After Time, marvels about Nona’s ‘reckoning of the universal lay fertile”.
When Nona, 42, was jailed for multiple child rapes in 2014 – he challenged the conviction, but lost his appeal in July – members of the art world rushed to prop up their idol. Art history professor Sasha Grishin, for example, wrote that he was “not in any way disputing the seriousness of the crimes” for which Nona was convicted, but insisted that he was “the most important artist to emerge from the Torres Strait in the past 50 years”.
Cairns Regional Gallery director Andrea May Churcher stated that art, over time, has a life beyond its creators, and that Nona’s objects should still be seen as “an important part of our cultural heritage and works”.
With so many accolades, the sexual torture of children is rendered almost subordinate.
Art historian and valuer Frances Cummings said he was “very supportive” of Nona: “He is a genius of an artist and the things he committed were when he was a very young man.”
Nona’s former arts manager, Michael Kershaw, told the ACT Supreme Court that Nona was a ‘role model’. With so many accolades, the sexual torture of children is rendered almost subordinate. Perhaps we need to be reminded of what Nona did.
In 1995, Nona moved in with a mother and two teenage daughters while attending a Canberra art school. He raped one of the girls over the course of a year until she became pregnant at the age of 13 and was reported to child protection services. (The pregnancy was terminated at 23 weeks. In the words of the judge, the girl “underwent a late stage termination, which was not a straightforward procedure”).
Court records indicate that harm to the girl has been long lasting in the terrible damage it has done to her. She has suffered suicidal thoughts.
In 2004 and again in 2006, Nona was arrested on a domestic violence offence as well as an assault against a woman who refused to have sex with him. A domestic violence order was served on him in 2006.
Nona has not just been propped up by bigwigs of the Australian art world. A 2012 court judgment records that “senior officers of the AFP… for reasons of convenience or, most likely, expense” did not charge Nona with child rape offences in 1998, despite their having “evidence that the applicant had the opportunity to commit the offences”, and “extremely strong DNA evidence” of his responsibility for the pregnancy.
In the judgment, the presiding judge acknowledged that many people would find this decision by the AFP “inappropriate, if not shocking”. Shocking or not, the Australian art world was the beneficiary of the AFP decision, because Nona’s exhibitions continued in Australia and overseas.
The Australian painter Donald Friend was a self-confessed paedophile.
Even when police finally charged Nona, he pleaded not guilty, made an application for a permanent stay of proceedings under the Human Rights Act, and failed to show remorse.
Other artists have played the art card throughout a life of the sexual abuse of others, without any such call to justice. For example, the Australian painter Donald Friend was a self-confessed paedophile. A documentary produced by Kerry Negara reported Friend’s boast, in his own diaries, of frequent sex with boys as young as nine and 10 while living in Bali.
A prominent curator, Barry Pearce, responded that paedophilia was not black and white – that Friend’s paedophilia was “on the light side of penumbra” and Friend was merely interested in notions of youth and the ideal of the beauty of the body.
In contrast, the Balinese boys – now grown – said that they felt exploited and harmed by the experience of being “appreciated” for their beauty by Friend. But Pearce said to call Friend a paedophile would be “shocking”.
At the same time, the Australian art world is backed by public institutions that promulgate their sexual values.
The “roll-over” feature of the National Gallery of Victoria website allows viewers to zoom in on the naked body of an underage girl, without any cautions or caveats about the digitalised collection, the identities of the children pictured, or any indication of the controversy around the photographs displayed.
The roll-over pictures are part of the 1985 “TCM” series that Bill Henson gave to the gallery in 2007, before it auctioned off some works in the series in 2008 (another earlier auctioned image was of an underage girl lying on her back naked, with legs spread).
The Australian art world staunchly defends Henson’s activities in producing and disseminating these pictures. Tolarno Galleries refused to reveal the age of the youngest naked girl in its exhibition.
Filmmaker Roman Polanski raped and sodomised a 13-year-old – whom he had lured to a photoshoot – after giving her alcohol and a quaalude, while she begged to be released. He faced charges and fled to Europe because a judge suggested he might put Polanski in prison.
Polanski’s defenders described him as a persecuted victim: he was such a wonderful person and how tawdry was it that he should be subjected to the law, and what a nightmare for the poor genius. He continues to be a celebrated director.
Gore Vidal was quoted in The Atlantic as saying: “I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?”
No amount of whitewashing by the art establishment should be allowed to disguise the reality of the suffering of real victims.
Executive produced by George Clooney and Abigail Disney, the film is critically acclaimed and has been screened around the world, including many times at the US Congress.
‘Playground’ takes a sensitive look at the underground epidemic of young children being forced into prostitution in USA, where some 100,000 children are trafficked each year, and where more than 300,000 are ‘at risk’.
Libby has also spearheaded several Congressional hearings, and her advocacy work has helped shape legislation to better protect young victims of sexual exploitation in the USA.
Libby Spears is also the founder and Executive Director of NEST Foundation and the new community movement, Campaign 13, which advocates for an intelligent, holistic and urgent response to sex trafficking of minors in America.
CHEAPER TO SELL KIDS, THAN DRUGS
“Sadly, the commercial sex trade of children has increased because it is now more profitable and less risky to sell kids, than drugs,” she says.
“Demand is high because sales can be executed anonymously over the Internet.”
The US Department of Justice has said that Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is the world’s fastest growing form of organised crime.
“We also know that in child pornography, of the 5.9 million pornographic images of children online that have been reported, only 874 children have been identified,” says Libby.
AUSTRALIA IS NOT IMMUNE
“I am here with a message that Australia is not immune to this.
“Sex trafficking in Australia remains severely under-reported and improperly understood.
“It is happening in your neighborhoods, as it ours, and it’s time we put more focus on it, upskill and empower our community to deal with it.”
A national online survey completed by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that 75% of respondents believed they would not be able to identify a trafficked person.
Overall, the survey revealed a high level of confusion regarding the definition and scope of the human trafficking issue facing the Australian community.
“People often associate the word ‘trafficking’ with something that happens overseas, or an act that involves moving people across borders. We need to understand that trafficking is any form of commercial sex act where the child is induced by force, fraud or coercion.”
RESEARCH IS BADLY NEEDED
Australia is trailing the rest of the western world when it comes to research and awareness regarding the sexual exploitation of children.
The last national inquiry was conducted in 1998 and published in ‘Youth for Sale’ by ChildWise, which found anecdotal evidence of more than 3000 cases of underage commercial sexual activity.
“We know that commercial sex exploitation of children has sky-rocketed in the past decade, so these figures would be significantly higher now in Australia,” says Libby.
In a report by the Australian Government ‘Tomorrow’s Children’ in 2000, it said that: “given the clandestine nature of the activity it is unlikely that Australia will ever truly have available, reliable national data relating to the prostitution of children and young people.
Alongside Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, Libby Spears was recently named one of the ‘150 Women Who Shake the World’ by NewsWeek Magazine. Libby has more than 15 years’ experience producing and directing critically acclaimed films that can be seen in more than 100 countries around the world.
My story is as isolated an incident as the existence of Walmart stores
There’s this idea that trafficking happens ‘over there’ somewhere, in some God-forsaken hellhole. There is little understanding that the selling of girls happens every day in so-called enlightened Western liberal democracies. Carrie Bailee’s story of being sold by her father into a child paedophile and pornography ring in Canada is one example.
Here’s another, told by ‘Jane’, of being prostituted by her family in the US. This is much more common than we realise! We need to re-frame the way we think about the issue and address it on our own doorstep as well as globally.
If you’re expecting my “sold into child slavery” story to begin with guys in ski masks bursting into my bedroom and snatching me up in the night, the actual story is worse, in a way. One night, my stepdad just pulled me out of bed and said, “Come here, uncle needs to see you.” There were zero uncles downstairs. But there were several creepy, creepy men who passed me around from lap to lap and paid him for the privilege. If you’re asking yourself where my mother was, well, she was right there, watching.
My stepdad and mother would have people over all hours of the night, drinking and smoking crack. Sort of like family game night, as directed by Darren Aronofsky. She was in on the decision to do what they did (and if you want to give yourself nightmares, try to imagine the conversation that led them to broach the subject). When I was that age, it didn’t go beyond “sit on uncle’s lap.” I’d do as I was told and they’d call me a good girl and that was that — I obviously had no idea what was going on. Then I got a few years older, and they started sending me off on “private sessions.” Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. Let’s not kid ourselves.
The next question that’s flashing through your mind is probably, “Why didn’t you tell someone?”
I did — I was just 6 years old when I (accidentally) mentioned something about my “uncles” to a teacher — I just said something like: “My uncle’s came over and we had fun,” because those were the words my mom always used. If you think at this point a SWAT team raced to my house and busted everyone, you and I live in different worlds. What happened instead was the teacher called my mom, and she talked her way out of it somehow. When I got home, she beat me up, I think to block out her entire Terrible Person Bingo card.
What a crazy, unusual situation, right? If you saw it in a scripted movie, you’d think the writer should go see a therapist. But here’s the truth: human trafficking (forcing someone into labor or sex acts against their will) is a $9.5 billion industry in the USA — to pick a random comparison, that’s four times what the Burger King chain takes in. Recent stats found 83 percent of sex trafficking incidents in the U.S. involved victims that were U.S. citizens, and nearly half of those were minors — just like I was. It’s estimated that right now 300,000 kids are in this situation or are at risk. Just this June, the FBI freed 168 kids who’d been sold into sex slavery across 106 American cities. Since 2008, at least 4,000 kids have been freed from similar operations. Six years. So, yeah, my story is as isolated an incident as the existence of Walmart stores. Read more
Her story is remarkable. Her suffering indescribable. Her resilience and love for life unmatchable
A year ago I wrote about the amazing reunion I had with a woman who I’d been privileged to help find safety and protection in Australia. Carrie Bailee had escaped a paedophile/pornography ring run by her father in Canada. She described her remarkable experience here. At the time I wrote: “Her story is remarkable. Her suffering indescribable. Her resilience and love for life unmatchable”.
Now that story has become a book. Carrie’s autobiography ‘Flying on Broken Wings: A Journey of Unimaginable Betrayal, Resilience and Hope’ will be published by Affirm Press next month.
Carrie Bailee fled Canada and came to Australia when she was twenty. Once here she was assisted by a number of Australian women, and was ultimately encouraged to apply for refugee status in order to stay in this country. So began her battle to be granted asylum in Australia. Carrie stood before the Refugee Review Tribunal and revealed the dark underbelly of child sexual abuse and organised crime rings in our privileged, first-world neighbourhoods.
This is the story of one young woman’s heroic journey to survive, escape and soar above her shocking childhood experiences, and her powerful struggle for freedom and a beautiful life in Australia.
‘Moving, inspirational … Unforgettable! A compelling story of hope. I urge you to read this book.’ - Sigrid Thornton
There is no excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings
People have been asking me my thoughts on the recent and sad reports that Somaly Mam’s story of being trafficked into prostitution as a child are not true.
I know many good people who have selflessly supported Mam’s work in Cambodia for many years. I commend them and know their fund raising efforts have done much good. My view is that while the founder of any movement or organisation can be flawed, the movement itself, when it is good and necessary, should not rise or fall because of the faults of its founder. This article by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women’s Taina Bien-Aime in the Huffington Post captures my broader thoughts on the matter.
The Somaly Mam Story: What We Still Know About Sex Trafficking
…What the Somaly Mam story highlights is a state of affairs that many of us in the social change movement bemoan, namely that simple stories of exploitation rarely grab the public’s imagination, the donors, or the press. Unless the overdone images of runny noses, torn clothing, or worse, naked children in a cage waiting to be sold, are splashed on glossy pages, the actual suffering of human beings too often fails to trigger widespread empathy or outrage.
In addition to this heightened need for sensationalism, our society craves numbers. Suffering in small quantities is rarely enough. Given the undercover and “hidden in plain sight” crimes of human trafficking, no entity has been definitively able to pin down the actual number of victims. From the United Nations to national statistics, the numbers range widely from 2.5 million to 20.9 million. Irrespective of the range, all agree that the majority of those estimated individuals are women and children with a majority of that group ending up in the sex trade. In a recent report, the International Labor Organization estimated that profits from human trafficking generated $150 billion, two-thirds of which, or $90 billion, stem from commercial sexual exploitation.
Cambodia is designated as a source, transit and destination country for labor and sex trafficking. The U.S. State Department also found that the sale of virgin women and girls continues to be a problem and that Cambodian men form the “largest source of demand for child prostitution.” Regardless of its founder’s personal failings, the Somaly Mam Foundation has plenty of urgent work ahead.
In collaboration with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, Dr. Melissa Farley, of Prostitution Research and Education, interviewed 133 Cambodian men who purchased commercial sex. The study shows that almost all of these male buyers interviewed in Phnom Penh stated that they witnessed extreme violence inflicted on the prostituted women, more often than not controlled by pimps. The men surveyed also saw children available for paid sexual abuse in brothels, bars and massage parlors. One of the “johns” astutely said that “prostitution is the man’s heaven but it is also those girls’ hell.”
The Somaly Mam episode cannot be used as an excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings in the sex trade. Nor should it be a vehicle to call, as some mainstream human rights organizations are doing, for the full decriminalization of the sex industry, the equivalent of legalization of prostitution. A vision to end human rights abuses must be applicable to every person whose rights are trampled, including women sold and exploited in the sex trade. The right not to be prostituted cannot be trumped by the purported right of men to purchase women’s bodies. The history of the women’s movement to end violence shows time and again the difficulty for a violated woman, whether in domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape or discrimination, to be heard, to be believed, to receive justice…
These undeniable facts certainly do not condone fabrication, but the revelations about Somaly Mam cannot erase the horrors of the sex trade and the growing movement of genuine, courageous survivors exposing these truths. The misguided excuses to ignore this reality by promoting legitimization of exploitation, including identifying sex trafficked children as “sex workers”, must continue to be met with vigilance and concerted action.
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
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
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.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.