Chocolate slice-shaming: Are we giving kids the wrong messages about food?
By Melinda Tankard Reist
About 15 years ago, a message was sent home from my daughter’s primary school teacher. It wasn’t about chocolate slice. It was about her hair.
My then six-year-old’s head was covered in tight, thick ringlets. While many clucked and cooed about her “gorgeous” hair, they didn’t have to wash it, or try to get a brush through it.
It was an ordeal, one I approached with dread — she’d cry and flail about. And so it wasn’t washed or brushed as often as more patient parents might have done.
(I also had two other children and a baby who needed attention.)
But then came the message from school: I must brush my daughter’s hair. Apparently it was unacceptable to send her to school with hair unkempt.
I felt put down. We might have tried a bit harder. Or we might have gone on as usual until she was old enough to do it herself (which was more likely).
Still, that teacher was lucky I wasn’t on social media in those days.
The story of my daughter’s hair came rushing back to mind this week when my long-time friend posted on Facebook a note her three-year-old’s kindergarten had sent home on the child’s first day.
“Your child has ‘chocolate slice’ from the Red Food category today,” the note, which featured a sad face, said. “Please choose healthier options for Kindy.”
When I reposted her note, along with the message, “I told her to put in two slices tomorrow and tell them to get lost”, I had no idea it would trigger such outrage.
It was shared hundreds of times, and was written up in news media outlets around the world.
Since then, I have been fielding media requests around the clock (will someone get me some bloody chocolate slice, please?!).
When ‘organic, sugarless’ muffins are sent home
The offending hedgehog slice (one mum, who texted in to 2UE, called it “satanic slice”) had been homemade for a birthday celebration and, as per family tradition, leftovers went to school the next day.
I’ve known my friend for a quarter of a century — I know the kind of mum she is. She makes everything from scratch, including bread, and bakes like there’s no tomorrow for her eight children.
Her kids are the kind who read books instead of watch TV. My friend and her husband both have degrees in health science — she is also a writer and researcher.
She felt bad that she had broken the rules.
But the note — and condescending sad face on angry red paper — felt intrusive to me.
It could make children think that mummy and daddy had done something very wrong to receive something like that from their teacher.
Of course, I understand the importance of healthy eating policies. I appreciate that harried teachers are most likely just trying to carry out school policy (while also not being trained dieticians).
But I’m concerned about where this approach to eating takes us.
Since my post went viral, stories from similarly frustrated parents have flooded in.
I’ve been told of cases of children whose food was sent home uneaten — because it was not “approved” — and the child has had nothing to eat all day.
Organic, sugarless zucchini muffins; banana, almond meal and chia muffins; and homemade (nut-free) bliss balls have all been sent home.
Children have been told they were meant to have sandwiches, not muffins — even when their muffin could not have been healthier.
‘I can’t eat cake, Mum, it will make me fat’
Cupcakes — which had less sugar and calories than green-lit muesli bars — have also been sent home uneaten, according to one mum who did the calculations.
Another mother told me of a time when she’d sent her kid to school with a lunch box filled with apples, carrots, raisins and chicken … and a single, tiny chocolate egg, which the teacher promptly confiscated.
“My son was devo,” she said. “Then after school [the teacher] lectured me about healthy lunches. I blew my head off!”
Some parents told of children hiding in the schoolyard to eat homemade cookies, afraid of being discovered. Others said their children were ashamed to eat treats even at home — hiding food and eating it privately away from the family.
Children as young as six are presenting with eating disorders, and anti-obesity messages are partly to blame, the Butterfly Foundation says.
One young girl had reportedly stopped eating chocolate cake in any context. “Mum, I can’t eat chocolate cake because it will make me fat,” she told her mother.
When children see food as “good” or “bad” it can set them up for eating disorders.
Some eating disorder specialists I work with say the bombardment of messages around obesity is causing food anxiety and contributing to disordered eating behaviour in children.
It’s also worth considering the fact that many kids go to school without any food at all.
As Alice, who is training to be a primary teacher, wrote to me privately:
“I’ve seen kids come with no food at all on such a regular basis that every lunch time the teacher would collect uneaten food from other kids’ lunch boxes to put into a snack drawer to feed those kids who came to school without.”
She added: “It’s great this school is concerned about what their students are eating, because it does affect their performance in the classroom.
“But I think they have lost perspective here. Is it necessary to shame parents for what they put in the lunchbox?”
My friend ended up digging out the kindergarten’s food policy, which banned only “processed” cakes and biscuits. She hadn’t broken the rules after all.
But it seems an important discussion has begun.
Hopefully it results in positive outcomes for parents, schools and — most importantly — children.
Suicide rates for young Australians double in a decade
This report on ABC News yesterday, ‘Suicide rates for young Australians highest in 10 years, researchers call for new prevention strategies’, reveals the distressing situation regarding the numbers of young people wanting to end their lives. In my talks in schools around the country, young people not infrequently approach me to acknowledge suicidal ideation and self harm. But if support services are stretched to the limit, where are they to go?
Suicide rates among young Australians are at their highest level in 10 years, despite a range of prevention strategies and investment from government, according to new research.
The report, carried out by youth mental health service Orygen, has found the system is not working and a new suicide prevention strategy for young people is needed.
Jo Robinson, head of Orygen’s suicide prevention research, said of the current system: “We’re clearly not getting things right.
“We really lack national leadership when it comes to youth suicide prevention.
“So despite a lot of investment, despite a lot of talk at government level … we really need a reinvigorated approach to youth suicide prevention.”
This is possibly the most chilling segment of the article. I had to stop and re-read, thinking I had read wrongly – ‘tens of thousands’ of young people being turned away?
Young people being turned away from help.
The report calls for a national suicide prevention strategy, supported by a specific youth suicide prevention strategy.
It also found more mental health services were needed for young people who were at high risk of suicide.
“We know that there are tens of thousands of young people who are turned away from services every year because services don’t have the capacity to respond to them,” Dr Robinson said.
“Unfortunately, very tragically, some of those young people will go on to take their own lives.”
I shared the article on my Facebook pages (public page here) I then received this very distressing message from a Melbourne mother which bring the findings home. I share it here with her permission.
Suicide services are so woeful that they can’t help you unless your child is actually physically in danger *now*. In 2015, after I pulled my 9 1/2 year old out of the sandpit (where he had planted himself headfirst in an effort to suffocate himself) I cleaned him up and we talked and when he was calm I called the child adolescent mental health service. They couldn’t advise me at all. He’s too young to access the service, and they couldn’t give me the most simple help like letting me know some safety measures I could take (in addition to what I had already taken care of, like locking the chemicals up and removing knives or checking blind/ curtain cords).
Apart from the situation we found ourselves in (horrifying enough) we got more help from the GP the next day, and due to timing (it was the last week of a school term) and service demands in the community it was 3 weeks till we could see a child psychologist. We did everything we could to make him feel and be safe, from supervising showers (unbenownst to us he had made 2 previous attempts by swallowing hair shampoo – it’s a good thing he was 9 because while the methods he chose weren’t successful, he was very determined) to changing doorknobs – took the lock off the bathroom and put it on the laundry, to doing without our cooking knives for 6 months until we were absolutely certain he was safe. I wouldn’t wish dealing with those services on anyone. The situation is bad. The services are a nightmare.
I asked how he was now. She replied:
He’s well now. Modest, caring, sensitive and curious. In some ways we were lucky to have the chance to help him learn that there are ways to help you feel better and think better, and he has the emotional vocabulary to voice his needs. I have shared the story with Bill Shorten a couple of weeks ago because we do need to do better in this area.
We are thankful this child is doing much better. But what of all the other young people for whom suicide is now a leading cause of death? This is a collective tragedy. Surely we can do better.
Why do some young people injure themselves?
Self-harm and non-suicidal self-injury are still surrounded by considerable stigma – if we are to begin to support young people who are engaging in this behaviour, it is vital that we understand the reasons for it. Dr Claire Kelly from Mental Health First Aid Australia addresses the myths and misperceptions around self-injury, highlighting the common reasons that drive young people to do so, challenging us to think of it as connection-seeking rather than attention-seeking, as well as evaluating their risk of suicide.
The Courier-Mail is to be commended for its series on the hypersexualisation of our young people — especially the impacts on children by allowing them to be exposed to porn even before their first kiss.
What has been documented here in the Generation Sext campaign is what I’m hearing everywhere I go.
Educators, child welfare groups, childcare workers, mental health bodies, medicos and parents are reeling.
All are struggling to deal with the proliferation of hypersexualised imagery and its impacts on the most vulnerable — children who think what they see in porn is what real sex looks like.
They tell me about children using sexual language, children touching other children inappropriately, children playing “sex games” in the schoolyard, children requesting sexual favours, children showing other children porn on their devices, children distressed by explicit images they came across while searching an innocent term, children exposed to porn “pop ups” on sites featuring their favourite cartoon characters or while playing online games.
The website PornHub is in the top five favourite sites of boys aged 11-16 according to ChildWise UK. The biggest selling genres of porn are those eroticising violence.
Boys are viewing violent depictions of sex, torture, rape and incest. They are having their sexual arousal conditioned by depictions of extreme cruelty, seeing women being assaulted for sexual pleasure — all while their sexuality is under construction.
In Australia there has been a significant increase in reports of child on child sexual assault — identified as “copycat sexual predators”.
AMA vice-president Stephen Parnis says the internet is exposing children to sexually explicit content teaching them that sex is about “use and abuse”.
“There are increasing levels of aggression and the physical harm resulting from sexual acts is becoming more apparent,” he says.
The Australian Psychological Association has seen the problem first hand.
“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,” their Senate inquiry submission said.
“Pornography is providing too many 10-year-olds with the mechanical knowledge to anally, orally and/or vaginally penetrate younger siblings, cousins and acquaintances.”
Girls especially are bearing the brunt of porn-inspired boys who have imbibed a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls.
We continue to hear the cry “Boys aren’t treating girls with respect!”. But there’s no mystery as to the reason.
Girls tell me about boys demanding sexual favours, demanding sex acts they don’t like, pressured to provide naked images (including girls as young as 11 and 12), being ranked compared to the bodies of porn stars.
One young woman told the South East Centre Against Sexual Assault: “When you have sex with a guy they want it to be like a porno. They want anal and oral right away. Oral is, like, the new kissing.”
There is a growing body of global literature testifying to how boys who take their sexual cues from porn develop sexist attitudes and aggressive behaviours — which has a trickle-down effect on women and girls.
For too many boys, the debasement they see on screen becomes real life debasement of girls.
In 2012, the UK Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn has a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.
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, 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”.
In Australia, one in four young men think it is OK to pressure women to have sex.
Pornography normalises and eroticises violence against women as sexy. We have more than enough warnings by frontline service agencies about a public health emergency involving near-saturation rates of pornography consumption among men and boys.
This assault on the healthy sexual development of children has to stop if we want our children to engage in healthy sexual exploration and respect-based relationships, to know what real intimacy feels like.
The problem is so big and so vast it requires a whole of community approach. Parents, schools, educators, the medical profession, welfare groups, governments and regulatory bodies have to take action.
Fortunately there are signs that young people want something better. This is a message I received from a young woman who heard me speak.
“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 at 16 I’m disgusted and amazed at 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 have 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 action and we want to make a difference.
“I want to help girls feel like they are worth something. So thanks again you are an inspiration to us all and I hope to join your cause — Tiffany, 16.”
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.
Maccas wants to be seen as a family-friendly restaurant and claims to care about the communities in which its global restaurant chains do business. But is that true when these are among some of the images playing on a music video loop in stores throughout Australia? Why do our kids have to see these images? Why do any of us? Help us help Maccas to pay attention and stop serving up objectification with its burgers.
According to their website Maccas claims their values are:
We place the customer experience at the core of all we do
We are committed to our people
We believe in the McDonald’s System
We operate our business ethically
We give back to our communities
We grow our business profitably
We strive continually to improve
We’re #NotBuyingIt – We call on Maccas to exercise corporate social responsibility and immediately remove all soft porn from Australian in-store screens. Implement national guidelines on what content can be shown on in-store screens.
This week our petition calling on McDonald’s to ditch the soft porn gained media attention, forcing them to respond. After being contacted by a journalist a McDonald’s spokesperson said each fast food restaurant selected its own entertainment content and apologised to families who were exposed to the video.
The article stated:
“A McDonald’s spokesperson said it would take measures to avoid a repeat of the incidents. “We are proud of our reputation as a family-friendly restaurant and aim to create a welcoming, safe and respectful environment,” the spokesperson said. “Each restaurant commonly selects television programs for viewing that are readily available on commercial television. In this case we apologise to anyone that was offended.”
But do we buy it? What exactly are the measures that McDonald’s will take to avoid a repeat of the incidents? Since starting the petition we have been contacted by parents from all around Australia claiming that their local McDonald’s also screens sexualised content. Many of these parents have complained to McDonald’s before.
Rotating ads at Albany Creek Mcdonald’s Qld, June 2015 included advertisements for breast implant surgery
Here are just a handful of comments from our petition:
“I’ve experienced this at McDonald’s on Springvale Rd and Maroondah Hwy Melbourne where a woman’s breasts were exposed on a music video large t.v screen for all to see and I made an official complaint via McDonald’s but never had a reply. It’s inappropriate for a public place! Wake up to yourselves, your staff are young, your clients are often children and could be porn addicts for all you know you are feeding them more than food!” – Ian Watkinson
“Several years ago, my sister-in-law complained about highly sexualised content on a Maccas TV whilst at a kids’ birthday party.” -Tim Rushbrook
“I’ve seen this in store & complained & nothing was done!” – Colleen Miller
“Dad of 6. Seen full frontal nudity on TV screens in Maccas before. Couldn’t believe it! Was not alone with other parents in Maccas with a general sentiment of what are they thinking… Kind of like, A Happy meal and would you like boobs with that. Spoke to person at counter and they just said the channel was set and they couldn’t do anything. Got the vibe I was making a fuss about nothing. Complained twice at different Maccas. Not impressed.” – Mike Wilson
For a company the size of McDonald’s it would be quite easy to implement a national policy around what content can and cannot be played within their franchises. McDonald’s needs to come clean about what their plan is to keep their establishments porn free across the country.
An interview with Porn Factor director Maree Crabbe
Maree, there’s lots of things you could make films about. What led you to choose to make films about pornography?
Through my work coordinating sexual violence prevention, sexual diversity and STI prevention programs with young people, I learnt that pornography was becoming a significant source of sexuality education. That inspired me to develop the Reality & Risk project, with my colleague, David Corlett. The project seeks to support young people and the broader community to critique the messages conveyed through pornography, and aspire to relationships and sexuality that are safe, respectful mutually pleasurable and fully consenting. We knew we were going to have to be creative to engage people on such a sensitive and controversial topic. Film is a very powerful medium, and we thought it would be a useful vehicle to support a public conversation about porn and its impact on young people.
Your documentary ‘Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography’ first screened on SBS three years ago. Now you’ve created ‘The Porn Factor’. Why did you think another film was needed?
Love and Sex aimed to open up a conversation in a polarised debate, where we knew many viewers wouldn’t want to hear a critique of porn’s influence. We particularly wanted to engage an audience who didn’t already agree with us. So we used a character-based approach – following the stories of young people and people from the international pornography industry – with the hope that people would be so engaged by the characters that they wouldn’t turn off the TV or switch channels when the story became more critical – and confronting.
Following the release of Love and Sex, we also identified a need for a film that provides a more overt analysis of porn’s impact on young people, for use in adult education – with parents, teachers, youth workers and others involved in young people’s education and care.
We had already conducted interviews with range of experts, including with some of the world’s leading scholars. We drew on these, and our interviews with young people and people from the pornography industry, to produce The Porn Factor.
The Porn Factor wasn’t produced for broadcast, but we’re delighted that SBS has picked it up.
How was the first film received? What are your hopes for the new one?
The first film’s broadcast had great ratings, and some fantastic media coverage. It has now also been broadcast in six other countries. We think it played a significant role in building community awareness and opening up a more complicated conversation. We hope the next film will take that conversation to another level and contribute to the growing momentum to tackle this issue at a range of levels – in homes, schools, communities, and at a political level.
You have also developed an educational resource ‘In the Picture’: Supporting young people in an era of explicit sexual imagery.’ Why did you develop this and what does it include?
Schools are a key site for violence prevention work. They’re also major contributors to young people’s sexuality education. But if they’re not talking about porn, then they’re not equipping students for healthy – by which I mean safe, respectful, mutual and consenting – relationships and sexuality in the 21st Century. More and more schools are identifying the need to address porn’s influence, but they often feel ill-equipped to do so. They’re looking for support.
In The Picture supports schools to develop a whole-school-approach to the issues that is tailored to their unique community and context. Based on the World Health Organisation’s ‘Health Promoting Schools’ framework, it includes a smorgasbord of resources, including resources for policy development, equipping staff, parent and community partnerships, student education and evaluation.
Some of our materials addressing pornography’s influence have also been incorporated into Victorian Government respectful relationships and sexuality education resources, so there is growing awareness at a political level of the need to support young people to navigate this new reality.
What has been the response from schools?
The response from schools has been very positive. More and more schools now feel confident to address porn’s influence as part of their broader relationships and sexuality education. They appreciate that In The Picture supports a tailored approach, so they can develop an approach that is going to work for them.
There are two factors that I think are critical for success – leadership support and equipping staff. Often it is an individual teacher or wellbeing staff member who will identify the need to address porn’s influence, and they can play a really important role. But support from school principals and other senior leaders enables the issues to be addressed at a broader level within the school, and allows staff to feel confident in their leaders’ support. Good professional learning for staff – particularly staff who will be teaching about the issues and counseling and other wellbeing staff – is absolutely critical. These are very sensitive topics, and it’s not reasonable to expect teachers to have the relevant knowledge – never mind the comfort and confidence – to discuss it in class without appropriate professional development. But with good PD and school leaders’ support, teachers describe feeling much better equipped – and often, enthusiastic – about teaching on this topic.
In the eight years you’ve been working to address the impact of pornography on young people, what shifts have you noticed?
The most significant thing I’ve noticed is a growing openness to having the conversation, a greater awareness of porn’s pervasive nature and impact and the need to address it with young people. There are more stories about young people’s sexually abusive behaviours and more conversations about young men with compulsive use of porn. There is now more international research on the subject, for example the UK Children’s Commissioners Report. But there is still a need for more research.
What would you say to parents whose children have been exposed to porn online?
Don’t overreact, keep calm, don’t make assumptions – they may have seen it accidentally. Children are sexually curious, don’t make them feel ashamed. Use exposure as a teaching opportunity, talk about how unrealistic what they have seen is, share your values, what you think is important in relation to sexuality, encourage them to aspire to relationships and sexuality that feel great. (See parent tip sheet in the resource section here.)
What do you say to those who argue concern about porn and children/young people is exaggerated and a ‘moral panic’?
I think moral panic is a term used to dismiss valid concerns. The rates of exposure, the nature of the material they are seeing and its impact on young people are issues we can’t afford to ignore. We don’t want to catastrophise but there are serious challenges we need to address with the level of care and seriousness they deserve. It is naïve to suggest that young people can navigate this space just fine and are media savvy – evidence shows that they aren’t able to navigate it. We need to acknowledge the powerful way porn can shape us, even if we do understand it is unrealistic. Young people need to be taught how to navigate this new territory – this is a challenge adults need to step up to – calmly, clearly, and with an evidence-based approach. Listen to the stories of young women being pressured to engage in porn-inspired acts and young men’s aspirations to engage with what they have seen in porn – the experiences of young people need to be taken seriously.
In your opinion what is the best way we can address this issue as a community?
There is no single solution. The issue needs a multi-faceted, multi-layered approach. We need to have the conversations with young people and develop the capacity of parents, teachers, youth workers and others to have those conversations – people who live and work with young people. We need to help political and community leaders to understand the issue, having leadership that is courageous to take on the not insignificant challenge that this is. It means we need to find strategies at technological level and potentially at a legislative level. Mainly we need to support people to critique pornography for themselves and reinforce that relationships should be respectful and that porn is unrealistic and often harmful.
Watch the trailer for the Porn Factor:
Collective Shout will host the first Victorian screening of ‘The Porn Factor’ June 22 at the Cinema Nova, Carlton, Melbourne. A Q&A with Maree will follow.
‘The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible…the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access’
Impact of online consumption of pornography by children on the development of healthy and respectful relationships
Michael Flood in 2009 described the likely effects of children and young people’s exposure to pornography based on a careful analysis of the available evidence as follows:
• children and young people may be disturbed (sick, shocked, embarrassed, repulsed, upset) by unwanted to exposure to Internet pornography;
• girls are more likely than boys to be troubled by sexually explicit images; boys are more likely to report sexual excitement;
• children and young people exposed to pornography that features non-mainstream sexual practices (such as male-female anal intercourse) are more likely to engage in such practices;
• children and young people who view pornography are more likely to have liberal attitudes towards, and to engage in, sex without love, one night stands, same-sex sex, multiple sex partners, more frequent sex, and earlier sexual involvement;
• pornography, much of which offers a decontextualised portrayal of sexual behaviour, a relentless focus on female bodies, and sexist and callous depictions of women contributes to sexually objectifying understandings of and behaviours towards girls and women by boys and young men;
• exposure to pornography is related to male sexual aggression against women. This association is strongest for violent pornography and still reliable for nonviolent pornography, particularly by frequent users. For example, “in a study of Canadian teenagers with an average age of 14, there was a correlation between boys’ frequent consumption of pornography and their agreement with the idea that it is acceptable to hold a girl down and force her to have sex”;
• exposure of girls and young women to pornography may make them more vulnerable to submitting to sexist and sexually objectifying attitudes, including sexual violence; and
• partners of adult pornography users report decreased sexual intimacy, lowered esteem and demands that they participate in activities they find objectionable, so children and young people’s exposure to pornography is making them less able to sustain genuine intimate relationships based on mutual respect.
The 2012 systematic literature review by Owens and colleagues, The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research, found that adolescent consumption of Internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes such as:
• more permissive sexual attitudes towards casual sex, including viewing sex as “primarily physical and casual rather than affectionate and relational”; and
• acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfill male sexual desires”.
The review also founds that frequency of consumption of Internet pornography was linked to behaviour such as:
• first oral sex at a younger age;
• first sexual intercourse at a younger age; and
• casual sex, group sex, male-female anal intercourse.
Furthermore, “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”.
In a very recent meta-analysis examining the link between pornography consumption and sexual violence, Wright and colleagues found that:
• consumption of pornography was associated with an increased likelihood of committing actual acts of sexual aggression;
• this association held for both adolescents and adults;
• the association held for both violent pornography and nonviolent pornography, although the link with violent pornography was stronger (but nonsignificant): “it appears most likely that (a) the level of violence, degradation, and objectification matters, but (b) the pornography consumed by the average individual contains enough of these elements that it is associated with an elevated likelihood of sexual aggression.;
• there is an even stronger link for verbal sexual aggression than for physical sexual aggression; and
• the link between pornography consumption and sexually aggressive behaviour is not explained by “sexually aggressive individuals watching content that conforms to their already established aggressive sexual scripts” and that “pornography consumption predicted boys’ later sexual aggression even after controlling for their earlier sexual aggression”
The authors conclude:
As with all behavior, sexual aggression is caused by a confluence of factors and many pornography consumers are not sexually aggressive. However, the accumulated data leave little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.
Sun et al in their 2013 paper “Pornography and the male sexual script” describe the nature of the majority of pornography currently available:
Nevertheless, with online mainstream pornography overwhelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward women, the sexual behaviors exemplified in pornography skew away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal constructions of masculinity and femininity. Content analysis of best-selling pornographic videos, for example, reveals that over 88% of scenes involve acts of physical aggression, with 70% of the aggressive acts being perpetrated by men, and 87% of the acts being committed against women. Such acts stand in sharp relief against more intimate acts, which were relatively infrequent, such as issuing verbal compliments, embracing, kissing, and laughing.—
In addition to the findings on first age of exposure and frequency of use reported above, this survey of U.S. heterosexual male college students found that men who view pornography more frequently are:
• more likely to rely on pornography to become and remain sexually excited (reporting masturbation with pornography as more exciting than sex with a partner; and intentionally thinking about images from pornography during sex with a partner);
• more likely to integrate pornography into dyadic sexual encounters (viewing pornography with a sex partner or acting out activities or positions seen in pornography); and
• less likely to enjoy intimate behaviours such as cuddling, kissing and caressing with a partner.
The Australian Psychological Society reports adolescent boys are estimated to be responsible for about a fifth of rapes of adult women and between a third and a half of all reported sexual assaults of children. Offences by school-aged children have quadrupled in Australia in only four years according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Australian Medical Association says there is a strong relationship between exposure to sexually explicit material and sexual behaviour that predisposes young people to adverse sexual and mental health outcomes.
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes has led to destructive ideas about sex and makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible.
Taken together, the weight of evidence about the trends in online consumption of pornography by children and young people, and the harms associated with online consumption of pornography, point to the urgent need to find effective means to limit or reduce children’s access to online pornography.
To fail to take action would be to betray a whole generation of boys and girls by leaving their formation in sex and relationships largely in the hands of a pornography industry and culture that teaches boys and young men to view women as sex objects, to be used in a degrading and even violent way and teaches girls and young women to view their worth as conditioned upon their valuation by porn saturated boys and men as fit for the purpose of an objectified sex instrument.
Collective Shout calls for child-rights based approach to address harms of hypersexualised culture
Submission to the Parliament of NSW Committee on Children and Young People Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Nicole Jameson presented on behalf of Collective Shout to the NSW Committee Inquiry into sexualisation of children and young people
Children and young people are growing up in a high-tech culture steeped in relentlessly sexualised, sexualising and sexist messaging from media, advertising and popular culture which conditions them from a young age to view themselves and others in terms of their appearance and sexual currency. While women and girls are primarily the subjects of hyper-sexualised media representation, these messages also play a crucial part in socialising men and boys to see the sexual objectification of women and girls as normal.
Many adults are overwhelmed by the task of protecting and equipping children as they navigate the contemporary media and social landscape. The current legislative and regulatory environment is piecemeal, confusing for the community to navigate, and tends to serve the commercial advantage of corporate and marketing interests to the detriment of the community – children and young people in particular. Despite a number of state and federal inquiries demonstrating the need for systemic reform, media classification and self-regulatory schemes have failed to halt or even slow the proliferation of imagery and messaging through electronic, print and social media and marketing that demeans women, reduces them to sexual objects, fosters a culture which condones sexual violence, and pressures young girls to act in prematurely sexual ways.
Collective Shout is critical of the self-regulatory system currently favoured in media and advertising, which allows free rein to marketers while placing the burden of action on those most at risk of exploitation and harm. In particular, we are concerned about the lack of effective incentive or enforcement to deter those who are making a profit from the sexualisation of children and young people. Media and advertising interests have had ample opportunity to hear and act on community concerns but have instead have chosen to protect their vested interests. It is time for government to step in and act on behalf of children and young people.
Recommendations from Collective Shout in this submission include:
Recognition of the harms of sexualisation as a public health crisis requiring swift and decisive action on behalf of children and young people.
The restructuring of the current regulatory environment to bring the regulation of all media and marketing together under one encompassing independent federal regulator, including a division with the primary responsibility of protecting the interests of children and young people, addressing both the direct and indirect sexualisation of children in all media modes from a child-rights basis.
Equipping parents and carers with the appropriate media literacy tool and institutional supports, to raise children who have the ability to be critical consumers and creators of media.
The evaluation and implementation of appropriate school-based education programs to educate children and young people about the harms of sexualisation, and funding to help schools secure these resources.
For a child-rights based approach to addressing the harms of media hypersexualisation, including respect for the voices and points of view of children and young people.
That the prevalence of sexualised images of women in our society be recognised as a significant underlying contributor to violence against women and girls.
The commissioning of comprehensive research to establish the extent of the exposure of children and young people in NSW to sexualising media content. However, this research should not preclude swift government action on the basis of the evidence that already exists.
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.”
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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