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
Why is the Playboy empire peddling its bunny logo to the middle-school set?
The Playboy brand has come a long way. Playmates now samba proudly on family friendly fare like “Dancing With the Stars,” and its empire is the subject of a retro-themed fall drama. But are you ready to let your little girl be a bunny-to-be?
The Collective Shout blog points out that the Australian accessories chain Diva — a kind of Claire’s Boutique for the Down Under set — has launched a Playboy line of accessories. What’s your pleasure, kids? A necklace with an iconic rabbit silhouette? A vintage-looking bowtie?
Diva isn’t Toys R Us, and Playboy isn’t trying to peddle Baby’s First Bikini Wax. The merchandise in question includes earrings and pendants, not plush toys. But that doesn’t mean that either Diva or Playboy get a pass for another obvious attempt at sexing up young girls. Diva, with its cute pink heart logos and invitations to “BFF us on Facebook,” aims squarely, unambiguously at the junior set. Most grown women aren’t looking to pick up a K Perry ring or a Pixie Dust Necklace with Tinkerbell charms.
That’s what’s seriously messed up about this product line. As Collective Shout justly asks, “Why is Diva wanting to dress [girls] up in a Pornography brand?” Sadly, because they can. Playboy is a company sells young women cute accoutrements — and sells men those young women’s asses. It’s no coincidence that the ubiquitous little bunny on Diva’s harmless-looking necklace also appears on videos of girls clad only in knee socks, making out with each other. It’s all part of the same, deliberately crafted corporate identity. They’re Playboy. Their entire enterprise is built on giving guys something to spank it to.
You don’t have to some stuffy anti-porn zealot to grok that there’s a reason some thngs are called adult entertainment. And while a girl may not fully understand what the rabbit around her neck represents, rest assured that plenty of grownups get the symbolism. And who in their right minds would be cool with a daughter advertising herself as a mini-Playmate? Wait, don’t answer that. Are they the same kind of people who’d dress a toddler up as a hooker?
Growing up is a natural process for every girl. And the child who was clutching a teddy bear just a short time ago may someday grow into Miss June. But the objectification of younger and younger females – from padded bras to Playboy bunnies — turns girls’ burgeoning sexuality into something that’s not for their pleasure at all. It teaches them instead that they’re playthings, to be displayed and logoed and ogled. Once upon a time, the word “diva” was applied to a female of power, grace and talent. Now, it just means a store where you can trick out your daughter like a centerfold.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.”
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‘Is it possible the DSM could become the book of appeasement, refuting questions of morality and legal culpability with regard to child abuse and exploitation?’
Last week Salon ran a comment piece by Tracy Clark-Flory which opened:
We usually hear pedophilia talked about in terms of mental illness – if not evil – but Aug. 17 a motley crew of self-identified “minor-attracted persons” and mental health professionals have gathered in Baltimore to talk about it as a sexual identity. At hand is an issue deeply important to both groups: the revision of the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia.
I have written elsewhere on the mental gymnastics employed by some of the judiciary when it comes to accepting either the vocabulary of excuses put forward by child sex offenders to exculpate them from responsibility for their offences, or minimising the harm suffered by child victims.
Of course these arguments, attitudes, utterances and opinions would not hold currency were it not for the lawyers who advance them on behalf of their clients and quarters of society that either accept them or give them tacit approval via a passive and apathetic response.
This week UK judges severely weakened legal rules that limited sex offenders’ unsupervised access to their own children. Judges declared that it was a human rights violation to prevent offenders’ from having this access. After all, they said, family life and unfettered access to ‘family life’ is their right – the rights of child victims factor in only as a secondary issue. Despite the rhetoric and declaration of a charter of human rights for children, they continue to have their status at citizens of equal worth negated. More troubling is the fact this so often occurs when children are most in need of protection from sexual predation or sexual violence.
In the same week, a US conference was held on ‘pedophilia’ under the rubric of men who are ‘minor-attracted – in other words men who desire and seek to sexually abuse children. The conference sought to advance the rights of this particular group of men by influencing the revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to better reflect a particular understanding of pedophilia as a psychiatric illness.
The DSM is the psychiatric bible and has been criticized for its development as a diagnostic manual based largely on incomplete and unscientific data – indeed psychiatrists ‘vote’ on additions and revisions and much research has highlighted the gendered nature of the psychiatric illnesses proclaimed in the book with some disorders being so ridiculous they beggar belief.
That fact that many have been removed or revised in response to societal and cultural awareness and changes in attitudes to gender and race is a testament to how mental illness can be socially constructed and even vanish from our vocabulary and treatment as society and psychiatry reconcile certain social and cultural beliefs and attitudes.
The psychiatric nomenclature declaring certain types of sexual offenders or men who declare they have not yet engaged in sexual activity with a child but have a predilection of sexual attraction to children, as individuals with a mental illness as opposed to criminals (or at least potential abusers) is a worry for many reasons.
Why is this ‘illness’ the almost exclusive problem of men and not women? It is an ‘illness’ that has been going on for centuries without recourse to any successful treatment.
I have a problem with the term ‘pedophile’ because it can be literally translated as a lover of children. Chat rooms for pedophile advocates highlight that they do not seek to ‘hurt’ children, but it is patently clear they have no concept – morally or otherwise – of what it is to ‘hurt’ a child. And believe me in my professional work I have seen first- hand the hurt suffered by children by ‘pedophiles’ – hurt that punctures the very soul of young lives and leads to damage across adult lives.
If we accept it is an illness then it is an illness afflicting almost exclusively men and has inflicted a tsunami of catastrophic damage to the lives of countless millions of children that amounts to an emotional genocide across time and place that appears to have no end.
Those advocating for these men are concerned that the law and society misunderstand ‘pedophiles’ and view them alongside ‘molesters’ of children. There exists a problem in the teasing out of men who are sexually attracted to children but say they have not acted on it as opposed to men who say they are sexually attracted to children and have acted on it.
As studies continue to show, men who are sexually attracted to children will generally move to act on that attraction. Those who have not as yet physically acted on that attraction may very likely seek other forms of intimacy with that attraction perhaps by way of viewing child pornography or engaging in contact that might not be sexual but may well still be harmful to a child’s healthy development.
We should feel a strong discomfort about a group seeking to define the parameters of what they say is their sexual orientation and have it accepted as an illness when that particular ‘illness’ can and does lead to various forms of abuse and exploitation of children around the world.
There is also the problem of normalizing the idea that many men harbor sexual desires for children. At a time when we are battling the enormous and endemic problem of child pornography and child sex tourism, we need to ramp up our collective check of society’s moral compass on accepting, even reluctantly, that sexual desires for children are a modern illness afflicting men around the world.
There are moral, ethical and even psychological questions as to why the sexual predation, desire and sexualisation of children is the almost exclusive domain of men. In late modern society we need to ask ourselves some strong questions – is the sexualisation of children a link to the sexual desire for children and the growing market in child pornography and child sex tourism. And again to ask why these issues have the common denominator of children and men.
I worry about the gendered nature of an illness where men harbor sexual desires for children – and which research consistently shows so many men will act upon – and want this targeted behaviour to be classified as an illness. We have become a humanity that pathologies our behaviours and actions to an extraordinary degree, thus removing notions of responsibility, decency and a solid moral compass.
The 20th century is marked by consumerism with our identity linked to what we buy. I buy therefore I am, is the credo. And just as our high consumerism causes so much destruction – professionals have helped us craft a language of illness and pathology about our buying habits. Why reflect on a problem and see ourselves as central to it when we can tell ourselves it is an illness and thus another ailment in society we can seek treatment for.
Is it possible the DSM could become the book of appeasement refuting questions of morality and legal culpability with regard to child abuse and exploitation?
It is not the redefinition in the DSM that will ‘cure’ this peculiar illness of men nor provide the type of moral erudition needed to tackle the world wide problem of child sexual abuse. It is the refining of humanity and our capacity to deal with an entrenched crime inflicted on children.
The latest in the continuing sexualising of young actresses
Glee actresses Lea Michele and Dianna Agron cavort in bras, knickers, short skirts, and long socks in a locker room. There are spread legs, lolly-pops, top tugging and come-hither expressions.
Michele and Agron’s co-star, Cory Monteith, is fully clothed. He’s not spreading his legs or sucking on a lolly-pop. He is not posed as sexually inviting or seductive. The girls are exposing their flesh while he’s playing the drums.
Michele and Agron press up against him, his hands on their backsides. One boy, two girls, at the ready to do his bidding.
“Glee gone wild: We show you what happens when the teachers aren’t around,” is the headline on the November issue of GQ, featuring the stars of the popular Fox owned show about a high-school choir.
The actresses may be in their 20s. But the aim is to sexify their school-girl characters, to play into the fantasy that female students are really temptresses, vixens, seducers, who want to perform sex acts for you in the locker room. GQ readers, these naughty school- girl babysitters want to get their uniforms off for you!
Michele and Agron have been exploited in the interests of GQ readers with tissue boxes close by (and not because the images make them cry).
It would be stretching the bounds of believability to say Fox executives didn’t know where this was heading.
GQ employed photographer Terry Richardson for the job. He’s described here:
For more than a decade, he’s been a high-profile pervy Zelig, documenting his sexual exploits… Virtually everyone who knows Richardson’s name can tell you about the brightly lit, porno-like quality of his pictures.
Richardson has been accused of inappropriate advances to young female models. You can read what some of his subjects have claimed about his behaviour here.
He takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of. They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves.
This is the porn stylist paid to give the GQ shoot – featuring high school lead characters – his special touch.
Michele is quoted in GQ: “I’m proud to be on a positive show and to be a voice for girls and say, ‘You don’t need to look like everybody else. Love who you are.”
That’s nice. But Michele has been pornified like so many other young female celebrities. I’ve written about this before. It’s not taking a different road. It’s the same banal path, the same pre-determined sexualised script. You will bare your flesh. You will be turned into masturbatory material for male readers. You will suck on a lolly-pop in a childish way. You will be styled as barely legal.
The meaning of the Glee shoot is well captured in a piece by Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams:
What do you call a magazine that runs pictures of young women in suggestive poses, dolled up to look like lollipop-sucking, uniform disrobing teens? Barely Legal? Just 18? How about GQ?
For the November issue of the increasingly ironically designated gentleman’s magazine, “Glee’s” so-ubiquitous-they hurt Lea Michele, Dianna Agron and Cory Monteith do what has been done with hot, sexy celebrities since the dawn of periodicals – they cavort around in various stages of undress. Well, the ladies do – Monteith remains demurely covered in rugby shirts and sweaters while his female castmates pull their shirts down, open and off. The shoot was photographed by the notoriously skeevy Terry Richardson and features clothing from American Apparel (neither of which are strangers to sexual misconduct)…
…playing off the setting of the show, it essentially keeps its stars in character, thereby then allowing its readers – median age 33.4 – to ogle them as porny teen fantasy characters – all spread legs and underpants in the locker room… And knowing that it was shot by a man with a long, storied and reputedly unpleasant history involving teenagers makes the whole thing just that much more repugnant.
Here’s what I had to say about the Glee shoot on Channel 7’s Morning Show.
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