International lawyers, Ruth Nordstrom and Rebecca Ahlstrand, are globally recognized legal experts on the Nordic model of prostitution regulation, first established in Sweden. They have been in Australia meeting with MPs in four states advocating for the Nordic Model to be adopted here. Ruth is President and Senior Legal Counsel of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers with experience in the Administrative Court of Uppsala Sweden and the Swedish Ministry of Justice. Rebecca is Legal Counsel for Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyer specializing in international human rights, humanitarian law, asylum law and medical law. I interviewed them while they were here.
Welcome to Australia and thanks for being here. For those not familiar with the Nordic Model, could you give a brief description of how it works? How did the Swedish criminal code come to include prostitution in its provisions?
The Swedish Sex Purchase Act came into force in 1999 and the law criminalizes the buyer, but not the seller of sex. The Swedish law on prostitution states the following: ‘A person who obtains a casual sexual relation in return for payment, shall be sentenced for purchase of sexual service to a fine or imprisonment for at most one year.’ When this law was passed it introduced a new way of thinking as it shifted focus from the seller to the buyer. There were several objectives to this, firstly to make a clear statement that women are not commodities to be sold or bought, but that women are equal to men. Secondly it was a way to reduce the demand for prostitution. Simply put, if there is no demand, prostitution will automatically be reduced. Just the fact that a buyer can get caught and have a letter from the police sent home to his family has been found to have a deterring effect on sex buyers.
Can you describe the effort it took to see the law passed? What had to happen for it to succeed and how long did it take?
The law was part of a larger Government Bill concerning violence against women. The Bill included many different proposals in different sectors and prostitution was amongst these. Already in the 70s the issue of criminalizing prostitution was raised and a big inquiry was made into the issue of prostitution. A proposal was presented in the beginning of the 80s, but the proposal only included suggestions on social measures and some legal amendments to reduce prostitution.
Already at that time, however, the inquiry found that men buying women for sexual pleasure was not compatible with the principles of individual freedom and gender equality. In a society where a man can buy a woman, respect for women is also lost. A new inquiry was made in 1993 and in a Government report from 1995 it was proposed that both selling and buying sexual services should be criminalized. However, this proposal was heavily criticized because of the criminalization of the prostitute and was never implemented. A new proposal, where only the person who purchases sexual services was criminalized, based on the inquiry from 1993, was the one that ultimately was implemented.
A few surveys were made before the implementation of the Sex Purchase Act, and they showed that more than 70 percent of the population in Sweden was against the new law. However, this changed radically in a short time as the new law had an interesting impact on attitudes – all surveys after the implementation, the latest one held in 2014, have shown that more than 70 percent of the population is now for the ban on buying sex. Among women the support is as high as 85 percent and a large majority of young people also favor the ban. It took many years, around 25 years to find a solution in Sweden, but now many countries are following Sweden’s example, the latest country being France.
France adopted the Nordic approach after a few years of debating the issue. Many countries in the world are waking up to the fact that the sex industry and trafficking in human beings are growing global problems connected with serious organized crime and have to be counteracted in different ways. A law that criminalizes buyers and helps reduce demand is one of the important steps to stop violence against women.
Did Swedish politicians expect at that time that this legislative model would be taken up by the number of countries who have since adopted it? Can you describe your feelings after the law was recently adopted in France?
When the Sex Purchase Act was implemented in Sweden in 1999, it was a signal and an important statement to other countries in the world, but few could by then foresee how far the legislative model would reach. Year 2014, the Council of Europe Report on Prostitution, Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in Europe, recommended all other European Member states to seriously consider adopting the Swedish/Nordic model, which of course was a very important step forward.
When France had finally adopted the new law to criminalize sex purchase, we spoke with the Swedish “Angel in the Red Light District” who started to shout for joy. We often hear that it is only right wing/conservatives that would support any limits on the sex industry. That is a myth and not based on facts. In France, two Socialist MP’s, Maud Olivier and Bruno Le Roux were the two leading figures in this process and the Socialist were also supported by the Greens. In Sweden, the legislative model was introduced by the Social democrats, but today it has broad support within all the major political parties.
What are you doing at present to see the model taken up in other countries?
We are currently part of several EU projects concerning education and promotion of the Nordic model on prostitution and trafficking to other countries in Europe. Through the EU projects, representatives from several other EU countries participate and we will also arrange judicial training and release projects focused on reducing the demand for sexual services.
We often hear from those with vested interests that the Swedish model ‘doesn’t’ work’ and drives prostitution underground. How effective has the model been in reducing crime, trafficking, and protecting women?
When the law was introduced street prostitution was very soon reduced by half. The following years there was a steady increase in street prostitution in Sweden’s neighboring countries, Norway and Denmark, but not in Sweden. Prostitution can never be completely underground, but if the buyers can find prostitutes, so can the police and social workers.
In the comparing research that has been made in the Nordic countries, there is nothing to suggest that there is a larger underground prostitution industry in Sweden compared to other countries, quite the contrary. The estimated number of women trafficked for sexual purposes in Sweden and Finland a while back showed that Sweden had an estimate of 2-400 women who had been trafficked, while Finland, where prostitution is legal, the number was significantly higher with 15-17 000 women. Finland has a much smaller population than Sweden, which makes this number even more serious.
We strongly believe that prostituted women are in a stronger position when it’s illegal to buy sexual services, because this makes the man a criminal. Women who have worked in Germany before and after legalization, and who also worked in Sweden have stated that their experience is that men grew more violent to them as prostitutes after the legalization, because they felt entitled to having sex.
They found men to be less violent in Sweden. When the buyer is criminalized, it will give the prostitute a stronger position because the buyer knows he is committing a crime and the prostitute will have the police and the social authorities on her side. Through the European police cooperation, Interpol, undercover work and interviews with victims of human trafficking, there have been indications that criminal groups consider Sweden as a less attractive country for trafficking because it is riskier and less profitable.
The French law includes provision of “exit routes” through programs and support for those women who wish to leave the system, with the development of reparation and other remedies for victims of prostitution and trafficking. How essential are these programs in your view? Are you surprised that Australia has no publicly funded exit programs?
We think it’s great that France has incorporated this in the law. It’s not enough to just criminalize sex buyers, it is crucial to create opportunities for the women in prostitution to get away from the industry. Many of the girls are broken, abused, alcohol or drug addicted and suffer from a very low self-esteem. In Sweden the County Administrative Board in Stockholm was commissioned by the Government to develop an aid program for the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and prostitution.
The mission was to strengthen and develop support with respect to the exposed situation, trauma, vulnerability and potential threats. The goal was to identify measures that were needed to ensure the person’s future through education and work, and to reduce the risk of ending up in prostitution again or of re-trafficking. Every country needs to have an action plan against trafficking which also includes funding of exit programs. Considering the great human rights abuses within human trafficking and the sex industry, it is very surprising that Australia has no publicly funded exit programs. During our visits and hearing in the Australian parliaments, we strongly recommended this.
The French law also mandates programs in educating young people and in raising public awareness that prostitution is linked to the commodification of the body as “a form of violence against women.” Is this a measure you hope would be included in passage of legislation in other countries in future?
Education on these issues is crucial and has a reducing effect on demand. The French law is very interesting in this regard. We definitely think other countries should take a close look and follow the French example. Young people are vulnerable, and there are many examples of young girls being groomed and lured into prostitution and abuse through the Internet. Education is a way to teach young people of the risks of prostitution and the abuse and violence that are associated with it. Every young person has the right to know that they are valuable and priceless and that women and their bodies are not commodities that could be bought and sold.
You have been visiting Australia and speaking with MPs here. How have they responded? Do you think Australia has a long way to go before there is political will to see the Nordic model adopted here or are you more hopeful?
Some politicians have been very positive, but we have also met some opposition. The knowledge about the Nordic Model is generally low and there are myths and rumors circulating that are not correct and therefore it is very important to bring the actual facts. There is a crystal clear link between prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes. Millions of people are suffering; most of them are women and children. It is a global issue and we need a global strategy to combat trafficking and the exploitation of victims.
The Nordic model has proved to be an important tool to prevent and counteract the establishment of human trafficking and organized crime. Attitudes can change fast and we believe we are witnessing a trend toward the Nordic approach in Europe and other countries and we think Australia needs keep up with the rest of the world.
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.
Genevieve, 33, was sexually abused by men when she was between the ages of 2 and 16 in New South Wales. Bred by her father specifically to be abused, she has suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), dissociation, flashbacks, and an eating disorder. Many times she wanted to end her life. Last year she almost succeeded.
Charlotte, 27, has also suffered for years as a result of childhood abuse for more than ten years, beginning when she was 2, at the hands of her father, uncle, family friend and strangers in Queensland. She has endured PTSD, dissociative disorder, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. More than once she has made attempts on her life.
Ally Marie, 44, was sexually abused throughout her childhood by men in her adoptive parent’s church. She has spent years in and out of mental hospitals in New Zealand and Western Australia; she abused drugs and alcohol to numb her pain and also struggled with suicidal thoughts.
What these three women have in common – in addition to histories of sexual abuse – is a deep grief and profound horror that another victim of abuse, a 20-year-old Belgian woman, was killed by lethal injection after medical professionals determined this was a suitable treatment to end her suffering. (Her death took place last year, but the Dutch Euthanasia Commission has only recently released its report.)
The young woman had been sexually abused between the ages of 5 and 15. She suffered PTSD, severe anorexia, chronic depression, hallucinations, suicidal mood swings, self-harming tendencies and obsessive compulsive behaviours. Her psychiatrist declared that there was no prospect of recovery. Doctors believed the woman to be “fully competent with no major depression or mood disorders affecting her thinking” that she wanted death – which makes no sense, given her many diagnoses.
“I’m horrified,” says the mother-of-one Genevieve from Queensland, who I met recently.
“It’s abominable. She was only 20! No 20-year-old with sound mind says ‘I choose euthanasia over living’. Yes, it’s a failure of the medical profession. It’s also a failure of humanity. The decision to kill her says to the rest of us: there is no hope, your life doesn’t matter! You are beyond repair, we have nothing to offer you. It tells us we are leeches who should be eradicated.”
A nursing graduate hoping to work in acute mental health care for young adults, Genevieve has first-hand experience of how difficult it is for survivors to get the specialist trauma care they need. She pays $200 a fortnight to access the specialist medical help she needs through the private health system, which she can’t get through public services. She says survivors are made to feel like burdens:
“Instead of finding alternatives and offering real hope, this decision says ‘let’s just eradicate this person, it will cost less’. Doctors don’t have to deal with what caused this person to become like this in the first place. If society says ‘This is OK’, it becomes acceptable. There is no longer a deterrent to ending your life. Our suffering makes us feel isolated and lonely. It’s taboo to talk about what happened to you. We are made to feel we are too hard. But we need to hear there is hope, keep going, things will get better. We need people who will come alongside and say ‘We can do life together’. We need a community, a network, so we don’t feel like an island.”
Genevieve, Charlotte and Ally Marie feel strongly that the 20-year-old lacked these necessary supports. And like many others on the long journey of recover from abuse, they know that if euthanasia – the medicalised killing of another person – had been legally available, they themselves may not have been with us today to stand as survivors. If their community and the medical profession had offered death as a compassionate resolution to their suffering, they may well have stepped from suicidal ideation into death.
I know Charlotte as a contributor to Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade – so many child abuse survivors end up in the prostitution industry. She was distressed when reading about the end of life of another abuse victim. While the intensity of suffering echoed her own wounds, she says she has been encouraged to live, not die, helped through regular therapy, the support of loving friends, her teaching studies and her dog. As she writes about overcoming a desire to end it all:
“the knowledge that I came so close to dying fills me with sorrow. I am very lucky and grateful to still be here today. There are so many beautiful and wonderful things in life that I would have missed out on, and it is those moments which make recovery that little bit easier … No one should ever be made to feel as though suicide is an option.”
Ally Marie also recalls a childhood destroyed by sexual, physical and emotional abuse. She has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals much of her life. “Had someone given me a needle back then to end it all I would have gratefully accepted,” says Ally Marie, who now has nine children as well as running her own business helping women reach their goals.
“Thank God they didn’t. Thank God I am alive to share my story. Because now I am grateful as I look at my beautiful family I created, as I look around at the lives I can change with my story … What happened to this girl is murderous. Who are you to anticipate what her future holds? I was this young girl but I found my way and pulled through.”
The Belgian woman is not an isolated case. Among psychiatric patients receiving euthanasia in the Netherlands, most are women. A study published this year showed that PTSD and anxiety were prominent in such cases between 2011 and 2014. Four women were cognitively impaired, some had eating disorders, others prolonged grief. More than half were lonely and isolated. In one case, the report says, “The patient indicated that she had had a life without love and therefore had no right to exist.”
Sydney academic Katrina George has analysed criminological data from around the world to show that euthanasia of women is overwhelmingly at the hands of men. Patterns of assisted death in women reflect that of violence against women. The data simply doesn’t support the tidy theory of autonomy, choice and control put forward by euthanasia advocates.
Two of the most heartbreaking cases reveal how the cause of euthanasia becomes more important than the lives of women. A young Indian woman, Aruna Shanbaug, was brutally sexually assaulted 40 years ago and died last year. She became the inspiration for euthanasia laws, rather than for a campaign to fight violence against women, “a cause much more bitter than passive euthanasia.”
Nathan Verhelst was born as Nancy, a Belgian girl unwanted by her mother (“If only you had been a boy”) and sexually abused by her brothers from the age of twelve. Later in life, as a transsexual, Nathan underwent hormone therapy, a mastectomy, and failed surgery to construct a penis. He was euthanised at his own request in 2013. “I did not want to be a monster … I had happy times, but the balance is on the wrong side,” he said in an interview hours before his death. “I was the girl that nobody wanted.” His close friend Marisol later said, “If his family didn’t hurt him so much, he wouldn’t have wanted [euthanasia]. I don’t like the idea that you give your life because other people broke your life.”
If death is sought/offered to escape the pain of sexual abuse, incest, rejection, loneliness, what kind of choice is that?
Reforms to allow euthanasia in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria are likely to be debated this year, and Senator Leyonhjelm and the Greens want to give the Territories the power to legalise euthanasia. While suicide itself has long been legal throughout Australia – attempted suicide attracts no penalty or consequence – they want medical killing legalised.
Troubled teenagers will not be eligible (though Philip Nitschke continues to promote his suicide bag for them) but patients with “intolerable” psychological conditions might be. Already, Australian teens and young adults are increasingly taking their own lives with the drug recommended by Nitschke’s euthanasia groups.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, the laws were originally very strict and limiting. But over time they have relaxed to include those people without a terminally ill condition: teens; children; babies; abused, lonely, isolated women.
It is no stretch to imagine that a young woman with PTSD, a survivor of sexual abuse, might qualify for euthanasia in Australia in the future especially in an environment of over-stretched and under-funded mental health systems.
Aside from system failures, we need to look more closely at our own attitudes. There is a subtle discrimination in favour of able-bodied people – ableism – so well described by Shakira Hussein. The able-bodied cannot imagine living with a permanent physical or psychological disability.
The response from the online blogs and forums of people recovering from abuse and PTSD challenge these attitudes. Most have condemning the killing of this young woman. Like Genevieve, Charlotte and Ally Marie, they have shared how glad they are not to have been tempted with a death-inducing injection:
“I’m still alive and I can think and feel and love and do all the things I thought I’d never be able to.” (Jenn Selby)
“As someone who suffered severe depression throughout almost two decades (on and off), but who is now free from it through learned insights and changes to core beliefs, and has the tools to prevent myself ever getting to that place of no hope again, I find it very alarming that people are condoning assisted suicide for sufferers of mental illness. I believe it is an illness that is curable, therefore helping someone end their life before they may have found the tools, insight, help they need to help themselves out of the hole, is tragic. While it may have taken me 17 years to get to where I am today, and while I used to believe I would continue to suffer through, and have to manage my depression, for the rest of my life, I am now in a very different place. There were a number of times that I got so low, for so long, that I wanted to end things, but taking the next step to actually do that yourself is a big step. If society’s perception was that it’s normal to end the suffering, and they could assist me in doing so, easily and painlessly, then I probably would have taken that option and wouldn’t be here today. Which would mean I would have missed out on another 50 – 60 years (hopefully) of life, free from that level of debilitating depression. That would be a tragedy.” (Alison – posted privately on Facebook; quoted with permission)
“In my wildest dreams I never imagined that I could recover from a significant PTSD diagnosis. It took years and a chance meeting with a psychiatrist who was able to offer me the therapy I needed but had been unable to access before that time. In my 20s, any option was a good option to break free of the exhausting battle. I remember feeling deflated that I woke up in ICU, a failure even in trying to end my life. In my 40s, I thank God for not having been offered help to end my life and always encouragement that others depended on me to live and live well. Now, I have beautiful children, an incredibly patient and loving husband and LIFE. Once, I never thought I could say that. I have life and am more than my damaged mind. I am terribly sad that this young woman, whose living hell I am not trying to minimise, did not have the opportunity to know that there was more.” (Gabrielle – on the Women’s Bioethics Alliance Facebook page)
“At my worst, I remember feeling an almost ‘logical’ desire to commit suicide … Now I see that thinking as one of the tricks that PTSD plays on you, that you start to think suffering is the only path and death doesn’t seem so bad … For three decades this option would have been a gift to me, not a punishment. I’m immensely grateful that this was not an option because I’m starting to enjoy living.” (“RuthieJujube”)
“PTSD is not a ‘mental illness’ we are born with. You take a perfectly healthy person/child and expose them to unspeakable horror and they develop PTSD. We were each born healthy and we owe it to ourselves to find the way back to our core self – before we were hurt. Call me whatever but I still have hope for each and every one of us. We deserve it. Suicide lets them win … What heals PTSD sufferers is connection, safety, and community.
“The world needs PTSD survivors. Yes, I contend that it needs us. Think about a world where people could be traumatized and then get help to end their lives as a solution to the deep wounds and costs of that trauma. That’s not good for society as a whole … Many movements to end traumatic things on this planet were started, if not led, by people who had survived trauma and were forever changed by it … But by making it legal for doctors to help we would be sanctioning it as a society and saying ‘this is ok’ and we can’t afford the deep cost of sending that message. It’s not just about adults who have been traumatized, but kids too. They need to grow up in a world where we will fight to protect them, not send the unintentional message that their life is not worth living if they are shaken to the core by trauma. We need to send the message that their life matters, period.” (“Justmehere“)
The suffering of women and children is perpetrated in a culture which too often overlooks the violence against them. The State, rather than dealing with the offences, properly punishing abuses, providing every care for survivors, instead may offer them an individual way out of a problem it has helped tacitly to facilitate. It becomes a personal rather than a collective problem. How is it that so many men can continue to abuse so many little girls in a global avalanche of sexual abuse? How is this not everyone’s problem?
Is death the best we can offer? Genevieve, Charlotte and Ally Marie and the many others like them need to hear: Stay here with us. We will help you, not with a needle, but with everything you need to become well.
Brooke, 21, survived a year of abuse at the hands of her porn-fuelled boyfriend who bashed her if she resisted the porn inspired acts he demanded. Last Tuesday Brooke and I shared a platform at a breakfast gathering of civic leaders, teachers, police domestic violence & social welfare workers in Toowoomba, to discuss the relationship between pornography and violence. Bravely sharing her story for the first time, Brooke moved the room to tears. She is a living expression of the direct suffering women endure at the hands of men living on a diet of pornography. Here’s what she said at the event (slightly edited).
MTR with Brooke at City Women community breakfast
My name is Brooke, I’ve lived in Toowoomba for two years. I have been involved in a domestic violence relationship and this morning I’m going to share more about this so called relationship. I first met John when I was 18 years old we both lived close together and soon became great friends.
It wasn’t long after becoming friends with John that we both started dating, I was overjoyed that I finally had someone who loved me for me but I soon came to realise that this wasn’t the case. A month into the relationship he had beaten me twice, mentally abused me about my weight and looks. He couldn’t go anywhere with me as I was too ugly and didn’t fit into the size of clothing that he wanted me to.
So I was left at home stuck with his abusive step father who loved John and would do anything to stop me from being happy. Soon before I knew it, I couldn’t eat. I was allowed coffee and smokes, that was all. I developed an eating disorder.
No longer allowed around my friends, I couldn’t call anyone if I wanted to see anyone it had to be with John and when he wanted to leave we had to leave then and there. I soon lost my friends my personal trainer had started to notice the bruise and cuts but I couldn’t say anything in fear she would be hurt. I was alone scared and lost.
John was addicted to porn. He would watch porn on TV, his phone and had videos saved to his iPod. It didn’t matter where he was, if he wanted to jerk off he would pull out his mobile and go for it. If I refused to have sex with him, he would sit there doing his business while telling me what I was missing out on, how pretty these girls were, if only he knew them I real life. His mind had been filled with this image of what pretty woman had to look like and I was supposed to look and act like them.
One night I refused to have sex with him. I was hit, kicked in the gut and nearly lost my life all because he couldn’t get internet, his phoned had gone flat and I refused. His girlfriend wouldn’t give him sex but my best friend did. We were at his auntie’s house for a birthday party the weekend before my 19th birthday.
My 19th birthday wasn’t a birthday I want to remember, but I do. I was told I wasn’t allowed a small cake as it would make me even fatter and he couldn’t have that. As a present I was beaten three times that day and punched 20 times by midnight. I was too sore to fight him anymore. I wanted my life to end then and there but I couldn’t do anything so I asked him to kill me instead.
The police had been called for a domestic between John and his mum not long after and I was hidden in the bedroom too scared to come out. I could have been free that night but I stayed in fear. He was fine, he watched porn again that night like nothing happened.
I don’t know why but I asked a friend to meet with me knowing the risk. I had I told John I was going to the gym but instead packed a bag of clothes taking nothing but one bag with me to this friend.
After meeting my friend we went to her friend’s house where the next day I was taken to Goodna Youth Service and put on to D.V connect. I was moved that day to Brisbane where he found me, then moved to the Gold Coast where he once again found me. I was so desperate for him to just leave me alone that I tried to kill myself but survived. Why, I’m still working that out. After being released from hospital I was transferred to Toowoomba.
Since moving to Toowoomba, John has found me but I have decided not to run anymore. I can’t keep doing it as I have a life here. I now live in a safe supportive family, I’m currently studying and looking for part-time work and volunteering at The Base soup kitchen.
If porn was not in John’s life, I believe I would have been treated correctly as a woman who had feelings not an object to be tossed away like it didn’t matter.
If you know anyone in any sort of bad relationship or come across someone wanting help I beg you to help them. You don’t know their story but you can be the one to save them.
“[I want] better education regarding sex for both boys and girls [and] information about pornography, and the way it influences harmful sexual practices.”
These are the words of Lucy, aged 15, one of 600 young Australian women and girls who took part in a just-released survey commissioned by Plan Australia and Our Watch. The survey, conducted by Ipsos, gathered responses from the girls and young women aged 15-19 in all states and territories.
In the survey report, entitled Don’t send me that pic, participants reported that online sexual abuse and harassment were endemic. More than 80% said it was unacceptable for boyfriends to request naked images.
Sexual bullying and harassment are part of daily life for many girls. Young people are speaking out more and more about how these practices have links with pornography – and so they should, because they have most to lose.
Pornography is moulding and conditioning the sexual behaviours and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with these porn-saturated boys.
My own engagement with young women over the last few years in schools around Australia, confirms that we are conducting a pornographic experiment on young people – an assault on their healthy sexual development.
If there are still any questions about whether porn has an impact on young people’s sexual attitudes and behaviours, perhaps it’s time to listen to young people themselves. Girls and young women describe boys pressuring them to provide acts inspired by the porn they consume routinely. Girls tell of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy.
Some see sex only in terms of performance, where what counts most is the boy enjoying it. I asked a 15-year-old about her first sexual experience. She replied: “I think my body looked OK. He seemed to enjoy it”. Many girls seem cut off from their own sense of pleasure or intimacy. That he enjoyed it is the main thing. Girls and young women are under a lot of pressure to give boys and men what they want, to adopt pornified roles and behaviours, with their bodies being merely sex aids. Growing up in a pornified landscape, girls learn that they are service stations for male gratification and pleasure.
Asked “How do you know a guy likes you?,” a Year 8 replied: “He still wants to talk to you after you suck him off.” A male high school student said to a girl: “If you suck my dick I’ll give you a kiss.” Girls are expected to provide sex acts for tokens of affection. A 15-year-old told me she didn’t enjoy sex at all, but that getting it out of the way quickly was the only way her boyfriend would settle down and watch a movie with her.
I’m increasingly seeing Year 7 girls who seek help on what to do about requests for naked images. Being asked “send me a picture of your tits” is an almost daily occurrence for many. “How do I say ‘no’ without hurting his feelings”? girls ask.
As the Plan Australia/Our Watch report found, girls are tired of being pressured for images they don’t want to send, but they seem resigned to how normal the practice has become. Boys use the images as a form of currency, to swap and share and to use to humiliate girls publicly.
Year 7 girls ask me questions about bondage and S&M. Many of them had seen 50 Shades of Grey (which was released on Valentine’s Day). They ask, if he wants to hit me, tie me up and stalk me, does that mean he loves me? Girls are putting up with demeaning and disrespectful behaviours, and thereby internalizing pornography’s messages about their submissive role.
I meet girls who describe being groped in the school yard, girls routinely sexually harassed at school or on the school bus on the way home. They tell me boys act like they are entitled to girls’ bodies. Defenders of porn often say that it provides sex education. And it does: it teaches even very young boys that women and girls are always up for it. “No” in fact means yes, or persuade me.
Girls describe being ranked at school on their bodies, and are sometimes compared to the bodies of porn stars. They know they can’t compete, but that doesn’t stop them thinking they have to. Requests for labiaplasty have tripled in a little over a decade among young women aged 15-24. Girls who don’t undergo porn-inspired “Brazilian” waxing are often considered ugly or ungroomed (by boys as well as by other girls).
Some girls suffer physical injury from porn-inspired sexual acts, including anal sex. The director of a domestic violence centre on the Gold Coast wrote to me a couple of years ago about the increase in porn-related injuries to girls aged 14 and up, from acts including torture:
“In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender. With offenders not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, believing women are ‘up for it’ 24/7, ascribing to the myth that ‘no means yes and yes means anal’, oblivious to injuries caused and never ever considering consent. We have seen a huge increase in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent.”
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. Just last week , Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs argued that online pornography is turning children into copycat sexual predators – acting out on other children what they are seeing in porn.
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.”
I have asked girls what messages they might like me to pass on to boys. So far, these messages include: “Stop telling us we are wet,” “Stop commenting on our bodies,” “Stop demanding pictures,” “Rape jokes are never funny” and “Sex before the age of consent is illegal.”
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. As a recent study found:
“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.”
It is intimacy and tenderness that so many girls and young women say they are looking for. A young woman told me that on dating sites she lists under “fetish” wanting to stare longingly into someone’s eyes and to take sex slow. She said if she didn’t put these desires in the “fetish” category, they wouldn’t warrant a second glance.
But how will young women find these sensual, slow-burn experiences in men indoctrinated by pornography? Psychologist Philip Zimbardo says of young men: “They don’t know the language of face to face contact … Constant arousal, change, novelty excitement makes them out of sync with slow developing relationships – relationships which build slowly.”
It is wrong to leave sexual formation in the hands of the global sex industry. We need to do more to help young people stand up against warped notions of sexuality conveyed in pornography.
Fortunately, the ill-effects of the pornographic experiment on relationships and sexuality are being named out loud. A groundbreaking Australia-first symposium on the issue was held at UNSW last month, to a standing room crowd, and a current Senate inquiry is gathering evidence of the distorting harmful impacts of porn on our young people.
Most importantly, it’s young people themselves demanding change. Josie, 18, is quoted in the Plan Australia/Our Watch report:
“We need some sort of crack down on the violent pornography that is currently accessible to boys and men. This violent pornography should be illegal to make or view in Australia as we clearly have a problem with violence and boys are watching a lot of pornography which can be very violent … This is influencing men’s attitude towards women and what they think is acceptable. Violent pornography is infiltrating Australian relationships.”
Despite its definition, “revenge porn” is almost never used to describe commercial pornography. Indeed, the rush to decry “revenge porn” implies that commercial pornography is somehow not about harm, degradation, and humiliation.
It is taken for granted in many of these public discussions that all women in commercial pornography have freely and willingly consented, not only to the sex acts that have been recorded, but also to their global distribution. Beyond that, the stories of abuse from within the commercial pornography industry are largely ignored.
Women involved in all aspects of the porn industry, from the so-called “soft porn” of Playboy and the “free choice” of amateur, to the harder forms of gonzo, have spoken publicly about violence and coercion. I also recount a number of their stories in Selling Sex Short. The filmed recordings of these assaults and abuses of trust are still in circulation for a mostly male target audience to access for the purposes of sexual arousal.
Even the inclusion of specific abusive incidents in the commercial industry as “revenge pornography” is still very limited. The analysis remains stuck on an individual level and offers no meaningful context of consent. Most understandings of “revenge porn” hinge on the idea that the person in question — almost always woman — has not consented to the distribution of her image and that the purpose of publishing the image is to degrade or humiliate her in some way.
We need to understand that questionable consent, along with humiliation and degradation, are hallmarks of the pornography industry itself. Firstly, women’s inequality — economically, socially, political and sexually — contributes to a kind of cultural coercion into pornography production in the first place. There is little sense in suggesting that commercial pornography is all about “free choice,” as though consent exists outside the context of a capitalist-patriarchy or pornified culture.
Secondly, there is the representation of women in pornography. Sexual violence and sexual aggression against women in mainstream, commercial pornography is extremely common. The ways in which particular groups of women are depicted in pornography also shows that humiliation and degradation exist outside obvious sexual violence.
Racism, too, is pervasive in mainstream heterosexual (and gay male) pornography. As Gail Dines explains:
“Hiding behind the façade of fantasy and harmless fun, pornography delivers reactionary racist stereotypes that would be considered unacceptable were they in any other types of mass-produced media. However, the power of pornography is that these messages have a long history and still resonate, on a sub-textual level, with the white supremacist ideologies, that continue to inform policies that economically, politically and socially discriminate against people of colour.”
Dines demonstrates how sexism and racism intertwine with common tropes such as Asian women constructed as petite and submissive and black women constructed as poor, or “ghetto,” and easily pimped. Pornography not only reinforces male dominance and white supremacy, it sexualizes them: it makes inequality something to get off to.
Furthermore, the pornography industry fundamentally requires sexual objectification in order to function. As Kathleen Barry argues in The Prostitution of Sexuality, the increasing proliferation of pornography has been, at least in part, about publicly reducing women to sexed bodies for the male gaze. She states that, in post-industrial societies:
“[W]hen women achieve the potential for economic independence, men are threatened with loss of control over women as their legal and economic property in marriage. To regain control, patriarchal domination reconfigures around sex by producing a social and public condition of sexual subordination that follows women into the public world.”
In this sense, at a class level, all porn is revenge porn. Instead of an individual man benefiting at the expense of an individual woman — as in dominant understandings of “revenge porn” — this is men, as a class, benefiting at the expense of women, as a class.
The situation is similar with other aspects of the sex industry, as Sheila Jeffreys explains in The Industrial Vagina:
“The boom in strip clubs can be seen as a counterattack, in which men have reasserted their right to network for and through male dominance without the irritating presence of women, unless those women are naked and servicing their pleasures…[Strip clubs] provide an antidote to the erosion of male dominance by institutionalizing the traditional hierarchy of gender relations.”
As women have increasingly asserted their equality with (and autonomy from) men, the sex industry — including its most pervasive and profitable arm in pornography — has become a form of patriarchal compensation, or even revenge. It is a way of reclaiming hierarchies founded on racism and sexism.
We’ve had several decades worth of feminist theorizing and activism about the harms of pornography. It is 24 years since the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance put forward the idea that women should be able to hold pornographers who profit from their abuse civilly accountable. It is an ordinance that would have been well suited, in many ways, to addressing revenge porn today.
There is little need to reinvent the wheel in understanding the harms of revenge pornography. There is, however, an urgent need to re-engage with feminist critiques of pornography, sexual inequality, and consent if we are to have any hope of redressing such harms.
Last week I was one of 12 panelists on the ABC2 program ‘Australians on Porn’. I’d had my hesitations about participating, the producers assured me of fair treatment and a serious discussion how porn was shaping sexual attitudes and behaviours. What transpired was a wank fest and sex industry promotion. We saw and heard from a number of porn performers, representing the vested interests of the industry – but there were no women speaking of how they were harmed in the industry and had got out.
The main takeout for me: do not dare stand in the way of a man’s entitlement to ejaculate to whatever he wants. My attempts to raise critical issues of sexism, rape, violence, and misogyny perpetuated in the most popular porn genres were shouted down. I was mocked for mentioning the ethics of using porn when the woman on the screen may have been trafficked. No one cared. Probably my lowest moment in an hour of low moments was when the ‘sexologist’ Jacqueline Hellyer tried to prevent me from reading this letter from the director of a sexual assault clinic. “It’s not relevant!”, she declared. I was also told to stop talking about facts.
I am the Director a Sexual Violence counselling service and totally agree with your article. In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender. With offenders not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, believing women are “up for it” 24/7, ascribing to the myth that ” no means yes and yes means anal “, oblivious to injuries caused and never ever considering consent. We have seen a huge increase in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture , drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent. I founded the centre 25 years ago and what is now considered to be the norm in 2015 is frightening. I wonder where we will be in another 10 years!
This photo of host Tom Tilley on a porn set with two porn actresses (the one on the left a panelist on the show), may suggest why it was expecting too much to be given fair treatment. Looks like he had a good time anyway.
Laura McNally wrote this assessment of the program published today on ABC Religion and Ethics.
Inconvenient Facts: Why Would the ABC Airbrush Porn’s Complicity in Sexual Violence?
While it may not be as readily accessible as porn, the research on porn is nonetheless abundant.
Yet, according to Australians on Porn host Tom Tilley, “How many people end up in extreme situations? … there isn’t a lot of research out there to prove that.” Read more
Laura Pintur, also a panellist on the show, wrote this piece published also on ABC Religion and Ethics a short time earlier.
The ABC Squandered its Chance to Host the Discussion on Porn We Need to Have
When I was first asked to join the panel for ABC2′s Australians on Porn program, which aired last Monday night, I was pleased to see a mainstream and respected show like Triple J Hack initiate a debate on the impacts of pornography on Australians – especially its youth demographic.
However, as it turned out, the show was heavily weighted towards the pro-porn camp, with porn consumers, a porn “star” and porn producers dominating the program. Other porn actors appeared in sex scenes in videos along with more porn consumers.
While there were a couple of guys who felt porn hadn’t always been good for them, overall porn was treated as a laugh and the seriousness of the issue trivialised.
Its major focus centred around the use of porn by “mature adults,” and failed to highlight and discuss the issues with the younger generations.
ABC2′s publicity stated that the purpose of the show was to “lift the lid on the commodification of sex.” It certainly confirmed that sex has become an accepted commodity – nothing new there! But did it lift the lid? Did it accurately look at the “costs, the consequences and impact on attitude to sex” as was promised? Read more
The only positive has been the many comments critical of the program on TripleJHack’s Facebook pages and the messages of support I have received personally. And this posted by a 19-year-old (who happens to be my daughter):
“The realisation that on issues related to poverty and sexual exploitation, there is no solidarity from Australian feminists…
“…I had wrongly assumed that those leading the charge against sexism would examine how ethnocentrism and economic disparity have created and maintained conditions, policies and norms under which exploitation of women is inevitable.”
“Yet an expanding sex trade only results in more women trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence. Rather than opening up new opportunities, women in the sex trade are far less likely to live to see 40 years of age due to the violence, illness and disease to which the johns expose them…”
“Vulnerable women’s voices are blocked out of feminist media in order to preference a few wealthy women in the Australian industry”
“I’ve come to realise that if anyone couldn’t care less about the countless Asian girls being exploited at home and abroad, it is Australian feminists.”
Amber Rose’s Slutwalk is the natural pinnacle of Slutwalk
“The kids of Slutwalk readily embraced anti-feminist stereotypes of second wavers and chose to distance themselves from the movement, selling out for media coverage and male support. And where did it get us? Well, you see young, privileged women today advocating for prostitution and pornography as liberated choices for women using the same language the Slutwalkers did: “My body my choice!” “I do what I want, fuck yeah!” You see efforts to encourage men to vote against Stephen Harper by offering blow jobs or exchanging nude photos for votes. “Sluts Against Harper” [NSFW — feel free to report this Instagram account for pornography] is direct evidence of Slutwalk’s impact on young people’s understanding of politics today. All women can offer, in terms of advocating for change, are their objectified bodies. While leftist men have long encouraged women’s subordinate status, only considering men’s liberation and equality something worth fighting for, it’s new for self-described “feminists” to glom on to this blatant sexism.
The neoliberal, self-centered, enormously deluded notion that if women simply “choose” objectification or commodification, it becomes empowering, now underpins mainstream feminism. We seem to have fully embraced the idea that “reclaiming” misogyny and making it our own is the best we can do. While it’s clear to those of us in the movement that this is anything but feminism, those engaged don’t see it that way, nor does the media. “
‘We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex’
The studio is dim. Neon lights flash around the room in a club-esque fashion. A swarm of what appears to be 6-year-old girls climb, twist and twirl around the floor-to-ceiling iconic poles that will be used for much more than monkey’s business once it’s past their bedtime. Dance attire for sale at this Bendigo, Victoria, pole dance studio include booty shorts with ‘Flirty’ plastered across the bottom.
“We didn’t want to get it mixed up with the concept of adult pole dancing,” says Saari Frochot-Ryan, owner and manager of Z Fit Studios, which hosts the ‘Monkey Kids’ pole program for children aged 3-11.
“The classes are completely child appropriate,” says Frochot-Ryan.
Z Fit Studios also offer ‘Teen Pole’ lessons, as well as a range of ‘naughty’, ‘sexy’ and ‘provocative’ adult classes. On the company’s website, this ad appears below the ‘Monkey Kids’ information:
According to The Project, in an episode last month, pole dancing is the booming new exercise fad for Australian children. Promoted as innocent child’s play, instructors promise a fun fitness experience with significant health benefits.
Welcome to the 21st Century: where we create a child-friendly replica of the most prevalent symbol of the adult entertainment industry and label it ‘fun’.
This is pornified culture disguised as a shiny after-school sport. It may be pole dancing training wheels now with upbeat music, neon colours, kindergarten giggles and games; but in a few years a riskier game begins.
Pole dancing has a long-standing association with the sex industry. It was hailed an icon in the burlesque scene throughout the 1950s, and by the 1960s was established worldwide in gentlemen’s clubs, strip joints and red light districts. Pole companies argue that its origins trace further back to the traditional Indian sport ‘Mallakhamb’: a strength training method executed on a vertical wooden pole.
What they fail to mention however, is that the sport was developed for male wrestlers and women were banned from participation. The sport was deemed culturally inappropriate for women due to the pole’s symbolism: a phallus, or spiritual representation of the male genitalia.
The pole permeates time and culture with the sinister notion that women are decorative objects to be twirled, twisted and tangled around; a global denotation of the way we reduce women to mere titillating instruments. The pole teases out the approval, gratification and sexual advances of a male audience who pay for this ‘entertainment’ around the globe; the exchange of cash for voyeuristic pleasure.
This history is now prettily packaged as a fun fitness opportunity for your child to achieve optimum strength, flexibility and coordination. Let’s take a look at what will be available for your daughter in a few short years.
At Pole Princess in Victoria, there are six class options available for teenage girls. They must have the written consent of parents to attend, and fathers are not permitted inside the studio. Aside from the ‘Sexy Legs’ and ‘Princess Workout’ classes, there is the ‘Booti-Funk’ option that, as stated on their site engages “sexy exotic movement.” Or your daughter could enrol in the ‘Burlesque’ lesson, which uses traditional burlesque choreography combined with “the sexy dancers of today, like the Pussy Cat Dolls.”
At Poleates in Blacktown NSW, girls as young as 15 are invited to participate as ‘pole virgins’ in the ‘Virgin’ class for beginner dancers.
Desert Pole Fitstate in their ‘Pole Fit for Kids’ advertisement that “in order to become a professional pole dancer, it is never too early to start.” Directly below this, a video plays of a dancer on her knees, seductively removing her skirt to reveal an underwear and stiletto combination, before launching onto the pole.
And over in Sydney’s north, teenage girls aged 13-16 can attend classes at Pol-arise. According to their website, girls will find themselves “developing washboard abs, tight toosh and a long, lean, sexy physique”, whilst simultaneously resolving “self-confidence and body confidence issues.” This is the image the company uses for self-promotion:
In contrast to the claims made by Pol-arise, the pressure to achieve a ‘sexy physique’ holds no resolution for body image issues. Sexualisation is a proven, direct causal link to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and the rapid decline in girls’ psychological health.
Kids pole programs are an embodiment of the way culture distorts girlhood to fit an adultified mould. As Linda Papadopoulos writes in her review commissioned by the UK Home Office, The Sexualisation of Young People, we are “legitimising the notion that children can be related to as sexual objects” through engaging children with hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image”
We are raising a generation of girls aspiring to careers requiring a ‘sexy’ image. A UK online survey asked 1,000 teenage girls their dream profession. Out of the available choices including teaching and medicine, 63% selected ‘glamour modelling’ and a quarter of girls placed ‘lap dancing’ as a preferred choice.
The aspirational connotations associated with sex trade and pornographic practices, according to Papadopoulos, are reflective of our pornified culture.
This deeply ingrained cultural mindset has led us to believe that girls’ engagement in pole dancing is a harmless practice. I disagree.
Search ‘pole dance kids’, and the fifth result is of a primary school-aged child imitating mainstream pole movement to a sultry soundtrack in her home: complete with hair flicks, back arches, knee spreads and a delighted online troll who says: ‘She’d look even better wrapped around my pole.’
Search ‘pole dance teens’ and the inappropriate content warnings issued by YouTube are indicative of what kids pole programs are setting little girls up for: grinding, twerking, thrusting, leg spreads, body rolls, sliding and crawling along the floor in padded bras, g-strings, lingerie and ‘naughty school girl’ costumes. And this is all before turning 18, where girls may then transition into adult lessons around the country ranging from beginner, to advanced ‘strip and lap’ classes.
Encouraging our girls to partake in a key income-generator of the sex industry is a mistake.
We are enrolling them into a billion-dollar global industry that objectifies, oppresses and conditions women to believe they are created for sex. We are enrolling them into an economic and cultural landscape that proliferates the commodification of the bodies of women and girls; a culture that screams body before brains.
Let girls run, kick a ball, surf, dance, hike, indoor rock climb, balance the beam at their local gymnastics club. There are many fitness avenues that are not founded on the premise of gratifying male sexual demand.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She is the founding director of Inspire Creative Arts in Sydney, and facilitates self-esteem development programs for girls.
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