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.
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 glamorising and approval of teen girl audiences of the captioned desire to depart from life is surely one of the most dangerous digital conversations unfolding today’
These postings provide a snapshot of the Instagram dialogue trending amongst Australian adolescent girls. It is a virtual battleground of life and death on the popular image-sharing platform, as girls bombard one another’s feeds with image representations explicitly captioned with suicidal yearnings.
Suicide-themed captions crafted by girls are attracting hundreds of teen and tween girls. However there are almost no responses encouraging the distressed and possibly at-risk girl to call ‘000’, a kids’ help hotline or even asking ‘RUOK?’
Instead, adoring fans applaud with ‘likes’, approving comments and a shower of emoticon hearts before following suit and posting their own suicide-inspired image and caption.
As director of a company, Inspire Creative Arts, working to strengthen positive social media engagement among young people, I am given an insight into the online life of young girls. From cyberbullying to drunken evenings, sex, gossip, body shaming, the ‘thinspiration’ and ‘fitspo’ re-posts, and semi-naked images: I thought I’d scrolled through it all. That was until I stumbled across Instagram’s suicide genre.
Instagram has become the diary of choice as a girl publicly pens her relationship breakdowns, friendship backstabs, family angst, bikini ‘body goals’, and the whimsical longings for physical touch and affection. All this, accompanying filtered images of an ocean, flowers, a sunset, a social gathering, her bedroom, laying on her bed, kneeling on her bed, an upper-body selfie with clothes intact or clothes removed, zoomed in on her lips, shoulders, side cleavage, abdominal definition, upper thighs.
But this public broadcast of death-pondering takes young people’s social media usage to a whole new level. The glamorising and approval of teen girl audiences of the desire to depart from life is surely one of the most dangerous digital conversations unfolding today.
Where did girls learn the idea that offering to cut one another is a demonstration of friendship and loyalty?
A distressed girl’s image can attract the attention of thousands, yet her virtual cry for help is not met with real assistance. It is a sinister paradox that begs us to ask: is the past stigma associated with youth suicide under reconstruction?
Of course we welcome real and honest conversation about the subject, made possible thanks to the work of mental health services leading the way including RUOK campaign, Kids Helpline , Headspace and ReachOut.
However this particular Insta-fad; this troubling collective of emoticon guns, knives and bombs, of applauding girls for the most insightful suicidal thought, and the aspirational connotations of being a suicidal teen, mirrors a detrimental trend.
It is a trend that normalises suicidal ideations as fashionable, deceiving girls as they embark on their rollercoaster quest for belonging, that presenting oneself as suicidal is hot, desirable, and an image deserving of approval.
In a 2014 report by the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, ‘Help-seeking Behaviour and Adolescent Self-harm’, it was found that only about 50 per cent of youth aged 11-19 sought help when engaging in suicide ideation or thought. Of this figure, it was the ‘informal support systems’, friends and family, who were most commonly accessed for assistance.
But what happens when an online platform becomes a dominant informal system of self-disclosure and, due to the contagion effect of admiration and copycat behaviour, this system keeps those in need trapped in a cycle of posting harm-themed messages and receiving approval for doing so?
Furthermore – what happens when the dialogue throughout this support system, Instagram, transforms a young person’s belief of suicide ideation from being an issue that requires help, to being a normal and trendy thought-pattern?
In the latest report by the Australian Government’s Department of Health, it was reported that 1 in 4 girls aged between 16 and 17 have deliberately injured themselves, with 1 in 5 meeting the diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder.
It is encouraging to those of us working with young people to see a broader societal discussion of this tragedy at last taking place out in the open. Of course the factors leading to suicidal thoughts and the act itself are complex and multi-layered. And of course I’m not laying all the blame on a social media platform. However if we are going to understand the social/psycho influences and drivers, we need to start including these Instagram postings in the discussion. And perhaps it is time for the platforms themselves to question their own social responsibility in hosting and even enabling the spread of suicidal thinking and contagion among those most vulnerable.
“[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.”
We hope this inquiry won’t go the way of all the others before it – doing nothing to rein in the vested interests of marketers, advertisers and the media and allowing business as usual, despite the growing body of global evidence of the harms to young people due to the proliferation of hypersexual images and messages inundating them daily.
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
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.
*Full submission will be made available when it appears in submission listings on the NSW Parliament website.
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.”
‘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.
How does it make you feel when someone close to you tells you they feel fat?
As a woman in my mid-20s, this is something I experience every day – from my friends, family and others around me. And now, I have to see it on Facebook. Facebook encourages women to tell their friends just how much they hate their bodies, through ‘I feel fat’ statuses and emoticons.
I was 19 when I began using Facebook in 2007. Though I wanted to think the worst of my adolescent years of body insecurity were behind me, I found my insecurities heightened through this popular social media platform. One of the best things Facebook has provided is a sense of connection, a feeling of belonging and a way to experience events in the lives of those close to us. But with this comes the ability to look closely at other people’s lives, and equally have our own lives placed under the spotlight. We can often find ourselves drawing comparisons between our life, and the lives of those appearing in our daily newsfeeds.
But it’s not just about these personal experiences. As a counsellor in the field of eating disorders, I spend a lot of time talking to people about the way they feel about their bodies – how much they hate their bodies, how dissatisfied they are that they can’t look the way they want, how hard they are working and how much time they are spending trying to change their bodies, and how this is ruining their lives. I also spend a lot of time speaking to concerned loved ones, carers, teachers and health professionals who see the pain of disordered eating and body shame up close, yet can struggle to help.
Since 2013, Facebook has enabled users to choose ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ emoticons as part of the ‘feelings’ feature of status updates. Having these word choices normalises the use of derogatory descriptive terms in the place of real feelings. How can a person feel ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ when these aren’t actually feelings? ‘Fat’ and ‘ugly’ are adjectives. Of course these adjectives are also judgements, placed on us by society to make women, (and increasingly men), feel negatively about their bodies. When someone says “I feel fat” what they’re really communicating is their feelings of unattractiveness, unhappiness, embarrassment and insecurity about their body. These feelings are most commonly a response to unrealistic, culturally promoted ideals of thinness and beauty.
Normalising this kind of language is especially harmful to young people. Body image is consistently rated as the biggest issue of concern for all young Australians. Research shows this kind of ‘fat talk’ increases body shame and disordered eating and lowers self-esteem –all risk factors for developing a clinical eating disorder. Facebook use is also associated with increased risk of developing an eating disorder, along with other risk factors including weight concern and anxiety.
As someone who has experienced the effects of this kind of language, both personally and professionally with clients, I’m asking you to rally with me in urging Facebook to remove the ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ emoticons and options from status updates.
Change petitions launched globally today
Rebecca and seven other young women across the globe have launched parallel change.org petitions today urging Facebook to remove ‘I feel fat’ statuses and emoticons.
The women represent Australia, Mexico, USA, UK, Ireland, Germany, Brazil and Argentina The petitions are supported by Endangered Bodies, an international initiative dedicated to challenging body hatred and promoting self-acceptance.
The women say Facebook must act because:
+ Body image is consistently rated as one of the biggest issues of concern for young Australians. It is well documented that fat talk perpetuates and normalises body shame rather than reducing it.
+ ‘Fat’ is an adjective, a descriptive word about a physical attribute. It is not a feeling. We all have fat, we all need fat. But saying ‘I feel fat’ is shorthand for feeling unattractive, unhappy with oneself, or for dissatisfaction.” (Shape Your Culture)
+ Fear of fat and idealisation of thinness is reflected in the form of weight stigma. This can have a serious impact on millions of individuals dealing with negative body image. Body shaming and weight stigma are associated with lower self-esteem and disordered eating, an issue that Facebook needs to take seriously.
Profound experiences with W.A students on my last roadtrip.
Last month I spoke 27 times in three and a half weeks in the ACT, Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. I spoke on the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media and popular culture, the sexual world of the 21st century adolescent, pornography and young people, and the online life of girls to students, staff and parents at five schools, the Heads of Independent Co-Educational Schools conference, women’s events, a medical conference of 1000 medical professionals and at tour’s end a quick trip to the country to address the Upper Gwydir Landcare Association! (Was great to be out in the bush again, farmer’s daughter as I am).
There were many highlights – the privilege of delivering my message to thousands of people of course, along with runs along rugged coastlines and catching up with friends and colleagues – including Co-editor of Big Porn Inc, Abigail Bray who I hadn’t seen for two years. Every time I do these long trips, I’m reminded again what an honour it is to do this work and engage with so many people, especially young people. I wonder how I got so lucky. A 14-year-old just emailed me to say how much she was impacted by the message and that now she knew the career path she wanted to follow to make a difference in the lives of other girls. And this from a Deputy Head of School in NSW: “I just wanted to say what a profound effect you have had on me today… I intend to return in term three with a renewed determination to build the voice and the rights of our girls and deliver a consistent message to the boys that the values of respect and understanding are not lost.” Messages like these make it all worthwhile.
Possibly the most affecting experience was with students in W.A. I was moved by how openly they shared their struggles. Girls revealing mistreatment and pressure to adopt pornified roles and behaviours. The issue of girls being threatened with blackmail to send sexual images was raised with me a number of times. At one co-ed private school, girls didn’t want to leave the session, and continued to talk through recess and even the next period, insisting they needed longer to discuss the issues concerning them. (Thank you teachers to allowing them to do so). A group of 30 Yr 12 boys chose to skip lunch to talk longer – I’ve never seen boys voluntarily choose to do this before! They disclosed some of the pressures they felt in a culture that judges them for their appearance and trains them in callous behavior early on. One boy stood and cried as he shared his experience of being bullied and said he had no friends. It was difficult to keep a grip on my emotions when another boy moved from the front row to the back to comfort him. To see that boy put his arms around the one who was in pain…something else I rarely see, given how this world knocks the empathy out of boys from their earliest days.
When addressing co-ed schools where I’m talking with the girls, then boys separately (which is my preference), I often ask female students what messages they’d like me to pass onto boys. My colleague, W.A Collective Shout co-ordinator, Caitlin Roper, recorded the following messages from the W.A girls in Yrs 9-12 to their male peers. I’m hoping these might become discussion points to kick start conversations in other schools. I found them moving, some even plaintive and sad. What emerged for me overall was that while girls are distressed by the treatment of many (not all) boys, they really wanted to have good relations with them. Many lamented that in a sexualized world, everything had come to have a sexual meaning: they feared healthy friendships with boys might be lost if something didn’t change soon. Here’s what they asked:
• If we reject your request to send a sexual image, please don’t stop talking to us.
• If we are hanging out, don’t expect it is sexual.
• If we say no, accept it, don’t try to persuade us.
• Catcalling/ yelling out of cars/street harassment is not a compliment.
• If we are angry, don’t assume we are on our period.
• Stop commenting on our appearance. Value us for something else.
• Rape jokes are never funny.
• Porn and sex are not the same.
• Feminism is not female domination.
• If we cut our hair short, it doesn’t mean we are lesbians.
• If we have a close female friend, it doesn’t mean we are lesbians.
• We don’t all have the perfect body.
• We weren’t put on the earth for your entertainment.
• Think with your head, not what’s in your pants.
• Respect us more.
• Treat us like humans.
• Stop stereotyping us.
• Be a gentleman.
• Respect our boundaries.
• Don’t call us prudes for saying ‘no’/sluts for saying ‘yes’.
• It is never the victim’s fault.
• Just because we don’t say no doesn’t mean we are saying yes.
• Girls weren’t born to be decorative objects.
• Sex before the age of consent is illegal.
• Don’t make sexual advances based on how we are dressed- sometimes it is hot and we want to wear shorts.
• Stop making ‘kitchen’ jokes.
• We understand the boys are under pressure too.
Briefing on sexualisation, harms of porn with W.A MPs
While in the West, I was invited by the Hon Nick Goiran, W.A Legislative Council Member for South Metropolitan, to address a briefing of interested colleagues on sexualisation and the harms of pornography, and what they as legislators could do about the issue. Also with me were Collective Shout’s W.A coordinator Caitlin Roper and Victorian board member Coralie Pittman. I asked the reason for the hold up in the release of the W.A Children Commissioner’s report into the sexualisation of children, completed 18 months earlier. A week after my visit, it was finally released and tabled. (we are still analyzing the document and will report soon).
In a speech to parliament, Hon Nick Goiran said:
“I feel confident in speaking on behalf of all those who attended to say that we were all impacted by what we were told…We have to recognize that none of us has done enough in this space, and I feel somewhat energized by the briefing today to redouble our efforts. I hope that members who attended this briefing will join in this effort because if we cannot get things right in respect of the children of this state, frankly, I suggest that we should all pack up and go home. There is no more vulnerable group in our society than our children, and they are being continually bombarded with this imagery, which so much research has confirmed is harmful to them. I cannot think of an issue more important.”
Sexting, Shame and Suicide: a shocking story of sexual assault in the digital age
This essay was published last September but I’ve only just come across it. I keep thinking of Audrie and her body defaced and graffitied, the images shared and consumed. Her waking in horror to discover the markings all over her body and trying frantically to scrub them off. And the ultimate horror outcome, where she can no longer face the mocking, bullying and shaming. But I must say, it’s not only in the U.S that boys take the view that if a girl is under the influence of alcohol, she deserves whatever happens (some girls take this attitude also).
I have asked boys in the schools I address: “If a girl is drunk how many of you think she’s asking for it?” In many classes, the majority of boys would raise their hands. It is a common view. There is a terrible lack of understanding about consent and the face that if she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, she can’t exercise it and a crime has been committed if she is taken advantage of. Audrie’s tragic story shows us where that view can lead. My sympathy to her devastated family.
Rape stats may be no higher than in years past, but the numbers are as shocking as ever. Every two minutes, a sexual assault happens in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent of the victims are under the age of 18, according to Katherine Hull, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: “The demographic of high school- and college-age women is at highest risk for sexual assault.” More than half of the incidents go unreported, advocates say. The ability to record and communicate gang-sex assaults has added a new enhancement to an old and ugly crime against women. From Instagram to Snapchat to texting, young people with raging hormones and low impulse control are passing around what amounts to child pornography. And the bodies most frequently watched and passed around are female.
“It’s a perfect storm of technology and hormones,” says lawyer Lori Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Chicago. “Teen sexting is all a way of magnifying girls’ fantasies of being a star of their own movies, and boys locked in a room bragging about sexual conquest.”
But as of yet the law provides little protection to the rights of those violated. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act effectively means that no Internet provider can be forced to take down content for invading a person’s privacy or even defaming them. “I could sue The New York Times for invading my privacy or Rolling Stone for defaming me,” Andrews says. “But I couldn’t sue and get my picture off a website called sluttyseventhgraders.com.” Read full article here
Boys Men and Violence
Dr Michael Flood March 5, 2014
Sexual violence is a serious social problem in Australia. According to a recent national survey, about one in six women in Australia – just under 1.5 million – has experienced sexual assault. In the past year alone, 87,800 women experienced sexual assault. Younger women are at greater risk. These are the victims, but what about perpetrators? Various studies show anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent of males have forced or pressured a girl or woman into sex or tried to do so…
Boys and young men are more likely to force or pressure a girl into sex if they have sexist and sexually hostile attitudes – they see girls as sexual objects, as less important or less valuable than males, and they feel entitled to see how far they can push things. The 2001 Australian National Crime Prevention Survey of young people aged 12 to 20 found about one in seven guys agreed that, “it’s okay for a boy to make a girl have sex with him if she has flirted with him or led him on.”
Some of the media consumed by boys and men is implicated in violence. TV, movies, music and computer games often portray women as sexual objects only, put men’s voices and lives at centre stage, and condone or even celebrate violence as entertaining and legitimate. Pornography use is increasingly common among young men, and here callous and hostile images of women are routine. In a wide range of media, boys learn that real men are tough, dominant, and aggressive. Read full article here
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