The Child Rescue Coalition has warned parents about the risks of posting intimate photos of their children, as well as using certain hashtags that can be accessed and misused by predators. It is a reminder to parents to take great care when posting images of their children on social media, to consider their privacy settings and possible risks to their children.
#ToddlerBikini and the ‘adultification’ of children
Psychologists, health professionals and child advocates have spoken out about the harmful impacts of sexualisation and ‘adultification’ of children. Adultification occurs when children are deliberately posed and styled to appear much older than they are, as high fashion ‘mini-me adults’ in adult attire. There is substantial research to suggest that premature sexualisation or adultification negatively impacts children’s natural development and puts girls at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Given evidence of the harmful impacts of sexualising and adultifying children, the practice by some parents of posting pictures of their female toddlers in skimpy bikinis alongside the hashtag #ToddlerBikini is troubling.
Dr Emma Rush, co-author of the report Corporate Paedophilia, told ABC:
“Children are not a reflection of the adult’s personal style...they’re not a miniature adult, they’re not a fashion accessory, they’re a developing human being and they need the cultural space to be just that.”
Photo sharing and risks to children
Once the image has been shared publicly, the owner no longer has control over it. A study by Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed that 88% of sexual or suggestive images and videos posted by young people on social media sites are being stolen by ‘parasite’ porn sites. Of the 12,224 images and videos monitored on 68 different websites, 10,776 were later found on parasite websites. Parents need to be aware that once posted online, they may no longer retain control of where their child’s image ends up or how it might be used.
The sharing of sexualised images of girls puts them at risk from paedophiles. In 2015 we published a piece by dance teacher and writer Jemma Nicoll, who exposed the exploitation of girls in the dance industry. Nicoll followed the Instagram account of a prominent US dancewear company, California Kisses, which featured highly sexualised images of young girls, as young as 5-7, sometimes alongside suggestive slogans.
(Note: ‘Pop that’ refers to the ‘popping’ of a girl’s cherry or the taking of her virginity. It is a popular porn genre.)
The company’s recklessness didn’t end there, with California Kisses failing to moderate frequent sexual and predatory comments from adult men directed towards female children, including requests for sexual acts.
The devastating emotional impact on children
Just this week, a woman has won her fight to get nude photos taken of her as a child removed from several prominent New Zealand art galleries. The victim claimed the photos, taken by her artist mother, were “child pornography masquerading as art”, calling on the Government to protect children from exploitation.
In her submission to the Film and Literature Board, the victim indicated the photographs represented her in a way that was harmful, and that as a naked child model she was subject to a power imbalance and unable to render consent.
The woman, who was also a victim of child sexual abuse, told the board that if the images were to outlive her they “will continue to remind her of that time of her life, oppressing and humiliating her.”
The Board banned two photos. The first picture suggested “sexual availability and experience”, with the victim “made up to look older than her years”, found the board. The second banned photograph was taken when the victim was 10.
Board President Rachel Schmidt-McCleave stated:
“The image seeks to make a statement about sexual availability and power that ought not to be made in the case of a child or young person. There is no doubt that depiction of a child in this way... is injurious.”
“The board is of the view that depicting young persons being older than they are and being sexually available normalises the sexualisation of young women and forms part of a continuous desensitising of the public to the sexualisation of children and young people and is therefore harmful to those children and injurious to the public good.”
Despite being alerted to the problem months ago, California Kisses has failed to protect young girls from paedophilic comments.
In April Collective Shout ran a piece by Jemma Nicoll (first published on MTR) exposing the harmful online practices of global dancewear label California Kisses (CK). The company's homepage advertisement featured three models aged 12-16 posed alongside the slogan 'Pop That', a popular porn-inspired phrase referring to the 'popping' of her cherry, or the taking of virginity.
The article called CK to account on its unmonitored social media activity- almost 300,000 followers, mostly teenage girls, were exposed to online trolls posting abusive, paedophilic comments on the images of CK child models.
On 29 April, Collective Shout wrote to the four Australian dancewear retailers that stock CK, including Showcase- the licence-holders for on-selling the label in Australia. We invited stockists to respond by removing the label from their stores and letting the company know, until CK decided to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and ethical online practices.
Showcase did not respond. Out of the other retailers contacted - Tu Tu Cute Dance Supplies, Pirouette and Daisy Dancewear -Collective Shout received only one patronizing email reply from Tutu Cute Dance Supplies in Perth, WA which showed complete disregard for the online safety of young girls and ethical practices in children's advertising:
CK did not respond directly to the accusations made in the piece or to the general outrage expressed on social media in response. However we note that the company has since quietly removed the 'Pop That' slogan from their on-line advertising. CK's Instagram account is currently clear of paedophilic comments.
Thanks to all who helped us put pressure on CK to stop borrowing from a porn genre in their dance wear advertising.
Listen: Jemma Nicoll on ABC Radio National Life Matters program, Tuesday 9 June