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.”
Last year, father of three Kenneth Thor started a petition calling on Westfield to stop Honey Birdette’s consistent sexist and porn-inspired imagery in shopping centres across the country.
More than 61,000 people share Kenneth’s concerns about the retailer’s ongoing depictions of women as sexual playthings for men, yet to date, Westfield has failed to demonstrate corporate social responsibility or even respond to hundreds of complaints.
Honey Birdette is a serial sexploitation offender, attracting numerous complaints to Ad Standards for its sexually objectifying treatment of women. The sex shop even made the Ad Standards top ten list of most complained about ads in the country in both 2015and 2016. When complaints against Honey Birdette have been upheld, they refuse to comply, even stating, “Nobody tells Honey B’s when to take down her signage!”
In a response to Kenneth’s petition, CEO Eloise Monaghan once again dismissed legitimate concerns over Honey Birdette’s sexist treatment of women, claiming,
“You see more flesh on Bondi Beach at 10 a.m.”
Monaghan has missed the point.
What is sexual objectification?
The presence of female flesh alone does not constitute sexual objectification. The inclusion of attractive women does not constitute sexual objectification.
Sexual objectification occurs when a person, often a woman, is treated as a body, or series of body parts for other’s use and consumption, when her physical attributes and sexual capabilities are regarded as representative of her whole self or seen as determining her worth.
As Dr Linda Papadopolous stated in Sexualisation of Young People Review:
“Although sexual objectification is but one form of gender oppression, it is one that factors into- and perhaps enables- a host of other oppressions women face, ranging from employment discrimination and sexual violence to the trivialisation of women’s work and accomplishments.”
Honey Birdette routinely promotes the sexual objectification of women in their floor to ceiling porn-themed advertising, featuring hypersexualised depictions of women’s bodies or even just parts of their bodies. Women in Honey Birdette advertising exist for men’s pleasure, defined only by their sexual appeal and availability. The message is that women exist for men’s enjoyment and entertainment.
Objection to the sexual objectification of women is not an objection to women, nor is it an objection to women’s bodies. It is about opposition to sexism, to corporates who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and have the audacity to claim they are empowering women in the process.
What about ads showing men in underwear?
Monaghan went on to suggest Honey Birdette is the victim of a double standard because there is no outcry over ads showing men in underwear.
Again, the issue is not and has never been about underwear. The depiction of men or women in underwear is not inherently degrading or sexualised, nor does it require women to be objectified and exploited. Just look at the lingerie ad below by Badger and Winters who “made a commitment to never objectify women in our work”.
While we have spoken out against the objectification of men, the objectification of men is not nearly as prevalent as the everyday sexualisation and objectification of women in media and popular culture. Women are far more likely to be objectified and to be negatively impacted by objectification. Men featured in advertising are not typically demeaned, dismembered, treated like decorative objects, or posed as vulnerable and submissive in the way women frequently are. Read more here.
In the #MeToo era, with a growing community awareness about alarming rates of men’s violence against women and the relationship between the objectification of women and men’s violence against them, companies like Honey Birdette continue to put their profits before the respect, dignity and wellbeing of women. #TimesUp Honey Birdette.
Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette- ABC Religion and Ethics
Twenty Victorian men arrested over child exploitation material depicting torture of children and newborn babies
***"Trigger warning: child exploitation''
Twenty men across Victoria have been arrested over child exploitation offences, with police seizing photos and videos of children and babies being tortured.
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told the Herald Sun that each month hundreds of Victorians shared millions of images of child abuse material.
“We know there are links between this type of online activity and contact offending, so it’s important that we target anyone prepared to source this type of material in any way,” he said.
Source: Victoria Police
Mr Patton said the material showed children, and even newborn infants, in sexually provocative poses and in pain.
Writing in response to the Royal Commission into institutionalised child sexual abuse, Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist said:
There is deep distress in the community that defenceless children are used in such evil ways. But the broader culture that encourages the abuse of the children goes unaddressed. The same loathing that is directed toward child sexual abuse has not been extended to the mainstream promotion of paedophilic fantasies for profit.
Melinda Tankard Reist pointed out that this abuse of children was also driven by a culture that normalises and eroticises child sexual assault.
We’ve exposed mainstream retailers for their promotion of child sexual abuse. Bookworld was forced to withdraw hundreds of rape and incest titles, many of which portrayed the rape of girls by their fathers as erotic and desirable.
After months of campaigning against Amazon in 2010, they finally delisted ‘The Paedophile’s Guide to Love & Pleasure”, a book written by an actual paedophile endorsing sexual crimes against children. Amazon continues to attract criticism for its sexualised content involving children and babies, including sexy nurse outfits for toddlers.
Australian sex shops sell replica vaginas for men’s use, modelled on the bodies of little girls and promoted as “fresh” and “innocent” with intact hymens. Chemist Warehouse sold the ‘Virgin Palm Pal’ men’s sex toy until we exposed them in 2015.
Major retailers sell sexualised clothing for girls, including padded bras, and advertising features children posed and styled in increasingly adultified ways, inviting us to see them as older than they really are.
Service stations around the country sell ‘barely legal’ style porn magazines featuring girls with braces and pigtails.
As Melinda Tankard Reist concludes,
We are destroying the cultural norms that once taught male adults that children’s bodies are off-limits to sexual use. We cannot fully address child sexual abuse until we reject a culture that glamorises it.
We recently shared an article detailing a mother’s experience with her teenage daughter and an online swimwear company.
The mother, Tania, had written to Collective Shout after her 16-year-old daughter received a g-string bikini in the mail, a prize for a “last comment wins” competition on Instagram for a company called “Makana Swimwear”.
The g-string bikini was accompanied by a card which encouraged her daughter to tag herself in any photos she shares on Instagram of herself posing in the swimmers.
The mother went on to have a difficult but necessary conversation with her daughter about the swimmers and why she could keep the top, but not the bottom. At the same time she was alarmed that anyone would think it appropriate to send this item to her daughter. So she contacted Collective Shout. Read more about what the mother had to say here.
Following publication of our article, we were alerted to a post that appeared in a closed group from someone speaking on behalf of the “Makana team” making a series of factually incorrect claims.
As a result of this post, Collective Shout began receiving comments from hundreds of people defending the business. Almost every comment made the same specific claim, that competition terms and conditions "clearly stated" entry was for over 18+” and therefore it was the 16-year-old girl’s fault for entering against the rules.
Upon visiting Makana Swim’s website, we found a link called ‘competitions’, which included terms and conditions, including a requirement that entrants be aged 18 and over. However, a google cache search found that this section of the website did not exist before March 15, one day earlier. It appears that the owner only published terms and conditions after the mother’s complaint and then edited old Instagram posts to cover her tracks, while making misleading statements that resulted in hundreds of hostile comments blaming a 16-year- old girl for breaking the rules and claiming the mother was unreasonable to complain about the business for her daughter’s actions.
Pic: How Makana Swim’s website appeared up until March 15 (see left hand sidebar, with no competitions section)
Pic: How Makana Swim’s website appeared after Collective Shout published the mother’s article (see ‘competitions’ section added to left hand sidebar)
Pic: Instagram photos as they appeared before March 15, with no reference to terms and conditions.
Commenters, many of them adult women have called the 16yr old girl a liar, sneaky and naughty among other things. They’ve claimed the mother is an incompetent, inattentive and irresponsible. Both have been mocked mercilessly.
At the time of writing there are over 600 comments on our fb page and volunteers have struggled to keep up with moderating the abuse against the teenage girl her mother and Collective Shout. We are now receiving messages via our website, which include accusations and threats to disrupt Collective Shout’s operations in various ways. Staff have had to take time out of their weekend to attend an urgent situation as a result of Makana fans making good on these threats.
All because a business didn’t want to cop to making a mistake and instead decided to go with a cover up and portray themselves as the victim.
This is taxing on our volunteers and staff, but our biggest concern is the 16 year old girl who played by the rules presented to her at the time and who according to her mother leaned towards defending the company and yet is still subject to a barrage of nasty abusive comments from adults who should know better.
Adults running a business should have known better than to allow a 16-year-old girl to participate in an 18+ competition. Adults should have known better than to try and cover it up and lay blame at a 16yr old girl’s feet.
Hundreds of other adults should know better than to gang up against a teenage girl with such vicious name calling and mockery.
On top of being the most bizarre behaviour Collective Shout has observed for some time, what is also striking is how unnecessary this all is.
How different it could have been if they had posted a statement with something like “thank you for bringing this situation to our attention. We apologise to the mother for this mistake. This was a serious oversight on our part and because of this we are now taking measures to prevent a similar situation occurring again.”
The company has now issued an apology and stated it will close indefinitely. We can’t speak to whether that was a wise or necessary decision to make. We can only hope that if the owner/s do decide to re-establish, that they commit to doing better in future, not only in relation to how they manage ethical age restrictions, but also in how feedback or complaints are managed.
UK retailer Primark has been accused of sexualising toddlers by selling frilly, adult-style bikinis for children younger than two.
Young mother Holli Sherratt saw the swimwear while shopping and felt they were inappropriate.
Ms Sherratt said:
“In my eyes it is completely stripping the innocence and childhood of said child. When I first saw the bikini, I instantly thought it was lovely until I realised it was for a child.
“A child should be covered up, protected from the sun and not flaunted as some sort of model. I have a daughter of my own and I want to protect her innocence and let her be a child. I look at this bikini the same way I look at bras that are aimed at young children.”
Children’s campaigners Kidscape have urged the retailer to “let our children be children” and to leave bikinis for a time when girls have breasts and make a choice to wear them.
Primark denied the swimwear is unsuitable, claiming the bikinis are in line with British Retail Consortium guidelines.
“Why do girls’ dysfunctional clothes prioritise their looks over their freedom? And why do we parents buy them?”
A recent article on SBS described a mother’s frustration over the process of trying to buy appropriate clothing and footwear for her young daughter. Most of the clothing is designed to be pretty rather than comfortable or practical. Louise Wedgwood writes:
When shopping for my eldest, a boy, it’s a breeze to find shoes that are comfortable to play in and practical for parks and puddles.
When I stood in front of the girls’ sections in three different major retailers, I was perplexed each time. Why is almost EVERYTHING pink, frilly or sparkly? How are pale fabrics and glittery finishes to withstand the rigours of play?
On that first naive shoe-buying mission at my local shopping centres, I was desperate to go home with something. So I bought the most practical shoes I could find – Mary Janes in a sparkly rose gold canvas, and glittery jelly sandals.
From birth, girls’ “cutest” outfits are usually dresses. But they can be unwieldy to move in, and girls in dresses are discouraged from climbing, hanging upside down or doing anything else fun that might show their undies.
I’ve unwittingly restricted my daughter with dresses. We were given a sweet purple cotton dress with white polka dots, buttons down the back and contrasting frills on the edges. I popped it on my daughter for a playdate with a baby boy the same age, around 10 months old. They were both eager explorers but she kept getting tangled in the skirt and couldn’t crawl in it, navigate stairs or climb onto furniture. As soon as we got home, I changed her into leggings.
If an alien landed in any of our major retailers, you could forgive them for assuming girls and boys are different species. Girls’ t-shirts encourage them to be "sweet and fun" and "hug your heart out". Meanwhile boys' shirts instruct them to “say yes to new adventures”, “fly away with me” and be superheroes.”
Both boys’ and girls’ slogans limit them to narrow stereotypes but the girls’ are particularly uninspiring. “Those companies are selling sexism, basically, the idea of a subordinate female or a dominant male,” according to Dr Hannah McCann, a gender studies lecturer at the University of Melbourne.
Gone in 24 hours. But why does this keep happening?
Well that was quick.
On Tuesday afternoon I posted on my social media pages this hoodie for primary school aged boys.
It was found in the Canberra outlet store of surf style chain shop Quiksilver, which describes itself as ‘The World’s Leader in Snow and Surf Clothing’ by Rachel Grant. She’s a mum who was looking for clothes for her 6 and 9-year-old sons who were with her. She then told me about her unfortunate discovery on the rack of clothing in her son’s sizing.
Quiksilver was about to become a world leader in objectified and sexualised clothing for little boys.
At a time when we are (at last) having a global discussion about the mistreatment of women and girls, calling out the bad behaviour of so many predators, gropers, sexual abuse apologists and general thugs and with governments adding in new budget items for respectful relationships programs in schools, corporates like this go about their merry misogynistic ways, creating fashion items which enmesh objectification of women and male entitlement in the culture.
Supporters went into action immediately – women like mother, grandmother and teacher Lisa Ashdowne who wrote in part: “I’m writing to make a complaint about the messages your products and advertising send our children, girls and boys, about who they are in the world, how they should think and behave, where they belong in society, the value they hold for themselves and for others – living in Torquay, I am faced daily with the overriding message that boys and men are valued for their skills and effort in surfing and girls and YOUNG women are valued when they are skinny, semi-naked…being on display, not valued for anything other than another’s pleasure. I will be actively campaigning against your company until your values and guiding principles change and they are EXPLICITLY demonstrated in your products and your communications at all levels”.
Then, the next day, supporters began receiving this message.
I’ve thanked Quiksilver for their prompt response. And they deserves thanks.
But activist Melinda Liszewski, whose has been working with me in cultural jamming actions for more than a decade, asks this pointed question on twitter:
That’s the thing, isn’t it. There are people who decided that plastering semi naked women on a jumper for little boys, suggesting those women are a ‘paradise’ for them to enjoy, is acceptable. There were entire design/buying/marketing departments determining that turning little boys into walking billboards for spreading harmful ideas about women and girls was fine. Where is the quality control? The ethics? The corporate social responsibility?
It’s great to go into the New Year with a win straight up. And we are thankful when companies respond to community concern. But we must remain vigilant and keep fighting until there is genuine change at every level.
“Because I was a child actor, my body was public domain”: Former child star Mara Wilson condemns sexualisation of child actors
Former child actress Mara Wilson, from Matilda and Mrs Doubtfire, has penned an essay condemning the sexualisation of child actors.
The piece featured on Elle.com recalled Wilson’s experiences of being sexualised and fetishised as a child:
"Even before I was out of middle school, I had been featured on foot fetish websites, photoshopped into child porn, and received all kinds of letters and messages online from grown men.
"At every premiere and awards show, I would see strange men holding photos of me they’d printed themselves, hoping I would sign, and I would, hoping they were going to sell it somewhere and not keep it.”
“As soon as I’d hit puberty, it had become okay for strangers to discuss my body…Because I was a child actor, my body was public domain.”
Wilson was motivated to write the piece after seeing inappropriate comments on social media about Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown, who is thirteen. A photo of the young actress at a premiere had been tweeted alongside the caption that, at thirteen, she “just grew up in front of our eyes”.
Wilson described feeling both sick and furious, arguing that a 13- year-old girl is not all grown up.
“I thought of the media outlets that posted countdown clocks until Emma Watson or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were “legal”—that is to say, “safe” fantasy material. These websites also run scare pieces about kidnapped children, teen sex-trafficking, and pedophile predators. Young girls at risk, young girls objectified: It’s all titillation to them. These adults fetishize innocence, and the loss of innocence even more. They know what they’re selling.”
Wilson shared her dismay over criticisms of 13-year-old Brown’s appearance on social media, which included comments suggesting she was inviting sexual attention or harassment through her dress.
“Saying what amounts to “if she didn’t want to be sexualized, her parents should not have dressed her that way” takes the responsibility away from the one doing the sexualizing. It would be unacceptable for an adult to comment on the body of a 13-year-old girl they knew. So why do these adults make pronouncements about the body of a 13-year-old girl they have never met?”
With the growing #MeToo movement, Hollywood has come under scrutiny over the abusive treatment of actresses by powerful men. But the tendency to sexualise girls and fetishise youth and innocence is not limited to Hollywood.
Wilson had some final words of advice to social media participants:
“We do not need to perpetuate the culture of dehumanization Hollywood has enabled. But the media has become democratized; social media and user-generated content mean anyone can write about anyone, and there is a good chance anyone will see it. We are all part of the media, but I don’t know if we’ve realized that yet, nor understood what a tremendous responsibility that is.
“I’m not saying we need to tiptoe around celebrities’ feelings. But we should be careful and thoughtful…Commenting on a child’s body, whether in a “positive” or “negative” way, in a sexualizing or pitying way, is still commenting on a child’s body.”
In our sexual histories series, authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.
We often hear that we are living in a corrupting, visually saturated, consumer culture, which threatens the innocence of girlhood. But representations of young girls in the European postcard trade at the turn of the 20th century cast doubt on this notion of an ideal, more innocent past.
From the mid-1890s until the first world war, Europeans had a love affair with collecting postcards. Created in 1874, the Universal Postal Unionestablished standardised postal regulations at accessible rates for its member nations; this greatly contributed to the postcard craze. In bigger cities, cards needed just a few hours to arrive at their destinations. The world was at one’s fingertips.
Rival publishers vied for attention with collectors’ competitions, impressive exhibitions, and artistic innovations. It did not take long for alluring postcards to flourish in the light-hearted social context of the time. European publishers showed great ingenuity in avoiding local censorship. They played with the boundaries of what was socially and legally acceptable.
Yet the trend of erotic postcards did not just bring cheeky smiles and cheerful eroticism. A quick look at one Italian postcard (c. 1900) highlights more disturbing aspects. Elevated on a pedestal, a pre-pubescent model is the privileged object of our gaze. Side lightings magnify her blond mane, and sculpt her flawless skin. A neutral backdrop focuses the attention on her statuesque body. This little goddess is a work of art.Read more
Experts advise parents to have their eyes wide open in this digital age, as sexual predators are targeting children through Social media apps.
The rise of social media has made the threat of online child grooming easier, resulting in high prevalence of sexual exploitation. Experts have advised that parents need to stay up-to-date with mobile apps to be prepared for potential threats. It has become more apparent that sexual predators and paedophiles have been using social media to groom children and teens, preying on kid’s attachment to their favourite mobile and computer apps.
‘Grooming’ is when a person manipulates a child for sexual purposes, by building an emotional connection to gain their trust. The process may start with sending pornographic images to the child, ‘normalising’ sexual activities, to eventually moving on to requesting naked images or perform a sex act on a webcam.Read more