Thursday, July 5, 2012

Retailers’ sexualization of girls boosts child porn and human trafficking: MEP report 


ROME, June 26, 2012 ( – A grassroots movement, led by parents but including business, is building at the pan-European level to counter the hyper-sexualization of children, especially young girls, in the fashion industry and media. Retailers in Britain have admitted that they have “gone too far” and are cooperating with a program that allows parents to register complaints directly to a business association, Anna Kuchta, an organizer at the European Union told today. 

“The conjoined explosion of music video culture, the internet, the computer games, and the commercial targeting of youth as sexual beings is having an intensely noxious effect on youth culture,” she said.
Kuchta said that the MEPs and governments are becoming aware that the sexualization of children is inseparable from hypersexualization of culture as a whole. And awareness is also growing of its connection to the associated growth of the multi-billion-Euro human trafficking and child pornography industries.

Earlier this month, a European Parliament group led by Polish MEP Joanna Skrzydlewska held hearings on the problem of the sexualization of children. The EU conference focused on a wide range of problem material not only from TV but also from video games, the Internet, newspapers, magazines and music videos. Skrzydlewska said the problem is “nothing more than imposing the sexuality of adults on young children, teenagers and especially girls when they are not ready for it emotionally, mentally or physically.”

Increasingly retailers and the fashion industry are portraying younger and younger girls in more sexually explicit or "mature" roles, which critics say fuels increased sexualization of children, as well as the pornography and human trafficking indust
Kuchta, Skrzydlewska’s parliamentary assistant, said that the problem has been slow to dawn on businesses, but now that more concerns are being raised they are taking steps to curtail inappropriate materials reaching young girls. Gaining the cooperation of retailers, she said, is a major step forward, since this is where the cultural rubber hits the road.

“Honestly speaking, there has been lots of response from businesses,” Kuchta said in a phone interview today. “British retail companies have created an association and a code of good practice.” They have also created a website, called Stop Shop, where they can respond directly to parents’ concerns.
There came a moment, Kuchta said, when the business leaders saw that they had gone too far and could “see that push-up bras for 12 year-olds is inappropriate”. Although the movement in the EU was originally sparked by the work of U.S. psychology researchers, Kuchta said it has really taken hold of the public mind in Britain, where the government is making the problem a priority.

A parents’ NGO based in Paris has contacted the EU Parliamentarians saying that progress is also being made in France, where government regulation already exists. The French group, Kuchta said, is working towards creating cooperation between parents, schools, business and “civil society”. The group is working on a public campaign, featuring popular pop and TV stars and the fashion magazine Marie Claire.

“The worrying phenomenon of the hypersexualization of our environment has noxious effects on young people. What is more, the hypersexualization of public spaces relies on and reinforces well established sexual stereotypes, according to which girls should be not only pretty and skinny but also sexy and hot and the boys should play the macho role and dominate the girls,” Kuchta said.

“From a very young age, girls are treated as sexual objects, their development is not respected, and the lines between childhood and adulthood are blurred.  Children, especially girls are the targets of marketing specialists who sell them age inappropriate products so they will become lifetime customers.”
In the past it was adult women who felt the imperative to look “sexy”. Now this imperative is in danger of being adopted by younger and younger girls who will inevitably face the same feelings of inadequacy, failure to live up to an unrealistic ideal.

Skrzydlewska, whose doctoral dissertation was on the subject, says that many young women now believe that “the only confidence worth having is sexual confidence” and in fact, “it seems that what this hyper-sexualized society is selling to girls is actually a caricature of sexual confidence”. Hyper-sexualized images and messages are having a profound impact, researchers have found, with girls becoming more concerned with how others perceive them than with their own interests and desires.

This self-objectification fits well, she said, with the current media focus on self- improvement, not in the form of learning new skills but of enhancing one’s physical appearance.

“By all aspects of sexualisation we are stealing childhood from children by pushing them to become ‘little adults,’ and by making them experience emotions that are difficult to deal with at their young age.” Children do not possess the ability to interpret them correctly and critically and the result is poor self-esteem, depression and even dangerous eating disorders, she said.

Pornography shapes young people’s sexual knowledge but does so by portraying sex in unrealistic ways, she says. Moreover, pornography “is increasingly dominated by themes of aggression, power and control, blurring the lines between consent, pleasure and violence.”

According to researcher Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, there has been a marked increase in the number of sites that “infantilize women” which results in changes in perceptions of child pornography among adults. When girls are dressed to resemble adult women, people may associate adult motives and even a sense of adult responsibility onto the child. Depicting young girls dressed or made up as sexually mature older women may serve to normalize abusive practices such as child abuse or sexual exploitation.

Papadopoulos cites studies showing a link between pornography use and sexual behavior. One study conducted in the US shows that 29 per cent of high school students said that pornography had influenced their sexual behavior. A European study showed that 53 per cent of young men said pornography had “ inspired” their sexual behavior.

The EU report, not yet available in English, says that pornography has led the way to more men looking at children as objects of sexual desire, “especially after they clicked on the pop-up ads for teen porn” which lead eventually into real child porn.

“For some men, the teen sites were just a stepping stone to the real thing, as they moved seamlessly from adult women to children,” the report says.
Home Office research suggests that the porn and child porn industries and human trafficking are growing in tandem. In 2003 up to 4,000 women were victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK and in 2009 the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre estimated that the potential number of child trafficking victims was 325.

The link between pornography and organized crime is a long and established one. Together pornography, human trafficking and prostitution contribute to a network of exploitation that fuels the global sex trade, Kuchta said. According to the UN, global profits from the trafficking of human beings currently stand at around US $7 billion, equivalent in monetary terms to the global trade in drugs.
Simply put, the porn industry has created a market for children, which is being supplied by human trafficking, she said.

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