The public furore following the suspended sentence handed down to former MP Eric Joyce earlier this month highlighted once again the sexual exploitation of children and what we do with those who are convicted. But as Sarah Ditum pointed out this morning, Joyce is only one of 400 men arrested every month for viewing indecent images of children.
The problem is endemic. As a teacher and a parent, I believe the protection of children should be paramount. But we face an uphill battle in a culture that doesn’t just condone the sexualisation of children, it encourages it.
Netflix’s egregious marketing of the film Cuties is the latest example. “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions”, they wrote. Seemingly oblivious to any red flags they published it alongside an image of pre-pubescent girls in erotic poses.
Whether it crossed the threshold to be considered a Category C indecent photograph of children is a matter for debate, but releasing sexually provocative images of young girls is shockingly irresponsible, and using them for commercial gain is reprehensible. The message to children is unforgivable.
Twerking is “sexually suggestive dancing characterized by rapid, repeated hip thrusts and shaking of the buttocks especially while squatting”, according to Merriam-Webster. Linking that to an 11-year-old’s exploration of femininity perhaps said more about the mentality of those who wrote the description and distributed it, but the pressure on pubescent girls to conform to the sexist and sexualised expectations of adults is immense.
Gone are the days from my childhood when children posed as children and not adults; those girls in the Netflix image were discovering what it means to be sex objects.
While we struggle to manage people like Joyce, we need to grapple with the society that enables and encourages the sexualisation of children to occur in the first place.
But while once broadcast and media was subject to national regulators, multi-national giants like Netflix and Amazon, are based far from our shores and they appear to be subject only to whims of public opinion, or possibly just the feelings of their paying customers. Soon after, Netflix changed their descriptor of the movie. Twerking and femininity being replaced by rebellion against conservative values and a “free-spirited dance crew”.
But while Netflix may have reverse ferreted on this occasion, a wider malaise remains. How do we address the exploitation of children and deal with those culpable, while media giants — like corporate pimps — use sexualised imagery of children with impunity?