Prepared by Cordelia Anderson, Founder and Immediate Past President, National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation
· Normalization is defined as the process by which an idea, concept or behavior becomes an accepted part of societal culture.
· Once this occurs, it is considered “just the way it is” and becomes viewed as beneficial or preferential.
· Sex used to sell things is nothing new, but the overwhelming magnitude of sex, or more accurately the “exploitive use of sex” to sell to younger and younger children is newer.
There is growing concern about the variety of ways children are being treated as sexual objects and commodities.
Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation
· Children are generally sexually abused or exploited by people they know and trust. The ACE studies found contact child sexual abuse (CSA) was reported by 16% of males and 25% of females and clearly showed CSA resulted in multiple social and health problems for both males and females(1) The frequency and impact makes this a major public health concern.
· When thinking about the range of ways children are sexually abused through exploitation there are different types of child sexual exploitation to consider: child sexual abuse, child sexual abuse images (child pornography), prostituted children, technology-facilitated sex crimes against children, sex trafficking, and sex tourism.(2)
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children receives over 2,000 reports a week on the Cybertipline, the Congressionally-mandated ISP reporting site for on-line sexual solicitation of children. 90% of these are reports of child pornography. The sad reality is the victims are getting younger and younger and the majority never report being sexually abused, much less pornographically photographed.
· We can’t prosecute, treat or educate our way out of this problem. To prevent children from being sexually exploited, efforts need to address both the supply and demand issues.
o What is creating this market?
o Why is it that, for example, one child pornography site discovered by police had over 70,000 (primarily) males users willing to pay $29.95 a month to see images of children being sexually abused? (3)
o Social change is needed to counter the normalization of this sexual harm and exploitation.
To be effective it will take the issue experts, non-profits, policy makers, media and industry leaders working together for the protection and healthy development of children and youth.
Sample Studies Point to the Truth in the Old Adage: Children Learn from What they See & Hear
· The APA, 2007 Report on the Sexualization of Children reviewed over 300 studies and concluded that a wide range of mass media’s sexualize girls – they become viewed as sexual objects for others to use - and has a negative impact on their mental health. They note the importance of the impact of watching older role models whether in the media or key adults in the child’s life.(4)
· “One of the strongest predictors of risk for early sexual intercourse, for both black and white teens (in the study), was the perception that his or her peers were having sex” Journal of Pediatrics, AAP, 4 ’06 (5)
· Early maturing girls report more interest in seeing & listening to sexual content. Given the lack of sexual health messages, the mass media becomes a sexual super peer. Youth behavior is influenced by the sexual behavior they think their peers are having. (Brown, J. et al, Journal of Adolescent Health, May 2005) (6)
· Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in the media, and who perceive greater support from the media for teen sexual behavior, report greater intentions to engage in sexual intercourse and more sexual activity. (Brown, J. et al, Journal of Adolescent Health, March, 2006)
· Emory Study: Indicates a link between over exposure to rap music videos and increase in violence and risky sexual behavior among teen African American girls (Wingood, et al) (7)
· On average boys see their first pornography around age 11. 12-17 year olds are the largest Internet porn consumers; teens who viewed porn often did so while doing homework (Internet-filter-review.toptenreviews). (8) For many, pornography is their first sexual experience and their main sexual education.
Seven in ten, 15- to 17-year-olds admitted to finding pornography online. 71 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds agreed with the statement, ''I have seen more pornography online than I have seen offline.'' (2001 Kaiser Family Foundation Study) (9)
4 Major Reasons for Concern
· Earlier onset of puberty (9-10 girls, 11 boys) (10)
· Later brain development (not fully developed until early 20’s) (11)
· The overwhelming volume of sexually toxic messages that normalize sexual harm & exploitation with little access to alternative healthy sexual images or information.
· Lack of community/societal barriers to a steady stream of sexually exploitative messages.
Adult’s confusion about what is healthy and appropriate for childrens development versus what is harmful and exploitative.
· Compliant Victimization: Children are not only groomed by individual predators to engage in behaviors that may be self exploitative or harmful, but are also groomed by social norms, messages and expectations to treat themselves as sexual objects whose main value is sexual appeal.
Development of Perpetrator Behaviors: Children learn kindness and respect, they also learn to objectify, and exploit. Boys in particular learn that “masculinity” somehow means they are entitled or expected to be sexually aggressive and to view girls as sexual objects. Both boys and girls get the message a girl’s worth is primarily in her sexual appeal or servitude.
What’s Changed – What’s Feeding the Problem?
Impact of Technology: The opportunity and access via technology to see or to engage in exploitative behaviors has exploded. While some of the access and opportunity is for educationally and socially enhancing information, there is also a flood of resources, images and messages that are not “age, stage or developmentally” appropriate or healthy, particularly without adults to provide a context or counter message. (12)
Pornified Mainstream Culture: No single industry alone is the sole source of the problem. Indeed the challenge comes from the totality of images that reach younger and younger children with few images or messages to counter the glamorization of exploitative, objectified use of sex.
Pornography: The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Cybertipline receives an over 2,000 reports a week; 90% of which are reports of child pornography. The victims are getting younger (77% prepubescent) and the content is getting more violent. The majority of perpetrators, as seen with other types of child molesters, are someone the victim knows and trusts.(13)
The adult pornography industry is legal. Traditionally concern about pornography has come from either the stance of “it’s all degrading to women and sexual violence” or “it’s all immoral.” As the industry has become mainstream and grown to be a $97 Billion worldwide industry, there is concern about how it feeds a “sexually toxic society” and child sexual abuse/exploitation through references to children and teens as “objects” of sexual interest. Many studies also point to links between pornography and sexual violence. Pamela Paul’s book Pornified highlights an array of studies and examples to show how the changing content, (increasingly violent), availability and access to pornography are changing male/female relationships and views of what is normal or acceptable in terms of sexual behaviors.(14)
Marketing to Children: The Campaign for Commercial Free Children points out the huge increase in advertising to children and sites the reality that children under 8 can not differentiate the pitch form reality. Marketing efforts use sex and violence as a way to grab and keep attention even if that means sexually objectifying children. The messages teaching children (and adults) to value material things above anything else and to buy and consume in order to meet all their needs are other instances of the insidious impact on values and relationships. (15)
Examples from A – Z List:
· Ads: Catch viewers attention with “hypersexualized” images of younger children & youth
· All Star Wrestling: extreme images of masculinity, sexually objectified images of females and glamorization of violence including between males & females
· Books: A-List, Gossip Girls (emphasize money, sex and references to adults lusting after teens)
· Clothing: Pimpfants for infants, Pimp/Ho Halloween Costumes, G-Strings and padded bras & g-strings marketed to little girls. A Newsweek article referred to it as creating a generation of “prosti-tots”
· Dolls: Bling Bling Barbie, Hasbro attempt to retail Pussycat Dolls, Bratz
· Electronic Games: Games allow for practice and interaction. Grand Theft Auto gets the most attention but the point should be on the violent or exploitative use of sex (beat and rape the prostitute) not on the “sex” in such games
· Teen Icons: Females pop stars dressed as porn stars or prostituted women and males as sexual aggressors.
Music: Degrading sexual lyrics with references to females as ho’s and bitches, and glamorizing the “pimp ho” lifestyle.
Prevention: Awareness to Action
· See it, Name it, Speak Up, Speak Out, Courage to Act
· Use these talking points and the Countering Normalization resources to begin dialogues to discuss the trends, impact and possible actions
· Think beyond individual awareness or actions to broader-based social change
· Identify policies and organizational practices to encourage age, stage and developmentally constructive - rather than destructive – images and messages for children & youth
· Engage non-profits, industry leaders, policy makers, media and community leaders in the solution
· Engage males as leaders in prevention
· Encourage bystanders (of all ages) to stand up, not by, and to take effective actions
· Act within your spheres of influence (workplace, families, neighborhoods, faith, etc)
· Engage others in respectful dialogues about the role of normalization in perpetuating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
Identify community and political leaders who are able and willing to champion prevention of child sexual abuse & exploitation