Home Office propose UK censorship measures to curtail child 'sexualisation'
26th February 2010. From nds.coi.gov.uk
A review into the sexualisation of young people, conducted by psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos has just been published.
Commissioned by the Home Office, the review forms part of the government's strategy to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and looks at how sexualised images and messages may be affecting the development of children and young
people and influencing cultural norms. It also examines the evidence for a link between sexualisation and violence.
Key recommendations include:
the government to launch an online one-stop-shop to allow the public to voice their concerns about marketing which may sexualise children, with an onus on regulatory authorities to take action.
the government should support the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to take steps to extend the existing regulatory standards to include commercial websites
broadcasters are required to ensure that music videos featuring sexual posing or sexually suggestive lyrics are broadcast only after the watershed
the government to support the NSPCC in its work with manufacturers and retailers to encourage corporate compliance with regard to sexualised merchandise. Guidelines should be issued for retailers following consultation with major clothing
retailers and parents' groups
games consoles should be sold with parental controls already switched on. Purchasers can choose to unlock the console if they wish to allow access to adult and online content.
lads' mags to be confined to newsagents' top shelves and only sold to over-15s
a ratings system on magazine and advertising photographs showing the extent to which they have been airbrushed or digitally altered.
The exemption of music videos from the 1984 Video Recordings Act should be ended. The report in particular criticises lyrics by N-Dubz and 50 Cent for their tendency to sexualise women or refer to them in a derogatory manner, and singles out
the rap artist Nelly for a video showing him swiping a credit card through a young woman's buttocks. But it adds that, while degrading sexual content is most apparent in rap-rock, rap, rap-metal and R&B, it is to be found across all music
jobcentres should be banned from advertising vacancies at escort agencies, lapdancing clubs and massage parlours.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: We will now consider the full list of recommendations in more detail and continue to ensure that young people's development and well-being are a top priority.
Children's Minister Delyth Morgan said:
Children today are growing up in a complex and changing world and they need to learn how to stay safe and resist inappropriate pressures. That is why we are making Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education
statutory so that we can teach children about the real life issues they will face as they grow up.
PSHE already includes teaching about advertising and body image and from 2011 will include issues around violence against women and girls. The PSHE curriculum is age appropriate to give children and young people the right
information at the right time to help them make the best choices and to develop their confidence.
We can't hide all sexual images from children but we can stop reading their behaviour through a prism of adult motives
It is difficult not to feel disturbed by the sexualisation of childhood. We live in a world where a significant proportion of 11-year-olds have been regularly exposed to pornography and where many actually believe that what they see is an
accurate depiction of real-life relationships.
It is tempting to panic in response to this development and lose sight of the real problem. Sadly, the Home Office report published today proposes the tired old strategy of protecting children from exposure to sexual imagery. The report's
addiction to banning and censoring is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. The real problem is not simply inappropriate sexual imagery but a highly sexualised adult imagination that continually recycles its anxieties through
The woman is naked - or looks like she is. Only a flesh-coloured leotard covers her body. Her long blonde hair tumbles down her back. She's in a cage, sliding her fingers provocatively in and out of her mouth.
A scene from a cliched pornographic film? Sadly not. The woman in question is Shakira, a pop superstar and the fourth richest singer in the world.
The images can be seen in the video for her single, She Wolf , which will be watched obsessively, again and again, by thousands of young men and women, many of whom will form the opinion that writhing in a cage is precisely the way sexy
women should behave.
For completeness here is the full list of recommendations No doubt the government will take it as inspiration for more censorship.
Education and schools
1) All school staff to have training on gender equality. Specialist training should be given to those who teach Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and citizenship.
2) The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to issue statutory guidance to schools to promote a whole school approach to tackling gender inequality, sexual and sexist bullying and violence against women and girls.
3) References on sexualisation, gender stereotypes and pornography to be included in DCSF's revised Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) guidance for schools. New SRE resource materials should be made available for teachers who work with
children with special education needs and learning difficulties.
4) Schools to ensure that all incidents of sexual bullying are recorded and reported separately to other forms of bullying.
5) New practical How To guidance on tackling sexualisation is disseminated to all schools.
6) Primary schools should make specific reference to the influence of the media on body image and personal identity within a new programme of study on 'Understanding Physical Development, Health and Wellbeing'.
7) A module on gender equality, sexualisation and sexist/sexual bullying be developed as part of the DCSF's Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme.
8) Media literacy should be taught not only through PSHE education but also through English, drama, the arts, history and citizenship.
9) More investment in youth workers to enable them to work with young people outside of mainstream education around the issues of sexuality, sexist and sexual bullying and gender equality.
10) The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to further develop its current online resource centre where parents can access internet safety advice.
11) Digital literacy to be made a compulsory part of the national curriculum for children from the age of five.
12) The government should work with internet service providers to block access to pro-anorexia ('pro-ana') and pro-bulimia ('pro-mia') websites.
13) A schools campaign to be developed which promotes positive role models for young men and young women and challenges gender stereotypes.
14) Schools should encourage girls to value their bodies in terms of their physical ability. This should be linked to the work of the 2012 Get Set education programme.
15) Local Authorities must be accountable for treating victims of child sexual abuse and ensure that specialist services receive adequate funding for the treatment of children who have been abused.
16) One-to-one confidential help in school/college from a trained professional such as a psychologist to be made available to every child and young person.
Media and awareness-raising
17) A national campaign to be launched to address the issue of teenage relationship abuse, including a specific pack for primary and secondary schools so that they can build on issues arising from the campaign.
18) A working group of high profile women in media together with academics should be set up to monitor and address gender inequality in the media.
19) The establishment of a media award that promotes diverse, aspirational and non-sexualised portrayals of young people.
20) The government to launch an online one-stop-shop to allow the public to voice their concerns regarding irresponsible marketing which sexualises children with an onus on regulatory authorities to take action. The
website could help inform future government policy by giving parents a forum to raise issues of concern regarding the sexualisation of young people.
21) Information on body image, selfesteem, eating disorders and e-safety to be included in the government's proposed Positive Parenting booklets for parents of older children.
22) The government should support the Adversing Standards Agency (ASA) to take steps to extend the existing regulatory standards to include commercial websites.
23) The introduction of a system of ratings symbols for photographs to show the extent to which they have been altered. This is particularly critical in magazines targeting teen and pre-teen audiences.
24) The content of outdoor advertisements to be vetted by local authorities as part of their gender equality duty to ensure that images and messages are not offensive on the grounds of gender.
25) Broadcasters are required to ensure that music videos featuring sexual posing or sexually suggestive lyrics are broadcast only after the watershed.
26) The current gap in the regulatory protection provided by the Video Recordings Act 1984 to be closed by removing the general exemption for 'works concerned with music'.
27) Regulation of UK-based video on demand services to be strengthened to ensure that they do not allow children to access hardcore pornography.
28) Games consoles should be sold with parental controls already switched on. Purchasers can choose to unlock the console if they wish to allow access to adult and online content.
29) This idea should be extended to 'child friendly' computers and mobile phones where adult content is filtered out by default.
Working with businesses and retailers
30) The government to support the NSPCC in its work with manufacturers and retailers to encourage corporate responsibility with regard to sexualised merchandise. Guidelines should be issued for retailers following
consultation with major clothing retailers and parents' groups.
31) The existing voluntary code for retailers regarding the placements of 'lads' mags' should be replaced by a mandatory code. Lads mags' should be clearly marked as recommended for sale only to persons aged 15 and
32) The government overturns its decision to allow vacancies for jobs in the adult entertainment industry to be advertised by Jobcentre Plus.
33) A new academic periodical to be established and an annual conference series should be held focusing solely on the topic of sexualisation.
34) Funding be made available for research that will strengthen the current evidence base on sexualisation. This should include trend research into teenage partner violence and frequency of sexual bullying and abuse.
35) Clinical outcome research to be funded and supported to find the most effective ways to identify, assess and work with the perpetrators and victims of child sexual abuse.
36) A detailed examination of media literacy programmes should be carried out jointly by the DCSF, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Primark, the clothing chain, ordered padded bikini bras for 7yo+ girls to be removed from sale after criticism that they supposedly sexualised children.
The company apologised for any offence caused by the £4 item and said profits from any bikinis already sold would be donated to a children's charity.
The Children's Society whinged at Primark for premature sexualisation and inappropriate advertising , while Shy Keenan, a child protection consultant called for a boycott of Primark until the bikini top was withdrawn.
David Cameron also intervened in the row and condemned sale of the item, which came in candy pink with gold stars or black with white polka dots, as completely disgraceful.
Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, the parents' online forum which recently launched a Let Girls Be Girls campaign, to lobby retailers against sales of such adult items to children, was also pleased that Primark had removed the bra top
from sale. It's a shame it was ever put on the shelves in the first place, she said.
Gordon Brown gave his backing to the Mumsnet campaign and said: All of us parents can recognise there's something wrong when companies are pushing our kids into acting like little grown-ups when they should be enjoying being children.
Retailers are selling high-heeled shoes to young girls according to parenting groups who fear the new fashion trend is prematurely sexualising children.
The trend was sparked by pictures of Suri Cruise, the three-year-old daughter of actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who is regularly photographed in sparkly heels.
Justine Roberts of Mumsnet, the parenting forum, said: Some of the shoes I have seen on sale look more suited to a lap-dancing club than the feet of a young girl. The items in question are prematurely sexualising young children. We are saying
to retailers, 'Have a look at your range and ask yourselves if these items are appropriate. Some of the school shoes Tesco sells have got a two-inch heel. You shouldn't have a high heel if your feet are developing.
It's not about being Mary Whitehouse ...[BUT].. It's about not sleepwalking into a world where this is normal. Young girls always want to dress up and emulate adults, and that's fine. But when the bulk of the range on offer is like
this, then it is making our children grow up too fast.
Nicola Lamond of Netmums, another parenting group, said: I went shopping with my daughter and was horrified by how many shoes came with a high heel in sizes to fit girls as young as three. These shoes will be harder to walk in than flat shoes
so I'd be worried my child would injure themselves.
A spokesman for Asda, which is currently selling a pair of Disney Princess children's sandals with a 3cm heel, said the retailer had received no customer complaints. A Next spokesman said: Their popularity suggests many parents agree we've
come up with a look that's special without seeming inappropriately grown up. GapKids said their child heels had been tested to ensure safety.
A moral panic around childhood sexualisation and the dangers of the internet is closing down important channels of debate and making the internet a more dangerous place for adults and young people alike.
That was the consensus view taken by Onscenity, an international network launched this week, which draws together experts to respond to the new visibility or onscenity of sex in commerce, culture and everyday life.
David Buckingham, Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, London University, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media, complained about the current media panic over the sexualisation of childhood.
While some issues went away with the last government, David Cameron also appears to believe this is a problem.
The real problem, though, is that no one knows what sexualisation is: it is a convenient label used to position the child as always the victim, and then to pile every problem imaginable on top, including paedophilia, body image, sex
trafficking and self-esteem. Once that particular juggernaut gets rolling, it is almost impossible to have a sensible debate about what's really going on.
Too many so-called experts – most famously, Dr Linda Papadopoulos - were speaking well outside their field of expertise. Eating disorders get ascribed to sexualisation , despite the fact that most dietary experts would question that
conclusion. Worse is the way in which this debate is almost always framed in moralising terms, and a key question must be what political motive lies behind such framing.
Equally of concern was the way in which healthy sexuality is so often equated to non-commercial – as though sex alone can be an activity free from all commercial influence.
Two authors are campaigning for a change in the law to stop the pornification of society which they claim promotes violence against women.
Kat Banyard, who wrote The Equality Illusion , told the Edinburgh International Book Festival mass pornography will have a corrosive impact for years to come.
She said: All the research shows that watching pornography leads to - as you would expect - an increase of attitudes which support violence against women and aggressive behaviour.
Huge numbers of young boys and men are sitting watching, and getting positive powerful experiences of watching women being physically abused.
There is a massive problem - we are nowhere near tackling it.
She said an internet search using the term porn brings up 193 million results, most of which link to sites with aggressive and violent images: We have never had pornography or sexual exploitation on this scale. The
effects are untold but we are likely to see them played out over the next few decades, she said.
Natasha Walter, whose most recent book is Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism , told the festival even primary school children are being damaged by our hypersexual society. Up to 90% of teenage boys admit to watching hardcore porn,
according to surveys. Walter said, if boys did not, they were regarded as odd.
Women and girls are also psychologically harmed by these degrading images, she continued: Women believe that to be successful they have to fit into a very narrow view of what female sexuality should look like.
With just a few clicks of the mouse, your children can find themselves on the fringes of a dark and perverted world. And while they may not have the credit card needed to proceed, they will have already seen the [free]
So what is to be done? At our conference I was astonished and disappointed to hear the Department for Education plans to commission yet another report into these problems. The Government has already funded two investigations
in recent years, one by parenting expert Tanya Byron, the other by clinical psychologist Linda Papadopoulos.
Both suggested the solution lay in more information for parents and teachers, and in helping them stop children from visiting such sites.
The only answer is restricting access to such material. Some 95 per cent of pornographic content viewed in this country comes from servers operated by British-based companies, including BT Internet and Virgin. They and the
big search engines must be persuaded that pornography should only be available to those adult users who request it.
They will argue this is technically impossible. But I would remind them of the scandal in 2006 when Google agreed to censor certain search results in China for political reasons.
If the big internet companies can apply blocks to protect their commercial interests, then why can't our Government act in a similar way to protect our children?
The Sunday Telegraph has learned a government-commissioned review, expected to be led by Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mothers' Union, will lay the ground for new laws which could see individual companies persecuted.
Bailey's review will gather evidence of ways children are having unfair commercial pressure put on them or being prematurely sexualised by retailers amid protests over high-heeled shoes and provocative underwear aimed at girls as young as
Ministers at the Department for Education intend to legislate or regulate against the supposed offenders, many of whom have already sparked nutter criticism from parents.
Coalition sources said the planned new laws could see businesses targeted individually, while it was likely a new industry-wide standard would be established. Parents, furthermore, could be given the power to challenge offending advertisements or
products specifically over child-related issues. Sources drew a parallel with the way complaints are currently made to trading standards officials or the Advertising Standards Authority.
The move is backed by David Cameron, who hit out at the premature sexualisation of children in one of his first major interventions as Conservative leader, more than four years ago.
Reg Bailey, a father of two and committed Christian who is the first male chief executive of the Mothers' Union – the international Christian charity that seeks to support families.
The coalition government has begun a review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of children which will explore, among other things, whether rules should prevent companies marketing the likes of Porn Star T-shirts
and padded bras for little girls.
So what is really out there? I trawled the High Street in search of some of these products and I struggled to find very many. There were a few T-shirts with slogans like Future Footballer's Wife, but are they sexualising
children or just a matter of taste?
What did make me uncomfortable was what felt like a strong undercurrent of sexuality and glamour that seems to run through many girls' clothing ranges now - mini-versions of adult trends that included strapless or low-cut
dresses, sequins, frills and lace.
But who decides what's sexualised and what's trendy? Who gets to be the fashion police?
Those who celebrated the death of New Labour puritanism may yet live to regret its successor: the new Tory obsession with sexualisation . For this is a moral panic that looks set to be even wider in scope, even more
finger-waggingly repressive in effect, than anything the last lot came up with.
Its been coming for a while. The turning point, that is. We've had a decade of new Labour nannying on sex and sexuality. In hindsight, though, that may turn out to have been preferable. For whilst New Labour may have been
concerned with sexual exploitation, they appeared still to believe that once that particular issue had been sorted out, sex, on the whole, was not a bad idea.
Of course, the ultimate exploitation, which government rightly reacted to, was exploitation of children. Yet the battlecry --- think of the children --- now pervades every aspect of our thinking about sex.
When it comes to the public discussion of sex there's a lot that's wrong. The main problem is misinformation, with biased sources spreading information that is at best poorly researched and at worst completely incorrect.
The main themes in this loosely-united area of public disapproval include pornography and adult entertainment, sex trafficking, the rights of people in sex work, and the possible sexualisation of children by exposure
to all of the above.
It's known that there is no credible research tying adult entertainment to crime and violence against women. It's clear that the numbers surrounding the trafficking claims don't add up. The fact that sex workers deserve
protection, not persecution, is self-evident. And to the critical reader, it's apparent that the people pushing an anti-sex agenda are ignoring vast swathes of ethical and commendable research into sexuality.
Sexualisation of children, in particular, is a lightning rod for many of the public anxieties surrounding sex. I'm particularly interested in this topic for a few reasons. First, because the claims surrounding it bear little
relationship to demonstrable reality; second, because both the right and the left appear to have reached consensus on the topic. Last, because so many people are parents, it's an issue that has more power to influence the voting population than,
say, what a few misguided feminists think about pornography they never watch anyway. Now maybe I read The Handmaid's Tale just a few times too often as a girl, but when the feminists and the bible-bashers agree on something, my bullshit meter
goes into the red.
A petition of about 18,500 signatures has been handed to David Cameron calling for an end to marketing of a sexualised nature aimed at children.
The petition was presented to 10 Downing Streetby Rosemary Kempsell, worldwide president of the Mothers' Union, as well as several MPs.
The petition is part of the Bye Buy Childhood campaign launched last year by the Mothers' Union.
It calls upon the Government to prohibit sexualised media, marketing and products aimed at or easily accessed by children under 16 years of age.
Kempsell said, We are delighted that the Government has already taken action to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood through the Bailey Review. We would like to see this Review make strong recommendations to Government
to ensure childhood can remain a precious time free from commercialisation.
Joining Kempsell at Downing Street were MPs Helen Goodman, David Morris, Fiona Bruce and Jim Dobbin.
The review, Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood, is due out next month. It claims that nine out of 10 parents think that their children are growing up too quickly because of increasing sexualisation and commercial pressures,
mainly from the internet and television.
The review has found that direct advertising through mobile phones was the marketing tool that most angered parents, with 35% believing it wrong. Products linked to social networking websites which invite children to click on them were second on
the list of features to upset parents.
Although mothers and fathers want their children to have a mobile phone for safety and social reasons, they now realise it leaves them powerless to stop access to inappropriate internet sites, including pornography, the review claimed.
The review, conducted by Reg Bailey, the chief executive of Mothers' Union, a Christian charity, has also claimed growing concerns about the exposure of children to sex on television.
In a poll of 1,000 parents, the review has found 41% said that in the previous three months they had seen television programmes or advertisements before the 9pm watershed that they considered wrong for their children to view because of their
sexual content. 40% said they had seen window displays or advertising hoardings inappropriate for children.
Bailey is unlikely to call for new legislation, but will argue that the process for parents to lodge complaints should be strengthened and simplified.
Parents concerns are said to include:
Children are growing up to quickly and behaving in an overtly sexual manner before they are old enough to really understand what sexually provocative behaviour means.
Celebrity culture, adult style clothes and music videos are encouraging children to act older than they are.
Lack of responsibility from business and government in allowing advertising to children.
Too many clothes, toys, games, music videos or other products that are inappropriate for the age group they were aimed at.
The use of phone and text adverts when promoting products for children.
The increasing pressure to buy non-essential items for their children so they don't feel left out.
Public places (shop window displays, advertising hoardings) that they felt were inappropriate for children to see because of their sexual content.
Programmes or adverts on TV before 9pm watershed that they felt were unsuitable or inappropriate for children due to their sexual content.
A typical afternoon in a typical middle-class home. It's just after 4.30pm, I'm back from the school run --- and in the next room I can hear my four-year-old daughter Clio rehearsing a routine she's learnt at her school
In front of the full-length mirror in the living room, she's in full performance mode --- although what she's singing today is a departure from her usual material.
At first, the words melt into one. But gradually, I can pick out what she's trying to articulate: I'm a single laydee, I'm a single laydee --- I've got a man on my hips and lipstick on my lips.
The full implication of the words may be lost on Clio, but it's clear from the way she's wiggling her bottom in her own version of Beyonce's booty-shaking tour-de-force that she thinks she looks grown-up.
Clio was doing what many little girls do for fun these days. Scroll through YouTube and you will see hundreds of little girls being filmed by their parents as they perform the explicit lyrics and sexy movements of Lady Gaga,
Beyonce and Britney. The sort of sexually-charged performances that Ofcom apparently deem to be acceptable pre-watershed entertainment, if this week's ruling that The X Factor's most explicit performance ever did not breach broadcasting
guidelines is anything to go by.
The organisers of the Special Olympics have launched a campaign against comedian Gary Owen for using the word retarded on stage. They are 'demanding' American cable TV station Showtime censor his stand-up special I Agree With Myself
from their on-demand service. They have also launched an online petition to back their cause whihc has about 3000 signatures at the moment.
Gary Owen's show includes a routine about the comedian's cousin, Tina. Tina's retarded, he says. She's not slow. It's full-blown. It is what it is. He then goes on to make jokes about her having sex. His routine also mocks the
Special Olympics, for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. He said: The 100-metre dash is the funniest shit you'll want to see, because it's literally eight people running with no arm swing.
The petition reads:
We live in an era where bullying has become public sport, where public figures and leaders from dozens of walks of life seem to believe that humiliation and viciousness are acceptable ways of communicating.
[Gary Owens] mocks [people with intellectual disabilities'] speech, mocks their love, mocks their sexuality, mocks them as people and worst of all, does so without any qualms or hesitation. He can pick on his cousin. Why? According to him:
because she's "retarded." Apparently, she isn't worthy of even the most basic dignity.
None of this is funny. At all. It is callous and gratuitous verbal violence.