The Sexualisation of Children

The Australia Institute has recently released a report entitled, Corporate Paedophilia [pdf], that examines the early sexualisation of children and particularly young girls. The report, authored by Emma Rush, makes the point that some corporations are actively promoting this through the marketing of products such as padded bras and G-strings targeted at girls as young as six.

As the author explains:

Images of sexualised children are becoming increasingly common in advertising and marketing material. Children who appear aged 12 years and under, particularly girls, are dressed, posed and made up in the same way as sexy adult models. ‘Corporate paedophilia’ is a metaphor used to describe advertising and marketing that sexualises children in these ways. The metaphor encapsulates the idea that such advertising and marketing is an abuse both of children and of public morality.

In the past, the sexualisation of children occurred indirectly, primarily through exposure of children to representations of teen and adult sexuality in advertising and popular culture. The very direct sexualisation of children, where children themselves are

presented in ways modelled on sexy adults, is a new development. The pressure on children to adopt sexualised appearance and behaviour at an early age is greatly increased by the combination of the direct sexualisation of children with the increasingly sexualised representations of teenagers and adults in advertising and popular culture. This paper documents and analyses the sexualisation of children aged 12 and under in relation to three types of cultural material: advertising (both print and television), girls’ magazines, and television programs (including music video-clips). Other sources of children’s premature sexualisation, such as toys and material on the Internet, are not considered here.

Whilst the study focuses on Australia, the issue is by no means limited to Australia. I recall, for example, once seeing an English girl of about six or seven years dressed in a midrift top emblazoned with the words ‘Little Bitch’. And, of course, we have the obscene spectacle of poor Jon Benet Ramsey still fresh in many of our minds. This is, it seems, one social trend that is more or less universal.

Through the marketing of smaller variations of adult clothing such as G-strings and revealing tops, as well as through music videos featuring increasingly overt sexual imagery, young girls are having an adult sexuality imposed on them earlier and earlier. And as children inhabit an increasingly sexualised world, one can imagine that they will also find themselves facing social pressures to exhibit sexualised behaviours. On the one hand, this may manifest itself in children becoming sexually active younger (along with all the consequences that will surely follow); but, on the other hand, it is quite conceivable that the messages being sent to young girls about their sexuality will also be received by some men (along with all the consequences that will surely follow).