Fetishization of Young Girls

by Michelle Smith, Rod Rosenstein, and Amber Rudd

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. – Vladmir Nabokov, Lolita

The passing of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner prompted both positive and negative eulogizing. From one perspective, he was a revolutionary who helped to dismantle the long-standing secrecy and shame surrounding sexuality. And from another, he simply popularized the objectification of women for the gratification of men. The most surprising detail to emerge after Hefner’s death was that Brooke Shields had featured in a Playboy publication called Sugar and Spice in 1975 when she was merely 10 years old. Photographer Gary Grosse received $450 to take the photographs of the heavily made-up Shields posing naked in a bathtub. The Sugar and Spice series of books in which the images appeared promised “surprising and sensuous images of women” from contemporary photographers, coding them as “artistic”.

While clearly most people are at the peak of their physical attractiveness in their youth, the fetishization of young boys for a heterosexual female audience is nowhere near as common as the obsession with young girls within culture aimed at older men. One obvious reason for this difference is the historic value that has been placed on female virginity in a way that it is not for men. This includes older ideas about the importance of a virginal bride for ensuring that all of her children were legitimate, to more recent notions of women with sexual experience being “sluts” or dirty.

Today the vast majority of people in countries such as the United States and Australia have sex prior to marriage. This could be one reason why girls continue to be sexually fetishized, as they symbolize an innocence and purity that most young women are no longer seen to represent. While some community groups contend that sexualized images of girls might support the behaviors and actions of pedophiles, there is a more pervasive issue at stake here for all women. One of the legacies of Hefner’s Playboy empire and the sex culture it helped to propagate is that only very young women are sexually attractive. The oldest “Playmate” (the women who feature in the magazine’s centerfold) to have ever appeared in Playboy was 35. Few women aged in their 30’s were ever featured. Conversely, at least nine minors, aged 16 and 17 at the time of photographing, have featured in American and international editions of Playboy. In 1958 Hefner was brought before a court after publishing images of 16-year-old Elizabeth Ann Roberts in a feature entitled “Schoolmate Playmate”. Roberts was described as a “bouncy teenager” occupied by “reading and writing and ‘rithmetic”, but she looks physically tiny and vulnerable in the images. The charges were ultimately dropped as Roberts’ mother had consented to the shoot.

While they are not generally focused on depicting naked bodies, women’s magazines regularly name men aged in their 40’s and 50’s, such as Johnny Depp and George Clooney, as among the most sexually desirable men. One of the legacies of Playboy is its contribution to the fetishization of young women and a porn culture that toys with the depiction of women who are styled to look as if they are school-aged or just over the most minimal line of cultural acceptability (barely legal). The images of Brooke Shields published in Playboy’s Sugar and Spice series have been widely circulated in the wake of Hefner’s death as an example of why he should not be celebrated. People are certainly right to be alarmed by images that figure a 10-year-old as an object of sexual desire. However, it is important to see the images of Shields as simply the most egregious example of the way that magazines such as Playboy have contributed to a culture that fetishizes girls.

We are living in a truly remarkable era, in which each day seemingly brings a new technological innovation — from health to education, communications to manufacturing — that improves the lives of people around the world. But some of these advancements have left children unsafe — sometimes even in their own homes. Vile predators who seek to prey upon children’s innocence have used numerous new media by which to participate in online child sexual exploitation — through peer-to-peer file sharing, through chat rooms and through online forums. To effectively pursue criminals and protect our children, we need a coordinated global response from governments, industry and society.

On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, the UK Home Office and the US Department of Justice joined representatives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to address Internet child exploitation offenses and discuss their collective efforts to fight child exploitation and new ways to work together to thwart these crimes. The WePROTECT Global Alliance — a coalition of 70 countries, international law enforcement agencies, civil society organizations and key players from the technology industry — we have an unprecedented collaboration with the influence, expertise and resources to transform the global response to child exploitation crimes.

Online sexual abuse of children is a modern scourge in both the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as many other nations. The UK Home Office and the US Department of Justice continues to attack Internet child exploitation whenever they encounter it, often with great frequency. The U.S. and U.K. have devoted significant law enforcement resources to combating the issue. For example, the Department of Justice assigns prosecutors in each of its 93 US attorneys’ offices to specialize in prosecuting child exploitation offenses. They are assisted by the 61 Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces that the Department funds throughout the United States. In addition, the Department has a specialized unit in Washington — the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section — that helps train prosecutors and investigators on the best ways to address these crimes. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the US Postal Inspection Service are just a few of the US law enforcement agencies working to stop child exploitation.

The UK’s response is underpinned by the world-leading Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), a capability launched in 2014, which enables all police forces in the UK and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) to search seized devices for indecent images of children, and assess images for their severity. CAID’s use has enabled the NCA to review a seizure of material that would have taken a minimum of six months to review, in six weeks. The UK has also brought together the technical expertise of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) with the National Crime Agency in a joint operational team, to target the most sophisticated offenders, and invested £20 million (US$26.38 million) in the last four years into specialist undercover online activity, targeting offenders who attempt to groom children in chat rooms, and on platforms and fora In the UK, results include identifying 524 victims in indecent imagery of children in 2016, and UK law enforcement is safeguarding around 500 children a month from sexual abuse and harm.

Still, there are obstacles that makes stopping predators difficult. A key problem is the movement of child exploitation images across international boundaries via the Internet. Images that were produced in one country are often sent to other countries. Fighting international crimes requires international cooperation. To effectively pursue criminals and protect our children, we need a coordinated global response from governments, industry and society. This includes working together to formulate innovative new solutions to disrupt criminal networks and autonomous criminals who operate internationally. Governments have territorial limitations and finite resources. They cannot be everywhere, and certainly not in the ether of the Internet. It is essential, therefore, that the technology industry work with governments to safeguard the platforms, products and applications that can be used to harm children. Thankfully, our two nations have a lengthy history of uniting to protect society from international threats, including criminal threats. Our countries repeatedly have cooperated to address emerging threats to international security and safety, and our way of life.

Technology is a key weapon in the arsenal against these crimes. For example, Project Arachnid is a technological approach developed by the Canadian Center for Child Protection. It uses hash lists, the “digital fingerprints” of known child exploitation images, to proactively detect child sexual abuse material online, and issue notices to content hosts so that they remove these items. Unfortunately, the pain and suffering caused by the sexual abuse of children continues when images of the abuse are shared on the Internet. Survivors report feelings of re-victimization when an image is viewed. This is another reason why all of who who share concern for the safety of children must work with Internet technology companies to erase such images from the Internet.

Consider the real case of a child who was sexually abused for 10 years, starting when she was 6 years old. The person who abused the child has been convicted and imprisoned, but now the victim must live with the knowledge that others are viewing images of her abuse with glee. The victim has received some solace from the knowledge that Arachnid found images of her. These images then were removed from the Internet, and Arachnid will continue to search for the images. Tragically, there are thousands of other victims whose images are circulating on the Internet. Governments like Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are striving to stop this, and technologies like Arachnid appear to be helping. The Canadian Center for Child Protection is now working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to develop Arachnid into a global tool that will help technology firms of all sizes ensure that their platforms are not being misused by criminals, and that victims are identified, protected and spared further suffering.

As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stated: “All of our citizens deserve to live free from the threat of harm — especially our young people. So our efforts to improve public safety will make the fight against child exploitation and human trafficking a top priority.” These agencies will continue to fight the proliferation of sexually explicit imagery of children and the harm that it causes. But their efforts alone will be insufficient to eradicate these images internationally. And as long as such images exist along with the Internet, they can be sent anywhere in the world. That is why international cooperation is essential.

 

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