R. Rose
March 5, 2010
Sexuality imagery damaging young

On Wednesday of this week, the women of WINFA organised a live radio call-in-programme to highlight issues concerning violence against women. Part of the focus of this programme was directed at violence perpetrated against young women and how this violence is linked to wider societal problems. It is for the Caribbean a critical social issue, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines especially. Shockingly, a United Nations Report documents our country as having the THIRD HIGHEST RATE OF SEXUAL OFFENCES per head of population IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. (SVG, Poverty Assessment Report 2008).{{more}}

The manifestations are with us weekly – reports of child molestation, sexual abuse of young girls, and while there does not appear to be widespread organised prostitution, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that in an informal sense, many women, young and not so young, are selling their bodies, and images of them, for material gain. Worse, in the media today, women’s bodies are being used as “hard sell,” for products (particularly alcohol) and for promoting entertainment activities. The saddest aspect of this is that it is the young, the teens and even pre-teens, who are the chief targets. Recently there was even a despicable ad on local television involving the use of school uniforms in far from wholesome activities.

We are not alone in this mess; it has become a global curse with many nations struggling to combat it, not always with a great deal of success. In Britain for instance, a recently-published Report is occupying the attention of law-makers in Parliament. This Report, the result of research work done for the British Home Office by a leading psychologist, Dr. Linda Papadoupolos, concludes that children are being over exposed to sexual imagery and that parents are increasingly powerless to stop it.

The Report makes a clear link between sexual imagery and violence towards females. It cites materials such as the increasingly popular ‘lads mags’ (magazines popular with young males), pornography on mobile phones, and even big-name fashion brands which use sexual imagery to advertise clothes among teenagers. Termed the ‘drip-drop’ exposure, the psychologist claims that such exposure is distorting the self-perception of young people, encouraging the ‘macho’ culture of male dominance, while young girls in turn are being encouraged to present themselves as sexually available and permissive.

Do these conclusions ring a bell? Do we not observe similar tendencies here? Daily, the complaints are made, yet as a society, as law-makers, educators, parents, community leaders, we seem unable to stem the tide. In schools in particular, the number of incidents keeps mounting up, whilst the public sexually-explicit behaviour of many young people demonstrates a basic disregard for decency and self-respect. One especially negative development is related to the technology of today, the use of mobile phones and social networks to circulate nude or topless photos of women, and even sexual acts.

Dr Papadoupolos has this to say of this widespread sexualisation. “Unless sexualisation is accepted as harmful, we will miss an important opportunity… to broaden people’s beliefs about where their values lie.”

These negative trends have their roots in what is happening in the wider society, the promiscuousness, the willful sexual exploitation of women and young girls, the open flaunting of women’s bodies and sexual images. Nothing is taboo any more. The youngest child sees more of these images in one week than a person of 25 years would have seen in a whole year some three decades ago. The changes in the society mirror these.

Since I was using a UK reference, let me go there to show how those changes facilitate the sexualisation process. Another Report there reveals how social life is changing dramatically. This shows a sharp decline in the number of post offices, libraries and traditional pubs. You know what are replacing them? Gambling houses, casinos clubs and gentlemen clubs, with lap-dancing and striptease acts! Since 1997, the number of police stations in the UK has decreased by 160, hospitals clinics by 580, schools by 2,380 and libraries by 200. By contrast, whereas there were only 24 lap-dancing clubs in 1997 there are now over 300. What message is the youth getting?

That is the social milieu of today’s world, a world where in spite of the many achievements in helping to bring about gender equity, our young women and girls are rapidly being parachuted down the other side into a world where their bodies are considered as mere commodities to be used, abused or cast aside at the whim and fancy of their abusers. That is the big challenge before our women as we move into International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8th.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.