Though it appears few are paying attention (and perhaps understandably so), the Church continues to claim to anyone who will listen that many of our sexual practices today not only turn our partners into objects of our pleasure and/or status, but also facilitate an understanding of children as mere accessories to our lives that, often through technology, we may re-produce at will in the context of a consumerist culture.
Both of these trends unite in the utterly disturbing phenomenon of using children as sex objects. Much has been made recently, for instance, of the French magazine Vogue using sexually charged images of a ten year old girl in order to make money:
And once one has established the legitimacy of depicting children as sex objects in this way, the steps leading to even more serious and explicit sexual abuse in the form of child porn are not high in number. Indeed, despite the heroic efforts of an out-gunned and radically under-funded INTERPOL, the rise of international internet porn has launched the industry into a new stratosphere. Often produced and distributed by organized crime, child porn makes many billions of dollars a year and is one of the fastest-growing markets on the internet. (We are even learning more and more about what other kinds of violence this industry may be producing.)
In a related story (one which CMT.com has already highlighted), and it is perhaps the most radically under-reported example of barbarity in our culture, there are between 100,000 and 300,000 people working as sex slaves in United States. Many of them are vulnerable immigrant children who were traveling alone at the time of their abduction, and this is why the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration of Refugee services is particularly involved in fighting this ghastly and horrific problem. In addition to raising awareness and providing services to victims, the UCCB has helped to create an international Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking. Please consider getting your organization to join and/or supporting those that are leading the fight. The e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
But while resisting these symptoms is incredibly important, they are caused by underlying illnesses: the understanding that one may legitimately use another person’s body for sexual pleasure and the understanding that children exist merely as tools of our will. And it is here where an even more difficult battle lies.
I understand why you wanted to use a picture from Vogue to complement this story to illustrate just how disturbing this trend is. However, pictures incite our imaginations in ways that words do not, and can actually be quite dangerous. We don’t know our readership of this blog. We don’t know the temptations and struggles of those who might view this picture and experience a twinge of pleasure . . . or worse, something more. In my research, I looked at social-scientific studies on what is called “thin-ideal internalization” which indicates that only brief exposure to thin-ideal images leads women to feel more dissatisfied with their bodies and more motivated to lose weight. I can only imagine how powerful brief exposure to a sexualized image like this one might influence a vulnerable male reader, who might be able to avoid Vogue but might unwittingly stumble across our blog.
Even if this image does not harm any readers directly, I worry about what it does to the dignity of the girl in the photo. Are we at CMT.com using her now too? Are we exploiting her? Are we showing the respect and love that she rightfully deserves (and does not appear to receive)? Or are we in some small way conforming to the trend of “using” children.
Regardless, this is an important issue you raise. I wonder if you might consider removing the photo in light of the ways it might detract from the substance of your post?
I’m open to removing it, but I think images of injustice are often important display–especially given the way Vogue decided to do this shoot. We are by now familiar with the ‘done up’ children of beauty pageants and the like, and, without this picture, some might simply think it is yet another example of that kind of thing. What I hope the image shows is that we have reached a disturbingly-new level of (semi?) acceptable sexualization of children in our culture. I’m not sure that comes across without the photo being there for all to see in its ghastliness.
What do others think?
I agree that photos like this in some way sexualize children, but I also wonder if such photos appeal to any of the people that one might worry shouldn’t see them. I can only imagine that pedophiles are interested in 10-year-old girls who look like 10-year-old girls, otherwise they would be interested in more mature women. I can only speak for myself, but whatever impact this photo has is not because it is sexy, but because it is creepy. I don’t see the harm in showing it.