If you’ve been on social media or online at all, you’ve probably heard some major luxury brands were in hot water because they used sexually objectified images of children to market their products. Top brand Balenciaga was one of the most criticized–it released an advertising campaign in November of 2022 in which young kids held teddy bears dressed in bondage attire–complete with fishnet shirts, studded handcuffs, and leather collars, to sell handbags.
That was half of the controversy, however; in an image from the Spring ‘23 Balenciaga campaign promoting one of the brand’s bags, a document containing a Supreme Court opinion from 2008 criminalizing child sexual abuse material (CSAM), otherwise known as “child pornography,” was found lying underneath the handbag. The portion of the Court opinion that is visible in the image references another Court decision, Ashcroft vs. Free Speech Coalition, in which part of the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) is struck down, concluding virtual child pornography is considered protected speech.
The campaigns received severe backlash from parts of the fashion industry and celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, who pushed Balenciaga to pull the campaign or risk losing her as one of the brand’s ambassadors.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the entertainment or fashion industry has been called out for sexualizing minors or young girls—cases of exploitation or the hypersexualization of youth have happened at Nickelodeon, Disney, and TikTok, as well as renowned brands like Calvin Klein, Gucci, and Benetton.
These types of campaigns sexualize minors, and that’s never ok, but that’s not all. The objectification and sexualization of children actually fuel the demand for child sex trafficking.
What this has to do with porn
In a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) they explain:
Exposure to sexualized images of girls impacts our society by, “providing justification and a market for child pornography and the prostitution and sexual trafficking of children”.
Let’s break this down:
The more fashion labels, advertising agencies, and other media outlets advertise or promote the sexualization of children–whether the content is intended to be “harmless” or not–the more normalized that content becomes, making it seem that it is more acceptable to consume. This attitude of feeling justified in consuming that material, in turn, creates a greater demand for child sexual exploitation material (CSEM), or content legally defined as “child pornography.” As demand increases, supply will ultimately rise to meet the market for CSEM and child sex trafficking.
Also, it should not be ignored what role the porn industry has played in normalizing the sexualization of children. Consider how porn featuring “teens” or even adult performers dressed in adolescent clothing has topped popular porn site charts for years. Because of porn’s widespread accessibility and cultural influence, and because of its responsibility in rewiring consumers’ brains, formerly protective barriers have eroded.
In fact, there is an overwhelming link between CSEM possession and the sexual molestation of children.
A hypersexual media
Prepubescence has been tangled up with the hypersexual portrayal of women in the media, advertising, fashion, and pop culture for a while.
An older example of this is the 1970s Love’s Baby Soft ad campaign, featuring a grown woman in a white ruffled dress suggestively licking a lollypop with the tagline: “Innocence is Sexier than You Think.”
And then, every Halloween, women dress up as sexy versions of little girls: Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Girl Scouts, and school girls. With campaigns that sexualize children, like Balenciaga’s and others in the fashion and entertainment industry, is it any wonder how they’re contributing to normalizing the sexualization of children?
If we want to stop seeing the sexualization of children and stop the demand for child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking as a result, we need to hold the porn industry to the same standard as so many held Balenciaga to.
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