Child Sexual Abuse and Its Dissimulation in the Rhetoric of Diversity and Inclusion

On Tuesday, I published a blog, The Elite Obsession with Prepubescence, that expresses my dismay at the mainstreaming of child sexualization. I ended that blog by telling readers of Freedom and Reason that I would follow up with more blogs on the topic.

Reflecting on what I wrote there has moved me to follow up sooner than I anticipated. I have been moved in this way because I had hoped for decades that revelations about the extent and harm of child sexual abuse would encourage authorities to do something about it. Watching the way authorities and elites not only deny and obfuscate these crimes but are also often pushing these ideas under the cover of the rhetoric of “diversity” and “inclusivity” troubles me greatly. 

I have not been hoping for authorities to act and experts to tell the truth from the sidelines. I’ve been publishing and talking about the problem of child sexual abuse for decades now, showing in empirical study that child sexual abuse produces continuing trauma in adulthood and suggests a persistent situation of powerlessness across the life course.

You can read my writings for yourself. I published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma in 2004 concerning the life-course effects of child sexual abuse. And I am the author of the lengthy entry “Child Sexual Abuse” in Sage’s Encyclopedia of Social Deviance, published in 2014. My opinions are therefore not lay opinion but expert.

I write in that Sage encyclopedia article that “the effects of childhood sexual abuse may take the form of psychological maladies and conduct disorders that obscure the initial trauma, often compounding with the unfolding of time.” What is more, I write, “Childhood sexual abuse is associated with continuity in sexual and other forms of victimization over the life course.”

I say other things in that entry I believe will help readers understand the problems with child sexual abuse. I encourage you to find the entry and read it. However, I will say a few things here that speak to the current circumstances.

We often think of child sexual abuse as involving some form of physical action involving a child’s body. This is certainly true. But child sexual abuse also involves sexualizing children or placing them in sexualized situations, what I identify as “sexually exploitative activities.”

One example is pornography. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. Federal law prohibits the production, importation, distribution, reception, or possession of any image of child pornography. (See Citizen’s Guide to Federal Law on Child Pornography). Child pornographic images memorialize the sexual exploitation of children.

I write in the entry that exploitative exploitative activities “can either be a non-touching offense or touching offense depending on the circumstances.” I note that other acts included in the definition of child sexual abuse or exploitation are “indecent exposure, exposing a child to pornography, and facilitating sexual relations between minors.”

Crucially, research indicates that all of these situations can produce trauma. “The traumatic effects of childhood sexual abuse are recorded in a number of psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and in various behavioral problems (many coded as conduct disorders) and institutional complications, such as withdrawal from social activity and frequent and intense associations with antisocial circles. These conditions can snowball into problems of substance abuse and juvenile delinquency.”

“Children often blame themselves for sexual abuse perpetrated on them, which not only makes it less likely that they will disclose the event, but makes it more likely that trauma remains unaddressed. Also, failure to address sexual victimization can perpetuate the patterns of interaction that contributed to the initial event. The literature suggests that the likelihood of future sexual victimization, even into adulthood, is greater among those who have abused in the past.” 

In 2007, the American Psychological Association published a report by its Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. The examples the report gives are commonplace today. (I have removed citations and edited text for ease of read, so see the original report here: Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.)

“Toy manufacturers produce dolls wearing black leather miniskirts, feather boas, and thigh-high boots and market them to 8- to 12- year-old girls; clothing stores sell thongs sized for 7– to 10-year-old girls, some printed with slogans such as ‘eye candy’ or ‘wink wink’; other thongs sized for women and late adolescent girls are imprinted with characters from Dr. Seuss and the Muppets children.”

The report continues: “In the world of child beauty pageants, 5-year-old girls wear fake teeth, hair extensions, and makeup and are encouraged to ‘flirt’ onstage by batting their long, false eyelashes. On prime-time television, girls can watch fashion shows in which models made to resemble little girls wear sexy lingerie (e.g., the CBS broadcast of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on December 6, 2005).” 

“Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents, and psychologists have become alarmed,” the report notes, “arguing that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls.”

Nothing has changed in this. Moreover, we not avoid recognizing that sexualization affects boys, too. 

The task force defines sexualization: “sexualization occurs when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”

“All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization,” the APA report clarifies. “Much of the evidence that we evaluate in this report is specific to the third condition— sexual objectification.The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children.”

Pay close attention to this line: “Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them.”

To be sure, as I discuss in The Elite Obsession with Prepubescence, there was that period in the 1970s when the culture industry presented children as sexual objects (Shields being the obvious example), but there wasn’t the degree of sexualization that we see with child beauty pageants and, more recently, parents taking their children to strip clubs and encouraging their children to participate in rituals formerly limited to adults.

Also disturbing is K-3 curriculum and public library programming across the country that exposes children to age-inappropriate and suspect ideas concerning sex and gender, ideas often conveyed using hyper-sexualized materials and presented by exaggerated personifications of gender stereotypes.

Let’s recall that line from the APA report: “when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them.”

Parents and community members need to understand the negative impact the sexualization of children has on the cognitive development of children. I know a lot of people are too young to remember the crisis of anorexia nervosa, a form of body dysmorphia, and the recognition that it is, at least in part, associated with the way women and girls are depicted in by the culture industry, as well as the social contagion aspect to this. Children are highly vulnerable to suggestion. 

The APA report refer to “models made to resemble little girls wearing sexy lingerie.” The infantilization of women in consumer culture is rampant. Feminists have long criticized this practice. I would ask whether it changes anything to have a man made to appear as a little girl wearing sexy lingerie performing in front of children. Because this is happening and it is being promoted as progressive political action on the cultural front.

Do people really not see the way the sexualization of children is today moving behind the cover of diversity and inclusion?  

I do not advocate the general censorship of ideas and expression. It think, however, that the culture industry and educational systems should be criticized for sexualizing human beings. And with respect to children, there is a government role to play, and Florida is leading the way on this.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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