The Watchful Eye Newsletter
Mary Bailey, Editor
Sentencing Child Molesters
Throw Away the Key
The Supreme Court will decide whether the federal government can keep child molesters and other sexually dangerous convicts locked up after they finish their sentences.
Congress passed a law allowing it, but the Appeals Court for the 4 th Circuit (covering Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina) said the law exceeded its authority because deciding when to keep or release prisoners is a state function. According to the Bureau of Prisons, 105 prisoners currently would be covered by the law.
Arguing for federal power, Solicitor General Elena Kagan said the federal government has a responsibility to keep sexually dangerous prisoners in custody beyond their sentences because the states were not assuming the task. Seeming to agree with Kagan, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “You are talking about the health and safety of people.”
In definite disagreement was Justice Antonin Scalia. “There is no constitutional power on the part of the federal government to protect society from sexual predators,” he said. “This is a recipe for the federal government taking over everything.” Scalia suggested instead that a state be informed when a dangerous person is about to be released and that a federal program be in place to reimburse states for confining such people. But first, said Justice John Paul Stevens, “We have to decide if this one is constitutional.” (Wash Post 1-13-10) The case is U.S. v. Comstock. Look for a decision within the next couple of months.
Strengthen State Penalties
Up against a midnight deadline on April 12, the Maryland General Assembly finally passed bills to tighten restrictions on sex offenders. Much of the impetus rested upon the kidnapping and murder last December of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell by a registered sex offender. The tragedy exposed gaps in the state’s tracking and monitoring laws. Initially, Gov. Martin O’Malley said he was open to the idea of “civil commitment,” where judges may order sexual predators to be held indefinitely after they’ve served their sentences. But in January he decided not to include the expensive proposal in the bills he submitted to the legislature because of the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit.
While the Maryland General Assembly did not pass a civil commitment bill, it introduced more than 50 bills to close the gaps. Of these, several measures passed on April 12 that, taken together, will “significantly tighten the web of laws designed to keep sex offenders in Maryland in check,” the Washington Post said. The new laws will: (Continued on the next page)
Please forward this monthly newsletter on the sexualization of girls to people and organizations you think will (or should) be concerned about this unprecedented, fast-growing assault on girls.
- · Upon release, require lifetime supervision of sexual predators convicted of the most severe sex crimes.
- · Increase from 5 years to 15 years the mandatory sentences for persons who commit the more serious assaults and rapes of young children.
- · Update the online sex-offender registry and bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s minimum standards for registration.
- · Reform the state’s Sexual Offender Advisory Board to ensure that its members have the skills needed to certify programs.
- · Eliminate the possibility of reduced prison sentences for good behavior for violent and repeat offenders, making it harder to get out of jail.
Demi Moore Speaks Out
Who would have thought that a Twitter exchange between Demi Moore and reality TV star Kim Kardashian would have provided a teachable moment on the subject of sex trafficking [and of sexualizing girls]? The exchange surrounded the word “pimp,” which Kardashian used when she linked to a photo of herself and girlfriends out on the town, and labeled it “Big Pimpin’.”
Moore, an advocate against sex slavery, responded, saying: “No disrespect. I love a girls’ night out, but a pimp and pimping [refers to] nothing more than a slave owner! If we want to end slavery, we need to stop glorifying the ‘pimp’ culture.”
The result? A slew of celebrity tabloid headlines pitting Demi vs. Kim. But the glaring omission in all the commentary is any real analysis of Moore’s point – that we glamorize and glorify pimp culture, use terminology that seems to legitimize the practice, and in doing so ignore the fact that pimps are modern-day slave-owners. Of course, Ms. Kardashian didn’t intend to glorify real pimps any more than most people do when using the word as slang. But this slang desensitizes us to the terrible reality of pimps and the sex trade, and has a very real impact on the psychology of young girls most vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The median age of entry into the sex industry in America is between 12 and 14 years old. And partially because of the use of the word ‘pimp’ to glorify men in music videos and popular culture, many girls grow up thinking of a pimp as someone who is cool, rich, and sexy, rather than someone to be feared. Rather than as someone who might kidnap them. Or rape them. Or beat them for failing to bring home enough money one night.
This is the awful reality of pimps, who sell more than 100,000 children for sex in the United States each year. It’s unfortunate that it took a celebrity to bring pimp culture to the nation’s attention. But now that it’s arisen, let’s take this opportunity to have a real conversation about how to address a very real issue. (Thanks to Holly Joseph for forwarding this article)
Who’s to Blame for the Sexualization of Girls?
By Ana Lopez, MSW
Executive Director of Community Bridges
Recently, I helped conduct a workshop on self-esteem at a local elementary school for two hundred 4 th and 5th grade girls. We were recruited because of our expertise working with girls of diverse backgrounds at 17 local schools. My staff and I came prepared to delve into issues of media and how these were impacting their view of themselves. The most poignant part of the day was when we asked girls what qualities about themselves made them beautiful. Most of them had a really hard time answering the question, which to some degree is understandable at their age. What struck me, though, were their teachers. One approached me and said, “Even I have a hard time answering that question.”
None of us like how the media is sexualizing our girls and the impact this is having on their identity and self-esteem. What I worry about is that we are trying to shift the blame entirely. It is easy to point the finger at the large media industry that must be at fault for the issues arising with our girls. Yet none of these issues would exist if the women of our generation were rejecting those messages in our workplaces, schools and homes.
We as women have fallen prey to the messages the media is selling to us. We complain about our bodies to any woman who wants to listen and hopefully empathize with our worries. We buy more beauty products than we really need to “enhance” our beauty. Hence I dare say, we ourselves have forgotten what makes us beautiful.
If we are to fight back the messages the media is selling us and our daughters, let’s do it first in our mirrors. Let’s take some time to undo the messages we have bought into for decades. Let’s also rediscover our passions, the things that bring joy and beauty to our lives—from photography to tennis. Let’s talk to our partners about what’s missing in our lives and how they can help us find and keep it. However you choose to do it, we need to redefine what beauty is so then we can help our daughters, her friends, our neighbors and coworkers find theirs.
So the next time we slip into blaming the media for that awful movie/commercial/advertisement, let’s first stop and reflect why we are reacting so strongly to these messages. And more importantly, how can we respond? In addition to what I mention above, here a couple more ideas:
- 1. Talk to your daughters to help them understand that it’s not popularity, the right clothes, or giving in to sexual pressures that makes them beautiful and accepted by their peers.
- 2. Ask your children and their friends about the commercials they are watching and the shows and movies they see. Help them process the messages they are getting while helping them filter what is not true.
- 3. And if you have the blessing of having a boy, teach him about beauty and how to find and value it in others, particularly girls.
Ana Lopez was named a 2009 “Washingtonian of the Year” by Washingtonian magazine for her programs to build confidence and skills in Latina girls of elementary, middle, and high school age. To learn more about how her organization is responding to these issues, visit www.communitybridges-md.org.
What is the Appropriate Age To Watch That Movie?
This question was asked of Nell Minow, “The Movie Mom,” in The Washington Post Magazine.
“I wish I didn’t have to do age ranges! Kids and families differ so widely! But my overall answer is that my age ranges are based on my reading and experience on developmental issues.
“PG-13 is the toughest one. In general, my rule of thumb is that if the material is about the level you see on prime-time network [not cable] television, I will recommend it for middle-schoolers and up. If I think the material is more explicit or intense, I will say high school or mature high school.
“As for younger kids, I tell parents never to think it’s over their kids’ heads, because No. 1 in the job description of being a kid is figuring out all the stuff that’s over their heads, and they don’t make a distinction between what they should and should not be figuring out.” (Wash Post Mag,
To see Nell Minow’s television and movie reviews, go to “beliefnet.com/moviemom.”
Sexualization of Girls: Why It Matters
By Mary Bailey
How do you feel when you see fashion ads in girls’ magazines that advise girls to look “hot” if they want to attract boys? Or those music videos girls watch that emphasize female bodies and their sexual readiness? And how about cartoons for children that show women acting “sexy,” complete with cleavage and few clothes?
The entertainment, fashion, and advertising industries are relentless in making money off the sexualization of girls. One advertising CEO praised as “brilliant” the marketing concept that focuses on younger and younger girls. He calls this concept “KGOY,” or Kids Get Older Younger. “Historically,” he said, “marketing rules have said that up to a certain age boys and girls were the same.” Now, “a 6-year-old girl tunes into the same pop sensations a 10-12 year-old might have listened to a generation ago,” thanks to KGOY marketing.1
Or consider the recent marketing of Miley Cyrus, the star of “Hannah Montana,” the popular Disney show. Miley has been a healthy role model for girls in their early teens. But at 15 she was posed semi-nude by photographer Annie Liebovitz for Vanity Fair. Miley, according to reports, was “draped in a sheet, bare backed, hair tousled, with a come-hither smile.” In another picture, she is “baring her midriff while sprawled on her father’s lap.” Her youth didn’t stop her parents, the photographer, the Vanity Fair editors, or the Disney PR people – all over 15 – from encouraging Miley to say that posing was her decision and she thought the photo was “artistic.” One journalist even wrote that Miley is a budding billionaire who “knows a thing or two about
Many of us are deeply troubled. We feel that something essential is being violated. Yet, we live in a society that seems to take the sexualization of girls in stride. It seems we are expected to “absorb” such blatant exploitation and to accept our status as bystanders.
We may be bystanders, but we are not necessarily indifferent to what we witness. Psychologists tell us that when people are confronted with what seems to be a social consensus, they tend to
rely on the consensus rather than on their own perceptions. The results of this tendency are usually pretty harmless. But in the case of the sexualization of girls, our silence may mean we are unsure of how and when to intervene, or even if we should intervene. After all, we live in a nation that honors free speech rights, and we are uncertain what would constitute appropriate action. So, as bystanders, we tend to accept the status quo, even though we feel that something is not quite right.
Now, human rights belong to every person in society. But sexualized children don’t think in terms of their rights. They do what they are told, believe what they are shown, and don’t understand that adults have responsibilities to protect children as their sexuality emerges. In effect, such children, girls mostly, can be sitting ducks in a sexually predatory culture. Not only are their rights as persons not recognized, but in some cases, such as child abuse or child pornography, they may not even be seen as persons at all.
There are organized groups that oppose child pornography and child abuse, but our society is largely silent about the depiction of girls in our mainstream culture, our everyday world, the world most little girls inhabit. The American Psychological Association’s report, “The Sexualization of Girls,” lays it out plainly enough. It shows that our culture is not sustaining girls in their development, but rather, is undermining their personhood.4
A child’s right to personhood5 is a principle upon which to address the sexualization of girls. It is a concept we can build and act upon. The political philosopher Ronald Dworkin articulated this when he said that the most fundamental right we own is “the right to equal concern and respect.” Calling it the paramount right, Dworkin said equal concern and respect is the pre-condition of every other right, including justice and liberty. Free speech, for instance, does not derive from an abstract right to freedom. Behind every demand for liberty and justice is the basic need to have our personhood acknowledged. We cannot even conceive of freedom without that gut-level, core desire for concern and respect. As the necessary condition for all other rights, surely it includes the right of girls to develop an understanding of themselves and define their own life goals free from the sexualizing views of others.
If Miley Cyrus is scripted to follow the career paths of Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, does the personhood of Miley -- and of the young girls who watch her show -- ever cross the minds of Miley’s handlers? Can they and other such handlers be persuaded that a girl’s right to personhood is a valid human right? In my view, this is the task.
But how are we to defend the right to personhood in the face of other people’s claims to rights? For instance, there’s that advertising CEO’s claim to free speech as he focuses his ads on ever
younger and younger girls. Rom Harre, a scholar at Georgetown and Oxford, articulated it succinctly. He pointed to the obvious problem: Rights, he says, “can easily be turned into unreasonable demands” when they are not “tempered by good sense.” “There is no end,” he said, ‘”to what can be demanded by those who think their right unbounded.”6
In summary, it comes down to one simple principle – the principle of personhood that guarantees the right of all children to respect and concern and the concommitant freedom from sexualization. Most Americans believe in the right to free speech to protect political and religious liberty. I submit that, if they think about it, most Americans also will agree that sexualizing a generation of young girls isn’t just exercising free speech rights, it’s crossing a line. And, if children do have a paramount right to concern and respect, then we have a right to see that they get it.
- Time, October 29, 2007, p.63
- The Washington Post, April 30, 2008, page C1
- Parade, March 21, 2010
- www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization or the summary on www.mcmdnow.org
- R. Dworkin, “Freedom’s Law” (Cambridge, MA, 1996), page 17. Dworkin limited the “right to concern and respect” to adults, perhaps wanting to avoid extending the right to fetuses, a position now adopted by anti-abortion forces. Whatever his concern, we believe that children need the equal protection this right provides.
- Finkel and Moghaddam, editors, “The Psychology of Rights and Duties,” 2005, page 233
“We may be confused about the distinction between tolerance and the refusal of evaluation, thinking that tolerance of others requires us not to evaluate what they do.” (Philosopher Martha Nussbaum)
Phys Ed Can ‘Change the World’
Young women should be taught to turn the tables on human traffickers [and, by extension, abusers], an 18-year-old Vanderbilt University freshman told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s hearing on trafficking in Washington, DC. “The premise is simple, said Dallas Jessup, the founder of the nonprofit Just Yell Fire. “If you make self-defense, personal rights awareness and danger avoidance a mandatory part of health class and PE every year for every teen girl – within a few years you will have the most powerful generation of young women in history: Girls who aren’t easily tricked, intimidated or taken, a generation of heroes who turn the tables on traffickers “ [or other sexual predators].
Jessup founded Just Yell Fire in 2006 to raise awareness of and put a stop to the assault and abduction of girls ages 11 to 19. The organization teaches girls personal safety awareness and street-fighting skills to help them avoid and get out of attack situations.
The “average 14-year-old could walk through a room filled with leopards and not notice because she is text messaging,” Jessup writes. In her testimony she outlined how, through a combination of danger avoidance , rights awareness and get-away skills, the teenage girl can become the most effective weapon against traffickers [and rapists]. “The next step is a simple solution -- substitute self-defense for dodge ball in America’s schools and you change the world.” (www.vanerbilt.edu/news/campusnews. Go to www.justyellfire.org for free video and Train the Trainer information for schools)
A great debate is underway over the No Child Left Behind program and its emphasis on math and reading scores. Some educators call it an over-emphasis, arguing that schools are expending energy on test results for the two subjects while shortchanging others such as civics, history, art, band and physical education, as well as the once-pursued emphasis on character development. The Sexualization of Girls Project can attest to that. A year or two ago we sent each Montgomery County Board of Education member a copy of the American Psychological Association’s report “The Sexualization of Girls” and asked that the school system address the problems and potential remedies therein. Two months later a staffer’s answer listed a handful of key educators to whom the report had been forwarded. That was it. Later, a middle school teacher was asked if the teachers received any information or direction as a result. No, was the reply. And why not? Because, thanks to No Child Left Behind, all attention is being focused on math and reading scores. There simply are no resources left for countering the sexualization of girls.
No comfort at Comfort Inn. “Right now, children are falling prey to sex-trafficking in American-owned hotels all over the world, including right here in the states.,” says Change.org. “Take, for instance, a North Carolina Comfort Inn, where five-year-old Shaniya Davis was sold for sex by her drug-addled mother shortly before her body was found on the side of the road. Hotels have the responsibility to make sure that child prostitution isn’t happening within their rooms. There’s a simple code of conduct, known as EPCAT, that hotels can sign in order to prevent child prostitution. Sadly, Comfort Inn’s parent company, Choice Hotels, still hasn’t signed up.” (Change.org Weekly, 12-7-13, 2009) Postscript: The hotel chain didn’t taken the issue seriously when on Feb. 16, 2010, Comfort Inn was again the site of child prostitution. This time the victim was a 15-year-old girl who took a bus to Maryland for a “modeling photo shoot.” Before the police caught up with the operation, the girl had been photographed in lewd poses and a man paying $200 had sex with her. (Wash Post 3-03-10)
Because he could. Leslie Kenton’s memoir, Love Affair, “contains the revelation that she’d had an incestuous relationship with her father, the jazz legend Stan Kenton. She was just 11 when he first raped her, she says, and the abuse continued for two years. But she doesn’t see herself as a victim. On the contrary, she says, she and her father were ‘soul mates.…We shared everything: music, the wind, the sea.’” (The Week, 3-19-10)
Copycat sex. “It’s like it’s a cool thing to do,” said private detective Deborah Aylward concerning the recent rash of sex scandals involving well-known politicians and athletes. “The people who are supposed to be leading us, our role models, are engaging in this behavior, and it’s like permission.” Aylward is owner of A Woman-Owned Detective Agency in Woodbridge, VA., whose practice often involves catching spouses who cheat. And her business, she says, is booming these days. “I hate to say it,” she said regarding what she sees as a trend. “I think it’s the damn politicians and celebrities.” (“John Kelly’s Washington,” Wash Post, 3-25-10). So we ask: If grown-ups put their marriages in jeopardy just to be cool like Sen. John Edwards and golfer Tiger Woods, what chance do teens and tweens have against MTV, Lindsay Lohan, and Brittany Spears?
What’s your story? Here’s mine: About the age of seven, my girlfriend and I dropped in on her father at his basement workbench. Above the bench were arrayed the usual jars of nails, the wrench, the hammer, the saw – and The Poster. It was my first encounter with a picture of a semi-nude woman looking provocatively at the unseen viewer. Although I knew nothing about sex, I got a negative message. It’s hard to articulate, but I remember it was a blow to my sense of dignity. Later, watching TV, I heard an African American man express the same sort of feeling that I, as a child, had felt. He could be walking down a street in Paris, he said, and know that anyone could look at him and see a former slave. Now I wonder how common is this sense of shame in little girls upon first encountering sexualized female nudity? If you have such a memory, tell us about it, anonymously if you prefer. Who knows, we might start a little study! – mb
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