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Intro: "As the sad story of the bullied Canadian teenager shows, girls are especially vulnerable to imagery sold by the porn industry."

A YouTube image of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, who reportedly killed herself as a result of bullying after a stalker posted nude images of her online. (photo: YouTube)
A YouTube image of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, who reportedly killed herself as a result of bullying after a stalker posted nude images of her online. (photo: YouTube)

Social Media's Sexualization of Youth Culture

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK

29 October 12


As the sad story of the bullied Canadian teenager shows, girls are especially vulnerable to imagery sold by the porn industry.

manda Todd, a teenager who lived in the Vancouver area, died earlier this month by her own hand. Shortly before she killed herself, she made a YouTube video describing the bullying she had suffered both in school and after school that had driven her to abuse drugs and alcohol, and self-harm -and which would, ultimately, result in her suicide. She described boys tormenting her, and girls beating her so severely that, when they were done, she simply lay in a ditch until her father found her.

What caused the bullying that pursued her so viciously?

In seventh grade, Todd had logged onto a webcam site where she met a 30-year-old man who cajoled her into showing him her breasts. When she sought to withdraw from the man's persistent attentions, he contacted her via Facebook. He threatened to send the topless photos of her to "everyone" if she did not "put on a show".

Unfortunately for Todd, it was no empty threat: the man had obtained her personal data, including where she lived and went to school, and made good on his word. When she changed schools to avoid the people who had seen the uncensored photo, he made it his profile picture on Facebook.

The media, as well as the girl's school, have stressed the issue of bullying in this story, but they must also address adult male cyberstalking and the influence of porn on teenage social interaction. The last two issues are often considered too "difficult" to address in the mainstream, even though their influences are very much ingrained in the mainstream.

In fact, Todd's case is not an isolated one. At least two American girls have reportedly committed suicide after their former boyfriends, following a break-up, forwarded nude photos of them.

A study in the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that almost 18% of high school students - boys and girls, some as young as 14 - acknowledged sending "explicit" images of themselves on cellphones to other students. Previous studies had just asked about "provocative" images, which are not illegal (nude images of minors are). In the survey group of 600 private high school students from the US south-west, 30% of girls reported having received an "explicit" image, while 50% of boys did. (The difference between the numbers of self-reported senders and receivers had to do with forwarding, according to the researchers.)

Most students left a question that sought to ascertain their awareness of the illegality of this kind of sexting blank. In other words, the students did not understand that what they were doing was illegal.

How has the influence of pornography created such an ungated torrent of sexually explicit images that invades lives like Todd's? And why, in a consumer culture in which you can buy anything, is it so difficult to place real filters against such intrusions?

As a free-speech advocate, I believe that adults should have access to any material they want. As a parent, and a community member, I think people should be able to protect their homes from imagery - much of it violent - that is, I feel, a form of child abuse when adult society inflicts it upon children. Porn is one such example of imagery that has come to be a powerfully negative influence on youth culture.

The ownership of the porn industry is, oddly, cloaked in mystery (though we know that Goldman Sachs recently got out of the lucrative prostitution listings business). It is also hard to establish the actual money involved: estimates for the value of the porn industry range from $10bn a year to $13bn (for the US market alone). Neither of these figures is as striking as the 2009 United Nations estimate of the value of the porn industry worldwide: $100bn, with child porn accounting for $20bn.

Why is ownership and revenue data in this huge industry so opaque? Authors Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry argue that "porn money" has bought up research departments in universities, and contributed to governmental lobbying efforts. If true, that would certainly help to explain the absence of any practical controls that would keep the industry freely available in a strongly filtered adults-only space.

This free market inundation of explicit imagery is certainly affecting teens. Guidance counselors in Manhattan schools, as well as schools in the US midwest, have expressed their concerns with me that online images, "sexting" and homemade erotic videos are all increasingly used to torment and isolate kids - especially by "slut-shaming" girls and young women.

Caught in an impossible double bind, teenaged girls are encouraged by the ubiquity of porn's influence to post suggestive, racy pictures of themselves on their Facebook pages or via other social media, and even engage - as Amanda Todd did - in more direct, self-revealing behavior online that is then captured forever. In a vacuum of any responsible adult conversation about privacy, dealing with porn imagery and chat rooms, or appropriate sexual behavior, these girls are left to the mercy of an industry setting the bar for their interactions. That then becomes the behavioral norm for both sexes in youth culture.

The outcome? This dangerous proliferation of teenagers using technology to paint scarlet letters on girls that are practically impossible to delete from cyberspace. How many Amanda Todds will there be before we act on this problem? your social media marketing partner


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+20 # reiverpacific 2012-10-29 10:34
One thing Ms Wolf omits is, perhaps unwittingly in the name of brevity. Has the "agent provocateur" who "cajoled" the late Amanda into her original indiscretion, been tracked down and hauled up to face charges -and what indeed would he be charged with?
Does the law (Canada, US, anywhere else) even have statutes on it's books (In many cases based originally on ancient Roman Laws) to address such invasions, and what role if any should Facebook and the many webcam sites be forced to look at here, in the face of "Free expression" (although some do have filters on "Adult filters")?
I'm not a lawyer but these are surely issues demanding legal expertise -but don't expect any help from SCOTUS, especially the holier than thou super-lecher Thomas, who pretty much did the same thing to Anita Harris before a rapt, rubber-neck populace.
It'll take some vision and legal gymnastics.
+2 # Eduardo3 2012-10-29 18:31
The guy used a topless picture of a minor as his profile pic on Facebook. Certainly that has to be illegal. I would also like to know if he has been tracked down and charged. Also, what are Facebook's legal and social obligations in a situation like this?
+15 # JSRaleigh 2012-10-29 11:01
I wonder how much of these kids vulnerability to sexual exploitation is attributable to the religious right's war against information? Would these kids be sending these kind of images if they'd had sex-ed that covered more than "abstinence only"?
+6 # Lolanne 2012-10-29 14:26
Quoting JSRaleigh:
I wonder how much of these kids vulnerability to sexual exploitation is attributable to the religious right's war against information? Would these kids be sending these kind of images if they'd had sex-ed that covered more than "abstinence only"?

Quoting JSRaleigh:
I wonder how much of these kids vulnerability to sexual exploitation is attributable to the religious right's war against information? Would these kids be sending these kind of images if they'd had sex-ed that covered more than "abstinence only"?

I strongly suspect it has a lot to do with it, JSR. Ignorance = easier to control. In these cases, the control is by perverts trolling the 'net for young girls they can coerce into doing whatever despicable, degrading things they want. But this also explains much about the repugs' attacks on education -- it's a lot easier for them to control ignorant adults than educated, thinking ones.
+7 # Rascalndear 2012-10-29 12:36
There are many problems here that need to be addressed. For instance, why do girls agree to show themselves to strangers? Parents and schools need to do more teaching of moral and cautious behavior. Schools also need to pay attention to how kids use social media and raise awareness of the dangers. For instance, I'm reluctant to post any pictures of friends in FB because of the possibility that friends of friends will do something I don't want them to and i can't control it. A lot of kids leave their entire pages PUBLIC. I suspect many of them aren't aware of the repercussions of that. I met a young couple once where the girl was a model and her boyfriend liked photographing her in erotic poses. But their page in FB was completely public. In a country like Ukraine, where currently live, that might not be very risky, but in most countries, it's potentially very dangerous for the girl. People need to be taught these things. Most of them won't pick that up on their own...
+5 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-29 15:27
You open here a question that is broader than bullying and you are right.
Even in countries like the US, kids post pictures of themselves drunk, throwing up on police cars, and then will wonder in five years why their prospective employer will say "thank you and good luck" after checking their page.

People look at me as if I were from Mars when I tell them I don't have a Facebook page (don't tell them I don't have a TV either).
+5 # Glen 2012-10-29 17:36
Granny, your comments are necessary to the discussion on this subject, which can be extremely disturbing. The subject of the internet and all things related is a world in which young people have been thrown into without oversight. Employers DO check social media and DO reject potential applicants due to indiscreet postings. Sad thing is, the postings begin as early as the age of 10.

Parents often do not have a clue. Not having a Facebook account is a good thing, not a social failing.
0 # The Voice of Reason 2012-10-29 21:58
Let me try to answer your question in a way that puts it in perspective: In the pervasive free sex drunken orgy that kids grow up expecting to excel in, a place where the rules of sexual etiquette are scorned and jeered, innocence will be victimized over and over again.

But please explain again how the religious right, in trying to steer the youth away from pandering to base sexual appetites, caused all this? There is nothing noble about the porn industry and the weekend sex - night club - entertainment - movie star lifestyle - promoting sex economies that work hand in hand with it.

Porn and the free sex attitude have become a way of life, unfettered by social mores and conventions. This is what people think they want, and yet there are economies and others all too willing to profit off their debauchery. I mean, self expression.

What sort of sexual etiquette did you have in mind?
-1 # shraeve 2012-11-01 15:29
I can explain how the religious right caused this. They did so by making nudity into a shameful thing.

You can't shame someone for doing something they have no reason to be ashamed of. In the USA the bullies could not have shamed her for refusing to wear a burqa, or for attending school, although in some places they could have done that.

Young people frequently do things they are not legally old enough to do, such as driving a car or drinking, but they are not bullied to death for those things because driving or drinking are not considered especially shameful in our society. If public nudity were viewed as nothing remarkable, no one could be bullied for being nude.

As far as sexual etiquette goes, how about a general rule of ignoring behavior that does not hurt anyone?
+2 # cordleycoit 2012-10-29 21:49
The Internet was founded in the grip of the porn industry, a male dominated business. The porn end of things has more or less vanished except to millions of very sick people. The seduction of youth is nothing new it goes back to Classical times. Sickness and degeneracy the same. Wellness is also available but few people promote well and healthy living(sexualit y is the first thing that dictators suppress.) Freedom is there for those who recognize it.
0 # shraeve 2012-11-01 15:34
Pornography is no longer a male-dominated business. There are many women involved in producing, owning and marketing porn.

"Sick" is just a word used to label anything you intensely dislike.
-1 # shraeve 2012-10-30 20:01
Ms. Wolf calls herself a free speech advocate, yet cites a book authored by anti-pornograph y activists and bigots. Activists such as Gail Dines, Melissa Farley and other contributors to that sorry volume, "Big Porn, Inc:..." are in no way believers in free access to pornography by adults, as Ms. Wolf claims to be.

Abigail Bray appears to be a believer in Marxism, as big an intellectual hoax as there ever was.

Melinda Tankard Reist claims to be a feminist, but she is a feminist in the same way that Sarah Palin and Phyllis Schlafly are feminists. I get the impression that she is opposed to a woman's right to control her own body. She says that abortion is a form of violence against women.
-1 # shraeve 2012-11-01 16:00
I have just read that two other young women have killed themselves because of cyber-bullying. Is it just a coincidence that all three recent victims were female?

In the other two recent cases, neither nudity nor sex seems to have been a factor. The real issue here is bullying, especially bullying of young women. Ms. Wolf should be ashamed of exploiting this issue for her own personal anti-pornograph y crusade.

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