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Pin-up children

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Tuesday, 29 July 2008

When the Senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the media was announced, those of us who had worked hard to point out that it wasn’t in the best interests of children to be treated as mini adults and sexual selling aids, welcomed it.

At last, we thought, our elected representatives think this issue warrants serious attention.

Child development experts, educators and women and girls’ advocacy groups, presented solid evidence on the damage done by encroaching on childhood with sexualised messaging in toys, clothing, music, games, magazines and billboards.


Psychologists and psychiatrists provided documentary evidence in their case notes and hospital statistics of worrying trends in child and adolescent health and child abuse.

They provided long lists of negative impacts including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, body image dissatisfaction, self-harm, low self esteem and children acting out sexually which they linked to the too-soon sexualisation of children.

The Australian Childhood Foundation told the committee that sexualising material: “… serves to normalise adult sexual themes to children. It provides no educational value and is compounded by other imagery and messages to which children are exposed … a contributing factor to the genesis of problem sexual behaviour is the increasing volume of sexualised imagery and themes available in popular culture and accessible to children.”

The Hon Alastair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court, said the onus was on those engaging in this type of advertising and marketing to show it did no harm.

“The sort of values which this type of advertising encourages is hardly likely to advance the future welfare and development of children. It should therefore be strictly regulated as self regulation has obviously failed”, he told the committee.

It was hoped something would be done to rein in the behaviour of advertisers and marketers who see children as a gold mine to be plundered.


But the committee didn’t seem to think so. While proposing a couple of positive recommendations in its report, the committee seemed to forget that it was the poor behaviour of industry bodies that brought about the inquiry in the first place.

The committee recommended that the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) consider establishing a new “media and advertising complaints clearing house”. This is the same body criticised for not reflecting community standards, for its weak code of ethics, for being unrepresentative and for looking after its own interests.

The ASB has demonstrated that it’s not all that fond of complainants.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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