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The experience of being human prey

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Wednesday, 12 August 2009

An alien visiting earth could be forgiven for concluding that some humans use their young as prey, and many other humans let them.

Sandilands, Jackie O and 2Day FM used the young girl as a means to an end, the end in this case being the titillation and gratification of their audience; the maintenance and improvement of their ratings, and for their own personal advantage in terms of maintaining their fun-loving profiles and keeping their jobs. Apparently no one involved in this “stunt” took even a moment to consider what effect their actions might have on a young girl. In anybody’s lexicon, this is child abuse.

If I am doing them an injustice, and they did momentarily take the girl’s suffering under consideration, then I misjudge them.


Whenever a human being is used as a means to an end, and not as an end in her or himself, he or she becomes an object of prey. The girl was preyed upon by the presenters with the support of their employers, apparently none of whom considered it at all extraordinary to be questioning a young girl about her sexual life on national radio. This is what we can do in this country. We can hook young girls up to lie detectors and ask them about their sex lives. If it all goes south, well, we didn’t know it would, did we? How could we have known another predator had already exploited her?

The young girl was the object of prey for a whole gaggle of adults, including the adult who allegedly raped her when she was 12. Had she not revealed the earlier sexual assault, presumably the “stunt” would have never made the headlines, and none of the perpetrators would have thought there was anything wrong with what they were doing. In that sense, she has done future possible victims of these “stunts” a great favour.

It appears that this kind of exploitation and manipulation of the young has been normalised at 2Day FM, otherwise somebody would have stopped them, or they would have stopped themselves. This is the cultural climate in which we currently dwell.

The girl was also preyed upon by her mother. Clearly there is some disturbance in the family dynamic for a mother to publicly collude with others against her young daughter’s best interests. Having no knowledge of this particular family and its dynamics, there’s nothing further to be said by me about it. I hope with my whole heart that someone good and kind is now looking after her.

In her On line Opinion article on August 3, Nina Funnell mentions her own experience of being prey, and how she was helped by a controlled and supported public catharsis. She calls for more victims to come forward with their stories, and for audiences to respond to them with care. However, not everyone wants to go public, and most people don’t have the opportunity anyway. The experience of being prey is, among many other things, one of humiliation at not having been able to protect oneself against a marauder, and the subsequent fear that others will exploit that perceived shameful weakness if it becomes known.

To expect survivors of sexual assault, whether in childhood or adulthood, to take on responsibility for changing the attitudes of society by speaking out, is to put an unconscionable burden on people who are already staggering under the weight of extreme distress. As Ms Funnell points out, in both examples she gives of public disclosure there was a backlash, there was harassment. Without a great deal of support, and even with it, traumatised people can be re-traumatised even when they speak out apparently of their own free will. There are survivors who speak out anyway, and who knows at what further cost.


The onus for changing society’s attitudes to sexual assault is not on the victims, it is on all those who have the strength and the ability to take on the task. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Some humans use the young as prey. Many more humans let them, by staying silent, and by turning their eyes and ears away. In our collective failure to demand the protection of our young, to insist on it as a basic right as we insist on water, food and shelter, we are barbarians.

Many humans who are silent on these matters are in positions of great influence. The greater access to influence we have, the greater is the responsibility to instigate social change. Everybody knows the statistics. Everybody knows they aren’t in a decline. How many ears must one human have before s/he can hear people cry?

Ms Funnell also makes some observations about Hetty Johnston, an advocate for abused children. I have no idea whether or not Hetty Johnston has indeed behaved towards her daughter as Ms Funnell claims. But I have to say that at this point, my sympathy with the article began to dissipate. In raising this matter, apparently to discredit Ms Johnston, the author seems to be exploiting another sad history. If Ms Funnell is to protest Ms Johnston’s outing of her daughter, then she must accept that she herself has now outed that daughter to me and to everybody else in my household.

Yes, the Johnston family story was already in the public domain. But there are many ways to cast another as prey.

A lot of adults must have known for quite some time of the “stunts” employed by Sandilands and Jackie O. Their demographic consists mainly of young people. They are, presumably, role models for these young people, for better or for worse. Yet apparently no one complained to ACMA prior to this most recent stunt. Now more “stunts” are coming to light, exploitative, and emotionally manipulative. Inappropriately sexual, and downright sadistic.

Who are the people controlling the airwaves? What moral universe do they inhabit? And how have we allowed them to turn our young into public objects of prey?

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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