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The Los Angeles Times reports that mobile app Skout has shut down its forum for teenagers after adults used the forums to pose as teens in order to sexually assault two teenaged girls and one teenaged boy. The incidents are indicative of the potential dangers that mobile social networking apps pose to young users, which due to the fact that they combine profile information with mobile devices’ GPS information, can make them potentially more susceptible to abuse than non-mobile social networks. Skout provides a forum for users to not only share photos and messages, but also make plans to meet up, a saftey aspect teenagers may not think twice about doing.

With social networking and and mobile apps becoming more common and more accessible to teenagers and children, parents have a responsibility to educate themselves and talk to their children about media literacy. Companies behind these apps and networks also need to be more vigilant about monitoring their forums for potential predators. Skout claims that a quarter of its staffers are responsible for monitoring the forums, but police say they failed nonetheless to catch the adults who gained access to teenaged users.

The Christian Science Monitor says Internet Safety Education should shift its focus from avoidance to literacy. According to their findings, many teenagers are well aware of the dangers of sharing information online and are very active in social media. Parents should start a dialogue with their children rather than rely on constantly monitoring their behavior in order to better protect their safety.

Skout app may shut teen forum permanently over safety concerns [LA Times]

Internet safety: Teenagers are well aware of dangers online [CSM]

Diff’rent Strokes star Todd Bridges went on CNN to speak out on the sexual abuse he faced while working as a child actor, a problem that is rife within the entertainment industry. As reported by The Root, Bridges and child actor Cory Feldman are making a public case for California legislation to offer protection to children working in entertainment from sexual predators.

Bridges demonstrates a huge amount of bravery in speaking about the molestation he faced at the hands of his publicist at the of 11. As a result of the abuse, Bridges says he felt ashamed, degraded confused about his sexuality. Even after revealing the abuse to his parents, Bridges was stalked by his abuser. Though his mother supported him, Bridges says his father did not believe his allegations.

With legislation that would require background checks on people working with child actors, such as publicists and managers, Bridges hopes to protect any child working on showbusiness from facing what he did. The desire of many parents to put their children into entertainment enables people in positions of influence to abuse their power and cause potentially long-lasting harm to children. The lack of protection for child actors makes showbusiness “an open field to child molesters,” in Bridges’ words.

Todd Bridges: Protect Child Actors From Sex Abuse [The Root]

A Yahoo article points to a recent “dark trend” of pre-teen girls posting “Am I pretty?” videos to YouTube. In reference to a new 15 year old YouTube “star,” Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD, a Harvard sociologist calls the videos “uncomfortably exploitative, as there is clearly a sexual undertone to what she is doing.” Friedman says the increased presence “young girls on YouTube is a disturbing, growing trend.”

The truly disturbing trend is not a recent development, but a longtime one. The girls who post videos asking for valorization based on their looks come out of a culture where the bodies of increasingly younger girls are sexualized and put up for public scrutiny.

In some notable examples of the media’s sexualization of young girls, about a year ago, Abercrombie and Fitch sold padded bikini tops to young girls and French Vogue started controversy with its use of a 10 year old model in a fashion editorial that emulated adult sexuality (as shown above). A 2007 American Psychological Association study linked the sexualization of young girls to disordered eating and low self-esteem, the very same low self-esteem exhibited by the pre-teen girls asking “Am I Pretty?” on YouTube.

If we consider statistics that say 15% of sexual assault or rape victims are under the age of 12 and that Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault (RAINN) then this trend is even more disturbing. Images such as the ones in French Vogue imply that it is ok to look upon a child as a sexual object.

There is nothing wrong with children being sexual. They have every right to, like adults, possess sexual agency, be aware of their sexuality, and receive education on sexual health. Rather than promote sexual agency, however, these images turn young girls into sexual objects. They pin a sexual lens onto young girls and ask them to conform to the same narrow definition of beauty as their older counterparts, that is thin, white, able-bodied, and free of any blemishes or perceived imperfections. With these kinds of standards it seems only inevitable that many pre-teen girls are turning to the internet for confirmation of their value.

Mass media can go one step further and not just turn young girls into sexual objects, but ask adult women to emulate children in order to be sexy. Paradoxically, women must convey innocence while being sexually available. A recent anti-feminist, sexist image from Maxim shows how to “cure” a feminist by turning her into an “actual girl.” The image is almost too blatantly awful to even look at, but  if you can brave it you’ll see it plays into misogynist fears of feminism and women in many ways. Notably it patronizes the women pictured by referring to them as girls, and before transforming into a veritable lingerie model, the “girl” dons pigtails and a babyish outfit and pose as part of her “sexy” morph into an “actual girl.”

This infantilization is not exclusive to men’s magazines, as even images marketed to women use similar tactics. A recent Marc Jacobs ad featuring Dakota Fanning made similar use of a childlike sexuality to sell a product, in this case a high end perfume.

Though Fanning herself at 17 straddles the line between adulthood and childhood, the choice of a ruffled, polka dot dress lack of “adult” jewelry and make up clearly plays up the childlike side of her image. The perfume’s name Oh, Lola! is even a direct reference to Nabokov’s Lolita, perhaps the most famous example of pedophilia in Western culture. The titular character’s real name is Dolores and Lola is one of her many nicknames, Lolita being a diminutive of that. The ad was banned in the UK due to its provocative image of a minor.

These trends inhibit the sexual agency of both adult women and female children. Girls no longer need to wait to grow up to be objectified, but experience sexualization and objectification at a young age. In turn, adult women are asked to emulate an impossible, pre-pubescent ideal and maintain an equally impossible balance of innocence and sexual availability.

Thanks to Janet for the tip.

Picking up from the last post on the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s public service announcement, here is an article that deals with the kinds of sexual abuse that do not fit the heteronormative stereotype.

The Globe and Mail reports that former pro ice hockey player Sheldon Kennedy will be testifying at a congressional hearing following the Penn State University scandal, where former football assistant coach Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing several young boys. Kennedy was sexually assaulted by his coach Graham James when Kennedy was a minor.

The fact that the sexual assault of underage male athletes is in the media is an important step in opening up the discourse about who suffers sexual abuse. While rape of women by men may be common, it is critical that it be understood that it is not the only kind of sexual assault, and that all people who have been sexually abused should be acknowledged.

As a young athlete, Kennedy did not know who to reach out to, as he was afraid his teammates might think he was gay and that his mother would not allow him to continue playing hockey if he told her what was happening to him. With cases like Penn State receiving heavy coverage, the sexual abuse of male children is emerging as a topic more accessible to the public, thus creating a heightened awareness of sexual abuse of children in vulnerable situations. Hopefully, more such awareness will translate into more openness to discussing child sexual abuse, as well as vigilance where it is needed to protect children from abuse.

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