Monday, May 09, 2005

Topless Teens Embarrassed?

Catholic Herald 28 April 2005
Home Front by Sarah Johnson
Do you ever have moments when you hear something on the radio or the TV, and are so astonished at the gulf between what you have just heard, and what one might call basic Judaeo-Christian common sense, that you can only stand open mouthed, while the white sauce you were stirring burns, the cat you were grooming slips away and hides triumphantly under the sofa, or the bath you were running overflows, un-noticed by all except the people in the flat downstairs?
Well, I had one of those moments last week. It seems a couple of 14 year old minxes have got into trouble with the anti-paedophile authorities because they posted topless pictures of themselves on the Internet. So far so teenage. What would you do? Ground them for a week, stop their pocket money and give them a talking-to about self-respect versus behaving like cheap strumpets? Me too.
As I groomed the cat, stirred the sauce and ran a bath, two experts in child pornography, a man and a woman, gravely told Woman’s Hour’s Jenni Murray that the two girls were “naïve”, they “didn’t fully understand” the implications of their action; this was “what teenagers do” and warned that they should not be “criminalized” by being treated as child sex offenders. He thought the girls suffered from a “lack of understanding as to what child pornography is” and that more “education” was needed in this respect.
His fellow expert seemed to agree with him though it was hard to pick it out amid her obfuscatory jargon: “We need to unpick this, upscaling and empowering children with an understanding of what they are doing: creating a permanent digital record, a pornographic image, disseminating it in a publicly accessible forum, and they are thus creating illegal material.”
She added that “pornography is a principal source of information about sex for young people” (I think it was then I lost the cat) and that there should be “treatment programmes for adolescent sex offenders to help them negotiate and deal with these issues”. (Burnt sauce.)
The discussion winded up with the need to “shift the embarrassment factor” for teenagers as regards sex (Oops, there goes the bathroom carpet).
In what way, please, could it be said that these two girls were suffering from embarrassment? Their main problem seems to have been a complete lack of it. Nor is “naïve” quite the right word for most 14 year old girls. Inexperienced, yes: unable to foresee the consequences of their actions…hmm, yes and no. A 14 year old girl is very good at foreseeing getting hold of a 16 year old boy, but she isn‘t so smart at seeing past that ambition. Why else would a 14 year old girl put a photo of herself naked on the internet?
Embarrassed? If only. Give a 14 year old girl an inch and she’ll take a mile, most of it off her own hemline, with Mum’s pinking shears and some Copydex. The only thing stopping her is the ridicule or disapproval of her more sensible friends. But girls are now growing up bombarded with semi-nude fashions, a casual attitude to sexual display - plus they are expected to be as sexually aggressive as boys. It is a complicated picture. It is a dangerous picture.
Charity workers who rescue East European teenagers who have been sold into prostitution often observe that the girls, buying clothes for themselves, still choose crop-tops and minis because they don’t know any other way to dress. This is brutalised behaviour exhibited by girls who have been treated as slaves. Yet the gap between it and the behaviour of ordinary Western teenagers, snapping themselves topless “for a laugh” is surely too narrow for comfort. It is getting harder to tell the difference between the brutalised, abused children and their “sexually inappropriate behaviour” and the indulged, net-savvy teens for whom, we are told pornography is a “principal source of information”.
The simplest, easiest and most natural weapon girls have, not just the predatory world outside but also against their own powerful hormones, is modesty - embarrassment‘s more graceful sister virtue. Modesty can save a girl from more stupid and tragic behaviour than hours of “treatment programmes” - but who is teaching modesty now?

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