A new PSA warning against the dangers of photo-sharing is disturbingly similar to the video Amanda Todd created weeks before committing suicide last year. While many believe this is clever marketing, I think it’s just plain messed up.
The video created by Children of the Street Society, an organization that aims to prevent the sexualization of children, shows a girl with a set of flashcards narrating a story of betrayal after a trusted friend shared a photo of her without her consent. It ends with the words: "There's no such thing as just one photo.”
Sure, the ad is powerful, but the problem lies with the words that follow:
“Protect yourself from sexual exploitation. Be safe online."
This is profoundly disturbing to me. Since when it is up to children to protect themselves from sexual exploitation? I’m not saying parents and teachers shouldn't be educating their children about the importance of safe online practices, but this PSA sounds to put an odd amount of responsibility on victims to prevent other people's wrongdoings.
I know what you’re thinking. Girls send way more provocative pictures of themselves than boys do, and therefore it's totally fine to target them directly. That would be correct if this claim wasn't entirely inaccurate.
Despite what we often hear, girls don’t send more explicit pictures of themselves than boys do. As Lauren Strapagiel from the Huffington Post notes, studies show that girls don’t outnumber their male peers when it comes to sending salacious self-portraits. Where the discrepancy lies is in the mis-use of these photos. Although girls don’t tend to circulate the pictures boys send to them, when the genders are reversed it’s a completely different story.
In a previous article I wrote following Amanda Todd’s death, I note that researchers from the London School of Economics were profoundly troubled to find that girls feared the boys in their class more than strangers on the street:
"Girls are being pressured [...] to send 'special photos' and perform sexual services for boys from an early age. In some cases they are as young as eleven. Even while we were interviewing them they were being bombarded with these messages [...] some of them found ingenious ways to fend off the demands but still the pressures are immense and the younger girls in particular wanted help."
The researchers also observed that there were 'significant numbers' of explicit pictures of young girls in circulation; one boy alone had a whopping 30 in his possession. "Some of the boys have a disturbing approach to this," note the researchers. "They have been encouraged by a wider culture to see girls' bodies as property which they can own."
I’m curious to know where the PSA’s targeting young boys are. Why focus on shaming females for sharing intimate pictures rather than the boys who misappropriate them and use them to extort girls? What about creep shots (pictures taken of unsuspecting women in public spaces and then displayed online) or revenge porn (ex-boyfriends getting back at ex-girlfriends by sharing intimate pictures of them)? Should women be expected to “protect themselves” from these too? How would they even begin to do that? Never go out in public? Never share any sexual intimacy with anyone, ever? The feminist conversation that took place on Twitter with the hashtag #PreventionTipsForTheLadies, showed that it’s pretty darn impossible (and completely preposterous) to demand that women be held responsible for warding off abuse.
Every time we hold women and girls accountable for their own exploitation, we send a very dangerous message about who’s to blame. As long as we are asking women to prevent abuse, we’re telling them it’s their fault if they fail to.
Let’s tell our girls a different story. As I've said following the death of Amanda Todd, we need to shift our focus away from what the victim has done to what society hasn't done. It wasn't up to Amanda to prevent abuse, it was up to society to protect her: “She did not fail in her efforts. Society failed her.”
Let me know what you think about this PSA on Twitter: @feministabulous