Protecting children from sexualisation in the media

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Written by Salma

Kirsty Hopley, the co-founder of the petition calling on PM David

Kirsty Hopley, the co-founder of the petition calling on PM David Cameron to protect children from the display of sexualised images at child height in shops and public spaces speaks exclusively to Kettle Mag’s Women’s Editor Salma Haidrani as she relieves her memories of Twitter trolls subjecting her to online abuse and why women’s weekly gossip magazine are just as harmful for children as Lads Mags and Page Three.

It’s a familiar sight when you walk into a newsagent or supermarket: images of women semi-naked bending over or topless on the front pages of our newspapers and magazines.  More worryingly, such content is often displayed at child height. While there are existing laws to protect children from such displays of pornographic material (just take the Indecent Displays Act 1981 to name but one), retailers in the UK are rarely adhering to them.

Mother of two Kirsty Hopley subsequently took matters into her on hands, teaming up with Kathy McGuinness of Local Mums Online to demand that the Government makes the display of pornographic content at child height illegal. The campaign has since secured more than 23,000 signatures and this weekend staged a demo culminating in campaigners delivering a package to the PM himself at 10 Downing Street, including a wallpaper roll of images fond at child height in retailers across the UK from daily tabloids and lads mags.

But at what point will this translate into much-needed change? I caught up with the very lovely Kirsty Hopley to find out more…

1) What notable event inspired you to launch the Child Eyes campaign

For me, it was the birth of my daughter (September 2012) and the overwhelming feeling that I could not protect her from sexualisation, sexism and harassment. Also, my son saw online porn at school. I researched what he had seen and was devastated. On Pornhub, there are so many videos of degradation of women, rape vids (these are now illegal I believe after a Change.Org petition) and I even found acted child porn.

I started taking pictures in newsagents, started the Facebook page and got the logo drawn. I then met my wonderful co-founder Kathy McGuinness of Local Mums Online. We collaborated our work, created a Twitter account and the Petition in March 2013.

2) What negative implications will such sexualised images have in society as a whole, if they continue to be displayed at child height?

There is building research to show that these images are harmful to children. See Bailey Review ‘Letting Children Be Children’ and The Home Office review ‘The sexualisation of young people’. The images have links to sexual assault, violence against women, eating disorders, unhealthy sexual attitudes, the belief that women are always sexually available (consent issues-see campaign for consent), early use of hardcore porn and porn addiction.

For parents attempting to provide a decent moral grounding for children, they do not want their children to be exposed to this kind of imagery but have no choice.

For women, it is degrading to see our gender consistently portrayed in a sexual object manner.

For men – many tell us they do not want children to be exposed. The images can have negative effects on their ability to view women in any light other than sexual. This can lead to harassment and violence, porn addiction etc.

3) What has been your campaign highlight?

100 per cent: the Co-op decision. We were bowled over as we had been on to them for ages plus it is my local shop. It is where the first Child Eyes photo came from and many subsequent pictures. It felt amazing to know that a grassroots, unfunded group of passionate people can make national changes happen.

4) What challenges have you encountered since creating the campaign?

It is relentless, 24/7. You never know when something will happen e.g. radio interviews, big news. Due to the nature of the images we see, it can get hard at times. I have cried many times in despair but all of the team support each other, we pick each other up, dust each other off and keep going. We get occasional trolls and none supporters. This can zap energy but we try to direct them to our FAQs. We have been (subjected to online abuse) but we just ignore that.

5) What would you say to those who claim that weekly gossipy magazines such as Heat and fashion magazines are more harmful as they fat-shame female celebrities while The Sun and Lads Mags celebrate ‘real women’s bodies’?

We agree that women’s mags are as harmful in terms of body image and the strive for a kind of perfection that is unobtainable. We have featured such mags many times. There was a magazine that focused on the body image of pregnancy with a huge line ‘I’m going to adopt so I don’t get fat’. And 8 days after Kate Middleton gave birth, OK! Magazine featured her weight loss plan. This was quickly removed after objections.

We do not believe Lads Mags celebrate women. The women in there have many false parts, e.g. boobs, make up and Botox. There are no natural women in the mags. Also they often ridicule the women, there is evidence of the mags suggesting violence towards women too. One example from Page 3 last week was a comparison of a model to a root vegetable. Degradation and humiliation, not celebration.

6) Finally, can we hope that one day our children won’t be visually assaulted by adult-themed content every time we walk into a supermarket or petrol station?

We will make this happen!

To learn more about the campaign, visit this web site.