An Open Letter to the Citizens of Australia - We Have a Problem.
Citizens of Australia, we have a problem.
This problem is directly impacting on half our population. It can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, body issues, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction and social isolation.
The problem is the sexual objectification of women and at the root of that is misogyny. Women are being judged or seen for their body parts rather than the person that they belong to. Is it any wonder thatthe leading cause of death of women aged 15 to 19, worldwide, is suicide?
In the past month numerous stories have been published in the media citing examples of this problem. School aged boys uploading photos of girls for their peers to rate, comment or collectively humiliate. Some girls, like my daughter, were fully dressed and had their photo taken without their knowledge. Others had shared intimate photos with their partner trusting that it was a private exchange between two people in a loving relationship.
The stories behind all of these photos vary, but the one thing they have in common is that every single one of these girls have been violated.
This week, Nina Funnell exposed a pornography site that had been brought to her attention the previous week. The site contained thousands of images of girls some naked, some not. I spent hours scrolling through these haunting images trying to identify these predators or figure out a way to have this site shut down. But I will also admit that through tear filled eyes, I was looking for anyone I may know; a daughter, a niece a friend. I had to take a lot of breaks, go for a walk, or have a cry before I resumed my search. It was the most harrowing thing I have ever seen and it has changed my life. My heart bled for these girls whose trust had been betrayed and were now catalogued on a website for anyone to see.
Someone on the site had requested the images from the school Instagram account that my daughter was violated on. Even though it had been widely reported that these were primary school kids, these perverts were still hungry to see what it was about. Fortunately for me, it would be easy to trace the origins of where it came from, as I know the names of every person who was connected to that account. But what if that were not the case? Clothed or not, my daughter would be featured on an international porn site which at the moment, there is no way of shutting down. Some of the photos of these girls had no sexual relevance at all, girls were in bathers, in their gym gear and others fully dressed. Their photos were up as a point of reference so that others could identify them and search for any content of a sexual nature that may be available. Their reward? Photos of other girls or in some cases money. These were true predators.
I have been contacted by hundreds of people since going public about this one month ago. Advocates, politicians, mothers, victims. They have shared their heartbreaking stories with me and as a result have educated me about this maelstrom that has been under the radar for so long. Many of these young girls have been living with the shame and fear that the boy they once loved will now betray their trust. Several of the girls shared such photos because they were not yet ready to become physically intimate with the boy they loved but felt they needed to fulfill their partners sexual needs in some way. Whatever their rationale or reasoning, they are now victims of a dark mentality that has embraced some young men.
Of all the people I have spoken to in the past weeks, I have received some of the best insights into the minds of these young men from a 13-year-old boy. His mother, my friend, was having “the talk” with him and he commented on how ironic is was that these young men worked so hard at exposing girls while at the same time worked equally as hard at hiding themselves. An example of how much they had dehumanized these girls. They knew that to expose themselves they would receive unwanted judgment and punishment, but had no such consideration for the girls whose images they were sharing. There was no empathy, so feeling, nothing. This young boy showed wisdom beyond his years and it was a reminder to me that there are still so many wonderful young men out there that are ready to join the fight to abolish this behaviour.
Since the story of my experience came to light, I have been both heartened and saddened by some of the comments I have read. I still hear people making excuses, I still hear victim blaming and I still hear people attempting to sweep this matter under the carpet. My daughter is safe because of the strong position I took; I had the site shutdown within hours and those responsible were held accountable. But that is not the end of it for me. I still have to send my two daughters out into a society every day where they will likely be objectified, harassed or dehumanized for simply being a woman. That is not good enough for them and it is most certainly not good enough for any woman in this country.
Citizens of Australia, we have a problem and the onus falls on all of us to fix it. We must raise our boys to love and cherish women and remind them that it is through a woman’s body that they were born. We must remind our girls that our bodies are miracles. We have breasts that nurture babies and uterus in which life grows. Sex between two consenting adults is a natural and pleasurable act if the respect is mutual. Our bodies are to be nurtured, protected and loved because it is the one thing that we will have for the rest of our life.