Media’s Role in Grooming Children

By Cynthia Mitchell

August 08, 2022

Julia was brought to America from Russia by an American adoption agency. Despite the rigorous application process, the adopting family decided she was not the right fit. Julia refused to cooperate with her new family. She was angry and disruptive. Her new family felt overwhelmed and unprepared to handle such difficulty.

Julia’s adoption agency asked me to foster her until she could be permanently placed into a new family. When she arrived at my home, I could sense her trauma. Her frail body was an indication that she was not getting enough nourishment, and her heavy make-up and provocative clothing made me wonder what this little 7-year-old had suffered.

Over the months, we learned that Julia’s behavior stemmed from having been groomed. Grooming is when a person, builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with another person so they can manipulate, exploit and/or abuse them. Julia’s Russian orphanage exposed her to sexually explicit magazines and videos. They were grooming her to be turned out onto the streets as a sex worker.

Children around the globe, who live in orphanages are at an increased risk of sexual abuse. Once children are removed from their families and communities, the natural mechanisms of protection erode. Like Julia, sexually abused children are often branded as difficult, not believed, and made vulnerable to traffickers.

In a safe environment, and in time, Julia’s appearance transformed. She no longer applied make-up to her face. She started choosing age-appropriate clothing similar to what she saw her peers wearing. But while she began to regain a childlike appearance, her promiscuous behavior showed the scars of sexual abuse. She acted out regularly. On multiple occasions, she attempted to undress in front of males to gain their attention. Julia’s exposure to sexual content normalized sex and made it seem necessary to achieve love and acceptance.

Children do not have to be intentionally groomed for sex work to experience the impact of sexualized media.

According to psychologist, Christia Spears Brown, University of Kentucky, grade school children are taking in 80,000 “sexy girl” images annually. And it’s not benign. Children are actively being targeted by billboards, ads, movies, mainstream television and streaming platforms laced with sexualized content that kids are not developmentally prepared to understand. Children also internalize messages and imagery in social media, video games, and music videos. When kids internalize standards of beauty, sexualized behavior, and violence against women, they become vulnerable to being victimized and/or even becoming a perpetrator.

When women and girls are repeatedly objectified and their bodies hypersexualized, media contributes to harmful gender stereotypes that often trivialize violence against girls. 82% of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female. Adolescents aged 14‐17 are by far, the most likely to be sexually victimized; nearly one in five were sexually victimized in the past year. Almost 95% of victims know their sexual attacker.

Research conducted for the Dove Self Esteem Project, found that only 11% of girls worldwide would call themselves beautiful. Six in ten girls avoid participating in life activities because of concerns about the way they look. One-third of all 6-year-olds in Japan experience low body confidence. Australian girls list body image as one of their top three worries in life, while 81% of 10-year-old girls in the U.S. say they are afraid of being fat. Around the globe, children, like Julia, suffer from a multitude of health behaviors including anxiety, eating disorders, shame, a greater acceptance of sexual harassment, depression, aggression and self-harm.

Sexualized content no longer resides behind closed doors. Rating systems and warnings are not a barrier to children’s exposure. And while parents are engaging filters, monitoring and relevant conversations with their children, research shows parents have lost the battle for their children’s innocence. Companies and artists alike, who create and distribute hypersexualized works potentially contribute to children’s harm.

Julia was required to temporarily return to her orphanage before the agency could place her in a permanent home in America. On the day she left, she went into the bathroom and emerged with a full face of makeup. She retreated to the look she perceived to be expected for a desirable girl living in Russia.

Media is grooming the next generation. Will you going to stand-up for the innocent?

Let’s unite our voices. If you are concerned about the sexualization of children, click here to remind media and entertainment that CHILDREN ARE WATCHING.

Then Read More for Deeper Context:

Not An Object: On Sexualization and Exploitation of Women and Girls

Child Sexual Abuse and Compulsive Sexual Behavior

About The Author
Cynthia Mitchell is CEO of Creator Films, a media company producing faith-infused content for children and their adults. One voice by itself doesn’t carry much weight, but when a community of people mass together and unify around a common vision, we can change the world of entertainment. Visit our Children Are Watching campaign to voice your opinion to media companies and artists.

#mediaexploitation, #respectwomen, #childprotection