Advocates for women and girls are calling on New Zealand to address its role in the global trade for females’ bodies.
Australian advocate for women and girls Melinda Tankard Reist, is touring New Zealand with Hagar New Zealand in August to speak on the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls.
“It would be fair to say that NZ is facing the same challenges in regards to sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture as pretty much every other country in the West,” she said.
The writer, speaker and advocate stressed that the eroticisation of children was driving exploitation.
“When we post and style little girls to look more mature and older than they really are, when we ‘adultify’ them in advertising, this can contribute to providing permission to perpetrators to think that little girls are sexually interesting and sexually desirable.”
Tankard Reist said the problem stemmed from a lack of respect and concern for the human rights of women and girls.
“Add to that the desire to make money from their bodies and vested interests of those who stand to gain.”
Hagar New Zealand operations director Sarah Scott Webb and her teams support women and children who have been victims of slavery, paedophilia, torture and sexual exploitation.
“From our perspective it’s getting more violent and sexually violent,” said Christchurch-based Scott Webb.
There are more than 900 women and children in their care, through programmes in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Vietnam. The victims are aged 4 to 40.
“The sexualisation that we’re allowing to happen here . . . it is creating this culture and mindset that it’s OK to treat kids like this. It’s OK to treat women like objects.”
She said they could not stop what was happening overseas if consumerism and an insatiable desire for sexualised content were not addressed first on the local doorstep.
Four years ago, a Canada-based paedophile ring was uncovered and one of the offenders was linked to Christchurch. The man was found to have over 500 pornographic images of children, some of whom were identified as those supported in Hagar NZ shelters.
The Roast Busters case, revealed in 2014, only highlighted what Scott Webb and her team already knew – that culture of sexualisation and exploitation existed within New Zealand and posed a very real threat.
“I think 99 per cent of the population think it doesn’t happen here, it happens over there . . . I’ve heard stories from victims of sex trafficking here, in Christchurch, that are just as horrific as anything that I’ve heard from our clients overseas.”
US Department of State 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report identified New Zealand as a destination for foreign men and women subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking and a destination for children subjected to sex trafficking within the country.
Webb said a common theme among victims of trafficking or children used for prostitution was they came from broken families or had a history of abuse.
“It is that fundamental issue of vulnerability that creates opportunities for people to exploit.”
The internet, ‘sexting’ by young people and accessibility of pornographic material was a major concern for those working to tackle exploitation.
“We can’t stop our kids being exposed to this stuff. We can’t stop that because they’ve got phones and they’ve got access.”
Scott Webb said it was about starting a dialogue with children to teach them how to deal with it when it happened and to give them the confidence to say ‘no’ when their safety and wellbeing was compromised.
– Friday August 5, 7.30pm to 9pm at Petone Baptist, 38 Buick St, Petone, Wellington.
– Sunday August 7, 7pm to 8.30pm at Hillview Christian School, 150 Wilsons Rd, St Martins, Christchurch.
– Monday August 8, 7.30pm to 9pm at South West Baptist Auditorium, cnr Lyttleton and Cobham streets, Spreydon, Christchurch.