By Naomi Miles, Chair of Trustees
Saturday 18th March 2023 marks CEASE’s 4th birthday. Coincidentally, it is also National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day. Although we’re not a children’s charity, children are always in our sights, the “canaries in the coalmine” warning us that something is very wrong.
For a society that believes in equality and seeks to protect children from sexual exploitation, we have a long way to go, as the rise in child on child sexual abuse demonstrates.
Consent workshops are not sufficient, because what we’re seeing in our schools and universities is the symptom of a deeper cause. Failure to recognise this leads us to superficial sticking-plaster solutions that simply don’t work.
CEASE’s approach to tackling child sexual exploitation begins with the awareness that it does not occur in a vacuum. The fact is that our children and young people are being brought up in a hypersexualised, pornified culture; none of them (and none of us) are immune from its subtle, pernicious influence. They are surrounded by messages that a woman’s worth lies in her sexual desirability, and men’s worth is in their sexual virility. They are being collectively groomed into being either sexualised objects or sexually-entitled consumers.
Although our sexuality feels deeply personal, our collective sexual norms, attitudes and behaviours are being powerfully shaped by our cultural context. This, in turn, is influenced by vested commercial interests, the most powerful of which is pornography. In spite of the enormous scale and profitability of the pornography industry, few of us understand its extraordinary, far-reaching impact on our collective ideas about sexuality, gender stereotypes and relationships.
This is why pornography has become such a focus for CEASE. It’s why we released our Expose Big Porn report that outlines the criminality of the pornography industry and the ways in which it drives real-world coercion, exploitation and abuse. It’s what led us to participate in the global Traffickinghub campaign to hold the biggest pornography site to account, which resulted in a groundbreaking victory. Visa and Mastercard withdrew their services from the site, and Pornhub deleted much of its user-generated content (some 10 million videos).
As a charity, we are careful to explore the cultural consequences of pornography through the various lenses of equality and gendered violence, child protection, and harm to men and boys.
Our analysis is now more needed than ever. Since we began four years ago, there are positive signs our society is waking up to the harms of a pornography-influenced culture seen, for example, in the general sense of outrage surrounding figures such as Neil Parish, Andrew Tate and Sonalee Rashatwar, in our growing intolerance to gratuitous sexual objectification and our tighter laws around image based sexual abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’).
But somehow when wrapped up behind a slick-branded pornography site, the harms of objectification, harassment and abuse become invisible and even culturally-condoned.
So, in spite of the research confirming the harmful impact of pornography on women and children carried out over the past four years by Girl Guides, Barnardo’s, Ofsted, the Women’s and Equalities Committee, the Children’s Commissioner and the UK government itself, pornography remains ubiquitous and normalised. Whilst research recognises the pernicious harms of sexual objectification, we celebrate women stripping off for cash on Onlyfans. And whilst we were appalled at the “sex for rent” scandal, we consider those who sell sex to survive as engaging in legitimate work.
Our mission at CEASE is to expose and end all forms of sexual exploitation no matter how they’re dressed up.
The scope of our ambition means we recognise the importance of collaboration, of supporting and working closely with those who share our stance. We are proud to be leading a coalition of experts and organisations committed to bringing about the robust regulation of online pornography through the forthcoming Online Safety Bill.
We have worked with the UK government on other issues over the years, putting on events, setting up meetings and providing evidence, briefings, fact sheets and reports to various committees, MPs and Peers. Wherever possible, we try to foreground the experience of survivors. Very soon, we will launch our Expose the Harm website which gives space for people to share the harmful impact of pornography on their mental, physical, emotional, relational wellbeing.
Looking back over these past four years, we are proud of how far we’ve come and of how much we’ve achieved. We have a strong mission, values, aims and objectives, a brilliant team and board, and a valued network of allies and supporters. Our journey so far has been incredible, though the challenges remain vast and there is plenty more for us to do.
Here’s to the future – happy birthday, CEASE!