By Jo Black, Head of Communications
What’s your reaction when a friend gets a new job? Most people would congratulate them and ask questions about their new role, being enthusiastic for the new chapter they’re about to start.
This is a truth pretty much universally acknowledged, right?
But this has not been my experience when I’ve told people about my new job as the Head of Communications for CEASE.
When they’ve understood that the job involves tackling the vast commercial and cultural drivers of sexual exploitation, their enthusiasm has been replaced with polite bewilderment that I would voluntarily move into such a difficult and distressing area.
Without putting too fine a point on it, I have had this reaction from everyone, save those already working in the area.
The three main responses I’ve had are:
- That sounds depressing
- How can you make a difference?
- I could never work on something like that
Perhaps you have the same gut reaction?
In which case let me respond to these comments one by one and the next time I’m asked about my new job I’ll know what to say.
That sounds depressing
Yes, it can be. Understanding the impact that an overly sexualised culture has on children and adults alike is upsetting. Its impact on relationships, violence against women, child-on-child sexual abuse, and mental health are well documented. This is reality. There’s no sugar-coating it.
But what I have seen in my short time being in post – and what drew me to this role – is the passion and dedication of those working in this field whether they are activists or survivors themselves. They face these grim realities and are working to change them. They delve deep into the depressing realities to understand the root causes and try to dismantle them. “Inspirational” doesn’t do it justice. And that is as far from depressing as you can get.
How can you make a difference?
My children love a book series called Little People Big Dreams. The books take figures from culture and history – Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Greta Thunberg – and tell their story from childhood through to their major achievements. It makes a point of showing that our experiences in childhood and adolescence shape our view of the world and how we can make a difference. Not everyone is going to be a Martin Luther King Jr or a Zaha Hadid, but we can still try to make a difference in our own way. Every effort matters.
But let me repeat myself for a moment. I said those books make a point of showing that our experiences in childhood and adolescence shape our view of the world.
What if your experience of childhood was seeing online pornography for the first time at seven years old? What if you were one of the 1.4 million children in the UK that are accessing online pornography every month? What if you were one of the children who are fed increasingly hardcore content thanks to the algorithm of an unregulated pornography industry that feeds off human trafficking, abuse and violence?
This is not how it should be for children and young people. But what can we do? It’s simple – everything we possibly can. No matter how insurmountable the problem seems, we owe it to the next generation to try to change it. I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where their view of what constitutes healthy sex and relationships is shaped and corrupted by the pornography industry. If you want a better idea of the impact the pornography industry is having on children, adults and society read the Expose Big Porn report.
I could never work on something like that
Most people prefer not to think about sexual exploitation if they don’t have to. I understand, I used to feel like that too. But not wanting to think about something so harmful, prolific and ubiquitous doesn’t make it go away. It just sweeps it under the carpet and forms a big lump for you to step over daily. And one day you or someone you love is bound to trip over it. It might be image based sexual abuse (commonly known as revenge porn). It might be a pornography addiction destroying a relationship. It might be seeing consent as optional. It might be feeling coerced into violent sex.
So if you don’t want to talk about it or think about it, but still want change to happen, what can you do? To quote the campaigners of the 1980s, just give us your money.
CEASE is lobbying the government on age verification for pornography websites, age and consent checks for all pornography content, and pushing for regulation of online pornography so extreme it would never be classified (i.e. approved) to be sold on DVD.
There are very few other organisations working in the UK to combat the harms of the pornography industry. That’s why we need your support. Donating to CEASE, sharing our messages on social media or even writing to your MP will allow us to make even more of a difference on behalf of everyone who faces the effects of direct or indirect sexual exploitation.
And just for the record, I love my new job. Thanks for asking!