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Sexual abuse should not be a normal part of growing up

Sexual abuse should not be a normal part of growing up

I’m of two minds about this new campaign for The Children’s Society (UK) by VCCPme:

The storyline is chilling, and deeply affecting. Especially when we see the family’s ignorance of what the young woman is going through.

At the same time, the graphic device of a baby’s growth chart to make us feel protective of this “child” feels forced and leading. I get the impression that I am supposed to be shocked not only that this 16-year-old is being sexually assaulted by men, but that she is sexually active at all.

My uneasiness with challenging the sexual agency of a teen is compounded by the set design; her bedroom looks like that of a 12-year-old. This is the way adults see people in their teens, while the teens themselves may feel very mature when engaging in healthy sexual relationships with other teens. (See: Scarleteen)

On the campaign website, it is clear that the campaign is seeking to update laws about sexual exploitation of young people over the age of sexual consent (16 in the UK). Their stated concern is that police are not taking these teens seriously when they report being coerced or drugged into sexual situations. There’s a lot of talk about guilt and victim-blaming. And while the scenarios portrayed are clear cases of sexual assault (sex without consent), I wish there had been more effort to acknowledge the existence of healthy teen sexuality — and point out what the differences are. Especially to parents, the evident target audience here, who may think that anyone their daughter is dating is one of these criminal louts.

So, an important cause campaign. Just a little awkward in execution. I’ll be watching to see their next move.


I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more