Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexual Media

Seriously, what the fuck is “non-consensual sex?” There is no such thing. Sex is something that happens when the parties involved are all consenting. Rape isn’t sex, it’s an act of violence, and if there’s no consent it’s rape.
— Jos Truitt, Feministing

Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. — National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Should We Blame Girls Under 13 for Self-Produce Twerking Videos?

This is the question I have been trying to answer and explore after collecting hundreds of videos of young black girls twerking. Non-consensual sharing of content does not necessarily apply…if the content was self-produced, right? But what about if it’s produced by a child?

The definition of Child Sex Exploitation (CSE) includes: “When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • have sexual conversations by text or online.”

The third bullet generally applies to what happens below YouTube videos of black girls under 13 who twerk, but the abusers are members of an invisible audience. They often and easily hide their true identities and the practice of exploiting minors goes without much interruption. If these girls were adults, they’d be blamed for posting images of themselves, but can we accuse children the same way?

This video is about revenge porn. It was uploaded to YouTube by Broadly. Broadly is VICE’s new women’s interest channel, with a focus on original reporting and documentary video. Hmm. I wonder if they can help me get my findings out to the world.

I am exploring the arenas of online sexual exploitation of adults and children to see how I can position the work I am doing as non-consensual for children and sex exploitation (i.e., a digital seduction of minors) even if they self-produce the content. It is particularly the sexual conversations that happen below twerking videos by black children, or black girls, that seems like it should qualify as sexual exploitation. Men and boys in invisible audiences sexually groom girls to take off more clothes, leave their phone numbers for girls to call, and talk about girls in these videos as if they are sex toys/objects for their online sexual pleasure and shaming amusement, no matter how young. This is process is much more apparent below the videos of marginalized girls of color. The stigmas and stereotypes the general public accepts about, for instance, black girls is being reproduced without interruption to YouTube audiences in an unfettered fashion while everyone but the girl profits.

Most viewers feel justified in further marginalizing and stigmatizing even an 8-year old. The invisibility of their audience members’ identity seems to allow them to do the opposite of what they’d hopefully avoid if it were face-to-face and kids’ guardians were present. Gives a whole different take on The Invisible Man for black girls who are exploited by networked individuals in networked publics.

How do we protect marginalized girls from digital seduction?

And what are the implications for marginalized youth whose online content (images and videos), whether deemed sexual-exploited images or self-objectifying content,  will continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse of invisible audiences has stopped but remains as digital shadows along with the portable and persistence of their self-produced content. Will employers distinguish so easily between effects of the persistent and portable media vs. the unintended consequences of lil’ black girls’ online behaviors?

Watching this content to study and research harm to minors and children is no walk in the park either. I am starting to read the work of Judith Reisman in the article “Picture Poison: Viewing Pornography for a Living Can Be Deadly” (Salvo Magazine, Autumn 2009). Last year, my colleague Aimee Meredith Cox, whose book Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship (which you should run out and buy) asked me how I am dealing with the emotional impact of studying the sexually exploited aspects of this content. I’d never really asked myself that question before. It’s like living with PTSD being a black woman in America. You live with abuses like it’s a norm for most people. And it is for many black women. So it hit home when it really started to realize that I might be dealing with child pornographic images in this research.

Why continue doing this?

I am pursuing this work because many people on the front lines of the #BlackLivesMatter or the #BlackGirlsMatter movements are not always dealing with online abuse, especially of girls. Conversely, we also need the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag movement to counter the perpetual negativity of fighting for freedom from gross forms of discrimination, incarceration, and out and out crimes against black people that no one is considered at fault or any injuries are rarely repaired. Think #Flint.

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