Japanese Yaoi Fandom Culture and its Vulnerabilities to Australian Child-Abuse and Child Pornography Laws

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This blog will explore the cultural, social and symbolic significance the Japanese Yaoi fandom culture has played for its female audience. I will examine the way in which the difference in cultural normative frameworks between the Japanese culture and western culture renders Yaoi vulnerable to Australian Child-Abuse and Child Pornography Laws. The purpose of this blog is to reveal the ideologies that underpin the extension of these laws to Yaoi and the way in which they work to strategically censor certain forms of expression deemed inappropriate according to socially constructed moral standards. Consequently, Yaoi is deemed as an inappropriate form of expression as it threatens socially constructed conceptions of childhood innocence and asexuality.

Introduction to YAOI (no climax, no point, no meaning)

Since World War II and with the rise of the Internet revolution, Japanese anime (cartoons) and manga (comics) have attracted rapid growth and prosperity through their attainment of national and international recognition. One particular genre of the Japanese art forms, which is quite interesting and significantly popular amongst young women, is YaoiYaoi emerged in the 1980s and  actually focuses on the romantic and homoerotic sexual relationships between young, beautiful boys and men (shock horror to our western standards). Yaoi is more sexually explicit (depicting fellatio and anal intercourse), and is easily accessible throughout Japan, with a primary target of young women and teenage girls. While images of Yaoi may give off the impression that its simply a cartoon version of porn, the truth is that the genre has become an important tool of self-expression and liberation for most young female fans.

However, as you can imagine, Yaoi has been controversial in Western countries for its depictions of young males and underage boys in sexualised contexts. The situation in Western countries is different, as the discourse of ‘what about the children’ permeates pretty much every sector of the society. So such homoerotic narratives are highly segregated and excluded from comic books, which are exclusively regarded as a children’s medium (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.96).  Such representations are aligned with child abuse material and child pornography, creating the assumption that material like Yaoi, will harm children. Consequently, these fictional representations have attracted legal sanctions and have been the target of censorship in Western countries, particularly in Australia, where such material is expressly prohibited and labeled as ‘child pornography’. According to Mark McLelland (2011, p.467), such legal prohibitions are unjustified as they ‘not only [foreclose] the fantasy lives of young Australian fans, but [they] also [harm] them by aligning them with paedophile networks’ and silencing their self-expression.

Yaoi’s Significance in the Expression of Young Women’s Sexual Culture

Interestingly, Yaoi attracts a large online community consisting of young heterosexual women and girls, who produce, consume and disseminate purely fictional accounts of love and sex between young males. The genre is arguably a feminist enterprise as it emerged in the 1980s ‘as a reaction against the contrived and formulaic heterosexual love stories marketed at a female audience,’ which aimed to condition femininity and the expression 2af87352b32b9a19e39b53dc58aa1db6of female desire (McLelland 2005, p.67). As mainstream entertainment failed — and in my opinion,continues to fail —to adequately serve the sexual interests of women, arguably, women had to resort to Yaoi because they could not enjoy fantasies tailored to their desires if they were expressed through stories grounded in hegemonic codes of masculinist patriarchy. This is because patriarchal norms ‘often [do] not allow girls to comfortably express sexuality such that some adopt Freudian penis-envy’ (Williams 2015) and try to gain access to the ‘phallus’ (Nagaike 2003).

Consequently, Japanese women used Yaoi as a form of empowerment because male homosexuality was symbolically understood to be a beautiful and pure form of romance (Wood 2006, p.395). As Akiko Hori (2013) explains, this is because ‘a fictional romantic relationship between equal partners is much more likely to…be plausible to, female readers and creators if the relationship is between two men.’ If you also notice the characters depicted in Yaoi, they tend to be depicted with androgynous physical features. This is an important stylistic technique in Yaoi as it invites a broader range of readings from the texts and allows women to stimulate and negotiate their own romantic and sexual fantasies that portray more equally grounding relationships. Thus, the exploration of inner sexual desires through male homosexuality allows women to reconfigure and adopt male subjectivities in a safer and more liberating environment, enabling them to develop an independent fantasy life outside the confines of patriarchal limits (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). For example Fujimoto et al (2004, p.87) found that because the sexual encounters only involve men, female Yaoi fans felt ‘freed from the position of always being the ‘done to’, and are able to take on the viewpoint of the ‘doer’” (Fujimoto et al, 2004, p.87). Further, as there is an absence of female bodies, Yaoi makes it safer for women to explore sexual violence that are usually performed with women as targets as a means to undermine them. As Fujimoto et al (2004, p.87) continued, ‘if it is men depicted [in rape scenes], then they cannot get pregnant, lose their virginity, or become unsuited for marriage’. Thus, the removal of the ‘femme avatar’, allows greater freedom of sexual imagination (Camper, unknown), and enables women to distance themselves from ‘their shameless sexual ecstasy’ (Fujimoto et al, 2004, p.87).

Thus, while on the surface Yaoi simply looks like another form of ‘porn material’ through its depiction of sex between young males and minors, Yaoi is in fact, a highly self-critical and transgressive genre, which provides a supportive space to deconstruct and challenge patriarchal normative notions surrounding gender, sexuality and male-female power relations (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). Yaoi opens up a new world dictated by equal social relations, which is foreign to women – even in the 21st century. Such texts are important as they contribute to changing the deeply rooted internalised beliefs, which perpetuate inequality in gender and sexual relations.

Yaoi’s Position in Japan & Australia’s Legal Landscape

Despite its social contribution and its ability to foster a sense of solidarity amongst its young female fans, the foreign cultural origin of Yaoi conflicts with the generalised western anxiety towards the relationship between media and children. While Japan has a more conservative ideological attitude towards gender relations and homosexuality, the nation’s mediascape allows a more fluid and liberal exploration of ideas as it promotes a social and commercial space for queer and feminist stylisation (Williams, 2015).

Nevertheless, Japan’s Criminal Code does criminalise the sale and distribution of ‘obscene material’. In the early 20th century, the objects of censor for ‘obscene material’ adopted a traditional formalistic approach, which prohibited portrayals of adult genitals and pubic hair. As Zanghellini (2009, p.162) explains, this approach ‘created the conditions for the emergence of underage sex and nudity as a theme in erotic manga and anime’ in the 1950s and 1960s. After all, the issue of pubic hair and adult genitalia was not an issue with pre-pubescent children, nor were there any legal sanctions for depicting sexualised representations of children. While the definition of ‘obscene material’ was replaced in the 1980s to broadly include material on the basis of ‘the overall degree of raunchiness and extent of sexual imagery’ (Zanghellini 2009, p.164), the constitutional provision in the Code protecting freedom of expression nevertheless protects material such as Yaoi (Zanghellini 2009, p.160). Thus fictional representations of children —as opposed to actual children— are protected under the Criminal Code.

However, as Michael Lev (1997) claimed, ‘by Western standards, Japan appears unique for condoning public displays of raw sexual imagery and for blurring the lines between adult and child pornography’, with the depictions of youthful male bodies simply being downplayed ‘as an object for the erotic gaze’ (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). This western anxiety of the need to protect childhood innocence and purity is not an old phenomenon. After all, the depiction of young beautiful boys was a prominent feature of classical and Renaissance art. What was once considered beauty and ‘art,’ has now been redefined as ‘child pornography’ and pedophilia by political and social discourses. According to Alan Hunt, the cultural image of the ‘child’ has emerged because ‘risk assessment’ and ‘moral management’ has become a structural feature of late modernity (McLelland 2011, p.469). Now, individuals are expected to be more responsible towards the self and society, and engage in the act of self-moralisation as a means to avoid risk.

As a result of the moralisation of risk, there is ‘a proliferation of…bureaucratic regulation in the everyday world’ and ‘an expansion of the responsibilities that burden citizens in a way that reinforces and even multiplies the regulatory impact’ (Alan Hunt quoted in McLelland 2011, p.469). The need to preserve ‘childhood purity’ is a clear example of this ‘risk anxiety’ and has particularly grown in the age of the Internet and media technologies. As a result of this new breed of social anxiety, the activities surrounding Yaoi fandom is deemed as ‘risky’, which has prompted the Australian government to take stronger measures in ensuring the protection of children from harm.

In Australia, all sexual representations of minors (under the age of 18) in any medium are illegal. For example, under section 91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), ‘child abuse’ material includes material depicting a person who is, or appears to be, a child as a victim of physical abuse or engaged in a sexual pose or activity. It also includes the private parts of a person who is, or appears to be a child. Section 91H of the same Act grounds this definition by making it clear that offending material includes ‘any film, photograph, print or otherwise [the] mak[ing] child abuse material’. Similarly, section 473.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) defines ‘child pornography material’ as material that depicts a person, or a representation of a person, who is, or appears to be, under 18 years of age and who is engaged in or appears to be engaged in sexual activity.

It goes without saying that child abuse is a heinous crime and thus such laws are extremely important. However, unlike other Western countries—such as America and the UK— these are extremely expansive laws, which is problematic. These definitions have created a broad category of ‘child pornography’ as it not only includes material depicting harm to real children, but it also extends the definition to purely fictional representations of characters who are or appear to be under-age in sexual contexts. This includes the mediums of animation, comics, art and text. In fact, in McEwen v Simmons & Anor [2008] NSWSC 1292, the accused was found guilty under s 91H(3) of the Act, for possessing illegal material depicting Bart and Lisa from The Simpsons engaged in sexual interactions. As Justice Adams held at paragraph 41, ‘the word ‘person’ included fictional or imaginary characters and the mere fact that the figure depicted departed from a realistic representation in some respects of a human being did not mean that such a figure was not a ‘person’’. This decision confirms that Yaoi producers and consumers are vulnerable to prosecution, as material expressly or impliedly depicting characters who ‘appear underage’ (which is usually the case in Yaoi) in a sexual context is illegal. Thus  these laws not only target adult pedophiles dealing in representations of actual children, but it also inadvertently criminalises the activities of female Yaoi fans.

While such laws have been justified by governments for minimising the risk of inappropriate tendencies towards children and fuelling child abuse by potential abusers, such justifications are not conclusively supported by empirical research (The Conversation, 2014). This is particularly evident in the context of Yaoi, where there is nothing to suggest that young Yaoi female fans have connections with pedophile networks, or, indeed, that actual pedophiles are interested ‘in these highly scripted and aestheticised accounts of the sexual exploits of beautiful boys’ (McLelland 2011, p.472). Nor are minors objectified in the same manner actual children who are victims to real abuse can be. Thus, considering the youthful nature of Yaoi fans, and the central role it has played in their emotional and sexual development, such laws seem unwarranted. Especially considering it would naturally be expected of young teenagers to explore sexualised representations of characters that share similar ages. It would be more concerning if youth were being exposed to sexualised representations of much older adults.

As a result, these laws could be more harmful as they unfairly silence adolescents and deprive them of freely exploring and expressing their transgressive sexual fantasies in a secure, safe and supportive environment. Sexual fantasy and explorations of gender expression is completely normal and crucial to development of sexual identities for adolescents. Despite the normalcy of such activities, Australian law continues to prevent any form of sexual imagination for adolescents. As Judith Levine (quoted in McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.35) writes, according to the law, ‘young people have no legitimate claim to sexual expression, desires, or identities’. Instead, such paternalistic laws dictate the correct forms of intimate relationships we are allowed to keep, and when we are allowed to enjoy them. Furthermore, negatively associating young Yaoi fans with pedophilia and criminal activity —when no actual person is harmed —further perpetuates this harm, and alienates them by stigmatising their innocent conduct. Thus, while Australian policymakers have used such laws to protect children, they are inadvertently harming adolescents.

Furthermore, the stylised artistic nature of the two-dimensional Yaoi visual representations reflect how there is no intention by consumers and producers to depict actual children and represent reality. As Mark McLelland (2011, p.474) has identified, it is precisely the lack of relationship between the online sexual fantasy spaces and their offline everyday sexual interests that fans describe as liberating. In fact, such fantasies serve as ‘idealised self-images’ as they are mere symbolic extensions of the consumers and producers’ own identities. Ueno Chizuko goes further to describe the symbolic representation of beautiful boys as a ‘third sex’, as they are neither male nor female (McLelland 2005, p.21). The figurative transitory nature of Yaoi characters means that they have fluid symbolic identities, enabling them to adapt and apply to a diverse range of appropriations by women with a range of sexual orientations. Thus, Yaoi characters cannot be understood as ‘children’, ’male’ or ‘homosexual’; instead they represent a third gender, which is disconnected from the activities of actual male homosexuals or depictions of real children (McLelland 2005, p.21). However, despite such important functions of Yaoi, it is clear that Australia’s draconian laws reflect the government’s inability to understand and engage with such symbolic creative expressions and interpretations.

Conclusion

In closing, this discussion demonstrates the way in which Yaoi provides an empowering platform for young females to safely express their transgressive sexual desires, outside the confines of patriarchal discourse. It is clear that such laws are unjustified as there is no demonstrable relationship between the production and consumption of Yaoi, and harm to actual children. Instead, these laws simply criminalise a fandom culture and silence young females, which is more harmful. While many freedom of speech advocates maintain that such laws are a form of censorship, unfortunately, in Australia, we do not have rights protecting freedom of speech. Thus there is no recourse for Australians to challenge the legitimacy of these laws.

The only way such laws can be changed is through a change in social morals, attitudes and beliefs. However, even this seems too difficult in the context of Yaoi manga and anime for two main reasons: Firstly, mainstream public is ignorant to the symbolic functions genres such as Yaoi play for adolescents and; secondly, the western moralising discourse towards the need to protect the image of the ‘child’ has become so pervasive, that it has codified these beliefs into law and ideology, preventing any form of discussion or negotiation about the creative expression and symbolic interpretations of such representations. Thus, even if representations of child nudity are made purely in the name of art, social norms and homogenised moral discourses rob such representations of having artistic merit. However, hopefully, policy makers will recognise that such laws have no utility, and silencing adolescents may be counterintuitive and more harmful.

Reference List

Camper C, ‘Yaoi 101: Girls Love “Boy’s Love”, Wessesley Centers for Women, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://www.wcwonline.org/WRB-Issues/298&gt;

Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)

Fujimoto et al, Y 2004, ‘Transgender: Female Hermaphrodites and Male Androgynes’, U.S. — Japan Women’s Journal, no.27, pp.76-117.

Hori, A 2013, ‘on the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination’, Transformative Works & Cultures, 2013, vol. 12.

Lev, M 1997, ‘In Japan, Schoolgirls Accepted as Porn Objects’, Chicago Tribune, 16 February, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-02- 16/news/9702160361_1_lewd-sailor-moon-human-sexuality>

McEwen v Simmons & Anor [2008] NSWSC 1292

McLelland, M 2005, ‘The World of Yaoi: The Internet, Censorship and the Global “Boys’ Love” Fandom’, The Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol.23, pp.61-77.

McLelland, M 2011, ‘Australia’s ‘child-abuse material’ legislation, internet regulation and the juridification of the imagination’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.15, no.5, pp.467-483.

McLelland, M & Yoo, S 2007, ‘The International Yaoi Boys’ Love Fandom and the Regulation of Virtual Child Pornography: The Implications of Current Legislation’, Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, vol.4, no.1, pp.93-104.

Mizoguchi, A 2003, ‘Male-male romance by and for women in Japan: A history and the sub genres of yaoi fictions’, U.S. — Japan Women’s Journal, no.25, pp.49-75.

Nagaike, K 2003, ‘Perverse sexualities, perverse desires: Representations of female fantasies and yaoi manga as pornography directed at women’, U.S. — Japan Women’s  Journal, no.25, pp.76-103.

The Conversation, ‘When a drawing or cartoon image can land you in jail’, The Conversation, 27 October, viewed 21 October 2016, <https://theconversation.com/when-a-drawing-or-cartoon-image-can-land-you-in-jail-33418&gt;

Williams, A 2015, ‘Rethinking Yaoi on the Regional and Global Scale’, Intersections: Gender & Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, 37.

Wood, A 2006, ‘“Straight” Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic’, Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol.34, no.1/2, pp.394-414.

Zanghellini, A 2009, ‘Underage Sex and Romance in Japanese Homoerotic Manga and Anime’, Social and Legal Studies, vol 8, no.2, pp.159-177.

Zanghellini, A 2009, ‘Boys love’ in anime and manga: Japanese subculture production and its end users’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol.23, No.3, pp.279-294.

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Teenage Sexting: The Role of Cultural & Legal Discourses In Fuelling Moral Panic as a Vehicle to Censor Teenage Sexual Agency

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This blog will explain the concept of “sexting” and examine the techniques employed by hegemonic cultural and legal discourses to vilify and pedagogically police the practice of “sexting” amongst teenagers (aged 12 to 18), as a means to protect social conceptions of childhood and adolescence innocence and asexuality. By framing “sexting” through the lens of child pornography, mainstream cultural and legal institutions adopt an alarmist, reductionist and moralistic discourse to fuel moral panic towards the practice of teenage “sexting”. This is used by cultural and legal actors as a censoring vehicle to strategically silence teenagers of sexual expression and deny them of their sexual agency.  Consequently, these hegemonic constructions of “sexting” lead to the moral determination of acceptable teenage sexual conduct by explicitly and implicitly censoring teenage conduct deemed socially inappropriate.

The importance of exploring this topic is linked to the goal of this blog, which is to disclose the hidden coded messages perpetuated by mainstream discourse and challenge individuals to look beyond what legal, media and educational institutions feed us, and instead deconstruct the hyperbolic messages of these institutions and how they shape our perceptions, understanding and world-view towards children and teenagers and their role as sexual agents. This topic is particularly relevant today as new digital media technologies will continue to evolve and shape teenage social behaviour. As these technologies,  give teenagers a platform to more easily express themselves, it is important to reveal discourses that may aim to silence and censor their digital expression.


The rapid integration of the internet and digital cellular technologies, such as the Smartphone, in our everyday lives has had a profound impact on social norms and practices. With the ability of the Smartphone to combine the functionality of phone calls, text-based interaction, internet browsing and digital video cameras, it is no wonder Smartphones have pervasively penetrated and transformed the presence and behaviours of audiences in public and private spaces. One such practice which has emerged since early 2000 with the advent of camera phones and smartphones is “sexting”.

The term “Sexting”, has emerged in reference to social relationships conducted by young people as a result of the rapid development and adoption of cellular and online digital information technologies. “Sexting” refers to the practice of an individual consensually producing and sharing sexually explicit photos and messages with another individual via his or her smartphone, the internet or social media. This is usually based on the trust and unspoken mutual understanding that the receiver of the image will act in good faith by keeping the image private from third parties. Indeed, with almost 75% of Australian teenagers (aged between 13 and 17) having access to a Smartphone and 92% of teenagers using the internet on a daily basis, it should come as no surprise that the self-generated practice of sending naked, semi-naked, or sexually explicit photos or messages via text message, email, Facebook, Instagram or other electronic forms of communication has become widely practiced by young adults and teenagers. In fact, in 2015, 50% of Australian teenage boys and girls used their mobile phones to send sexually explicit images of themselves. Similarly, a 2014 study found that 54% of American college students had produced and sent or received sexually explicit text messages and images when they were under the age of 18. These statistics demonstrate how common “sexting” has become amongst young people.

While adult “sexting” is widely accepted, and even encouraged amongst adults, it appears that mainstream discourse perpetuated by media, legal and educational institutions largely condemn teenage “sexting” due a number of concerns. Certain concerns relating to “sexting” are understandable. For example, there have been a number of reported cases, in which  “sexting” has been used as a weapon by third parties (i.e. classmates, peers, boyfriends, girlfriends) to humiliate and embarrass a young person through the unauthorised non-consensual distribution of that person’s ‘sexted’ image. Through the ease with which a smartphone can instantly disseminate a compromising image to the masses, it comes as no surprise that such distribution can result in the widespread circulation of the image amongst schools and communities without the permission of the young sexter.

Evidence from reported cases have indicated that teenagers who have their compromising photos circulating around the community can end up being ostracized, bullied, mocked and harassed by peers which leaves them feeling humiliated, anxious, guilty, ashamed, betrayed and suicidal.  As Alexandra Kushner (2013, p.283) found, “Peers often mock and torment the primary sexter about the photo or video through verbal and physical intimidation” which can lead to “some victims…skip[ping] classes and perform[ing] worse academically…[and] becom[ing] depressed”.

For example, in America, 13-year-old Hope Witsell, committed suicide in 2009, after an image she sent to her boyfriend of her breasts was distributed to students from six different schools. Similarly, 18-year-old, Jessica Logan committed suicide in 2009, after her ex-boyfriend distributed her naked photo to classmates. In a less severe but equally significant case, an Australian teenage girl experienced ongoing bullying after her sexually explicit photo went viral. In all three incidents, the victims were bullied, tormented and labelled derogatory terms such as “sluts” and “whores” for intimate acts that were committed privately in their personal relationships. These incidents demonstrate how “sexting” can lead to negative implications for young people when the trust between the sexter and the receiver is broken.

Indeed, these potential risks and harms can occur in both teenage “sexting” and adult “sexting”. Nevertheless, unlike adult “sexting”, teenage “sexting” has largely been cast in a negative light by media, educational and legal institutions.

For example, local and international news media coverage of sexting reveals the widespread perception that sexting is a significantly harmful practice, whichunspecified-1 teenagers only engage in due to their
out-of-control teenage hormones’, causing them to become ‘amoral’ and experience unhealthy and unsafe relationships. The occurrence of ‘sexting’ is described as an ‘epidemic’ and a ‘disturbing’ and ‘dangerous’ teenage ‘norm’, which causes “psychologically damaging” and ‘tragic’ consequences, such as sexual exploitation, withdrawal and suicide. Teenagers are also viewed as incapable of understanding the dangers of sexting as they are ‘stupid’ and not “brilliant at thinking through the consequences of their actions”.

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In fact, the Australian legal landscape is also screaming to teenagers that they do not understand the harmful consequences of sexting and thus should refrain from the practice by criminalising it under child pornography legislation. In Australia, all sexual representations of minors who are, or appear to be under the age of 18, engaged in a sexual pose or activity, in any medium (whether it be film, photograph, drawing, comic etc), is illegal. This also includes depictions of private parts of a person, who is, or appears to be a minor. Thus it is an offence to produce, possess, send, supply, transmit, publish, distribute, advertise or promote material depicting a minor engaged in a sexual pose or activity. Each of these offences carry significant penalties including maximum imprisonment of 15 years and registration as a sex offender. As a result, even though the activity of producing and sharing sexualised images through the use of communication devices can be consensual between people under the age of 18, the federal and state legislation nevertheless have made this practice of “sexting” illegal.

In fact, law enforcement bodies have used their discretion to convict teenagers who have engaged in “sexting”. For example, between 2008 and 2011, more than 450 child pornography charges were laid against young people aged between 10 and 17, including 113 charges of producing child pornography material. In 2011, The Age reported on the conviction of two victorian teenagers for possessing “sexted” images. Both teenagers were charged with child pornography offences and placed on the sex offender register for eight years. A number of American states with similar laws have also adopted this stance. For example, in Alabama, four middle school students were arrested for consensually exchanging nude photographs of themselves (Kushner 2013, p.285). While in some states this approach is slowly changing with greater recognition of the absurdity of criminalising teenagers as child pornographers, the criminalisation of teenagers nevertheless reflects the concern that teenagers must be protected from a practice which is considered to be sexually exploitative and harmful to teenagers and their development.

These concerns are further amplified in this Australian educational film resource created by the Australian Federal Police through the Internet Safety Program Initiative, ThinkUKnow. Designed for secondary school teachers and students, this video is shown in schools to educate teenagers about the dangers of “sexting”. In the video, the boy Megan sent a “sext” to, forwards the photo, which is then circulated widely to students in the school and class. The video represents “sexting” as a purely harmful practice by framing Megan’s conduct as the source of the ‘problem’. This message is amplified by the voiceover at the end of the video stating: “Think you know what happens to your images? Who will see them? how they will affect you? Think again.” This message is supported by the promotional summary of the video, which provides: “a teenage girl’s experience of taking an inappropriate image of herself and ‘sexting’ it to a boy in her class and the unintended consequences’.

News media bodies as well as legal and educational institutions are the significant players in the community which guide social discourse. These bodies have clearly created the dialogue that teenage “sexting” is a social issue, which must be addressed and prevented to protect teenagers from harm.

However, while certain concerns that “sexting” can cause harmful effects such as the unauthorised distribution of “sexts”, are valid, why are they only raised in relation to teenage sexters? After all, adult sexters can experience the same problems of unauthorised widespread circulation of sexually explicit photos, which can also cause shame and humiliation. Indeed, “revenge porn” is also a common issue amongst adults. So why are teenagers the prime target for such discourse? Are teenagers really incapable of partaking in the practice of “sexting”? Is “sexting” really that harmful and evil PURELY for teenagers? Are all teenagers who consensually send “sexts” truly being sexually exploited?

In my opinion, by projecting misinformed ‘truths’, mainstream discourse guided by legal, media and educational institutions is strategically censoring teenage sexual expression by causing a moral panic towards the practice of teenage “sexting” because it is viewed as a threat to social conceptions of childhood and adolescence. Indeed, as with any new technology-fuelled behaviour, a social moral panic emerges, whereby mainstream discourse instills and perpetuates a social anxiety or fear, that either our values, morals, lives, or essentially, the very fabric of our society is under threat. Whether it be the 17th century “panic” that rail travel at high speed would make it impossible for passengers to breathe, or the “panic” that violent video games will turn us into murderous psychopaths, it is clear moral panics have existed since the conception of innovation. So it comes as no surprise that a moral panic has emerged in relation to “sexting”.

Indeed, when the prevalence and the impact of sexting is closely examined, it becomes apparent that the claims that “sexting” is a “harmful and evil practice for teenagers” are exaggerated, distorted and wrongly-directed, resulting in the circulation of misconceived notions about teenage “sexting”. This misinformed discourse has essentially censored the sexual agency of minors in sexualised contexts, by producing three main myths. 

Myth No.1: All Incidents of Teenage “Sexting” are Harmful

Acts associated to “sexting” can lead to negative implications. However is this absolutist assertion that all ‘sexting’ incidents are harmful? Then the answer is no. Considering the significant number of teenagers involved in “sexting”, it seems far-fetched to say that ALL these incidents have been harmful. As Angelides (2013, p.668) asserts: “it is scarcely conceivable – and there is no evidence to suggest – that all such incidences have been…unsafe or have resulted in harm”. Mainstream discourse has also mistakenly drawn a direct link of causation between harm caused and the very act of consensually producing a “sext” and sharing it with another person. In most situation, “sexts” are shared between two people (who usually like each other or are in a relationship) based on the trust that the receiver of the image will keep the image private. “Sexting” that occurs in these situations are not harmful as they are consensual and private.

Furthermore, when harm does occur in a “sexting” situation, it is usually when the trust between the sexter and the receiver is breached and the sexter’s photo is wrongfully distributed by the receiver or a third party. As discussed above, the harm is further amplified through the subsequent behaviours of third parties who use the “sext” to humiliate and embarrass the sexter, which can result in the sexter experiencing ongoing bullying and cyber-bullying. Thus, it is not the act of actually producing a “sext” that is the harmful behaviour, it is the wrongful act of third parties. Ifunspecified third parties respect the sexter’s privacy and act in good faith, then no such harm would eventuate. Nevertheless, mainstream discourse continues to perpetuate the notion that teenagers who send “sexts” are engaging in harmful behaviour. This was seen in the NSW “sexting” educational video. The shame and distress Megan feels is clearly because of the unauthorised actions of the boy and therest of the students in disseminating the photo. Nevertheless, Megan’s consensual conduct is problematised, rather than the unauthorised dissemination of her image.  This was also seen in the American case of AH v State 949 So. 2d 234 . Here, the primary sexter and her boyfriend were prosecuted under child pornography laws and placed on the sex offenders registry for a sexually explicit image that was consensually and privately shared between the couple (Birkhold, 2013, p.924). Considering the picture remained private and it was part of the couple’s sexual relationship, no harm was committed as a result of the “sext”. Nevertheless, the young couple was prosecuted.

Considering the child pornography laws were initially drafted with the intention of preventing harm to children and teenagers from sexual exploitation and paedophilia, it is a cruel irony that these very subjects are also being harmed through criminalisation for private, consensual acts. By being registered as sex offenders and having child pornography offences on their records, teenagers will experience difficulties in gaining future employment and in other areas such as travelling overseas. Categorizing teenagers in the same group as paedophiles would ironically cause greater emotional and psychological harm. Thus the approach taken by legal institutions is confusing and seems counter-productive.

Therefore, not all “sexting” incidents are harmful. Sexting usually occurs consensually and privately in healthy relationships. Instead, this discourse which supports criminalisation of teenagers as a means to support them is ironically more harmful.

Myth No.2: Unlike Adults, Teenagers are Mentally Incapable of “Sexting”

Incorrect. Mainstream dialogue promoting the assumption that teenagers are immature, stupid and incapable of safely engaging in the practice of “sexting” have been challenged by extensive research, which has demonstrated that the cognitive capacities, abstract reasoning and decision-making abilities of many minors as young as 14 years of age are equal to those of adults (Angelides 2013, p.685). Additionally, a survey conducted by Cosmo Girl found that 75% of teenagers are aware that sending sexually suggestive content “can have serious negative consequences” and 79% of teenagers and young adults agreed that “one has to be aware that sexy messages and pictures/video may end up being seen by more than just the intended recipient(s)”. This demonstrates that teenagers are making informed decisions about their sexual expression and agency as they understand “sexting” is a risky activity which could potentially lead to negative implications when images are distributed without consent. Thus the assertion of misconceived notions that teenagers need protection through the law as they are incapable of determining their sexual agency, is wrong.

Myth No.3: “Sexting” Teenagers Are Obviously Engaging in Such Practice  Because They Have Unnatural Tendencies (Similar to Paedophiles of Course)

Once again, incorrect! Teenagers actively engage in “sexting” because is it a form of asserting sexual agency and sexual expression. Teenagers are not naive about their conduct; instead, research suggests they are aware of the consequences and enjoy engaging in “sexting”. For example, in the Cosmo Girl survey, 66% of teenage girls and 60% of teenage boys send “sexts” because they find it “fun or flirtatious”; 52% of teenage girls sent a “sext” as a ‘sexy present’ for their boyfriend; 34% of teenage girls send “sexts” to ‘feel sexy’. Both teenage boys and teenage girls agreed that they enjoyed “sexting” because it was flirty, exciting and hot. Interestingly, 67% of the teenagers acknowledged that “sexting” was ‘dangerous’, which reinforces the notion that contrary to mainstream discourse, teenagers are informed about the potential risks associated with ‘sexting”. As Lara Karaian (2012, p.66) contends, this reflects “the complex spirals of pleasure and danger that youth who sext not only experience but also appear to accept”. These studies discount the mental capacity and harm discourse that law relies on when denying teenagers their sexual expression and agency (Lara Karaian, 2012, p.66).


By busting these sexting myths, it’s clear that “sexting” is not always an entirely harmful practice. Teenagers understand the risks associated with the wrongful distribution of ‘sexted’ images and engage in this practice because it is a form of healthy sexual expression. So, why do these myths exist? In my opinion, legal, media and educational institutions have created a dialogue stimulating a moral panic, because teenage “sexting” is viewed as a threat to our socially constructed perceptions that children and adolescents are innocent, vulnerable, do not have sexual agency and are asexual beings. Thus the innocence and sexual development of children and adolescents must be protected. But why? Why must children and teenagers be asexual? Why can’t they have sexual agency? Why can’t children as young as 10 be sexually active? Why are their bodies censored? Why was once a Renaissance painting of a naked child considered ‘art’ but now considered child abuse material? Why can’t adults have consensual non-exploitative sexual relationships with minors? Why are these topics so taboo?

To me, all these controversial questions can be answered accordingly: this is what social normative discourse since late modernity has deemed to be appropriate for children and teenagers, as well as the rest of the community in the 21st century. Accordingly, children and teenagers are declared as asexual, innocent beings who lack sexual agency. Any activity or behaviour that challenges this causes social anxiety because it is a threat to the social normative framework. This perhaps explains why the legal framework regulating “sexting” is only concerned with the conduct of a sexter who produces and sends a photo, rather than the unauthorised harmful viral circulation of a sexter’s photo. Indeed, the explicit censorship of teenage digital sexual expression is evidenced by its legal classification of sexting as child pornography.

This normative paternalistic approach toward childhood and adolescent behaviour can be explained by Alan Hunt. According to Alan Hunt, the cultural image of the ‘child’ has emerged because ‘risk assessment’ and ‘moral management’ has become a structural feature of late modernity (McLelland 2011, p.469). Arguably, this is also applicable to teenagers. Now, individuals are expected to be more responsible towards the self and society, and engage in the act of self-moralisation as a means to avoid risk. As a result of the “moralisation of risk” discourse, there is ‘a proliferation of…bureaucratic regulation in the everyday world’ and ‘an expansion of the responsibilities that burden citizens in a way that reinforces and even multiplies the regulatory impact’ (Alan Hunt quoted in McLelland 2011, p.469). The need to preserve the “asexual adolescent” is a clear example of this ‘risk anxiety’ and has particularly grown in the age of the Internet and digital media technologies, whereby it has become easier to monitor and regulate teenage sexuality, which has led to the establishment of age-appropriate sexual behaviour.

This anxiety is further perpetuated by social and legal institutions adopting a freudian logic when addressing “sexting” cases in light of child pornography laws. According to Matthew Birkhold (2013, p.911), when charging teenagers as perpetrators of self-produced child pornography, society appear to have subconsciously internalised a Freudian logic. As he explains in relation to the judiciary, “many judges fear that juvenile sexting will jeopardize the development of a normal sexual life” for children who send and receive sexted images, resulting in society being compromised as a whole. This is attributed to the reasoning that by taking such photos, and prematurely treating him/herself as a sexual object, the young sexter is harming his/her sexual maturation and his/her ability to develop future healthy and affectionate relationships (Birkhold 2013, p.930). Thus the premature exposure to sexual content and treatment as a sexual object, results in “sexting” being viewed as an injurious activity that impedes on sexual maturation and civilising constructions of morality for the teenager. As this is seen as a negative impact upon a teenager’s path to “normal” psychosexual development, social institutions have taken a paternalistic approach by condemning the primary sexter and the receiver, for the private and consensual production and possession of a sexually explicit image (Birkhold 2013, p.924). Consequently, “sexting” is construed as exclusively negative in a narrative that defines the activity as dangerous and a serious social problem (Angelides 2013, p.667).


In closing, mainstream cultural and legal discourses have fuelled moral panic in relation to the activity of “sexting” as a vehicle to censor teenage sexual agency. My aim has not been to undermine youth sexual exploitation; of course, any form of sexual exploitation which involves a child or an adult is wrong and should be criminalised. However, my goal has been to challenge the notion of teenage “sexting” as a purely harmful practice. Studies have indicated that teenagers positively engage in the practice of “sexting” as a means to sexually express themselves and assert their sexual agency. However, teenagers are being censored from asserting their sexual rights as “teenage sexting” is perceived as a threat to social constructions of childhood and adolescence innocence and asexuality. Perhaps if the perceptions towards the agency of children and teenagers change, then it may be foreseeable to picture a reality in which it is accepted that minors have sexual agency and private, consensual “sexting” between healthy relationships is accepted as a normalised practice.


Reference List

Angelides, S 2013, ‘Technology, Hormones and Stupidity’: The Affective Politics of Teenage Sexting”, Sexualities, vol.16, no.5, pp.665-689.

Birkhold, M 2013, ‘Freud on the Court: Re-interpreting Sexting & Child Pornography Laws’, Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, vo.23, no.2, pp.897-942.

Karaian, L 2012, ‘Lolita Speaks: ‘Sexting’, Teenage Girls and the Law’, Crime Media Culture, vol.8 no.1, pp.57-73.

Karaian, L 2014, ‘Policing ‘sexting’: Responsibilization, Respectability and Sexual Subjectivity in Child Protection/Crime Prevention Responses to Teenagers’ Digital Sexual Expression’, Theoretical Criminology, vol.18, no.3, pp.282-299.

Kushner, A 2013, ‘The Need for Sexting Law Reform: Appropriate Punishment for Teenage Behaviors’, University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change, vol.16, pp.281-302.

McLelland, M 2011, ‘Australia’s ‘child-abuse material’ legislation, internet regulation and the juridification of the imagination’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.15, no.5, pp.467-483.

Regulating Online Media Spaces Through Copyright Law

The pervasive nature of 21st century media technologies, has resulted in greater regulations being placed upon audiences as a means to regulate their activities and interactions with such technologies. One particular area in which such developments have become apparent is in the online digital world, whereby illegal downloading and distribution of copyright material has become a common form of copyright infringement. In fact, Australia has infamously become known for its download culture. As a result, in the last two decades, there has been a greater push to regulate, control and prevent infringers from illegally obtaining content. This has largely stemmed from the need to protect the exclusive rights of artists, authors and creators who retain copyright over original works as well as ensure that the creative industries are fairly rewarded for their efforts. The Australian government, legislators and media and communications industries have responded to this issue by expanding and strengthening legal copyright enforcement in the online world.

In the past twelve months, Australian legislators and media communication bodies have taken a number of measures to combat online copyright infringement. For example, in June 2015, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 was enacted by the Australian government. Under this law, copyright holders can apply to a court for an injunction against Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to overseas websites that have a dominate purpose to infringe copyright. 

Along with introducing this new legislation, a new anti-piracy Notice Scheme has also been proposed by the Australian ISP and telecommunications industry body, Communications Alliance. Under this scheme, ISPs will send escalating copyright notices  to customers who have been detected as engaging in online copyright infringement.  

It comes to no surprise that this new graduated response scheme has been embraced by copyright holders, with many commending the Australian parliament for supporting the creative industries through this legislation. Both Australia’s music, film and television industries have conceded that Australians would benefit from this law.

However, research indicates that graduated response schemes are largely ineffective at limiting copyright infringement. Rebecca Giblin (2014, p.195)  examined the efficacy of gradated response schemes across the world and concluded that ‘the evidence that graduated response actually reduces infringement is extraordinarily thin’ and there is little to suggest that such schemes have increased the size of legitimate market. This is because the scheme provides little deterrent effect, with many users ‘often turning to more sophisticated and unmonitored illicit networks rather than legitimate channels to access content’ (Giblin 2014, p.196).

In my opinion, such regulations are unsuccessful because the internet is home to an endless supply of multiple media spaces which enable users to circumvent such regulations. When one ‘illegal’ online space is shot down, another one immediately opens up. This reflects the difficulty in regulating online spaces — the existence of alternative means to access unlicensed material coupled with the rapid and continuous emergence of new platforms, allows online piracy to recover swiftly from any attempts to intervene and cease such activities.

For example, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), proxies and mirror sites enable users to access blocked websites through alternative means. In fact, filters can only result in a temporary reduction in piracy. Within six months, piracy rates return back to pre-filter levels as new sources of pirated material appear.  For example, in the UK, despite the blocking of ‘The Pirate Bay’, the website reappeared within two months, allowing users to directly access illegal content. This is because Pirate Bay switched to CloudFlare, a free global content delivery network (CDN) provider, which allows users to ‘evade the obstructive mechanics that are deployed by prominent broadband networks’.

It also seems that the policy makers behind this scheme have failed to consider audience research and address the core issues as to why Australians infringe copyright in the first place: the lack of accessibility to a wide range of affordable content. Australians experience unjustifiably higher prices than other consumers around the world. The 2014 Parliamentary IT Pricing Review found that Australians sometimes pay up to 50 percent more for goods than those in the US and the UK.

In some cases, Australians consumers are denied access to certain material completely. For example, America’s Netflix offers six times as much content as Australia’s Netflix. Research has found that failure to meet the demand of Australians is problematic because Australian consumers want to support producers of creative content and are willing to pay for copyright goods that are reasonably priced and easily accessible (Dootson & Suzor 2015, p.229). Most Australians often exhaust their legal options before turning to infringing practices (Dootson & Suzor 2015, p.229). As a result, Australians do not feel it is morally wrong for infringing copyright because they believe copyright producers and distributors treat them unfairly (Dootson & Button-Sloan 2014, p.2). 

This suggests that the inaccessibility of content has played an important role in the decisions of Australians to resort to illicit downloading. These trends indicate that if copyright holders wish to combat online infringement, then they must align their interests with the needs of Australians and ensure that Australians also have legitimate access to cheap and convenient content.

It seems that even Americans agree with the concerns raised above! What do you think? Do you think such new measures are justified and will help reduce online piracy? Share your thoughts below!

Reference List

Dootson, P & Suzor, N 2015, ‘The Game of Clones and the Australian Tax: Divergent Views about Copyright Business Models and the Willingness of Australian Consumers to Infringe’, UNSW Law Journal, vol.38, no.2, pp.206-239.

Giblin, R 2014, ‘Evaluating Graduated Response’, Columbia Journal of Law & The Arts, vol.37, no.2, pp.147-210.

Suzor, N & Button-Sloan, A 2014, ‘Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Research Program’ (2014) Queensland University of Technology (Faculty of Law). 

Non-Human Primates: Animals as the Hidden Victims

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Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals and the answer is: ‘Because animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’

Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.

  -Professor Charles R. Magel

Anyone who knows me would know that I absolutely love animals and hold them to the same regard as humans. In fact, animals are the greatest friends as they provide unconditional love to their human companions. However unfortunately, we live in a society where humans place themselves at the top of the animal hierarchy, with the belief that their Animal-Rightspower, strength and intellectual capacity supposedly lets them govern the treatment of animals. Such a cultural norm has induced the belief that we can love, abuse, exploit, ignore or simply prioritise animals as inferior at our leisure. I personally struggle with this because I believe as humans, we must be the voice for animals. It is our duty to protect them. However, human society has failed in this respect as we use animals for our own personal benefits, namely, for research and education.

Animals are vulnerable to pharmaceutical and chemical industries, as well as university and government bodies, who use animals for the pursuit of scientific progress. These animals are used for experiments such as: genetic engineering, cosmetic testing, psychological research, and medical research. These experiments and the confinement in unnatural enclosed spaces usually subject animals to pain and mental distress. For example, the Draize Rabbit Eye test involved substance being inserted into the eyes of rabbits. The result is evident in the image below.

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Animals are sadly used for such experiments because they are considered to be ‘like’ humans. However ironically, we would never experiment upon humans without their informed consent. Furthermore, as Animals Australia claims, ‘if animals are like us…then surely those animals have the very human attributes’ of conscious awareness and the ability to feel physical and psychological pain, which means they too, deserve to be respected and protected from harm.

According to Animals Australia, more than six million animals are used annually in research in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, while animal testing is legal, all States and Territories have adopted requirements that animal research be conducted in accordance with the ‘Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes’. This aims to reduce the use of animals in research by ensuring that all proposals abide by three main principles:

  • Reduction: reduce the number of animals used.
  • Replacement: use alternative non-animal methods.
  • Refinement: refine procedures to ensure minimal pain and stress.

However, despite these protections, according to Humane Research Australia, as a result of animal testing in 2012, almost 350 000 animals became unconscious without recovery; almost 130 000 animals needed surgery; almost 143 500 experienced major physiological challenge; 144 331 animals were genetically modified; and sadly, 36 070 animals died. These statistics illustrate how the law is failing to protect animals from pain and suffering.

Many organisations such as Animals Australia are lobbying for changes in the law such as prohibiting animal testing as well as banning the importation of products that have been tested on animals.

Advocates urge further steps are needed to protect animals. These include:

  • Placing the onus on the researcher to rebut the presumption that non-animal testing alternatives exist.
  • Eradicating pain and suffering.
  • Conducting and investing in research and development of non-animal testing techniques, resulting in the compulsory adoption of these procedures.
  • Establishing a National Code at the Federal Level, which will ensure a uniform application of the law.

It is clear that public perception towards animal research is changing, with 64% of Australians surveyed in a 2013 opinion poll, agreeing that humans do not have the moral right to experiment on animals.

What can YOU do?

You can educate yourself and others about animal testing and find out whether the products you use at home have been tested on animals. You can also take a pledge to not buy such products and only use products which are not tested on animals. In relation to cosmetic testing involving rabbits, you can help ‘take the cruelty out of beauty’ by only buying cosmetic products with the leaping bunny symbol! Finally, we need to ensure our elected leaders hear our concerns and take Federal action.

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Check out this video for more information on animal testing: