My name is Sharon, I’m 42 years old and I lodged a complaint with my local newspaper last week regarding the window display of the Ann Summers store in my home town of Taunton, Somerset. I’m no-one special, an ordinary woman who works as a cleaner for a living. I’m not an intellectual, I never went to university and I left school with a scraping of GCSE’s and an ‘X’ in history for talking too much. This wasn’t a complaint made by some frigid doo-gooder who’s led a sheltered life, quite the opposite in fact! I come from a broken home and my childhood was traumatic and revolved around alcoholism and domestic violence. As an adult I spent years partying hard, taking all manner of drink and drugs and sleeping around to escape the pain of those first years. In my time I have done so many many things that today I am not proud of. And even now, as a Christian, I fail every day, am weak, imperfect and the most broken person I know. I tell you all that because I don’t want you to be blindsided away from what the complaint was actually about.
I feel I must not have done such a great job at putting my case forward to the Somerset County Gazette last week as sadly it just seems to have turned into another one of those ‘prude gets offended by sexual image’ cases and now we’re all voting on whether or not we’re offended? Personally, to think that the display in Ann Summers window could shock or offend me is quite frankly, laughable. Sadly, I’ve been exposed to much worse things than that in my life.
Whether you or I are offended is not the biggest issue here, although, this does of course affect everyone. Regardless of my own personal thoughts and feelings on the subject, it is not my job to judge, and neither was I doing so, any other consenting adults idea of sexual practices or the equipment they may want to use during those practices. And I am not calling for the closure of Ann Summers, despite what I may personally feel about some of the messages they portray. All of that was not the issue!
The issue was…sorry…is, that we are NOT being given the right in this instance, if we wanted to, to protect the innocence of the little ones within our care. As far as I can see it, in every other area of media and public life, we are given the choice as to whether or not we wish ourselves and our children to partake in something or not. Sex is everywhere these days but we are always given the choice to tune in, turn on or turn over. I’m not trying to cause some all out war against Ann Summers, I simply think it’s our responsibility to ensure that overtly sexual imagery is NOT used as advertising/displays where children will be walking by on a public street. And from what I can see, the law backs me up on this, which I’ll come to in a bit.
I believe the same boundaries of care that we uphold within our media and internet are the same boundaries we should expect in the High Streets of our towns.
There is a reason why laws have been passed and guidelines written with regards to media and advertising; there is a reason why we have watershed on TV and parental options on computers – to protect children. This responsibility of us, as guardians over their lives, applies not only in the home but EVERYWHERE! The display in Ann Summers window didn’t offend me, it grieved me, that we have become a nation that would allow the most vulnerable in our communities to be open to such imagery at such a young age.
I’ve been saddened by the negative comments I’ve read in the last week. When did standing up for the innocence of children become a negative? I hope if you were negative, it was because you hadn’t quite grasped what the issue was. I hope that you will now look at this situation afresh and see that it’s not about frigidity, or offence and it’s not about what you or I think is acceptable for us as adults, it’s about what we as a nation consider acceptable for ALL children. It’s about the innocence of children being protected, whether at home, in care or whilst out shopping with mum and dad. When they’re older, they will be free to make their own choices, but until then, we have a duty of care towards them.
So I’d like to address a couple of those negatives or ‘for’ comments here and hopefully help to shed some new light on them…
– “It’s only lingerie”.
It’s not! I walk past this window all the time, in fact, I walk past plenty of lingerie adverts within my town centre and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. There is also absolutely nothing wrong what so ever with seeing the female form. Women are beautiful and like to wear beautiful lingerie and I can see nothing wrong with advertising that fact when done tastefully. This is totally different though, and for the sake of our children we need to call it what it is – a bondage sex scene being acted out that any minor should not have FORCED upon them!
If it were harmless then tell me why, if any other man or woman were to go to, let’s say a school at home time and hand this very same picture out to children, they would justifiably be ARRESTED?!!! I actually went to the police and asked them, what would happen to me if I were to give this picture out to children? The answer was, “It would depend on the intent”. If that is true, then imagine this, that as that same man or woman mentioned previously stands outside your child’s school, handing out colourful images of bondage sex scenes, they said, “Oh it’s okay, I’m showing you this because I own a shop selling lingerie and sex toys”. Please, that person would probably be knocked out by a parent quicker than you could say “Ann Summers” and hopefully banged up in prison. I don’t even have children of my own but I know that I for one, cannot think of ANY intent or motive worthy enough for a person to be allowed to give your child this image? Seriously…Can you???
The picture may be huge, surrounded by a shop front and behind a pane of glass but an image is an image! Why are we allowing there to be one rule for one, and one rule for another with regards to a child’s life? Or is the abuse of a minors innocence dependent upon whether it’s accompanied by neon lights, a multi-million pound turnover and the degree of separation from the recipient by a pane of glass? This poster is just as much a hard copy print as any leaflet handed out by a man or woman in the street.
We just need to readjust our perspective.
“Kids are open to all sorts these days, so it doesn’t really matter”
Sex sells, we get it. It’s in every magazine, on every TV channel and bulks out the lyrics of almost every song that’s played, BUT, like I said before, in all of that we have a CHOICE as to whether to buy it, tune in to it or turn the page of it. Every household and every parent gets to choose as to what they think is acceptable for them and their family. With this kind of public window display, the choice has been STOLEN from us. The choice to keep our children ‘children’ as long as possible has been denied us.
– “It’s the ‘norm’ these days”
We apathetically say “It’s 2015! It’s the norm these days” and just carry on with life. I’m sure human slavery was considered ‘the norm’ in William Wilberforce’s day but it was far from it! Just because something is considered ‘the norm‘ it doesn’t mean it’s good, healthy or the best for someone. Slavery was indeed the norm but, it was NOT good!! There are many things that are the ‘norm‘ to one person, but which are totally unacceptable/illegal/unhealthy to another.
– “Anyone who complains about this sort of thing must have a s*!t sex life”
For some people, sex is a private thing, not a boring thing, just a PRIVATE thing. It’s not always something that shapes an individual’s identity but instead, is a wonderful part of life that completes and enhances a loving bond. Non-expression of personal sexual practices does not equate to dull, boring or frigid. It merely suggests that a person likes to keep what is precious and private as… precious and private!
– “Don’t look at it then”
Why on earth should any individual, especially our children, have to walk the streets of this country in a public place, with their head down? What kind of a society are we? What kind of a nation do we want to belong to? Are we really that selfish a people, that we care only about what is acceptable for us as adults and couldn’t care less about the impact of certain things on innocent minds?
– “They (children) can’t tell the difference”
For those who don’t believe that a child can tell the difference between lingerie and a bondage sex scene, let me tell you, they may not be able to verbalise it right now but they absolutely flippin’ can!! I was NOT sexually abused as a child, but unfortunately it was violent, aggressive and abusive in all manner of ways and I was open to alot of indecent stuff. I can STILL see the sordid sexual images which were scarred upon my mind at a VERY young age as if they were yesterday! And it absolutely played a part in determining what I considered appropriate, acceptable or loving as I became an adult. Children take in way more than you could ever imagine. And it is because of that fact that I feel utterly compelled to write today.
I remained anonymous in my complaint at first because I wasn’t looking for it to become a one woman crusade but as the days go by, I believe that if I don’t speak up then I will become a hypocrite. I am hoping that we as a community in Taunton alone, love our children so much that we will be willing to do anything to protect them. So often, it seems we just can’t be bothered to pay the price any more, be it time, energy or reputation, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
I received an email from a friend today, who has been trying their hardest to get some answers and action regarding all this. They are coming up blank. Everyone just keeps pointing to the Advertising Standards Authority and I have logged a complaint with them but, I put this before you… there are laws in this country which are upheld every day towards the common man on the street, and rightly so, I am very thankful for our police service and judicial system. But, as I said before, I believe I have come across a law that IS against this kind of thing; a law that says indecent displays are NOT okay (see ‘Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981′); a law that says a constable has the right to go into an establishment, demand the display as evidence and arrest those responsible (in the case of a corporation, that does not mean the poor old sales assistant on the shop floor). Should we not expect someone to be exploring that option?
I know all to well, what it’s like to be a child and have no one do ‘something’ about your situation, whether that be because of lack of courage or lack of the law on your side. In my early years I was left completely at the mercy of my situation. Family, friends, neighbours and the police were all unable or unwilling to help for one reason or another. Let it not be so of us right now!
Like I said, I’m just an ordinary woman, who saw something and spoke up but we ALL have a responsibility towards the children in our care. We cannot keep acting after an injustice has been done and then moan about how ‘so and so’ should have done something about it at the time. It’s easy to do that. We need to recognize that we ALL have a part to play in the welfare of the youngest in our communities, whether we have kids or not, whatever our particular background, social situation or faith. If there is one thing we should ALL be united in, it should be the protection of our children.
We either love our children or we don’t; we either protect them or we don’t.
And when we do, we need to do it EVERYWHERE!!