Environment Matters: The Perfect Storm

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The second theme of the day focused on environmental factors that create and reinforce attitudes that are risk factors for sexual violence.

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Performances by youthrive: LIVE! spokenword artists

Tish Jones and Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria of youthrive: LIVE! wrote new work specifically for The Minnesota Summit in response to this theme. Youthrive: LIVE! is the production division of youthrive, an affiliate of PeaceJam International.

Watch the youthrive: LIVE! performance (7 min). Click here for audio in MP3.

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“Speaking Up!” Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria poem. Used with permission www.mnwordslinger.com © 2009 Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria. All Rights Reserved.

Tish Jones’ spoken word. Used with permission TishJonesTruth.blogspot.com © 2009 Latisha Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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“The Perfect Storm That Feeds Sexual Violence”

Featured speaker, Dr. Sharon Cooper, a Forensic and Developmental Pediatrician and member of the faculty at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine gave a powerful presentation about the current environment in which children are raised, the conditions for a “perfect storm.”

This ‘storm” results from the combined power of technology, the sexualization of children, and the normalization of violence paired to sexuality in media, advertising, and entertainment. Her presentation, illustrated by slides and video and research, was challenging, disturbing, and eye opening for participants.

Dr. Cooper discussed these aspects of our cultural and digital environment, among others:

  • Sex sells has never been as meaningful as it is today.
  • Role-playing starts very young and is powerful when combined with cultural elements such as toddler beauty pageants or thong underwear designed for children. When children believe that their value is in their sexiness, a self-portrait as sexual object can result. Resource cited: American Psychological Association Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls (2007), pdf available online.
  • Sexually violent video games are another stage in this damaging version of role-playing.  Games are demonstrably addictive to many adults and adolescents. Eight countries have special camps for kids addicted to video games.
  • A permanent distortion of the self-portrait occurs when a person is a victim of a sexual crime. This distortion can create what Cooper terms a “compliant victim” who can be exploited commercially or by those he or she has been groomed to trust.
  • Children are physically maturing one year earlier every decade; most girls are physically sexually mature by 14-15, though the brain does not fully mature until 23.  Children are moving into a landscape unfamiliar to most adults that includes Internet “dating,” “hooking up,” YouTube, access to pornography, sexting, Facebook, auditory headsets on video games played over the Internet that enable direct communication from strangers, the “pedophilic community” now established on Second Life, and sexualized clothing, advertising, movies, music, music videos, and television for young people.
  • The mirror neurons on the brain, according to 786 articles in the medical literature, lead us to believe that when we see something, we are experiencing it.  The digital environment is powerfully capable of shaping children’s self-portrait and reality before they are equipped to know the difference.
  • Prevention strategies: Universal Internet Safety and health taught in school health, physical education and computer science classes (Internet health goes well beyond the concerns for potential victimization to encompass prevention behaviors in terms of moderation and informed usage,); movie trailers with prevention messages; telecommunication companies provide parental guidelines on cellphone cameras; proactive marketing to consumers of women and youth for sexual exploitation to decrease the demand.  “Most of all, never say never in this effort.”

Listen to Dr. Cooper’s complete remarks (41 min)

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Participant Discussion, Roundtable 2

Following remarks by Dr. Cooper, participants met in Roundtable discussions aided by a table facilitator. Responses were collected by IML and scrolled for viewing.

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Any ideas or responses since the Roundtable that have: Sparked your imagination? Prompted entirely new thinking?

View full text of selected responses.

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What actions can we take to counter the normalization of sexual violence or harm in the culture?

View full text of selected responses.

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