Stop normalizing the sexual exhibition of children for entertainment

Written by PTC | Published August 12, 2022

“I spent almost my entire life feeling disgusted, ashamed, and in denial about what happened to me and what I had allowed myself to do and be a part of.”

This is the heartbreaking testimony of yet another young actress who was sexualized by predatory Hollywood executives while she was still a teenager, exploited and abused by the entertainment industry, and left on her own to deal with the pain and emotional scars.

It’s a common enough refrain by now, but it never gets any easier to read these stories.

And stories like these are precisely WHY the PTC is so committed to speaking out against the sexualization of children for entertainment.

In the past week, “iCarly” actress Jennette McCurdy came forward with allegations about inappropriate massages and being given alcohol by one of her Nickelodeon bosses while she was still a teenager, then being offered “hush money” to keep quiet about inappropriate behavior.

“American Beauty” actress Mena Suvari recounted her abuse at age 16 at the hands of her representative, then in his mid-30s. In her break-through film, Mena played a teenager who was the object of a middle-aged, married man’s sexual obsession.

“Stranger Things” actress Millie Bobbie Brown, who only recently turned 18, has spoken openly about being sexualized by the media: "It’s gross ... It’s a very good representation of what’s going on in the world and how young girls are sexualized. I have been dealing with that — but I have also been dealing with that forever.”

Actress Natalie Portman has shared her painful discovery that a radio station started a countdown to her 18th birthday shortly after her film debut at age 12, while “Matilda” star Mara Wilson has spoken out about being photoshopped into child porn, "Even before I was out of middle school, I had been featured on foot fetish websites, photoshopped into child porn, and received all kinds of letters and messages online from grown men… What’s really at play here [is] the creepy, inappropriate public inclination to sexualize young girls in the media," she said.

And then there’s the recurring stories of young actresses being pressured into sexual performance.

The now-adult stars of the original UK production of “Skins” [the PTC spoke out about the US version that aired on MTV because of its sexualized depictions of teenaged characters] have also spoken-out recently about the long-term trauma they are now dealing with from being asked to strip and participate in sex scenes as young teens. According to BuzzFeed: “Both April [Pearson] and Laya [Lewis] were amateur teen actors on their first day on set, but had to immediately film sex scenes.”

“There’s a difference between being officially old enough and mentally old enough. I was having this conversation with my husband and I was saying I do feel like I was too young, I feel like I wasn't protected," said April Pearson. She added that “a lot” of former castmates felt the same way. “At the time you're young and you don't know any better. You don't really know what to say, to speak out, is this OK. … And as with a lot of victims of trauma, you look back at it and think, Yeah, that was f**ked up.”

“Mean Girls” star Amanda Seyfried has similarly spoken out about being asked to be naked for a role while still in her teens: “Being 19, walking around without my underwear on – like, are you kidding me? How did I let that happen? …Oh, I know why: I was 19 and I didn’t want to upset anybody, and I wanted to keep my job. That’s why.”

I’m absolutely sickened by these stories of exploitation and abuse.

And for those who say, “They knew what they were getting into,” listen to the words of “Euphoria” star Zendaya, “My brain can say 'ok I'm pretending' but when I'm doing it, my body and my heart don't know that it's not real… It can be exhausting in that way and it can make you feel bad because she says and does things that I don't want her to do and say, but here I am.”

If it’s having that effect on the actresses, how is it affecting the viewers?

These are children... In some cases, children who have already been abused or sexualized even before they got to Hollywood. And those who consume entertainment that perpetuates their sexualization are complicit in their abuse.

It’s a sad, sickening cycle that must be broken. Today.

It’s why we’ve been so vocal in opposing content like Netflix’s “Cuties” and HBO’s “Euphoria.”

PTC remains committed to protecting ALL children from sexualization. The children at home who are exposed to this content and feel pressure to look and behave like their same-aged peers on screen, and the children in front of the camera, who feel powerless to stand-up to their entertainment industry bosses who would exploit them and pressure them into sexual performances.

Nobody else is holding them to account like we are. Join us in the fight for children’s innocence. Join us in the fight against sexualization. Help us help parents to protect their children from the very real damage caused by sexualized media.

Your most generous gift today will go a long way toward helping us back legislation to protect kids online; to pressure the FBI and Justice Department to investigate sexualized depictions of underage children; to press Congress and the FCC to hold media companies accountable; to buy stock in media companies so that we can effect change through shareholder resolutions.

It’s time we stop normalizing the sexual exhibition of children for purposes of entertainment.

There’s so much to do. We can’t do it alone. Please help us fight for them.

Because our children are watching.

Take Action. Stay Informed.