Presumed Innocence: Sexualisation Research at Cardiff University

In today’s increasingly sexualised culture, Cardiff social scientists are working with the Welsh Assembly on the pressures facing young people.

With the increased availability of sexual images, celebrity culture, normalisation of cosmetic surgery and the direct marketing of sexualised consumer goods to younger and younger children, culture is becoming increasingly sexualised. At Cardiff University, Emma Renold is investigating how young people respond to an environment where girls and women in particular are increasingly sexually objectified.

Emma has been researching on the topic of children, childhood and sexuality for over 15 years within a thriving Childhood, Sexualities and Gender research group. Her recent research with fellow GEA Executive Member Gabrielle Ivinson, based in WISERD, includes work with girls and boys from the South Wales Valleys and explores the impact of locality on everyday lives and imagined futures. Emma and Gabrielle found that many of the girls felt unsafe and “under surveillance” when online, in the street and when at school. Many struggled to find space to express themselves in ways that were not immediately sexualised.

Emma and Gabrielle are working with the Welsh Assembly’s new cross-party group, Childhood Sexuality- Sexualisation and Equality. The group is spearheaded by South Wales East Assembly Minister Jocelyn Davies, a steering group led by Emma, the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner’s Office. The cross-party group aims to build on the WISERD research, raising political and public awareness of these issues. They will be talking to children and young people directly about their experiences of sexuality and sexualisation across Wales. A key aim of the group is to provide the Welsh Government with practical solutions to tackle the issue of sexualisation within the context of its duty to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As part of this, a conference for young people, practitioners and policy makers will be held at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences later this month. Emma is co-hosting this event, along with Keith Towler, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Speakers include academics, teachers, politicians and children themselves. Importantly, young people will get to have their say on how issues such as sexualisation, sexual identity, sexual violence and sexual pleasure affect them. A Twitter feed will allow young people across Wales to question the panel online.

Emma said that: “One of the aims of the conference is to bridge the gap between what adults think they know about childhood and sexuality, and how children actually experience these issues. For example, we know many teachers are at a loss about how to deal with sexual harassment via mobile phones. There is also very little training and few resources for teachers, parents and children. We also know that children’s experiences can be incredibly diverse. We need to know more about how class, gender and ethnic differences impact on these issues.”

In addition to the conference, a seminar dealing with sexual exploitation, abuse and objectification will also be held at the School of Social Sciences. Co-hosted with Children in Wales, this will bring together practitioners, policy makers and researchers working with young people in the area of gender and sexual violence. A key aim is to identify directions for future research, policy and practice in Wales.

Emma stresses that the initiatives in Wales are not just concerned with exploring with the risks of sexuality in contemporary culture, but they are also about ensuring that sex and relationship information can be presented in a positive way. Emma believes that it is very encouraging that Wales is keen to identify best practice in this way with the determination to put children’s experiences centre stage. She says that it is quite pioneering and that a lot of people across the world will be watching this as a test case to see how children and young people can influence policy and practice.

For further information about the described events, please visit the Childhood, Sexualities and Gender webpage


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