WASHINGTON (CNS) — Each year, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation introduces its “Dirty Dozen” in the way of companies who exploit sex for profit. Some are new entries. Some date back to when the center was known by its original name, Morality in Media.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the list, released Feb. 11, is media-heavy.
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, was cited for many faults. The media-specific fault cited by the center was its Amazon Prime streaming service, which it said “produces original movies and TV shows that insert unnecessary gratuitous nudity thus bringing softcore pornified content to mainstream entertainment. Amazon therefore sets a standard among online retailers that it’s OK to profit from sexual exploitation.”
HBO, the subscription TV service now part of the Warner Media division of AT&T since last year’s merger of the phone and media giants, “regularly produces original programs that incorporate graphic sex scenes and eroticized rape scenes,” the center said, citing “The Deuce,” “True Blood” and “Game of Thrones,” and former HBO series “Cathouse” and “Hung,” which, it added, “normalized commercial sexual exploitation.”
“Despite hosting graphic content,” the center said, “parental controls on HBO are clunky and ineffective, decreasing the odds of parents even using them, and increasing the odds that children will be exposed to sexually exploitative material.”
Netflix was put on the list, the center said, because it is “a major producer of media normalizing sexual exploitation and objectification.” It added, “Netflix sinks to storytelling which portrays gratuitous nudity and graphic sex acts in shows meant for teen and young audiences. Further, Netflix portrays graphic and violent depictions of sexual assault in a number of their shows and has even produced shows normalizing sex trafficking and eroticizing children.”
The center also cited Netflix for allowing children to easily get around parental control features, “and it regularly recommends children’s content paired right next to NC-17 and TV-MA content.”
Roku, a media streaming company, “facilitates hardcore pornography channels through hundreds of private and hidden channels, and is often featured on pornography websites and at pornography conventions for this feature,” the center said. “This stands in sharp contrast to the policies of other streaming device industry leaders such as Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.”
Steam, for those not familiar with it, distributes video games online and boasts 35 million users under 18. The center said it has an “allow everything” policy for sexually graphic content so long as it isn’t “strictly illegal.”
“As soon as this new policy launched, the number of games tagged for ‘nudity’ doubled in just four months. Sexually graphic games feature only mild warnings, and often juxtapose graphic sex scenes with violence and promote the dangerous misconception that sexually exploiting others is a harmless game,” according to the center.
Others in the Dirty Dozen included:
— EBSCO Information Services, whose high school databases “still contain sexually graphic, nonacademic, materials. This includes graphic sex act instructions and some live links to pornographic websites,” the center said.
— The Massage Envy chain, which the center said has been “sued by hundreds of women for failing to take appropriate measures when a massage therapist sexually harasses or assaults a client,” and has “hidden forced arbitration clauses in customer agreements which force women to surrender their rights.”
— The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which the center said would take gold “if there were an Olympic medal for sexual objectification.” The magazine’s “flagrant sexual objectification of women — including female athletes — is clearly mainstream misogyny,” it added.
— Twitter, which the center said “hosts vast quantities of hardcore pornography and facilitates prostitution and sex trafficking,” adding that thousands flocked to Twitter after Tumblr announced it would no longer host hardcore porn on its site.
— United Airlines for failing to “adequately train aircrews to address the problem of pornography use on airplanes and the sexually hostile environment that this fosters,” according to the center.
— The state of Nevada, the first time a government has made the Dirty Dozen list. “Its normalization of prostitution as work for women, has turned Nevada into a magnet for sex traffickers and prostitution tourists,” the center said. “As a result, the statewide illegal sex trade, including sex trafficking, in Nevada is the largest in the country.”
But the biggest catch in the Dirty Dozen may have been Google. Like Amazon, it was cited for a variety of sins. But Google-owned YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing platform, “regularly hosts pornography and sexual violence while Google shirks responsibility by forcing users to act at content flaggers,” the center said.
The listing struck a nerve. According to The Washington Post, video blogger Matt Watson released a video Feb. 17 that showed how bikini shoppers on YouTube can be guided to watch videos featuring young girls — and on those sites, while not pornographic in nature, have elicited a slew of sexual comments. Within five days, Watson’s video had been seen 2 million times.
Bloomberg News said the Walt Disney Co., Nestle and Epic Games, maker of the “Fortnite” video game, had suspended advertising on YouTube until the mess was addressed.
“YouTube is putting these children at risk by not removing these videos,” said a Feb. 22 statement from Haley Halverson, vide president to advocacy and outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
“YouTube needs to take a more proactive approach to fight child exploitation and pornography on its platform instead of continuing to use outdated systems relying on user reporting and human reviews,” she added. “Too often, YouTube waits for the media to die down and then continues business as usual. It’s time for YouTube to wake up and deal with sexual exploitation on its platform in a sustained way.”
Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.
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