The No More Page 3 campaign sometimes receives horrific stories of young girls abused by family members using Page 3 as their means of grooming.
In cases like this apologists point out that Page 3 does not cause this behaviour; it does not make men into paedophiles. This misses the point that it is more difficult for a man to behave in this way without a readily available soft porn image in the daily newspaper to assist him. In a young girl's mind, a newspaper, one that all the trusted members of her family read, represents what is normal and accepted. Page 3's message is that offering yourself up naked for men's titillation is something that grown women do happily. How can a young girl argue with this evidence?
A paedophile may be responsible for his own actions, but the question here is: should a national newspaper be making it easier for him and providing him with the means?
We hear the same justification in regard to the countless stories we receive from schoolgirls who are humiliated and sexually harassed by boys using Page 3. In this case, we are told, the responsibility lies with the parents to bring up their sons to respect women.
There are overwhelmingly three typical responses from young boys to Page 3, which we hear repeatedly from teachers, youth workers, girls, boys themselves and young men.
The first is sexual harassment and bullying; Page 3 provokes a leering, smirking and jeering response which is then transferred to real girls in the real world.
The second is sexual stimulation which may not be openly expressed towards real girls, but nevertheless affects a boy's attitudes towards women and his relationships with them, a view he finds difficult to change when he grows up and realises that women are not objects. It can also lead to an addiction to porn.
The third reaction is discomfort, embarrassment and shame.
Which of these boys has the responsible parents who have taught him to respect women? There will be some from all groups, as the power of the Page 3 message, combined with peer pressure, can be stronger than a parent's words, but it is the third group who recognise immediately the disrespect inherent in the Page 3 image and feel discomfited by it.
What is glaringly obvious is the absence of a positive reaction: we hear no stories from men who report that seeing Page 3 when young reinforced and encouraged in them a respect for women as fellow human beings.
Our prime minister has also laid the responsibility at the door of parents who, obviously unable to follow their children around, have to rely in turn on the responsibility of the man on the bus not to show Page 3 to their daughter sitting next to him, on the family members of their children's friends, and on other adults not to leer openly at Page 3 in public places. We cannot depend on the responsibility of the coffee chains, play centres, public transport bodies, hospitals and other public institutions to make sure the Sun is not accessible in these public spaces, as it invariably is.
Where does the responsibility lie when family supermarkets are retailing non age-restricted soft porn, sending it into family homes and displaying it at a height which makes it easily accessible for schoolboys to check out today's naked woman on the way home from school, to the humiliation and embarrassment of schoolgirls? Who can parents depend on when these supermarkets provide it for free even in their family cafes? Is it the responsibility of the customers who must take care not to open it in front of children or leave it open on the table, or the parents' responsibility to be constantly vigilant in public places?
Is it the responsibility of the men who shout 'Look at the tits on that!' at women in the street, to recognise that the permission their newspaper gives them to treat women like this should be resisted? And the paedophile's responsibility to play fair and resist using the most easily available image with which to groom his victim?
We are living under a government that urges its mantra of personal responsibility on all citizens of this country so why is it that newspaper editors seem to be exempt? Why is it that, when girls and women are harassed or abused with Page 3, is it always someone else's responsibility, but never the editor of the Sun newspaper for providing it in the first place? Ultimately, Page 3 exists because one man chooses to publish these images in a national family newspaper, and, as the provider, it's time we held him to account for his actions as we do every other member of society.
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