Just how far do we go to protect our children from sexual abuse?
How much cotton wool do we pack around our kids before they find it hard to breathe?
These are tough questions for parents and there is no right or wrong answer. But a line is crossed when a child is turned into a mini, sexualised adult by being sold a black, padded, plunge bra by a family high street store.
I was contacted this week by mum Judith who has pre-teen children. She was shocked that Matalan was selling just such a bra in their 2-13 year old range. Judith was clear that the bra was so small it could only be worn by children under 8 years, or if older, they would have to be so slight that it was unlikely they would need a bra. Judith was also frustrated that, despite her best efforts, Matalan were not engaging with her.
I retweeted Judith's original tweet to Matalan and got an overwhelming stream of responses by people equally horrified at how overtly sexual the bra was.
As well as being a Mum, Judith is also a teacher and a safeguarding specialist. As well as being the Shadow Minister for Preventing Abuse and Domestic Violence, I have been campaigning on preventing child sexual exploitation for years, after I found out about the horror of the crime from my Rotherham constituents.
My current campaign, dare2care.org.uk looks at how we as a society can prevent child abuse and tries to unpick the root causes of it. Sadly, both Judith and I know the horrific consequences of child abuse and are try to do all we can to stop it.
The sexualisation of children through the media and fashion industry is clearly linked to child sexual exploitation and child abuse. It contributes to a culture that dictates to young girls their value is based solely on their body. It creates a perception of young girls as consenting and sexually-confident, despite the very opposite being true in fact or in law. It validates the objectification of girls. All children deserve to be safeguarded from this culture and the obscene behaviour of abusers that follows.
Speaking to Matalan's Marketing Director, he was clear the bras were "mounded" not "padded" and this was for the child's modesty. I completely understand and respect this, but why then make the design plunge to give the illusion of cleavage? Matalan could be selling a T-shirt bra or a crop top rather than a black, padded, plunge bra. He said Matalan listens to parents when designing children's clothes, but four days on from the original complaint, they have failed to address our concerns. Finally today, we are expecting to hear from the Marketing Director about what Matalan intend to do about the sale of such an inappropriate garment.
Matalan is involved in Mumsnet's 'Let Girls Be Girls' campaign and they are supporters of Childline. In 2011, following public pressure, Matalan removed overly sexual items from their shelves (hot pants for toddlers and inappropriate slogan T-shirts) but it seems they are slipping back to old habits. Matalan are yet to sign up to the British Retail Consortium's Responsible Retailing guidelines on childrenswear, alongside existing signatories like George, Tesco and Next. As a respected family store, I am asking again for Matalan to remove the bra and reconsider the items they sell and market to young children.