Cuties: Violence, Sexuality, and The Stories We Tell

On August 2, 2020 I discovered child pornography on FB in less than a minute.

My cousin, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, had heard about the pedohila page in a support group she was in for survivors like her. She was rightly upset.

When she told me I didn’t believe her. I thought, “She’s just overly cautious because of her background.”

But I decided to look up the page anyway, just so I could offer her clarification that she wasn’t seeing what she was actually seeing.

I was in for a shock!

Not only did the page include photos of children from around the world, but the comments were revolting. There was even a video of prepubescent boys engaging in public anal sex while spectators hid behind their cameras. I felt instantly nauseous and enraged. I felt like I was going to pass out. The mother inside me roared loudly for these boys.

I took to social media without hesitation. Flagging the sites. And realizing quickly that there were DOZENS more just like it. Once I understood what to type into the search bar to find pages like these, they loaded one right after the other. Men were posting on both innocent and crude photos of children. Posting what they wanted to do to these children.

I still cannot reconcile these images in my head with what I know of social media censorship.

There was a boy looking down into a camera seductively from the corner of a street. There was a brother and sister in matching swimsuits playing in a little pool. There was another boy bent over looking back at the camera with a glazed over expression in his eyes, barely even present in his own body.

My eyes could not unsee it. My ears could unhear the evil conveyed there.

I wanted to do something, had to, and called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children the next day to report the pages. This is were I learned that hundreds of people had been calling them for the very same reason. I also attempted to call FB, and learned they don’t actually answer phones. I emailed. I reported. I flagged. And kept getting the same response: “This content does not go against community standards.”

What in the actual hell?!?

That’s when the idea of starting a petition came to me. And so I did. The first week we gathered thousands of signatures from strangers all over the world who were equally outraged. And from someone with such a small platform as mine, the response was overwhelming to me.

I openly called out Facebook for their lack of censorship of child pornography. And when I did… I was censored. Me! My post quickly sped through the Internet like a wildfire on dry earth. Hungry. It was shared hundreds of times and viewed by tens of thousands of people before Facebook censored it and warned me against future infractions. Really? Really, Facebook?

Just a week or two before we had seen the speedy censorship that social media can conjure up against anything that goes against the “approved“ narrative, when videos with millions of views and posts about it were taken down and deemed “dangerous.” But child pornography? That doesn’t go against community standards…the irony wasn’t lost on me.

I was livid! Clearly the ability to censor was present. The willingness was not.

Shortly after this experience I attended my first protest to raise awareness for human trafficking and its victims. As a blogger who has spent the last two years writing about abuse, trauma, and the healing that can be found in the blood of Jesus Christ, I found myself in good company on the streets of my small town just an hour north of Seattle. The women around me had stories much like mine. Many of them were far worse, and involved trafficking stories that brought tears to my eyes.

We stood beside our children and held signs. We hugged each other. And we rallied together in support of people whose faces we will never see, but we love them dearly anyway.

And then came “Cuties”…

The film cover rocked the social media world with outrage. A poster of young, prepubescent girls posing sexually in skimpy clothing flew across platforms within hours. And for a minute it didn’t matter what color you were or what political affiliation you carried clenched inside your fists. Everyone wanted to know what the hell was going on…

Oops. They said. This is a shot from the movie, but doesn’t depict the movie; we are sorry, and we will change the cover.

And the outrage grew as the hot breathe of “No” oxygenated the flames.

I knew pretty early on that I was going to watch the movie. Why? Because I needed to see for myself what was going on. I needed to see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own ears and experience it for myself. I wasn’t gonna jump on a bandwagon without knowing more. This is the same reason I decided to look up the child pornography pages on Facebook in the first place. Because I am willing to see the unimaginable if it means that I can shine a light, however small, into the darkness.

And so I watched the film. Over the course of a few days… Because I work full-time, homeschool my children and take care of my home, and just generally have other things to do. So, the movie was going to have to fit into my schedule.

Let me just start by saying that everything you’ve heard about the movie is in fact true. And if you want more of the specific details of all the inappropriate things that are in the film, you should be able to easily find them in some list floating around the internet somewhere.

Mostly, I have a few thoughts about the movie that have more to do with the general idea of it then with the specifics of it.

One. I understand that filmmakers are storytellers. And that is something I admire very much. The way the film Cuties was written and directed was actually really remarkable. The way the director told the story was documentary like. And as a writer, I can say the script was top notch. Ben Shapiro did a great review of the film, and pointed out, “It is possible for this film to be two things at once.” It is possible for it to be well told story, while also being highly inappropriate. It is also possible for the film to be attempting to depict something negative, while engaging in that very same behavior.

Two. Real, raw stories matter. And I believe that is what this film maker was going for. She definitely crossed lines…

Three. After watching the film you have to ask yourself a very important question: where is the line between depiction and exploitation?

I read that 600 girls auditioned for this movie. 600 girls who danced and twerked in front of judges for a role in a film where they would do the same except for the whole entire world. 5 of these girls were chosen. Their bodies were put on display. And they were taught to move and bend in ways that invite men to watch them.

Exploiting a child in order to tell the story of an exploited child is not justice, it’s abuse.

My concerns regarding the story telling of this film extend outward as well. Typically, when a line is crossed in film or art it tends to raise the bar of what is acceptable. This is something to be watchful of.

Four. Along the lines of “raising the bar,” consumers have seen it more so over the decades in film, our stories have become increasingly violent, sexual. We hear accounts of actors who act out rape scenes and then go to therapy afterwards because they are so distraught at what they have acted out.

And you might argue that some actors consider this a high calling. Such as, Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of The Christ and harmed his own body in order to do so.

An adult may do what he wishes. A child, as we know by studying psychology and the human brain, is not able to understand consent. This is why we protect children fiercely.

There is also a considerable difference between adults acting out history and children acting out exploitation. Both ought to be carefully weighed…

And here is my concluding thought to the entire conversation surrounding this film: It is not a child’s job to convey the exploitation, violence, and evil of adults towards them; to convey the over sexualizing of children; to call attention to the abuse of children; nor is it a child’s duty or burden to call into the light that which flourishes in the dark, and it is certainly not ok for society to ask it of them.

If adults cannot convey the evils impressed upon children without further exploiting them, then perhaps they are not the great storytellers they believe themselves to be. Because a bad story told artistically might be told well, but it is not well told.

The weight and responsibility for the next generations rests on our shoulders, not theirs. It is our job to provide a safe world for our children. A world where childhood is treasured, and where even its darkest depictions are left to adults to wrestle with, not to a child to depict.

Cuties, ultimately, participates in the very exploitation it warns against, begging the question, “What sort of people thought this was a good idea?”

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