Suggestive clothing and explicit music videos are putting children at risk by changing what they deem unacceptable, according to the director of a centre for rape victims.
Dr Catherine White warned that the increasing use of adult images in youth culture is eroding society’s values and making it difficult for young people to say “that’s not right”.
She said the number of young people under the age of 18 being admitted to the centre exceeded their expectations, adding “we estimated we would see about 250 every year. We saw 400 in the first and it’s continued to grow”.
Campaigners claim girls feel pressurised to copy clothing and explicit images and boys respond by treating them as sex objects, putting girls more at risk of sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Dr White, the clinical director of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, said: “We have to look more fundamentally at what’s happening. There’s an increasing sexualisation of children. When you see a little girl wearing a T-shirt with a Playboy bunny, that’s wrong isn’t it?
“I’ve seen another that said ‘Porn star in the making’.”
“Music videos are extremely influential”, she continued.
“I think it’s all subconscious and there’s a drip, drip, drip effect. It might not be one thing but all together it’s having an effect on values, on what is acceptable and not acceptable.”
In March teenage magazine publishers were blamed for sexualising their young readers by the Government’s consumer watchdog.
Ed Mayo, chief executive of Consumer Focus, said parents would be shocked at the content of the magazines, which are read by children as young as ten or eleven.
Earlier this year high street chains such as WH Smith, Asda and Next were forced to remove inappropriate stationery and clothing after receiving complaints that they were not suitable for children.
Items included pink Playboy stationery from WH Smith, pink and black lacy lingerie including push-up bras designed for girls as young as nine from Asda and a T-shirt from Next bearing the slogan “So many boys, so little time”.
The music industry has also faced criticism for encouraging young people to dress and act beyond their age by producing provocative music videos.
Reports point to Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time video which shows the singer at 17 years old sporting a revealing school uniform.
In February the Good Childhood Inquiry, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, concluded that advertisers should “stop encouraging premature sexualisation”.