Is your daughter no longer interested in tea parties with her dolls but rather into pole dancing in er-tic lingerie? Is her hero no longer Play School’s Big Ted but Paris Hilton? Does she surf the net every day after school – an innocent babe in the woods filled with p-rn sites and p-edophiles?

Welcome to the great moral panic of our age — kids and s-x. Our children are evidently being brainwashed by slick marketers into becoming too s-xy too early or, conversely, they are wide-eyed innocents who are constantly under threat of abuse.

And it’s all come into sharp focus this week by L’Affaire Henson which has opened a new front in a campaign by modern-day often secular moralisers who think they have earned the right to tell you and me what we can see in the media.

It’s been taken up with something between gusto and zealotry in Crikey this week by Clive Hamilton and Julie Gale.

Look – it’s not like there’s not an ethical debate to be had about Henson – one that clearly Australian politicians have shown themselves to be far too immature to contribute to (Malcolm Turnbull being the clear exception). But why do we have to suffer the hand-wringing sermons from self-appointed moral guardians?

It started in a way with The Australian’s Phillip Adams who a decade ago coined the hyperbolic term “corporate paedophilia” to describe how slick marketing gurus program our naïve kids into becoming Big Mac craving, slack-jawed strippers.

The phrase became the title of an Australia Institute (then run by Hamilton) report on how supposedly greedy corporations were making a dollar on the back of allegedly s-xual images of children in clothing catalogues.

These were the early symptoms of a kind of hysteria that’s now been let loose in Australian society. It screams that all children – perhaps right up to their 18th birthday — are completely innocent and need that innocence zealously protected. Anyone who claims otherwise, or who like Henson creates a work of art that explores the difficult area where children shift uneasily from childhood to adulthood with an emerging s-xuality, must have an ulterior p-edophilic motive.

That is nonsense, and in this current climate of moral panic, the need for some plain talking and common sense is imperative.

Yes, we need to protect children from abuse. But does anyone seriously think that p-edophiles are turned on by a Henson photograph or – as the Australia Institute laughably suggested – from a David Jones catalogue?

The facts are that p-edophiles have a sick fixation with children looking like children – not like adults. And, horrifically, the vast majority of s-xual abuse of children takes place inside families. Every study of child s-xual assault tells us that about 95% of all cases involve a person who knew the child and stood in a position of trust – parent, uncle, scoutmaster, priest. The victims do not provoke this horror by wearing lip gloss or skimpy shorts – they cannot provoke anything. They are children.

Your six-year-old son or daughter should be allowed to run around stark naked if they wish without any fear of any grown-up molesting them or even thinking about it. Children cannot provoke child abuse. And anyway, child abusers don’t care what their victims are wearing. Some are probably turned on by kids in crisp white cricket gear. Shall we ban cricket?

And before populist politicians and their boosters like Gale start their entirely predictable tut-tutting about a lost golden age of childhood innocence, they ought to read a little history. For most of human history children have been sent to work as soon as they were able. In the 19th Century the age of consent was 12. London was awash with childhood slavery and pr-stitution. Australian cities and towns were teeming with runaways and neglected children.

Gale and her organisation – Kids Free 2B Kids – are just the latest in a long line of people to throw their hands in the air and exclaim that “the kids are out of control!” and that if your daughter is watching Hi-5 today then tomorrow she’ll be giving bl-w jobs in back alleys to support her crack cocaine addiction.

Gale and Hamilton might be pleasantly surprised to hear that a few years ago a country was so alarmed about these issues they banned all TV and advertising. No Bill Henson either. No culture unless it conformed to very narrow moral parameters. Phew!

The only trouble was, the country was Afghanistan under the Taliban. Not by all accounts a fun time for women and kids.

Me, I’ll take freedom over repression any day. I say that standing up for Bill Henson and rejecting the notion that the media is responsible for somehow infecting Australian society with s-x is really standing up for Western liberty against both stultifying and bureaucratic interference and its crazy mate from down the pub, extreme theocratic oppression.

So ban TV if you want. Close down the art galleries. Police Bondi Beach for bikinis that are too skimpy. But if you think that will save one child from one act of s-xual assault, you are painfully deluded.

Duncan Fine is a father of two boys, has worked for Hi-5 and is the co-author of Why TV Is Good For Kids (Pan Macmillan).

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