In news recently to hand, the “tramp” is not a titillating fiction authored by mid-century crime novelists but a threat that is very real and one shortly to claim the virtue of all our female children aged 7-14.

short social media post by a Port Macquarie parent last Friday has attracted more than 66,000 “likes” and a lot of real-world approbation. When accidental activist Ana Amini wrote on the Target Australia Facebook wall of her longing for “modesty and feminine clothing” choices for her daughter, she generated thousands of comments and a rationale for media outlets to use words like “tramp” and “sl-t” apace.

From Lateline to Today Tonight, news providers legitimised the concern that our female children look like sl-ts.

Of course, over at the ABC, we enjoy only the vague and earnest language of pop-psychology. Melinda Tankard Reist spoke, as is her wont, of “s-xualisation” and “exploitative and harmful behaviours”, whereas Seven was happy to more unequivocally ask: “Are you trying to encourage p-edophilia by dressing children in sl-ttish clothing?”

It’s this latter statement, made by a woman identified as a “grandmother” on Today Tonight, that utters our dread best. In short, we seem to be concerned that we will soon find children too s-xy.

Appending a plea for reason by fashion writer Georgina Safe, Fairfax also asked us to assess young female fashions. Are they “too s-xy”, the website asked.

For whom, one wonders, are these leopard-print fashions “too s-xy”? If we accept the grave wisdom that (a) acts of s-xual violence have nothing to do with s-xual attraction and everything to do with brutality and (b) victims of s-xual violence are never responsible for the crimes committed against them, then it follows that a bikini top bearing the name of Miley Cyrus is above suspicion.

It is only if we all agree that children have an irresistible s-xual lure that these arguments to dress them “appropriately” make sense. I can say with some confidence that I could see a small boy dressed like Leather Man from the Village People or a small girl turned out like a tiny belle-époque street-walker and still not feel a twinge of attraction. The child, in my gaze, has not been “s-xualised”. The child is just dressed up in some weird shit.

The evidence that the vision of a child in fishnet stockings does prompt adults to acts of s-xual violence is scant; some theorists would say that it is non-existent. Many parents and popular intellectuals may be uncomfortable with “age inappropriate” duds. Certainly, if I did see a little boy rigged up in arse-less chaps, I may also redden.

But it is not reasonable nor is it constructive to suppose that these dress-ups will end in anything more terrible than chafing.

Children are too busy learning how to spell to understand the more complex symbolism of raiment. They cannot themselves be “s-xualised” or impacted by the s-xual significance of clothing; it’s a handful of diseased adults that do that for reasons far more complex and terrifying that anything we can read in the Target catalogue.

For much of humanity throughout much of history, there never was a distinct style of dress for children. For centuries, children dressed in garments that were indistinct from larger adult versions. There is no reason to suppose that this prompted p-edophiles to action.

When my sister was small, she spent half of the weekend looking exactly like a small, special-interest s-x worker. She picked up glittery things from the dress-up box as many small children do and looked like a sort of fusion of Stevie Nicks with RuPaul. I, by contrast, dressed like a fireman. Neither of us really had any idea about the identities we were trying on at the time; we were just playing dress-ups.

It’s important to remember that kids just see cloth and it is we who see meaning. And it is we who are responsible for buoying a s-xual economy that contains “sl-ts” and tramps” and kids that are “too s-xy”. Perhaps we should be looking at the foundation of this strange s-xual marketplace rather than at vendors like Target if we really want to assail the origin of s-xual abuse.

*Helen Razer blogs at Bad Hostess and tweets via @HelenRazer

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