I think Kim Kardashian’s selfie is irresponsible and dangerous. Does that make me a bad feminist?

by Phoebe Tansley

One in five 8-10 year olds and seven in ten 11-15 year olds have a social media profile. What responsibility do internet megastars like Kim K have in promoting safe-sharing and awareness of the dangers of abuse perpetrated through the very platform that made them famous?



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A few weeks ago, Kim Kardashian posted this self-captured image on Instagram, and I watched as opinion bloggers, celebrities and high profile feminists weighed in with their moral and philosophical stances on the picture. We saw a bizarre twitter ‘spat’ between Bette Midler and Kim K, Piers Morgan surprised no one by being misogynistic, ageist and irrelevant, and across the internet feminists fiercely argued Kim’s right to celebrate her sexuality and be proud of her body.

As I sat there, scrolling through article after article, tweet after tweet, I found myself in somewhat of a dichotomy. I proudly and absolutely identify as a feminist. I spend a portion of my time in my job as a sexual health advisor encouraging young girls to see their self-worth and to be kind to themselves. And I will argue till I am blue in the face with anyone who tries to deny women our bodily autonomy. However, I believe that in posting that selfie, Kim Kardashian is being a bad role model to young people. Hear me out on this one.

As I previously mentioned, by day I am a sexual health advisor. ‘So basically you give out free condoms?!’ I hear you cry. Yes, I do give out free condoms, but that is a relatively small percentage of what I do. Working in an under 25’s sexual health service, there is a huge focus on safeguarding children from harm and abuse. And in 2016, that harm and abuse all too often takes the form of children being sexually exploited after being groomed online.

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The UK’s leading sexual health charity for young people, Brook, defines child sexual exploitation (CSE) as follows:

“Child sexual exploitation (CSE) involves under-18s in exploitative situations, contexts and relationships. This can involve the young person (or another person) receiving something such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money in exchange for the young person performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them.”

CSE perpetrators typically invest a lot of time in targeting their victims, forming a friendship and developing a ‘romantic’ relationship, including introducing sexualised photos and/or language and showing the young person pornography to desensitise them to sexual activities, before beginning to sexually abuse and exploit them. And with the accessibility of social media today, this process is easier than ever for an abuser. Front-line services such as charities, schools and social care are faced with tackling the uncontrollable power of the internet. In other words; our work is never done, which is one of the many reasons why the government should stop hacking chunks out of sexual health provisions and make sex education compulsory – but that’s another blog for another day.

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(stock image bauermedia.co.uk)

So; where does Kim Kardashian come into this? My issue with the selfie is twofold:

  1. Kim Kardashian has deliberately positioned herself as an icon for teenagers and children. Her gaming app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has made over $100 million since its launch in 2014. Along with her sisters she has a baby clothing line, Kardashian Kids, which, despite being criticized for marketing ‘pleather’ skirts to toddlers, has received huge success. Not to mention the casual 64.6million Instagram followers and 42.1million twitter followers, to whom she announced 2 weeks ago that she would be joining Snapchat. News which was met with a resounding groan of despair in every child protection services’ headquarters across the world.
  2. The problematic part of the now infamous Instagram post is not purely the fact that Kim is naked. It is that the photo is a selfie. Apart from the obvious identifiable feature of a selfie – that it is taken by oneself – the thing which differentiates it from a magazine spread or a paparazzi image is that anyone can do it. Millions of teenage girls might say they want to be a Victoria’s Secret model, but realistically almost none of them will actually end up as a Victoria’s Secret model, and a grand total of zero of them will be a Victoria’s Secret model while they are still legally a child. But to be like your idol Kim K, all you have to do is stand in front of your bathroom mirror with no clothes on, take a photo on your smartphone and share it on social media. That’s the problem here. Accessibility.

And that’s where I come in, on a grey Tuesday morning at 9.00am, sitting in a chilly, strip-lit meeting room at a secondary school. Sat opposite me is a 13-year-old girl whose naked photo has just been shared across her school and community. She took it for her boyfriend, and the pebble dropped into the lake, and the ripples multiplied. She has just been in a meeting with the police who have informed her that she has captured and distributed naked images of a child, which is called child abuse, and is a crime. Her big eyes are brimming with tears, she anxiously tugs the end of her French braids as she tells me how she feels scared at school and wants to drop out. I ask her to tell me what she values about herself and am met with silence. I ask her what makes her feel happy, her reply? When boys compliment her body. When girls tell her that she has nice hair and makeup. At the end of a 60-minute session I manage to encourage her to write down three things she likes about herself; she writes that she is good at art, funny and loyal.

I have 6 sessions with her, 6 hours in total, to try and reverse the effects of this incident on her self-esteem and equip her with the assertiveness and awareness that might prevent another snapchat incident. Because the truth is, this situation could have been much worse. The result of this image being shared was bullying, social isolation and poor attendance at school, before we were able to intervene. In many cases, the image is intercepted by a CSE perpetrator, and there begins the grooming process. In these cases, it is much more difficult to intervene because the young person is being manipulated, psychologically abused, and often blackmailed.

After all the media hype over Kim Kardashian’s selfie, I saw a headline which said she had ‘penned a powerful essay’ in response to her critics. Perhaps naively, I wondered whether she may have used this opportunity to address the issue of online grooming, child abuse and exploitation. Surely she would acknowledge her social responsibility as someone who teenagers aspire to be. Turns out not so much. In fact, when I google ‘Kim Kardashian grooming’ I am bombarded with articles about how she shapes her eyebrows. And that’s fine. Be a beauty ‘inspo’; give tutorials on how to contour, you do you, Kim. But when you start writing statements on women’s and girl’s empowerment, you are contributing your voice to social issues. And yes; your statement included some important points about being proud of who you are and overcoming obstacles. This extract was particularly thought-provoking:

“The life lessons I’ve learned from my sisters, my mother and my grandmother, I will pass along to my daughter. I want her to be proud of who she is. I want her to be comfortable in her body. I don’t want her to grow up in a world where she is made to feel less-than for embracing everything it means to be a woman.”

Those are all very noble wishes for your daughter and I have no doubt that North West will benefit from her mum’s attitude. But right now, Kim’s daughter is not a woman, she is a child. And – maybe this is a controversial statement – I believe that protecting children from abuse supersedes everything.

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The feminist in me feels empowered by Kim’s words on body image and self-love. But my job has revealed to me the disturbing reality of child grooming and exploitation, and I can’t un-know that. And after all, feminism isn’t just for adult women. As adult feminists we should be using feminism as a tool to engage and protect the vulnerable in our society. By failing to acknowledge that, Kim Kardashian is being negligent in her role as a high profile feminist as well as a role model. It is possible to give messages of empowerment to teenagers while building resilience and raising awareness of the dangers that they face through the internet; I do it every day at work. There is no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive.

for more information on CSE, grooming and how to anonymously report online abuse in the UK, visit the following websites:







Behind Closed Doors: Domestic abuse as told by the women who’ve suffered

by Soffi James


The Fox and The Raven (c) 2013-2016 deviantart.com

It will happen to 25% of us. It happened to 1.4 million women in the last year. And it will happen on average 50 times before we go to the police.

Domestic abuse is often reported like this; in cold, hard statistics that never seem to shock us as much as they should. In the documentary Behind Closed Doors, the BBC tells the stories behind the statistics, following three women – Sabrina, Jemma and Helen – who have bravely waived their right to anonymity to expose how domestic abuse crimes are investigated. The documentary follows the women from the moment they contact Thames Valley police through to their journey to justice.


The documentary starts with a woman screaming. She’s being beaten to death by her partner and has managed to call 999 and throw the phone under the bed as he continues to hit her. “You’re almost resigning yourself,” she recalls, “to ‘This is it, I’m going to die. Let it be the last punch, let it stop and I won’t feel it anymore.’”

Sabrina’s abuser pleaded guilty to actual bodily harm (ABH) . Despite the six hour beating, she did not have any broken bones or stab wounds that would have qualified for a more serious GBH charge. Paul Hopkins, her boyfriend and abuser, was sentenced to two out of a possible five years in jail and will be out in May, having served less than half of his sentence.


Helen doesn’t remember the first time Lawrence hit her. “He was so nice 90% of the time but so absolutely vile 10% of the time,” she remembers. He hit her as she was leaving to scatter her mother’s ashes. She had to stay in to hide the bruises from her family.

Image: BBC

Image: BBC

The above image shows the imprint of his shoe on her face. Her 12-year-old son had to run for help, not for the first time. When it came to the trial, Lawrence jumped bail and fled to America. When he returned to the country, he pleaded guilty and was fined £1,700 – less than a month’s salary on the minimum living wage.


Dwayne punched, kicked and strangled Jemma until she passed out. He’d wait for her to regain consciousness each time before he started again. He continues to send her threatening text messages throughout the year: ‘You leave me? Someone leaves you. How about that. I’m sick, so what.’ Lawrence ultimately only received four weeks in prison and a £1000 fine. Because he’d already served time on remand, he was released after two weeks.

‘Amazingly, these are not the most shocking images in the documentary. The moment when Sabrina falls to the floor in tears when she hears her partner is being sent to prison, is the moment that took my breath away. She’s not crying from relief, she is crying because she loves him.’

“I want to wrap my arms around him and tell him I’ll be here when you get out,” she sobs. “I’ll be here and we can try again.”

In another moment Helen is shown on CCTV footage jeopardising her own case by meeting up with her abusive partner Lawrence for lunch with their young son. Why? “He’s like a drug,” she explains.

The Detective Inspector on the case reports that 43% of victims will be a victim of another attack within a year, and most of the perpetrators will be the same partner. It’s hard for those of us who have not been victims of domestic violence to understand why. Why would she stay?

blue and black

Campaign by The Salvation Army to raise awareness and support for abused women. For a  discussion of its impact read this article (https://whatthefmagazine.wordpress.com/2015/03) on What The F Magazine.


Produced and directed by Anna Hall, the Behind Closed Doors documentary begins to unpick that question. It highlights the intense complexities of these women’s situations and how years of psychological abuse has stripped them of self-esteem, making it extremely difficult to just ‘walk away’. Olivia Colman who narrates the documentary told Rebecca Reid at the Telegraph:

“I want all children to be empowered, to know that they can break the cycle. I want everyone to know what they deserve in relationships: that they can demand equality and kindness. Because everyone will have a relationship at some point in their life. It’s what we all do, every day, and we need to know how to do it. At the moment, the odds aren’t great… and that’s not good enough. Not for my children. Not for anybody.”

Jemma is now finishing a degree in Social & Political studies. Sabrina has decided she does not want to be reconciled with Paul. Helen realises she doesn’t love Lawrence anymore. But their scars are still evident and you know that their experiences have changed them forever.

Your thoughts wander to those other women who are about to meet their Paul, their Lawrence, their Dwayne. I’d like to see another episode, or a series even, examining the impact of domestic abuse and why people are still, literally, getting away with murder.

Access for all: Why women need PEP and PrEP now

by Laura Mundy

Image source: femalereport.wordpress.com

Around the world, 21.9 million people who are living with HIV aren’t on treatment. That’s 59%, which makes treating the virus a phenomenal task.

Recently, Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals jacked up the price of one drug commonly given to people living with HIV, Daraprim, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Although this isn’t a drug that fights the HIV virus itself (it is actually an anti-parasite medication) it threw the issue of HIV drug access into the media spotlight.


Despite such low access to antiretrovirals, the reality is that this form of treatment is very effective at keeping people with HIV in better health. Antiretrovirals also cut the likelihood of transmitting HIV to a partner by 96% when drugs are taken as prescribed.

This led to the decision by the World Health Organisation in September 2015 that all people living with HIV should be offered treatment immediately after diagnosis, instead of when their immune system started to weaken, as recommended previously.

‘Taking treatment is proven to prevent onward transmission; the science is clear. It means that if all people living with HIV had access to the right drugs and were taking them as prescribed, it’s thought there would be no new infections by 2030.’

That’s the new target set by the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS. However, many countries are struggling to meet these guidelines with so many more people now requiring treatment.

Another limitation of antiretrovirals is that the responsibility and power to control the intake – and thus the effectiveness of the treament – lies solely with those living with HIV. Now, there is also preventative medication for people who are not living with HIV to take control of their health and prevent infection.


Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a course of antiretroviral drugs taken after potential exposure to HIV. It works by preventing the infection from becoming established in the body, killing it off before it infects the immune system cells.

It must be taken within 72 hours of exposure and is a 28 day course of treatment. It isn’t without its side effects, but completing the course is vital to preventing drug-resistance.


Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a slightly different combination of antiretroviral drugs taken before potential exposure to HIV, again preventing the infection from establishing. It must be taken every day, and has less side effects than PEP.


Around the world, women are at just as greater risk of contracting HIV as men. With women at least twice as likely to contract HIV during sexual intercourse than men and with higher exposure to gender-based violence, sexual assault and sex work, many argue that the risk is even higher.

Now, PEP and PrEP have the potential to put the power back in women’s hands – a vital tool to enable women to protect themselves from HIV.

However, these drugs are more commonly targeted at gay men and men who have sex with other men. They are also not available or approved everywhere, in fact only a handful of countries have approved PrEP so far including the USA, France, South Africa, Kenya, Israel and Canada.

Although their benefits could be monumental, the concern over cost remains a deciding factor in accessibility.

‘The world is currently gearing up to ensure that every person living with HIV gets treatment in line with the new guidelines set in September 2015. And yet latest statistics put worldwide treatment access at just 41%; meaning there is still a long way to go.’

Securing the benefit of the pre and post exposure drugs is an additional hurdle that seems insurmountable; when 21.9 million people who are living with HIV aren’t on any treatment at all. Critics say PEP and PrEP will also increase high-risk sexual behaviour potentially leading to an increase in other sexually transmitted infections, although there has been no evidence of this in trials.

Let me make this clear. PEP and PrEP are not alternatives for condoms. They are a safety net that should be available to every woman who is powerless to use condoms in certain situations. Women who have been sexually assaulted should be offered PEP, just the same as emergency contraception. Women who sell sex have comparatively high numbers of sexual partners and are often not able to negotiate safe sex.

Image source: sciencefriday.com

How can a woman whose partner is HIV-positive be 100% certain they are adhering to their medication? And shouldn’t pregnant women have the right to protect their unborn child from contracting HIV?  Using a condom requires both people to cooperate, whereas women alone can choose to take antiretrovirals.


HIV is often associated with homosexual activity or injecting drug use, when in fact more women than ever are at risk. Ending HIV transmission by 2030 is the goal, but in the meantime making sure PEP and PrEP are readily available will enable individuals to protect themselves and drastically cut the likelihood of being infected.

Making safer sex choices is a two person decision. But for the many women who are powerless to use a condom with an HIV-positive man, they should have the choice to take PEP or PrEP, now that the science proves they work. For a woman to have to rely on a man to take his treatment removes any choice from her, and that is what needs addressing.