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Monica Doumit: Big W boycott of explicit book for kids is a win for common sense

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These past couple of weeks, there has been some not insignificant controversy around Welcome to Sex, an explicit, sex-themed book written by Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes, aimed at children aged between 10 and 15 years old.

Without wanting to rehearse the contents of the book, its 304 pages provide graphic detail of sex acts, complete with how-to guides, illustrations and commentary. It brushes over the legality and dangers of sex at such a young age (the age of consent in NSW is 16) and activities like sexting (sending nude images to someone else over the phone or online) by suggesting that the kids just make sure they crop their faces out to preserve anonymity (as if paedophiles aren’t experts at picking all sorts of identifiable details from the backgrounds of photos.)

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Suffice to say that if a schoolteacher, youth leader or cleric showed the contents to a child in their care, they would likely be investigated for grooming.

The book was released several months ago but received renewed media attention when podcaster Chris Primod found copies stocked with the children’s books in Big W. He posted a video of its contents online and objected to the sexualisation of children at such a young age. Other commentators raised concerns about how likely it was that young kids browsing books in Big W could easily be exposed to its contents.

After initially standing by the book, the backlash caused Big W to remove it from their shelves and to only make it available for purchase online. Other retailers, such as Dymocks, kept the book on the shelves but quietly upgraded the age guidance to 14+.
This was claimed as a small victory by those objecting, but the win seemed short-lived, as it was announced that the book had reached number one on the Amazon bestseller list. Its supporters lauded this as a victory.

Call me cynical, but I smell a rat. The book is number one on Amazon, yes, but it’s not on the bestselling books lists at any other retailer. Angus and Robertson, Dymocks, Booktopia, Collins Bookstores, Boomerang Books, QBD Books and Abbeys all have it available for purchase, but it doesn’t sit on any of their bestseller lists. It’s not even being sold by retail giants Fishpond and The Nile.

“Whatever the online availability of the book, the concerns raised have, at a minimum, seen the book taken off the shelves in Big W where they are easily accessible to young children, while other bookstores have raised the age guidance.”

Is it possible that—to prove a point—one or more motivated supporters just bought a few hundred copies on Amazon, deciding that the $5000 or so spend would be worth it to silence the book’s critics? Stranger things have happened.

In any event, the book’s online sales shouldn’t be a discouragement to anyone who complained about it, or who contacted Big W, Target or other physical retailers and asked them to have the book removed. The stuff kids are exposed to online is much worse than the book by Kang and Stynes, and parents are (or should) have mechanisms in place to protect them against the more insidious stuff online.

Whatever the online availability of the book, the concerns raised have, at a minimum, seen the book taken off the shelves in Big W where they are easily accessible to young children, while other bookstores have raised the age guidance. That’s a win and those who spoke up should be congratulated.

I suggest that parents continue to raise their concerns with Target, because I think sustained pressure will see the books moved to online sales as well. Indeed, Target management should be receptive to the complaints given that the US Target stores lost US$10 billion in market value over a 10-day period after—in one of the most tone-deaf marketing decisions of all time—it launched a Pride-themed range for children that went against the family values of its customer base and many of them decided to boycott the stores.

Parents should also inquire whether their school library stocks the book, and perhaps ask for an audit of other sexuality-themed books that might have gone under the radar and onto the shelves. This isn’t about boycotting or deplatforming or cancelling the book or its authors, and certainly there is no justification for the abuse and threats they have reportedly been receiving. Rather, it is about insisting that sexually explicit material isn’t on the shelf next to Spot.

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