What Child Exploitation Looks Like

Content note/major trigger warning: exploitation of transgender youth (an adult manipulating a minor into exposing his genitalia and then describing it in detail).

Cristan Williams has a post about a truly horrifying case of a journalist – a cisgender woman – using her platform and access as a reporter to exploit and objectify transgender youth. The details are stomach-turning:

A much older adult, who was famous in the eyes of a kid, talked the minor into exposing themselves to the adult. The adult then took a good long look – long enough to memorize the details of the kid’s genitals. The adult then wrote a news article featuring the explicit details of what the underage kid’s genitals looked like. While this might elicit a strident response from folks who care about things like the age of consent, the use of power, corrosion and exploitation, nobody seems to care in this case.

Yes, a minor was talked into exposing themselves to an adult but here’s the rub: the kid was trans. The reporter was doing a story on dangerous underground body modifications using silicone injections (called “pumping”) which kills people. The resulting story was gritty and was pushed into the lurid territory when the reporter went into explicit detail, recounting what the minor’s genitalia looked like. – Name the Problem, Cristan Williams

Please read all of Cristan Williams’ post about this, which goes into more detail about the piece, Brownworth and PGN’s response to criticisms of the piece, and the “bloated sense of [cisgender] privilege” behind cis people’s assumptions that we have a right to know what trans people’s bodies – even children’s bodies – look like.

Also: please share Cristan’s post if you share this story, not mine. I’m merely signal boosting what a trans woman has already said.

I would like to believe it goes without saying that there’s no journalistic rationale for reporting about a specific child’s genitalia and that this is really disturbing child exploitation. But as Williams writes, the privacy and protection we supposedly take as the given right of youth are often ignored in the name of “telling a story” or satisfying entitled curiosity when the children involved are transgender.

Victoria Brownworth, the journalist in question, claims that this portion of her story was justified because the youth she wrote about “wanted [to] show off their bodies” and “wanted their story told.” She claims it felt “creepy/wrong” but it’s what the subjects of the piece “wanted.” But Brownworth was the one who asked this child if she could look at his genitalia.

Frankly, it would have been voyeuristic and wrong for Brownworth to ask even if it were a fellow adult – reflective of telling cis obsessions with the genitals of trans people. To ask it of a child and think it’s justified in the name of journalism is so breathtakingly wrong I hardly know how to articulate it. Shouldn’t an adult – not a medical provider or anyone who has any earthly business looking at a stranger’s body in this way – know better than to ask a child this?

As Williams writes, pretending this was entirely voluntary ignores the power dynamics involved in a professional white cisgender woman asking a young trans person something like this. And reading between the lines of the article, it seems highly likely that this boy was Black, and poor or lower middle class.

Yes, the article is from five years ago. That’s even more alarming. For 5 years, this piece existed on the Philadephia Gay News site (and before that: Brownworth included the details she did, knowing they were probably about a minor, and that an editor let it run). For 5 years, it didn’t raise enough red flags to be pulled. The publication has now removed the piece from their site – a tacit admission that running it in the first place was wrong.

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