Children damaged by image

There are certain news moments that never leave you. They get under the skin and worm right through to the core. I don't think many of us have ever come back from seeing those images of the plane going into the second tower and the ensuing horror of 9/11.

Similarly I still cannot shake off the visceral punch-in-the stomach reaction I had in September 2004 when armed Islamic separatists demanding an independent Chechnya, violently took a school in Beslan and held hundreds of children hostage in the gymnasium where they systematically starved, dehydrated and brutalised them. I can still remember sitting on the phone with my friend Frances, both of us bawling our eyes out, watching the bungled Russian attempt to free the children, during which at least 184 of them were killed.

The Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 left many dead, but the image that stays with me is of the orphaned baby boy who witnessed his parents killed. After the news that toddler James Bulger was tortured and then murdered by two baby-faced 10-year-old boys, I remember sitting in a silent tube carriage; the only sound the sobs of men and women reading about what had happened.

These past few weeks, I have had a similar visceral reaction to the news. It has been non-stop really since Jimmy Savile was outed as a dangerous, predatory paedophile. And an ever-growing number of sex offenders appear in the headlines every day. Worryingly, many of those accused are men who made up the prime-time television of my childhood, people considered heroes of entertainment.

This month, reports of the abduction and sexually motivated murders of April Jones and Tia Sharpe have dominated the headlines. Not to mention the Oxford grooming case, which, like those in Rochdale and Telford, told of vulnerable girls taken from under the noses of a disinterested care system and sexually exploited in the worst ways imaginable. These stories seem to be everywhere and I feel vulnerable about the future of my daughter and her friends.

I'm all for freedom of expression but I see sexualised images of women and children all around me. We seem to have regressed. The images of my youth - the girl draped over the Cortina - pale against Beyoncé writhing in her bikini at bus stops all over the country. Or there is the fetishising of pubescent girls in the American Apparel adverts. Image-makers, you are leading our kids to hell in a handcart. An old D&G advert passed my desk this week simulating a gang rape but with beautiful people. "C'mon it was pulled after a few days," clamoured some.

Well, it never should have been made at all. What are we telling our young? We have made them far too aware of their sexual image. I go to barmitzvahs where little girls look more like lap dancers from Vegas. Every barmitzvah boy and girl should be given a consciousness-raising course in what they see around them every day, and what images teach them self-respect, self-worth and self-awareness.

    Last updated: 9:45am, May 28 2013