To the editors:

As people who have provided direct services to women and children who have been sexually abused, we share the same concerns as many of your readers who have already responded [Letters, November 23 and 30 and December 7, 14, and 21] to the Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of Honey, shown in a recent issue of the Reader [November 9].

The legal system recognizes that a child is not developmentally capable of giving informed consent to participate in sexual activities with an adult. In addition, there is an inherent power imbalance in any relationship between a child and an adult, with the adult holding the power. Children, particularly little girls, are conditioned in our society to obey and “respect” adults, and to please them. What choice, therefore, and power does a child have when she is forced either by threats or emotional manipulation to participate in sexual acts (or to pose for a sexually exploitive picture) by an adult?

The child who posed for Honey was either told, maneuvered, “persuaded,” bribed or forced to pose for this picture. The very act of creating this picture was abuse (as stated in US Supreme Court decision: Ferber, written by Sandra Day O’Connor)–abuse of the child’s feelings, her body, her innocence and her dignity–and she will have to live with this memory, and with the knowledge that this photograph will be on display over and over and over again. Forever.

A final point: this photograph not only perpetuates the concept of children as property, to be used by adults, and to satisfy adult needs, but it also presents children as appropriate sexual objects. Men who sexually abuse children use pictures like this not only to legitimize to themselves their acts of exploitation and violence, but also to persuade and coerce children to pose for similar pictures and to be sexually victimized in other ways as well. When we choose to display “art” that exploits children, and celebrates their victimization, we become complicit in the abuse.

Mimi Lewin

Stephanie Puntil

Pauline Bart, PhD

Alice Dan, PhD

W. Fletcher