Newnham Alumnae Forum addresses the sexualisation of children

Newnham College and alumnae addressed the issue of the sexualisation of children and an increasingly sexualised media environment in our annual Family Forum.

Newnham’s Family Forum is a one-day conference for alumnae and guests, addressing contemporary issues affecting society, with a particular focus on family relationships. Expert speakers share their perspectives, allowing our audience to explore complex topics in an atmosphere of open debate and inclusivity. The event series is organised by members of the Roll Committee, Victoria Hunter (NC 1996) and Hannah Plews (NC 1995).

In this year’s event, titled ‘Sex, sex and more sex’, three distinguished speakers addressed the theme of a sexualised society and its effects on mental and physical health in young people. The following panel discussion took questions from the floor and enabled alumnae to share professional and personal insights.

Professor Maggie Atkinson opened the day with a hard-hitting exploration of the extent of child sexual exploitation in the UK today. Prof Atkinson was the second Children’s Commissioner for England in 2010-2015, having already spent over 5 years as a Director of Children’s Services, one of the first in that vital role. Her guidance on the key indicators of child sexual exploitation was much appreciated.

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos energised the room with her account of the double standards and sexualisation in media, advertising & pornography and its impact on the brain. Dr Papadopoulos’s independent review on the effect of sexualisation on young people, commissioned by the Home Secretary, was published in 2010.

Natasha Devon explored the impact of media on mental health and the developing mind. Ms Devon is a writer and campaigner who has dedicated her life to promoting positive mental health, body image, gender & social equality, and her work has been recognised with the award of an MBE. Her deconstruction of adverts was particularly memorable, as was her realistic advice on how to engage with young people regarding these matters.

While the topics were serious, there was space for laughter, conversation and sharing of experiences. Together, the three women gave a nuanced account that left the audience with much to reflect on. The discussion that followed reflected the wealth of experience amongst Newnham alumnae and their guests.

Our 2019 Forum will tackle the issue of the ‘sandwich generation’: people who are caring at the same time for both ageing relatives and dependent children.