Balenciaga recently made headlines with its ad featuring a child holding a teddy bear in BDSM bondage gear. One photo in the spread featured a handbag on printouts of the court case Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition. This 2002 US Supreme Court ruling struck down a section of the 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act, which banned virtual child pornography.
The Free Speech Coalition, founded in 1991, describes itself as a “non-partisan nonprofit trade association” to “protect the rights and freedoms of the adult industry.” Their self-described vision is that of “a world in which body sovereignty is recognized, sexual expression is destigmatized, and sex work is decriminalized.” Free Speech Coalition states they fight for the adult entertainment and “pleasure product” industries “in the legislature, the courts, regulatory agencies, at the ballot box and in the press.”
Executives from the Free Speech Coalition were involved with an organization called Prostasia, which claims to prevent child sexual abuse in concert with members of the kink and prostitution communities. Free Speech Coalition's Ian O’Brien and Cathy Beardsley have also been Prostasia team members. Prostasia was formed in 2018 in response to FOSTA/SESTA legislation to protect children; Prostasia viewed this legislation as a threat to prostitutes and pornographic interests. Pro-pedophilia sentiment is closely linked in relation to the communities and organizations that work together to increase activism and support.
Ian O’Brien is Deputy Executive Director at Free Speech Coalition and PASS Executive Director, and his duties include lubricant research and “working to combat pseudo-scientific concepts like porn addiction and the porn public health crisis.” PASS started as a Free Speech Coalition “program to help standardize and monitor adult industry testing,” partnering with organizations that “conduct [testing of] STI and/or other infectious diseases.” O’Brien was a featured guest in Prostasia‘s launch event of their founding and was listed as an advisory team member with Prostasia.
Cathy Beardsley, a board member of Free Speech Coalition and president & CEO of SegPay, a European and US-based payment service provider and facilitator, is listed as a speaker for Prostasia and was part of their multi-stakeholder dialogue.
Prostasia has faced criticism from academics and researchers, including Dr. Alaric Naúde, who wrote a paper on the organization which was published by the British Journal of Philosophy, Sociology and History after peer review, but was removed the next day after threats from Prostasia. Naúde’s paper entitled “A Case Study Via Sociolinguistic Analysis Of Covert Pro-Paedophilia Organisation Registered As A Child Protection Charity And Its Links To Paedophilia Enablers In Academia And Academic Propaganda” scrutinized Prostasia’s propaganda techniques which seek to normalize pedophilia.
Popular culture, including the fashion industry, makes light of child exploitation. Academia and organizations such as Prostasia and The Free Speech Coalition argue concerns about the sexualization of children and the negative effects of pornography are moral panics, but more people are becoming aware of their propaganda tactics and see them for what they truly are.