STATEMENT BY RYAN SMIT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CAUSE FOR JUSTICE: 6 July 2018
SUBJECT: WARNING TO ALL PARENTS: “SHOW DOGS” FILM CONTAINS GROOMING MESSAGE
On 12 June 2018, Cause for Justice (CFJ) started its campaign on the film “Show Dogs” to call all involved in the exhibiting of the film to account, demanding that the best interest of children be given its due priority above financial/economic interests. We engaged the Minister of Communications, the distributors (Filmfinity (Pty) Ltd), the exhibitors (Nu Metro theatres, and Ster-Kinekor theatres) and the Film and Publication Board (who classified the film) and its Appeal Tribunal.
On 6 July the film went on general release in cinemas across South Africa, under a shroud of controversy.
SO WHAT IS IN THE FILM AND WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
CFJ has screened the film and can confirm that it indeed contains scenes and references normalising unwanted genital touching – portraying techniques often used by child abusers to groom children for sexual abuse.
In particular, we can confirm that the following inappropriate and disturbing scenes and references are still in the edited version of the film screened in South African cinemas, as reported by movie-goers from outside South Africa:
But the edited movie, just like the original, takes a dark turn when Max learns he will have to submit to the show judge touching his private parts (yes, that is exactly what they are called in the movie) in order to advance in competition. Max emphatically does not want to do this, but his FBI handler and a French show dog who is his mentor persuade him that with practice, he can learn to allow his genitals to be fondled. This process of gaining a child’s trust and then gradually getting the child accustomed to being touched is what we call “grooming.”
During practice sessions, Max snaps and barks when his handler touches his private parts. The mentor dog steps in, and coaches him that to get through this most difficult part “you must go in your mind to your happy place” until it is over. Max reluctantly continues to practice, and when he does not snap at his handler, he has achieved victory.
Going to your happy place is a good metaphor for the dissociation that allows many children to survive sexual abuse. They temporarily check out of their bodies and go to a protected place inside their minds, pretending the molestation is not happening. Neurochemicals acting as analgesics flood the body, producing a numbing effect.
It is also not uncommon for sexual offenders to bring a more seasoned child, one who had already been molested, into the room when they first attempt genital contact with the new victim. This accomplishes several things, including normalizing the abuse (if this is also happening to him/her, it must be OK!) and drawing the previously victimized child into molesting another, compounding shame and confusion.
Max enters the final competition under terrible pressure, knowing that if he snaps at the judge he won’t infiltrate the ring and the baby panda will be forever lost. In a dramatic scene, the judge approaches Max from behind and everything slows down. His hands appear abnormally large as he lifts the tail, and Max’s heart thumps loudly as he desperately seeks his happy place.
As the judge grips him, Max seems to move into a trance, and suddenly music with the lyrics to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” blasts through the room.
Max has experienced the distortion of vision and sound at the moment of trauma and has found refuge in his happy place. He goes on to rescue the panda, saving her from a terrible fate. This also tracks to how children are sometimes told that unless they allow themselves to be touched, harm will come to someone they love, perhaps their little sister or a pet.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
In the end, it all boils down to one question:
“Can it ever be child-friendly entertainment when a film leads children to identify with (relate to) a character who is coached into accepting unwanted touching of his/her private parts?”
Let’s stand together for the protection of children from abuse by:
- Boycotting Show Dogs (and encouraging your family, friends and others in your school, work and faith community to do the same);
- Requesting your nearest cinema to stop screening the film; and
- Share about this cause on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), using the following hashtags (#) and addresses (@):
#Boycott #ShowDogs #EndSexualExploitation #FortheSakeofOurChildren #ChildProtection
@fpbza @sterkinekor @numetro @showdogsmovie