Millie Bobby Brown, 17, is a popular Emmy-nominated actress for her film and television performances. The “Stranger Things” star rose to fame at just 12 years old and spent most of his teenage years in the public eye. But while her childhood was full of praise, she was also marked by media scrutiny, online bullying and repeated sexualization.
The latest affront concerns TikTok star Hunter Ecimovic, 21, who claimed on a live broadcast this week that he had sexually “groomed” Brown, making a series of obscene comments about the young actress and employing a term which, according to experts in sexual violence, describes the behaviors of the perpetrators. use to lay the groundwork for abuse.
USA TODAY was unable to identify a representative of Ecimovic, whose Instagram and Twitter accounts have been disabled. TikTok only allows direct messaging between friends.
This was a blatant violation and, given the age difference, sparked outrage on social media to defend Brown, who has previously spoken out on the toll of hypersexualization and hate online that took his life.
It is not known if Brown and Ecimovic (who calls himself Hunter Echo on TikTok and has 1.6 million followers) have ever been a couple, although representatives for the actress said in a statement that “Mr. Les Ecimovic’s remarks on social media are not only dishonest, but also irresponsible, offensive and hateful. Instead of engaging in a public discourse with him in the press or on social media, we take steps to make sure he stops this behavior once and for all. “
Let there be some truth in Ecimovic’s claims, his livestream continues the tendency to sexualize a girl who, until recently, was considered under the age of consent in most states. At 13, Brown was on W magazine’s list of “Why TV’s Sexier Than Ever” and adult men online have frequently commented on her appearance. A 2016 GQ profile called her a “very grown-up kid” and noticed the appearance of her legs.
On social media, users blasted Ecimovic for sexualizing a minor and condemning the public for his complicity in normalizing a culture that imbues young girls with adult sexuality while punishing them for it.
“It’s all the more disturbing that she’s so young and was sexualized from a young age,” said Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “When someone experiences this kind of large-scale sexualization – by society, by the media – it takes away some of their power and agency in sex. They cannot control the way they have been sexualized and this can impact the way others treat them. “
When Brown turned 16 last year, she posted an Instagram message berating the media and the public for years of abuse.
“The last few years have not been easy, I admit,” Brown wrote. “There are times when I get frustrated with the inaccuracy, inappropriate comments, sexualization and unnecessary slurs that ultimately resulted in pain and insecurity for me. “
A report by the American Psychological Association found that the sexualization of girls may contribute to “body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive effects and even physical health problems in girls.” of school age and young women ”, as well as“ societal tolerance of sexual violence. “
“Hypersexualization is seen as the price girls and women have to pay to be visible,” said Juliet Williams, professor of gender studies at UCLA. “This reinforces their positioning as sexual objects and makes their objectification natural and legitimate. If you need any proof of what’s wrong with hypersexualization, just look at the shameful and disrespectful comment made to (Brown). “
The sexualization of girls is unavoidable
The sexualization of girls and young women is pervasive, especially for those in the limelight. In 2004, before Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were about to turn 18, websites featured counting clocks until they became “legal.” Natalie Portman, who has been frequently sexualized in her leading roles, told the Women’s March that “a countdown has been started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday – to put it mildly, the date with which I would be allowed to sleep ”.
Portman noted on Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast in 2020 that “being sexualized as a child, I think, took away my own sexuality, because it scared me.”
Healthy sexuality, according to the APA, “is an important component of physical and mental health, promotes intimacy, bonding and shared pleasure, and involves mutual respect between consenting partners.”
Palumbo said the adultification and sexualization of girls and young women denies them freedom of action.
“It’s projected as a compliment – it’s a sign of maturity that you’re somehow set apart or different from other children and young women,” she said. “It’s the way society traps girls and young women because then it’s that connection of whether you’re worthy enough of the status we’ve given you whether you like it or not. “
‘Yeah, no, I looked after her’
In Ecimovic’s livestream, he jokes about Brown, “Yeah, no, I looked after her,” laughing with friends before explicitly talking about alleged sexual acts between the two.
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“The term grooming is often used in the context of child sexual abuse. Seeing it used so casually is very disturbing, ”Palumbo said. “This is not to talk about sexual experiences in a way that expresses reciprocity and respect, but in a very degrading way that suggests that it is normal or admirable to manipulate or push young women to adopting sexual behaviors. “
Williams said Ecimovic’s comments were not surprising. Men often try to promote their masculinity by talking about women as sexual conquests.
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“One thing you can say about this guy is that he’s working from a very common script,” Williams said. “The things he said are the height of the cliché. Everyone knows that this is how women have always been belittled. “
Do better for girls in and out of the spotlight
Everyone has a role to play in preventing the hypersexualization of women and girls, experts say.
The media can pay more attention to her portrayals (avoiding stories emphasizing the body or sexual attractiveness of a young star), adults can examine the messages they send to girls about their worth (by avoiding suggesting that male attention is a success), and girls and women themselves can struggle with what they are told to internalize (resist pressure to only post highly sexual images on social media). social).
And whenever anyone hears someone speak like Ecimovic did about Brown, Williams has said he has a responsibility to shut him down.
“Are you part of a social media group where this kind of conversation happens? Did you ever say, “well, he’s just my college buddy, he’s just my cousin or my fraternity brother”? We have to call it, ”Williams mentioned. “Every girl and woman in the world knows that we are one tweet away from the humiliation of rank. “
If you are a sexual assault survivor, RAINN offers assistance through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org).