Susanna Barrett, one of the pageant mothers in TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras, has sued Warner Brothers Entertainment, AOL, and Associated Newspapers in Manhattan Supreme Court for printing knowingly false statements about her daughter, Isabella Barrett. Isabella and her mother were attending a charity event at Libation NYC when video was taken showing the 5-year-old signing LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” The complaint alleges that the articles regarding the incident falsely claimed that Isabella was gyrating to the music her mother acted as her disc jockey, feeding her lyrics to the song. Worse, the complaint alleges, the articles sexualized an innocent five-year-old girl who was not portraying herself sexually, erotically, or provocatively and who is now “in serious physical danger, attracting the attention of others who would seek to sexualize a child.” The complaint also states that Isabella “did not understand the concept of sex, let alone ‘sex appeal’ and could not have been singing about her own sex appeal.” She is seeking $30 million in damages for libel, $10 million from each of the defendants for exposing them to hatred, contempt and aversion. Read a copy of the complaint here.
But how much responsibility must Susanna Barrett accept for placing her daughter in the spotlight? Isabella Barrett is one of several young girls featured on Toddlers and Tiaras on the TLC Network, which has been much criticized for how it portrays the young pageant participants. Last year, another girl, 3-year-old Paisley, was costumed as Julia Roberts in her role as a prostitute in Pretty Woman. The Parents Television Council issued a statement at the time, noting, “For years we’ve seen adult sexuality being inappropriately and aggressively foisted on innocent young children, but children today are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. All available data suggests they will suffer for it later in life.”
Does this kind of behavior constitute neglect? Under New York’s Family Court Act, if a child’s physical, mental, or emotional condition is in imminent danger of becoming impaired and the actual or threatened harm to the child is a consequence of the failure of the parent or caretaker to exercise a minimum degree of care in proper supervision or guardianship, then a parent may be found guilty of neglect. Do you think that Susanna Barrett’s behavior meets this standard?