Balenciaga has come under fire for their recent ad campaign that seemingly promoted child p*rnography. Since amassing soaring backlash on social media, the fashion label has apologized for their actions and filed a lawsuit against the creatives responsible for the photoshoot.
In the controversial ad campaign, Balenciaga featured children holding stuffed bears dressed in what appears to be bondage gear. The advertisement that was featured on their Gift Shop section of their official website also included images that showcased a legal document pertaining to the Supreme Court’s decision on a child p*rnography case.
Netizens were appalled by the Balenciaga photoshoot and called out the brand’s celebrity ambassadors to publicly condemn the brand’s campaign. The ambassadors included Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell, and Nicole Kidman, among others.
As the outrage continued, the Paris-headquartered fashion house apologized and removed the advertisement from their official Instagram account and website. They also filed a lawsuit against production company North Six Inc. as well as set designer Nicholas Des Jardins and his brand for including the aforementioned legal documents.
The Balenciaga campaign showcased documents related to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the United States v. Williams case
The legal document featured in the photoshoot was an extract of an analysis presented by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. It mentioned that- “virtual child p*rnography or s*x between youthful-looking actors” was not prohibited under federal law that states “activities relating to material constituting or containing child p*rnography.”
The 2008 United States v. Williams ruling examined child p*rnography and free speech provisions. Although the details of the ruling are complex, essentially, the case resulted in the strengthening of federal restrictions regarding child p*rnography offenses.
The case centered around prosecuted s*x offender Michael Williams telling an undercover Secret Service agent that he had s*xually explicit material of his minor daughter in his possession. He was then charged with possession and “pandering.”
The Supreme Court then examined whether laws against the promotion of child p*rnography went against the first amendment. It was then found that:
"Offers to engage in illegal transactions are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.”
This would mean that one could be prosecuted if they were to advertise or pander child p*rn even if the explicit p*rnographic content does not exist.
Melissa Hamilton, a professor of law and criminal justice at the University of Surrey School of Law UK, provided an explanation of the case and ruling in an interview:
“The defendant actually did have child p*rnography and was found guilty of possession. But he did not have images of his own child, which he had advertised. The ruling was about whether one could be guilty of pandering if they offered what they said was actual child p*rnography even if they did not in fact have it. The answer was yes, basically because it is an offer to engage in a transaction that would be illegal if what the defendant was conveying about its nature was true.”
It remains unclear as to why the documents appeared in the Balenciaga photoshoot and whether the creatives deliberately chose it as a prop.
Balenciaga apologizes for ad campaign
As netizens continued to slam the fashion house, the brand released a statement that addressed the campaigns promoting child abuse. Speaking of the teddy bears wearing bondage costumes, they said:
"This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images."
Addressing including the Supreme Court's ruling in their photoshoot, the brand claimed that the props were provided by third parties who said that they were "fake office documents" which were "real legal papers" in reality. They added:
"The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a complaint."
The brand is reportedly conducting an internal and external investigation and collaborating with organizations that aim to end "child abuse and exploitation."