Amazon has removed several children’s clothing items displaying a sexually explicit message from its e-commerce website, following an investigation by CBC News.
The items, sold by third-party sellers, included a dress, t-shirt, summer hat and hoodies boldly displaying the message “I love c–k”, using an emoji in the shape of a heart. Sometimes a rooster emoji replaced the word “c–k”, which is another word for a rooster and slang for a male appendage.
Ads for the products showed children modeling the clothes.
“It’s disgusting,” said Karolina Zikova of Chilliwack, British Columbia, who alerted Amazon, CBC News and the Canadian Center for Child Protection to the issue last week after discovering one of the items during of a purchase on Amazon.ca.
“It may be related to paedophilia,” she said.
Following a CBC investigation, the Seattle-based e-commerce company removed the items.
“The bigger question is how does this type of material even reach their services?” said Signy Arnason, associate executive director of the Canadian Center for Child Protection, who also reported the issue to Amazon.
“It normalizes the sexual commodification of children,” Arnason said.
‘Who buys these things?’
Zikova first discovered the items while searching Amazon for a swimsuit for her eight-year-old niece. That’s when she came across an ad for an “athletic girl’s swimsuit,” which showed a young girl wearing a white swimsuit with the message “I love c–k” repeatedly displayed.
“I was quite shocked because it’s a girl who’s maybe seven or eight in the picture,” she said. “How is it possible that someone is selling it, and who is buying these things?”
Zikova complained to Amazon, which removed the swimsuit from the site.
Fearing that Amazon was still selling similar items, Zikova continued her research on the site. This time, she was dismayed to find an advertisement for a children’s hoodie displaying the same explicit message, modeled by a young boy.
Zikova contacted Amazon using its online chat option, but this time was unsuccessful in having the item removed.
According to the online chat transcript, the employee she spoke to did not appear to understand the scope of Zikova’s complaint. After Zikova protested, the employee said someone from another department would contact her.
She said she didn’t hear from Amazon the next day, so she contacted CBC News.
“I was hoping…this would go public, so they’ll have to actually do something about it.”
In the meantime, Zikova discovered several other children’s items with the same “I love c–k” message. They included a “girls Christmas dress” modeled by a young girl and marketed as “funny”.
“How is that funny?” she says.
Amazon told CBC News in an email Sunday that the items violate the company’s offensive product policywhich prohibits children’s articles with adult content, including sexual references.
“All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action, including potential account deletion,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
Amazon said the second employee Zikova spoke to should have followed the proper procedure to resolve the complaint and that the company was providing additional training to customer service staff as a result of what happened.
The company also said it had conducted an investigation to ensure that no similar products remained on its site.
However, the following day, the Canadian Center for Child Protection informed CBC News that a similar item was still available on Amazon’s Canadian site: a T-shirt for adults and children referring to a sexual act involving ” dad” and “c–k.”
The organization said it notified Amazon of the T-shirt on Monday morning.
CBC News reached out to the third-party seller, Khang Cò, who picked up the t-shirt late Monday night.
“It was our mistake when selecting the product,” a company representative wrote in an online post. “Thanks for letting me know.”
Amazon said Tuesday it is reviewing its product catalog for any listings it may have previously missed.
Zikova and Arnason of the child protection center said they want Amazon to adopt stricter controls to prevent similar items from appearing on its site.
“You wouldn’t find a retailer who would be able to put [these items] in their window,” Arnason said. “They would be closed, the police would be involved.”
Amazon said its technology, along with its dedicated staff, continuously scans all products listed for sale to find and immediately remove any that violate its policies.
But CBC News covered several instances where Amazon removed inappropriate items sold by third-party sellers, including Nazi paraphernaliaonly after the articles sparked complaints.
Last year, the online retailer removed the N-word from a product description of a black-colored action figure and admitted to CBC that his warranties had failed to eliminate the racist term.
Given Amazon’s market size, it would be difficult for the company to police every product, according to retail analyst Alex Arifuzzaman.
The company offers hundreds of millions of items, many of which come from third-party sellers.
“It will never be perfect,” said Arifuzzaman, of Toronto-based InterStratics Consultants. “There will always, in a way, be things that seep through the edges there.”
Still, he said, Amazon needs to look at ways to improve its verification process.
“There has to be some kind of innovative solution,” Arifuzzaman said, like requiring third-party sellers to sign an agreement that guarantees the products they sell aren’t offensive.
“And if that’s the case, then there’s some sort of sanction in place,” he said.