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Target Australia pulls GTA 5 from shelves in wake of sex worker petition (update: pub reacts)

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Target Australia today announced that it was pulling copies of Grand Theft Auto 5 from store shelves in response to complaints from customers about the game's depictions of violence against women. The decision lands a day after Target publicly defended its decision to keep the games in the store.

Today's news comes in the wake of an online petition started by survivors of violence, including sex industry workers, who are calling for the removal of the game from Target. The petition, which started on Nov. 29, had reached nearly 41,000 signatures this morning.

"We are disappointed that an Australian retailer has chosen no longer to sell Grand Theft Auto V — a title that has won extraordinary critical acclaim and has been enjoyed by tens of millions of consumers around the world," Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software, publisher of GTA 5, told Polygon in a prepared statement. "Grand Theft Auto V explores mature themes and content similar to those found in many other popular and groundbreaking entertainment properties. Interactive entertainment is today's most compelling art form and shares the same creative freedom as books, television, and movies. I stand behind our products, the people who create them, and the consumers who play them."

A representative of Target in the U.S. told Polygon that Target Australia is in no way connected to Target U.S.

Target General Manager Corporate Affairs Jim Cooper said the decision was made following "extensive community and customer concern about the game."

"We've been speaking to many customers over recent days about the game, and there is a significant level of concern about the game's content," Cooper said in a prepared statement."We've also had customer feedback in support of us selling the game, and we respect their perspective on the issue.

"However, we feel the decision to stop selling GTA 5 is in line with the majority view of our customers."

While Target is pulling the R-rated game from store shelves, they won't be pulling other R-rated games nor R-rated DVDs.

"While these products often contain imagery that some customers find offensive, in the vast majority of cases, we believe they are appropriate products for us to sell to adult customers," Cooper said. "However, in the case of GTA 5, we have listened to the strong feedback from customers that this is not a product they want us to sell."

But earlier this week, Cooper told News.Com.Au that they were keeping the game in the store because they had to "listen to our customers and there are as many defending the right to buy the game as there are who want it removed."

He added that if Target were to stop selling the game it wouldn't make a different to its availability and that the debate surrounding the title might need to happen at the regulator level.

"We respect the sincerity of people who do not want it sold and their opinion is valid," he said at the time, "but we are a retailer for everyone, as long as we are selling the game responsibly."

News.Com.Au's story has since been updated to reflect the game being pulled, and the quotes removed.

In the News story, the group which started the petition are as identified as former sex industry workers and Nicole, who the interviewed, said she formerly worked as a prostitute as was the victim of violence.

"It is exceptionally triggering for survivors," she told the News, "to see it advertised on buses and to go into businesses and see it on the shelves."

In the Change.Org petition, creators Nicole, Claire and Kat write that the game "encourages players to murder women for entertainment."

"The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get 'health' points — and now Target are stocking it and promoting it for your Xmas stocking.

"Please Target — we appeal to you as women survivors of violence, including women who experienced violence in the sex industry, to immediately withdraw Grand Theft Auto V from sale."

The women say that the game spreads the idea that certain women exist as scapegoats for male violence.

"It shows hatred and contempt for women in the sex industry and puts them at greater risk," according to the petition. "Women in the industry are 40 times more likely to be murdered by a man than any other group of women.

"Games like this are grooming yet another generation of boys to tolerate violence against women. It is fueling the epidemic of violence experienced by so many girls and women in Australia — and globally."

The group wrapped up the petition by calling upon Target to pull the game and set an example for other retailers.

"Please put ethics before profits and make a strong statement that you do not condone sexual violence, sexual exploitation or the abuse of women as ‘entertainment'."

Update: The story has been updated to include a statement from Take-Two Interactive about the decision.