TV's Sexual Exploitation of Teen Girls
By Mike McManus
July 11, 2013
"When is it appropriate to laugh at the sexual exploitation of a child?" asks Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council (PTC).
Never is my answer - and probably yours.
However, a new PTC study, "TV's New Target: Teen Sexual Exploitation," documents that prime time TV routinely makes jokes about sexual exploitation of teen girls. Two examples:
On "Family Guy" broadcast May 6, 2012, Meg appears onstage for the sex-slave auction. An announcer says, "This girl is perfect if you want to buy a sex slave, but don't want to spend sex-slave money."
On "Whitney," aired November 2, 2011, Mark says: "Lily and Neal, I know you both will have bachelor and bachelorette parties. There is no such thing as a get-out-of-jail free card. Just in case you find yourselves in a dead hooker situation."
Lily: "You know, Mark, we've been talking about it in couple's therapy and I think Neal's done killing hookers."
Neal: "For now."
Funny, right? No, but the laugh track tells viewers to laugh.
Sexual violence (child molestation and rape), sexual harassment, sex trafficking, prostitution, pornography and stripping are common prime time themes. While such action is usually not visually depicted, there is often an underage female character in a scene, which increased the odds sex "would be presented as humorous.
Underage girls are rapidly becoming the new female image for sexualization in the media," the report stated.
The trivialization resulting from the joke "can lead to desensitizing the audience to serious social issues. If media images communicate that sexual exploitation is neither serious nor harmful, the environment is being set for sexual exploitation."
In studying 238 prime-time shows aired over four weeks in 2011-2, 150 episodes, a stunning 63% contained sexual content involving females, in 640 scenes with 864 females. A quarter involved underage girls, 60% with sexual exploitation "intended to be humorous."
One person briefing reporters about the PTC study was Holly Austin Smith who called herself a "survivor of sex trafficking." She was left at home while both parents worked. In 1992 with much tamer TV, "The greatest influence on my life was the media."
"I was sexually assaulted by older boys at age 11, and in a skating rink was raped at 12. I had no idea I had been assaulted. I had not seen any girl on TV say NO and be respected."
"My value was based on sexual appeal to older boys. I met my trafficker at shopping malls. We exchanged phone numbers. He convinced me to run away with him at age 14 to become a model. I was forced to work on streets (as a prostitute) in Atlantic City at age 14."
PTC reports that the "average age of entry into prostitution is growing younger and younger" and is now age 13.
Victims 12 or older experienced 188,310 rapes or sexual assaults in 2010. And two-thirds of those girls were assaulted by friends, acquaintances or intimate partners.
As Smith's case illustrates, children are relying on the media for social norms and values. If laughter is associated with rape, child molestation, prostitution, and sex trafficking - the desensitization of the youth culture accelerates.
Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician who has co-hosted "Family Talk" with Dr. James Dobson, told reporters that there are 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases reported annually, half of which occur to those under age 23, mostly teenagers.
Unfortunately, her experience is that "Parents do not understand the seriousness of the epidemic. They tend to think that sexual freedom is a hard fought-for right. There is a huge resistance by parents to accept that we have a problem."
"I have found that teenagers are more willing to talk about sexual activities and change their behaviors. They are willing to look at the effects of the media...Their depression is on the rise. The advertising of sex through TV changes behavior and leads to sex among teenagers. Media exploitation does have a real physical effect."
What's particularly alarming is that Obama's Federal Communications Commission is proposing allowing "isolated (non-sexual) nudity" such as Justin Timberlake's exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during one Super Bowl and "isolated" F-words.
Yet the Supreme Court upheld the right of the FCC to rule against "an indecent broadcast - be it word or image...Any future 'wardrobe malfunction will not be protected."
PTC points to a more subtle erosion of decency standards - prime time jokes involving sex with teens. Tim Winter rightly asks, "When is it appropriate to laugh at the sexual exploitation of a child?"
Parents: change channels if you see it. Tell the FCC to stop victimizing children.
Michael J. McManus is President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist.
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