Funny? Really? Underrage Female Characters on TV in Sexually Exploitative Scenes
New research from the Parents Television Council’s 4 Every Girl Campaign found that underage female characters on primetime broadcast television are more likely to be presented in sexually exploitative scenes than adult women, and the appearance of underage female characters in a sexually exploitative scene increased the probability that the scene would be presented as humorous.
Study results revealed that out of 238 scripted episodes which aired during the study period, 150 episodes (63%) contained sexual content in scenes that were associated with females and 33% of the episodes contained sexual content that rose to the level of sexual exploitation.
The likelihood that sexual exploitation would be considered humorous increased to 43% when the sexual exploitation involved underage female characters. Topics that targeted underage girls and were presented as humorous included: sexual violence, sex trafficking, sexual harassment, pornography, and stripping.
"Our study exposes a very real problem of teen girls being shown in sexually exploitative situations on TV, and that these situations are being presented as humorous. Sexually exploiting minors on TV – especially for laughs – is grotesquely irresponsible and must end," said PTC President Tim Winter.
Findings from this report reveal that sexual exploitation has become a common topic and a comedic topic on primetime television in shows airing as early as seven o’clock central time. Almost 40% of the content in the present study was intended for purposes of humorous entertainment.
"The frequency with which viewers are able to watch and laugh at these sexually exploitative situations supports the notion that entertainment media is creating an environment that encourages and even facilitates the sexualization of women. When we laugh about dead hookers, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the mistreatment of sex workers as a national civil and human rights issue. The same can be said for child molestation or sex trafficking," Winter said.
The prevalence of images that trivialize sexual exploitation can be interpreted as sanctioning the sexualization of women. When these messages, images and ideologies are delivered via mass media, the definition of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are communicated both implicitly and explicitly to viewers. Similarly, when the media associates humor with sexual exploitation they are sending a strong message that these issues are harmless and require neither urgency nor a strong response.
"We hope that these disturbing findings will spur concern, increased dialogue, and a collective responsibility to find answers that will result in a qualitative difference in the lives of young girls and women everywhere," Winter added.
Holly Austin Smith, child trafficking survivor, advocate, author, and speaker, stressed the importance of this research. "Negative messages in the media, including the sexual objectification of women, create a climate which supports the tactics of sexual predators," stated Ms. Smith, "Sex traffickers understand how these messages influence vulnerable children, and they are using it to their advantage."
The study, "TV’s Newest Target: Teen Sexual Exploitation," includes programming that aired during the first two weeks of the November 2011 sweeps period [October 27 – November 9, 2011], as well as during the first two weeks of the May 2012 sweeps period [April 26 – May 9, 2012]. Only scripted original programs that aired during primetime on broadcast television were examined. Collectively, PTC analysts viewed a total of 238 episodes for a total of 194.5 hours of programming. The following types of sexually exploitative content served as the primary focus of the study: sexual violence, sexual harassment, prostitution, sex trafficking, stripping, and pornography.
· Although adult female character were more likely to have sexualizing dialogue or depictions in their scenes, the likelihood that a scene would include sexual exploitation was higher if the female characters were young adults or younger.
· The likelihood that a scene would include sexual exploitation was highest when the female characters were underage (23.33%).
· Sexually exploitative topics targeting underage girls were more likely to be humorous (42.85%) compared to adult women (33.02%).
· Topics that targeted underage girls and were presented as jokes included: Sexual violence (child molestation), sex trafficking, sexual harassment, pornography, and stripping.
· Thirty seven percent of all sexual exploitation observed during the study period was intended to be humorous.
· The content rose to the level of sexual exploitation in one-third of the shows where females were associated with sexual dialogue and/or depictions.
· Pornography (66%) and stripping (65%) were the two forms of exploitation most likely to be written into the scripts as punch lines.
· Sexually exploitative content was typically presented in the form of dialogue rather than depictions. However, the dialogue was significantly more crude and explicit than the depictions.
The full study and additional information can be viewed at this link: www.parentstv.org/sexploitation.
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