A new study released by the Parents Television Council found that girls are more likely than adult women to be shown in sexually exploitative scenes on television, and when girls are involved, the scene is more likely to be shown as humorous.
PTC said 33 percent of scripted episodes that aired during the study period contained sexually exploitative content, and the likelihood it would be considered humorous rose to 43 percent when it involved girls.
"Today's report is intended to shed light on a new and very troubling trend we're seeing," Tim Winter, PTC's president, said in a conference call July 9. "There's a growing amount of primetime television programming that is sexually exploitative, and much of that content is being used as a punch line to a joke."
Among the study's findings:
-- A scene was most likely to include sexual exploitation when the female characters were underage (23.3 percent).
-- Sexually exploitative topics were more likely to be presented as humorous when involving underage girls (42.85 percent) than adult women (33.02 percent).
-- Content involving sexual exploitation was usually presented as dialogue instead of depiction, but the dialogue was much more crude and explicit than depictions.
-- Joke topics targeting girls included sexual violence, sexual harassment, pornography, stripping and even sex trafficking.
-- The most common joke punch lines involved pornography (66 percent) and stripping (65 percent).
The study, "TV's Newest Target: Teen Sexual Exploitation," tracked scripted original programs that aired during primetime broadcast television Oct. 27-Nov. 9, 2011, and April 26-May 9, 2012. The study analyzed 238 episodes totaling 194.5 hours of programming.
Holly Austin Smith, a child trafficking survivor, spoke firsthand about the consequences of television's attempts to sexualize girls.
"I was raised with a TV in my bedroom all my life, and I literally studied people on the screen for clues about the world and about my place in the world," she said on the conference call. "By intermediate school, I was so sexualized that I was often assaulted by older boys and men."
Raped at age 12, Smith said she had no idea at the time that saying "no" was even an option, because she had never seen a girl refuse sexual advances on television and be respected for it.
"I believed my value was based on my sexual appeal to older boys and men, which resulted in these multiple assaults," she said.
Owen Strachan, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, finds it "especially troubling" that television is targeting its campaign of sexualization at young girls.
"Satan has always hated women; his first target was Eve and he's been on the hunt ever since," Strachan said. "He's changed tactics, but he's still trying to destroy the vulnerable by sexualizing the young and commodifying the body."
Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the new study points to the "pornographication" of American culture.
"What is even more troubling is the portrayal of sexual exploitation as being fodder for entertainment and something to laugh about," Stovall said. "At a time when children are discovering their own sexuality, they are our most vulnerable for exploitation."
Stovall recommended several ways the church can counter this message to the next generation:
-- Godly men should teach boys "what it means to be a man who views and treats women the way God intended."
-- Godly women should teach girls how to tell truth from lies, "embracing God's plan for their own sexuality played out in relationships appropriately."
-- Parents should be aware of what their children are watching, keep open dialogue and help their children "revel in God's message that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made."
"Unless we wake up, realize what is going on and do something about it," Stovall said, "we may find this next generation reaching adulthood with such a skewed view of sex that is miles away from what God created and intended for good."
John Evans is a writer in Houston. A copy of the "Teen Sexual Exploitation" study and a video of segments from broadcast television illustrating the concerns listed in the study can be accessed at the Parents Television Council website http://w2.parentstv.org/Main/Research/Studies/sexploitation2013.aspx. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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