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New TV Study Finds Young Female Characters are Sexual Targets

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by Melissa Silverstein and Kerensa Cadenas
July 12, 2013 11:00 AM
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Heather Morris, Dianna Agron and Naya Rivera in Glee
Heather Morris, Dianna Agron and Naya Rivera in Glee

The Parents Television Counsel has released a new television study that looked at teen sexual exploitation on primetime television. They found that the primary target of the sexual exploitation were the female characters--primarily the teen ones--on the 238 sitcoms and dramas that they watched over a four week period in 2011 and 2012. 

If an underage female character was present in a scene the potential for exploitation rose, especially when they are taunted. Sexually exploitative jokes made at girls' expense were 43% more likely to happen than the 33% of jokes targeted at adult women. 

The study focused on three age groups of women--underage (17 and under), young adults (18-21) and adults (who were included for comparison). They looked specifically at the trivialization of sexual exploitation (relying on the United Nations definition of the term) in shows such as Glee, Family Guy, Whitney, Law & Order and others. 

Five types of sexually exploitative content were the focus of the study: sexual violence, sexual harassment, prostitution, sex trafficking and pornography. Out of the 238 episodes, 150 (63%) had sexual content in them related to the female characters. In 33% of those episodes, that content was sexually exploitative.

In those 150 episodes, there were 640 scenes that associated the female characters with sexual content. Of those scenes, 134 contained sexual exploitation.

Scenes included sexually exploitative material from jokes about female students being forced to kiss their gym teacher in Family Guy or stripping in Glee to multiple cases of incest in shows like Law & Order: SVU and Private Practice and many of the examples given in the study imply violence if they aren't outrightly so.

While the PTC has been questioned about their methodology before and certain aspects of this study could certainly be questioned, it is still quite an overwhelming look at how sex and violence specifically target women -- especially young women and girls -- within broadcast television shows. They came to no specific conclusion about how these media images effect our culture, but television is a huge part of our society, not to mention a huge marketing tool. 

With that kind of money and power comes influence, and a lot of the time it's not positive, especially for women and girls. 

You can find the PTC study in full here.

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