July 22--Hanging out with friends at a skating rink in New Jersey, Holly Smith was 11 years old when she was sexually assaulted for the first time.
"I thought it was normal," she says, now in her 30s and an advocate for victims of child trafficking.
"I literally had no idea that saying no was an option because I never saw a girl on television say 'no' and be respected for her decision."
At 14, she exchanged phone numbers with a much older guy at the mall. And they talked for a couple of weeks before she ran away from home to be with him.
"He said he could help me become an actor or model or rock star," Smith says. "But he sold me on the streets of Atlantic City."
Her distorted view of sex -- that girls have to make guys happy, like it or not -- made her an easy target for traffickers. And she blames TV.
"The greatest influence on my life was the media," she says. "I was raised with a TV in my bedroom and I studied people on the screen."
And it taught her that a girl's value was based on what she did for boys and how often she did it.
"That was 1992," Smith reminds us. "The messages from today's media aren't better. They're worse."
The Parents Television Council released a report this month that nearly two out of three prime-time programs include "sexual content" of some kind.
More disturbingly, one out of three prime-time episodes include "sexually exploitative topics," ranging from harassment or prostitution to molestation and rape.
It's one thing to explore a serious topic, but the exploitation often turns into a joke. And the younger the victim, the more likely it's supposed to be funny, according to the report.
The double entendres, the crude suggestions, the casual promiscuity -- television is affecting our culture, says the Rev. Delman Coates, a pastor in Maryland and a board member for the Television Council.
"Ask any middle school teacher," Coates says. "Kids don't understand boundaries anymore. They can't distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate."
The Television Council hopes to pressure network executives -- and more importantly, advertisers -- to clean up prime time.
But let's face it. That's not going to happen.
Even the group's board members joke about taking brooms down to the ocean and sweeping sand back into the water.
"Parents don't understand how serious it is," says Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician who writes a popular blog for Psychology Today.
"They tend to think that sexual freedom is a hard fought-for right. And there's a huge resistance by parents to accept that we have a problem."
Of course, people have a right to watch what they want. But like William Safire said, "the right to do something does not mean that doing it is right."
Change the channel.
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