WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2013 ( – Prime time television programs that feature sexual exploitation are more likely to target an underage girl than an adult woman, according to a new study on disturbing and graphic scenes in the media.

A new report, Teen Sexual Exploitation: TV’s Newest Target, found that family hour programs depicted sexual violence, sex trafficking, and the sexual harassment of minors as humorous. The most common “jokes” involved young girls producing pornography or stripping.

The Parents Television Council found that, of 238 scripted TV programs that aired during sweeps in November 2011 and May 2012, nearly two-thirds (150, or 63 percent) contained sexual content, and one-third contained sexual content that exploited the female.

Scenes featured far more adult women than minors in sexual scenes, but the presence of a girl under the age of 18 increased the likelihood of the character being exploited – and that behavior being considered funny. In all, 43 percent of exploitation scenes featuring girls were presented as humorous, 10 percent more than adults.


More than four times as many young girls were depicted in scenes of sexual exploitation than young adult women (aged 18-21), and more than twice as many minor females were filmed in scenes containing sexual content than their older peers.

Among the most egregious examples in the report, Law and Order SVU portrayed an underage girl who had sex with someone she believed to be her biological father, while Private Practice featured a man who is unable to control his sexual attraction to his 12-year-old daughter after suffering a brain lesion.

On ABC's Last Man Standing, an underage girl photographs herself without her shirt on.

“Humorous” examples include a gym coach who ends his classes by having his female students kiss him on the lips and a program discussing what to do with a “dead hooker.”

“When is it appropriate to laugh at the sexual exploitation of a child?” asked PTC President Tim Winter. “We hope this report stirs an urgent dialog on this question, and we hope it brings light to those who are on the battlefront fighting the real-life sexualization – and sexual exploitation – of children.”

One of the victims of sexual trafficking, Holly Smith, finds the sitcoms anything but amusing. Smith, who was forced into teenage prostitution in 1992, said she was first introduced to the tricks of her trade by television.

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“By intermediate school, I was so sexualized that I was first sexually exploited” by a high school boy “at age 11,” she said. Another incident followed the next year.

“What’s most disturbing is that when these assaults occurred I had no idea that I had been assaulted. I thought these acts were part of teenage dating,” Smith said. “I literally had no idea that saying no was an option; I never saw a girl say no on television and be respected for her decision. As other acts of sexual exploitation occurred through middle school, I became depressed and my self-esteem spiraled down.”

Soon, a man she met convinced her to run away with him, promising to make her a model or rock star.

“Within hours of running away, he sold me on the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey,” Smith said. “My transition from middle school to prostitution was seamless because of all that I had already learned from the media and the effects of these lessons.”

Too many young girls share Smith's story: 12 percent of rape victims report being assaulted before they were 10 years old, and another 30 percent say they were raped between ages 11 and 17.

“Sexually exploiting minors on TV – especially for laughs – is grotesquely irresponsible and must end,” Winter said.

The Parents Television Council produced the research for its new “4 Every Girl Campaign.

In rating the episodes, the Hollywood watchdog group adopted the UN Secretary General’s definition of sexual exploitation, which is “any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially, or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.”