Violence Against Women and Girls Surges on TV

by Melissa Silverstein on October 29, 2009

in Statistics

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Here we are again.  This progressive girl is agreeing with a conservative organization, but I am, and I believe that the research on violence against women on TV is something to take note of.

As a big TV watcher I knew that violence against women and girls is a problem, but I really had no idea how bad it is.  It has become so second nature and part of TV watching that honestly I hardly even notice it anymore.  I am a person who calls attention to these issues, I admit, I am part of the problem.  Why do I watch shows where women being mutilated or attacked?  Of course you don’t always know what is going to be the plot of the show in advance, but I can turn it off or delete it from my tivo if it depicts violence against women and girls.  I’m going to think about this issue a lot more now because if it has become so commonplace to a person like me, that means there are many people out there who take the message from the violence on TV that it is ok to commit these acts.  If a TV show does it, then why can’t I.  On TV most of the bad guys get caught and that’s good.  But it’s still does not make it ok.

The very conservative organization, Parents Television Council (their board is full of really scary conservative guys and just one woman) has put together a comprehensive study looking at how pervasive this problem is.

They took the data that they had compiled in 2004 and compared it with data from 2009 and found that overall violence irrespective of gender increased 2% and violence against women increased 120%.

Here is more:

  • The most frequent type of violence against women on television was beating (29%), followed by credible threats of violence (18%), shooting (11%), rape (8%), stabbing (6%), and torture (2%).  Violence against women resulted in death 19% of the time.
  • Violence towards women or the graphic consequences of violence tends overwhelmingly to be depicted (92%) rather than implied (5%) or described (3%).

Props must go to ABC since it is the only network that did not show and increase in violence against women in its storylines, and on the other side FOX was singled out for being the most egregious.

Here’s other important data:

Although female victims were primarily of adult age, collectively, there was a 400% increase in the depiction of teen girls as victims across all networks from 2004 to 2009.

There was an 81% increase in incidences of intimate partner violence on television.

So what can be done about this?  I do believe that networks have a public responsibility and that since the airwaves are owned by us, the public, we shouldn’t feel assaulted every time we watch TV.  But the public loves these shows and TV is a business and so they continue to make these shows.  Looking at the ratings Criminal Minds is in the top 25 as is CSI Miami and both NCIS series.

Let’s remember that violence against women is everywhere not just on TV.  Violence against women and girls is not a right left issue — it is a societal problem.Let’s not talk about TV without talking about the real women and girls who are being beaten, abused and raped every day.  I want conservative organizations (yes, you PTC and your board of directors and advisory board) to not just give a shit about women when it serves them, but to care about them everyday.  You can’t say that you care about violence against women and then not be supportive of legislation and programs that help women get out of those situations.

The PTC hopes that network executives will see the numbers and take corrective action or if that doesn’t happen hopes advertisers take a stand.  They are also not ruling a “role for the FCC” according to spokesperson Melissa Henson. Henson also said she will reach out to organizations that work on women’s issues to talk about next steps.

I can’t help but agree with Henson’s statement: “media helps normalize behavior,” as I have been watching the coverage of the girl who was gang raped at her prom.  This is not OK and if TV is helping to make young men think that this behavior is “normal” something must be done about it.

Violence Against Women Surges on TV (HR)

Women in Peril (PTC)

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        { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

        abyss2hope October 29, 2009 at 1:30 PM

        You make great points. One aspect which I believe influences real violence is how girls and women who are victims of violence are presented. Too often they are nothing more than objects or the violence is presented as coming mostly from her choices. For example, generic pretty blonde who was killed because she did something pretty blonde girls are told never to do like walk home after dark.

        I’m not sure the conservative watchdog groups distinguish between depictions of violence which humanize victims and therefore build empathy for women who have been victims of violence and depictions which dehumanize women and decrease empathy for women.

        Anemone October 29, 2009 at 1:56 PM

        This has been bugging me for a while. I think the ethics of content should be taught in film school (and discussed at WIFTI etc.), and I think it should be research based rather than based on whatever actually upsets people right now, since all sorts of stuff slips under the radar already.

        And I agree with abyss2hope that the way in which violence is portrayed is critical.

        Kara M. October 29, 2009 at 3:06 PM

        On network television, the purpose of the television shows is to sell the products advertised during commercial breaks. Building empathy, or even exploring our human experience, is not part of the equation. I’m guessing that this content works especially well in the twin goals of keeping women glued to the television, and then sending them off to the mall to buy something to make themselves feel better after the show is over. The unfortunate side effect of of people becoming increasingly desensitized to violence against women is not planned. But if it occurs, I’m not sure that anyone cares as long as they are making money. That is the nature of capitalism.

        C.K. October 30, 2009 at 8:57 AM

        I’m shocked at how much depictions of violence against women on TV have gone up in only 5 years.

        Good for ABC for not jumping on the band wagon.

        Michelle November 1, 2009 at 8:49 PM

        Law and Order: Special victims Unit has been a “how to” of how to abuse the marginalized in society, mainly women and children. They’ve been doing it for at least 8 years. I find it really objectionable that people, women in particular, watch it because the cast is so good (and they are very talented). We all need to take a stand. I refuse to watch films with rape scenes, and I refuse to watch SVU.

        steve September 2, 2010 at 7:47 PM

        Hi,
        I have started something that I hope will help decrease violence in film and on TV.

        First, I do not want to “fight” those making violent productions. Instead, I want to encourage new filmmakers, to make non violent films. It is way to long to try to explain here, but it is explained on our website.

        I have been mostly doing it all by myself, despite the faces you will see on the website. I need help….. if you can post the link to the site it will help. If you can help get some big time celebrities on board, that will be wonderful. Smaller time celebrities welcome too!

        On my short productions, the crews tend to be more women than men. In one award winning short film, the crew and cast were ALL women. You can see a picture of us here:
        http://www.bushpilotproductions.com/camgirl.htm

        (When we “fight” violence we give it more energy….. I want to be involved with people who just quietly go about making non violent movies…. our influence WILL rub off! More on site about this.)

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