TV producers are thankfully removing or omitting content such as depictions of smoking and suicide from their programs. The same cannot be said for sexual violence.
While pornography has rightly been the main focus of concerning, graphic depictions of sexual assault available to young people, there are also a troubling number of sexual assault scenes depicted in mainstream TV programs and even programs aimed squarely at a teen audience.
This article by clinical psychologist and author Lisa Damour highlights that these scenes can be as or more damaging than smoking or suicide due to a number of factors. The first is probably the most obvious; they cause trauma. Research indicates that viewing these scenes is generally more distressing for teens than for adults, and the trauma of seeing them can last years.
The second concerning outcome is that young people become desensitised to sexual violence. According to some of the latest research in this field, this translates not only to an increased acceptance of degrading depictions of women, but even decreased concern for actual victims of sexual assault.
The final and most worrying issue pointed out in the article is that those who see these depictions become more likely to be attracted to sexual aggression, and more likely to act on these impulses. Research indicates that none of these issues were affected by the gender of the victim, or whether the scene is intended to show the horror of the situation.
Trigger warnings alone have not been found to reduce the likelihood of a program being watched, nor the psychological impact. Lisa claims that the best prevention is talking to young people about this kind of content early, and to frame the conversation in terms of critical consumption. Once young people see that they may be being tricked into watching ‘edgy’ content, they’re more likely to regulate their own viewing habits.
Of course, not wanting young people to see graphic content doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about sexual assault. In fact, one of the key takeaways of this article is that talking early will likely make them less curious about this kind of content. If young people do watch something they find traumatic then talking becomes even more necessary, as it helps them to make sense of what they’ve seen and lessens the negative psychological impacts.
Read the full article by Lisa Damour: We know it harms kids to see smoking on TV. What about rape?
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