In a new research report about Fox Broadcasting’s Family Guy, the Parents Television Council found a disturbing and increasing pattern of jokes on the show about sexually abusing children. In fact, 79 percent of all the sexually violent scenes that aired on the primetime broadcast TV show over the past three years were perpetrated on children and teens.
Additionally, PTC research found that scenes containing sexual violence grew from focusing on children 75 percent of the time in 2012-2013 to 91 percent of the time in 2014-2015. In this study, the sexual violence on Family Guy came in the form of a joke or humorous depiction of rape, statutory rape, molestation, or pedophilia.
“At a time when nearly one in three women in America is sexually abused, why would a television network air a primetime program that routinely asks us to laugh at sexual violence? Why would we ever want to be in the position to laugh at humanity’s worse offenses against children? And at whose expense are we being asked to laugh? Our research report should give every parent cause for concern,” said PTC President Tim Winter.
“The outrage over Louis C.K.’s jokes this past weekend about childhood sexual assault, and indeed his admission during his Saturday Night Live monologue that he was crossing a dangerous line, demonstrates that joking about such matters is grossly inappropriate – and that was on a late night show. The same is even more concerning for a cartoon that is inherently appealing to children and which is watched by half a million children on any given Sunday evening. We are deeply troubled by the potential impact to children who may become desensitized to, or who will trivialize, real-life consequences of such horrendous conduct. Family Guy has been given a pass for too long, and it’s time for that to change.”
Mary Anne Layden, Ph.D., psychotherapist and Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains more about the harm media can cause to children. “Media makers may call what they make ‘entertainment’ but everything a child sees is actually ‘education.’ For better or for worse. If they [children] hear jokes about sexual violence, they ‘learn’ that sexual violence is not much of a problem, not much of a crime, and doesn’t really hurt anyone. Research indicates that children who watch media with sexualized content are more likely to engage in sex of all sorts and to engage it in earlier and suffer the consequences whether it be pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases or engaging in non-consenting sex. Media makers must take responsibility for the outcomes their products produce in children,” she said.
Coleman Luck, writer, producer, and PTC Advisory Board member, explains why adult content, such as found on Family Guy, is produced. “I’ve employed many Hollywood writers and know how they work. One thing is certain, when they are creating stories and writing scripts almost never do they think about the effect of those TV episodes on the audience. You write hoping people will like it, that’s all. There’s so little time to think of anything else. What you write comes out of who you are. Over the past decades, a kind of darkness has settled over much of the storytelling in American television and it is having a deep effect on the audience,” he said.
Winter continued, “All of this content aired in the early hours of primetime, when the network knows that millions of children are watching television. Every episode that aired during the research period was rated by the network as being appropriate for viewing by a 14-year-old child.
“We hope our report is a clarion call for parents who are unaware of the troubling content on Family Guy. We call on the Fox Broadcast Network to cease using the publicly-owned airwaves to trivialize sexual violence – especially sexual violence against children. And we will be contacting the corporate sponsors of every episode that jokes about raping children.”
PTC Entertainment Analysts conducted content analyses on every first-run episode of Family Guy that aired between February 16, 2012, and February 15, 2015. Analysts examined all programming for type of content, quantity of content, and the graphic nature of the content. Data collection consisted of analysts viewing and logging program content to address the following variable categories: Content rating (TV-PG, TV-14, etc.); airdate, airtime, age of victim, and type of sexual violence depicted or described. All of the scenes referenced in the study were from first-run Family Guy episodes that aired at 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm Eastern/Pacific (7:30 pm or 8:00 pm Central/Mountain) when children are likely to be in the audience.
- Seventy nine percent of all the sexual violence scenes that aired on Family Guy over the past 3 years have been perpetrated on children and teens.
- Every instance of sexual violence that aired on Family Guy was delivered in the form of a joke or humorous depiction of rape, statutory rape, molestation, or pedophilia.
- Sexual violence scenes shifted from focusing on children 75% of the time in 2012-2013, and 70% of the time in 2013-2014, to an almost exclusive focus on children in 2014-2015 (91%).
- In 2014-2015 there were a total of 21 episodes of Family Guy during the study period. Within those episodes there were 23 scenes containing some form of sexual violence. Twenty-one of those scenes were jokes and humorous depictions regarding sexually violating children.
- Every episode in the study aired over the publicly-owned airwaves and was rated by the Fox Broadcast Network as appropriate for a 14-year-old.
The full report, including content examples, can be found here: http://www.parentstv.org/FgStudy2015.