LOS ANGELES — The “Family Guy” animated comedy series increasingly jokes about sexual violence against children and teens, with nearly 80 percent of all such scenes in the past three years perpetrated against that population group, a Parent Television Council (PTC) study found.
Jokes or humorous depictions of rape, statutory rape, molestation or pedophilia against children were included in 91 percent of the series’ scenes depicting sexual violence in the 2014–2015 season, up from 75 percent in 2012-2013, according to the PTC study.
“Why would we ever want to be in the position to laugh at humanity’s wors[t] offenses against children?” PTC President Tim Winter asked in a May 19 press release. “And at whose expense are we being asked to laugh? Our research report should give every parent cause for concern. 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?”
On any given Sunday evening, half a million children watch the series, Winter said. Fox Broadcasting, which airs the series, rated all shows in the study period as appropriate viewing for a 14-year-old.
“All of this content aired in the early hours of primetime, when the network knows that millions of children are watching television. 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,” Winter said. “Family Guy has been given a pass for too long, and it’s time for that to change.”
The PTC will contact corporate sponsors of every episode that included jokes about raping children, Winter said.
“We hope our report is a clarion call for parents who are unaware of the troubling content on Family Guy,” he said. “We call on the Fox Broadcast Network to cease using the publicly-owned airwaves to trivialize sexual violence — especially sexual violence against children.”
Viewing such media is harmful to children, giving them the message that sexual violence is not offensive, said Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist and director of education at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Cognitive Therapy.
“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,” Layden said in the press release. “Research indicates that children who watch media with sexualized content are more likely to engage in sex of all sorts and to engage in it 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.”
Of the 21 episodes from the 2014-2015 season included in the study period, there were 23 scenes containing some form of sexual violence, 21 of which were jokes and humorous depictions regarding sexually violating children, the PTC found.
Writer and producer Coleman Luck, a PTC Advisory Board member, said “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.”
In the study, the PTC analyzed the content of every first-run Family Guy episode that aired between Feb. 16, 2012 and Feb. 15, 2015, examining the type, quantity and graphic nature of content. All of the scenes aired between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Eastern Time.