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What do young people think about sexual violence on screen?

Posted on 20 July 2017 by Paul

We’ve just released the final report for our research project about the impact on young people of viewing sexual violence in entertainment media.

You may know all about why we undertook the project and what it’s all about by now. The point of this post is to share some personal takeaways and observations from my own experience of interviewing young people for the research project.

I felt they were focusing more on Theon’s pain rather than Sansa’s pain. The amount of time spent on his face. It was making it about him. They minimised her pain.

Female participant

A lot of young people are quite savvy. They’re naturally articulate about media in a way I think a lot of older folks aren’t. It seems to me that, as an audience, they’re more media literate than ever. Their favourite shows are often transmedia properties with deep backstories, complex world-building and dedicated fandoms. We see the effects of this every year, when students attending our Censor for a Day events come out with thoughtful and novel readings of the films we watch together. I hope that came through in the report.

Yeah I would turn the show off and watch something fun.

Male participant

I was surprised at the level of curation that young people did when it came to their media. We took great care to pick clips from TV shows and films that were age-appropriate (R16 for the older groups, R13 and lower for the younger groups) but many groups still had a really visceral reaction to these clips – some young people turned away, some became really angry and outraged, and almost all of them laughed awkwardly. When we asked them afterwards, they often thought that the clips should be restricted to a higher level. It was clear that many young people we spoke to really cared about the characters within the clips and had a lot of empathy when it came to their distress.

You don’t ever want that to be normal.

Female participant

Given that, it was still troubling to me that most young people I spoke to repeated the myths about sexual violence that are depicted and perpetuated by mainstream entertainment media (we’re not talking about porn here, people) and society more generally. These myths massively overstate situations that are objectively unlikely to occur in the real world, and prevent young people from being able to identify more common and pernicious forms of sexual violence. That’s not a failing on young people’s parts, though – on the contrary – it’s a failing on us, as adults and role models. They’re being let down by the stories that we’re telling them in entertainment media, and by the lack of quality information and support they receive about sexual violence.

I liked talking about things and just having discussions because it made me really think about the things I watch.

Female participant

It was such a relief for me that the biggest feeling I got talking to young people was that they want to talk about these kinds of issues. Once we got started they really opened up, and they also had questions of their own about sexual violence. They’re curious, they want to know, and they want to help. That’s why this kōrero we’ve begun is so important. They’re going to come across depictions of sexual violence, even if they’re not looking for it – that’s a natural part of growing up in today’s world. They’re going to need us on their side. We need to do better. We need to ensure young people have the knowledge and resilience to deal with what they see. 

We’re super proud and excited about this stage of the research project. It’s been great talking to young kiwis all across New Zealand, and we’re going to keep the conversation going. Aroha nui.

Paul works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Teenage girl using a laptop


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