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12 January 2006

I just saw a very bad advertisement on TV.

There’s a cute girl, about 14 or 15 talking. At first we only hear the man’s voice, but as the commercial goes on, you begin to see the guy talking, who turns out to be a good looking guy in his mid-twenties.

Man: Meeting a teen girl online is easy. They’re so desperate for attention . . .
Girl: Attention from older guys is flattering. They get me more than guys my age . . .
Man: Age lets me play the supportive older guy, and that’s inter–. . .
Girl: Interested in the same things. And you get to know someone when you’re chatting . . .
Man: Chatting seems unthreatening to them. Once I talk about how perfect we are for each other . . .
Girl: Other people don’t understand. If you trust someone what’s wrong with meeting . . .
Man: Meeting them is the goal. That’s when things get really interesting.

Woman’s voice: Online predators know what they’re doing. Do you?

Now, I’m all for alerting parents and children about the danger of online predators. But do they really need to teach older men that picking up a cute teenager online is so easy? Do they really have to portray the older guy as attractive and remind kids that his attention is “flattering”?

According to coolnurse.com, the age of consent for women is 18 in only 8 US states. It is 16 or lower in 33 states and the District of Columbia, including 3 states where it is 14. So, in most of the country, a so-called online predator in his 30s or 40s can go to a chatroom, seduce a 16-year-old girl, and be legally accountable to no one. And, aparently, in Hawaii, Iowa, and South Carolina, men can do so to a 14-year-old girl, and brag about to the police if they want to.

Whatever your opinion is about whether sex with a 14-year-old girl should be legal in the United States, I don’t think we can really have an argument about whether it should be encouraged. It should not be. And yet I think this ad encourages men to get online and try to seduce a teenage girl, by making it look like it’s very easy to do, and it glamorizes it to young girls by portraying the predator as an attractive man in his mid-twenties.

I really don’t think that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Ad Council fully thought through the likely effect of this message, at all. I think they should retool their message.

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