Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Virginia's new ad campaign goes nowhere good
Soon the long-standing and official state tourism slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” will be changed. The “Lovers” theme will stay the same, but the words will be changed to “Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor – don't go there.”
I like the new ring. It’s controversial, but catchy! It’s hip and trendy.
Too many tourists and pedophiles were drawn to Virginia with the old slogan, not realizing that we clearly meant “Virginia is for Lovers Who Are of the Legal Age of Consent.” That was the original slogan, but it was just a little too long and didn’t fare well with tourism focus groups. So it was shortened to just the first four words. Who knew how much confusion that would cause?
Well, the new slogan, “Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor – don't go there,” put out this week by the Virginia Department of Health, should make everything clear. The VDH thinks that this message will lessen the number of 13-17 year-old girls getting pregnant by men over 18.
The slogan will appear on outdoor billboards in Richmond and Roanoke. It will be featured on 255,000 post cards, posters, coasters, and napkins in 150 bars and restaurants in Richmond, Roanoke and Northern Virginia.
So, I guess they are planning to remind me about pedophiles on my dinner napkin when I take my mom out to eat on her birthday. That seems effective.
Why don’t we just use the same ad campaign for other ills in society? I think it would really raise drug abuse awareness if they put pictures of junkies shooting up with heroin on my McDonald’s napkin. Or how about people clubbing baby seals on my drink coaster? Or what about a picture on my Applebee’s napkin of the General Assembly voting to raise my taxes even when there is a budget surplus? That would really turn my stomach!
Teen pregnancy is an issue we have to deal with, but are these really the most effective means to solve the problem of older men having sex with younger women? How about instead we put the men who commit the crime in jail? (It is a crime.) What about good old castration?
In Virginia in 1999 and 2000, men over the age of 18 fathered 219 children to girls age 13 and 14 – about 110 incidents a year, according to a 2002 Virginia Department of Health report. That’s a horrible thing for those 219 girls and the others who got pregnant but aren’t included in this statistic because they chose abortion instead. But that’s out of 7 million people in the commonwealth of Virginia! Does this issue deserve such a huge (and frankly, embarrassing) ad campaign to target the few people involved here?
An ad campaign this large and directed at the general public with billboards, posters and napkins just creates a perception that Virginia has a huge problem with our male population roaming the state preying on little girls. In reality, we are dealing with a small segment of the population. It gives people the wrong idea what “Virginia Gentleman” means.
National news outlets picked up the story of this new ad campaign and broadcast it across the country this week. What an embarrassment! It makes Virginia look backward and it makes our men look like pedophiles.
A press release from the VDH states: “The campaign hopes to change the norms around relationships with minors, making it no longer acceptable for adults to engage in sex with minors.”
When was it ever acceptable for adults to engage in sex with minors? What planet are these people from?
The fact that (1) VDH officials seem to be making such a large public issue out of something that really isn’t, (2) they are creating the false impression that “all Virginians thought sex with minors was okay,” and (3) their program has garnered national headlines, leads me to believe that they are just trying to pad their budget or justify the existence of their program rather than really trying to help solve a problem.
Posters in public health clinics and in school nurses’ offices, discussions of the subject in health classes in junior high schools and college campuses, and jailing the men who have sex with underage girls would all seem to be more effective tools in this campaign rather than shaming the entire populace over the shameful actions of a very few.
This reminds me of the billboards I’ve seen when driving into Charlotte. They show a picture of a baby with the words, “Don’t know who the father is? Call DNA Testing Center today.”
It is a sad commentary on our society when we need to advertise things like this, and quite frankly, it makes me think a little less of Charlotte when I see those billboards.
I wonder if I will feel the same way when I drive into Roanoke and see a billboard that says, “Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor – don't go there.”