ThAt Show About StAtutory RApe
High school had just begun and there were several questions bouncing around in my head: Is Freshmen Friday real? Why do I spend money on this gross school lunch? And, most importantly, WHO the hell is A?
Seven years ago, Pretty Little Liars aired on TV, and if you have no idea what it is, here it goes: A group of girls who, after the disappearance of one of their friends, spend their high school career being stalked by a supposed murderer who goes by “A”, all while dealing with relationships, family drama, and, oh yeah, statutory rape.
We’ve seen the quintessential teacher crush scene play out on TV so many times: girl-giggles over the attractive history teacher who is * just * young enough to be a teacher but not old enough to be creepy (sort of). But in Pretty Little Liars, they take it a few steps too far.
*Enter Ezra and Aria, stage right*
Long story short: Ezra meets Aria in a bar and they have sex in the bar bathroom, et cetera. The next day, Aria walks into class on her first day of school and we see the shock when she finds out that Ezra is her new high school teacher. The writers of the show wanted us to root for them: the forbidden romance, stolen glances and secret meetings included. So, the two continue to have an intimate (and illegal) relationship (with the eventual support of her parents and friends).
To make it worse, it is soon revealed that they did not meet by chance: Ezra was (creepily) writing a book about Aria and her friends, and (creepily) took advantage of her in the bar, (creepily) knowing she was underage. Yeah, creepy
That, my friends, is what we call 'statutory rape'.
YOU: But…teachers lose their jobs for this kind of behavior! Sometimes, they’re charged with a crime or put on the sex offenders list!
The show attempted to address the issue: a school official warned Aria about the illegality of the relationship, and Aria herself had once contemplated filing a police report about his exploitation. But in the end, the two get married and make plans to adopt kids...congrats
Yes, it is a TV show (that honestly should have ended a few seasons ago), but normalizing these unhealthy, and illegal, relationships is dangerous for those watching-- especially when a large portion of their demographic is teenage, female viewers. Shows like Riverdale have also been accused of romanticizing these relationships.
Pretty Little Liars may be a work of fiction, but popular TV shows have a tangible impact. Is it okay for writers to encourage these inappropriate on-screen relationships, when there are predators in real life (like R. Kelly, who for some reason keeps being excused * eye roll * when we all know the man is a creep)
All of this speaks volumes when we consider the inadequate laws (like not being able to revoke sexual consent in North Carolina), resources, and conversations in our country that fail to protect and inform victims of assault.
Should creators be accountable for the impact their content might have on their viewers, or are boundaries dangerous to the inherently free nature of American media?