The Parents Television Council recently released a special report called “Women in Peril” (PDF) that documents the radical increase in depictions of violence against women in prime time TV. Comparing the incidence of violence against women and girls by CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX during prime time sweeps in 2004 and 2009, researchers found a 120% increase, compared to a 2% increase in overall violence.
Every network posted double or triple digit percentage increases, but NBC led the way with a whopping 192% jump.
And there’s been nothing subtle about the variety of preferred violence. Quoting from the report:
Violence towards women or the graphic consequences of violence tends overwhelmingly to be depicted (92%) rather than implied (5%) or described (3%).
Cumulatively, across all study periods and all networks, the most frequent type of violence was beating (29%), followed by credible threats of violence (18%), shooting (11%), rape (8%), stabbing (6%), and torture (2%). Violence against women resulted in death 19% of the time.
All of which begs the question, what’s driving the increase? Clearly, with a 118% disparity between female and general violence, it’s not a matter of coincidence or random statistical noise. Looking at the drop in viewership on all the major networks over the last several years, one might deduce that the answer is desperation.
TV networks have routinely used violence against women to generate popularity, particularly among men ages 18-34–a demographic networks have been losing in droves for the last five years. Which isn’t to say that people aren’t watching TV as much as they used to; if anything, they’re watching more than ever (151 hours per month on average according to Nielsen)– they’re just not watching nearly as much network TV. With HBO, Showtime and other cable channels pushing the envelope on graphic violence, networks are always trying to keep pace, and unfortunately that’s meant that women are being victimized on the big four like never before.