The Virginia Department of Health will sponsor a public awareness campaign in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Roanoke in June and July to help reduce sexual coercion and statutory rape.
In Virginia during 1999 and 2000, 219 births to girls age 13 and 14 were fathered by men over the age of 18, according to the 2002 Virginia Department of Health report “Estimating the Incidence of Statutory Rape in Virginia.” According to data from the widely referenced book, “School Pregnancy: Why Hasn’t Prevention Worked?” men older than 21 are three times more likely than are junior high school boys to father children with junior high school girls.
The campaign’s message, “Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor, don't go there.” will appear on outdoor billboards in Richmond and Roanoke. Also, 255,000 post cards, posters, coasters and napkins will carry the message into approximately 150 bars, restaurants and retail establishments in Richmond, Roanoke, Arlington, Falls Church and Alexandria. The effort is a follow-up to a pilot project the health department conducted in Tidewater in July 2003. That campaign generated wide coverage in the area’s news media and 55 percent of those interviewed at the close of the pilot remembered the campaign’s message.
“We are concerned about minors who are coerced into sexual relationships with adult men and the resulting health and social problems, which include pregnancy, fatherless children, sexually transmitted diseases and mental health problems,” said State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube, M.D., M.P.H. Sexual coercion is the act of persuading or coercing a person to engage in an unwanted sexual activity through physical force, threat of physical force or through emotional manipulation.
The campaign targets men age 18 to 29. The campaign hopes to change the norms around relationships with minors, making it no longer acceptable for adults to engage in sex with minors. “We encourage adult men to talk to their peers and discourage them from pursuing teenagers. What they are doing is unhealthy and against the law,” said Robert Franklin, male outreach coordinator for sexual violence prevention at the Virginia Department of Health.
One Virginia law makes it a felony for an adult to engage in a sexual relationship with a 13- or 14-year-old child. Another Virginia law makes it a class one misdemeanor when anyone age 18 or older engages in consensual sexual intercourse with a child age 15 to 17. Further, under Virginia law, a child under age 13 cannot legally give consent. Therefore, sexual activity with a child under age 13 would be considered a forcible sex offense.
Following the pilot of the awareness campaign last year, the Virginia Department of Health designed a curriculum and videotape to train professionals working with youth. Approximately 75 training sessions have been conducted across the Commonwealth by local sexual assault centers. Training also has been provided to health care providers and a curriculum has been designed for law enforcement officers.
For more information on sexual coercion, statutory rape and this campaign visit the Web site at www.varapelaws.org. You can also e-mail Robert Franklin at [email protected], or call the Virginia Department of Health's Center for Injury and Violence Prevention at 1-800-732-8333.