NEW VIRGINIA HEALTH CAMPAIGN ASKS MEN A DIFFICULT QUESTION
By Justin Bergman
Associated Press Writer
RICHMOND, Va. – The giant black and white billboard chides young men as they motor along Interstate 95 through Virginia’s capital.
“Isn’t she a little young?” the sign slyly asks. It continues: “Sex with a minor. Don’t go there.”
The billboard is one of many unveiled across Virginia this summer as part of a state health department campaign aimed at reducing statutory rape. Napkins, stickers, coasters and matchbooks bearing the same message have been scattered in bars and restaurants where young men congregate.
Program coordinator Robert Franklin said he’s received numerous calls from parents who are worried their teenage daughters might be involved with older men and need advice. One even wanted to purchase the napkins and coasters for her daughter’s birthday party.
It’s difficult to know how widespread the crime of statutory rape is across the country, particularly among girls who willingly engage in sex with older men. Franklin said Virginia hospital records from 2001 show that in 70 percent of births to girls age 14 and 15, the father of the baby was at least three years older than the mother. That’s a felony under Virginia law.
After a trial run of the program in Norfolk last year, officials conducted informal polling of men and found that 69 percent said they knew of someone having sex with a minor.
The health department campaign is targeting men between 18 to 29 who live in urban areas, Franklin said. Not only are officials disseminating the coasters, napkins and other paraphernalia at sports bars and trendy night spots that are popular with young men, but also they’re addressing men in a way they can relate to.
For instance, the campaign’s Web site urges guys to speak up if “your buddy is involved with a girl and you know it’s not right” and “it gets kind of weird when he brings her to parties.”