VA Dept. of Health launches $85,000 campaign targeting statutory rape offenders

Richmond, VA: The Virginia Department of Health is mounting a public awareness campaign in northern Virginia, Richmond, and Roanoke in June and July to help reduce the number of instances of statutory rape and other forms of sexual coercion.

Richmond, VA: The Virginia Department of Health is mounting a public awareness campaign in northern Virginia, Richmond, and Roanoke in June and July to help reduce the number of instances of statutory rape and other forms of sexual coercion.

The outreach missions includes the campaign's message, "Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor, don't go there," which will appear on nine outdoor billboards in Richmond and Roanoke for one month. The health department will also send 255,000 post cards, posters, coasters, and napkins will carry the message into approximately 150 bars, restaurants, and shops in the area for one to two months. The campaign, paid for by the federal government's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, will cost about $85,000.

The health department worked with the American Institutes for Research, which handled focus groups, creative media, and other endeavors,

The campaign, which targets men age 18 to 29, hopes to change the norms around relationships with minors, making it no longer acceptable for adults to engage in sex with minors.

"We have a big goal of changing goals of society because the norms now are that it's okay to have sex with minors," said Rebecca Odor, the Department of Health's director of violence prevention

This public awareness effort follows a pilot project the health department conducted in Tidewater in July 2003 where 55 percent of those interviewed at the close of the campaign remembered the message.

The campaigns are a response to the large number of 13- and 14 year-old girls - 219 -- that gave birth to children fathered by men over the age of 18, according to a 2002 internal report. With the success of the July 2003 campaign, it created a training curriculum and videotape that has been used for 75 training sessions at local sexual assault centers.

"This media campaign targets men because they're the ones that are breaking the laws," said Odor.

She added: "We're hoping they'll talk to other men and say, 'It's not cool to go after a 15-year-old girl.'"

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