Sign a Petition to End HRA’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of Shameful Fear-Mongering

ad-2If you live in New York, chances are you have seen signs about teen pregnancy plastered across the city. My (least favorite) features a sad-eyed child next to the copy, “Honestly mom…chances are he won’t stay with you. What will happen to me?”

These signs are provided by the HRA’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign, and they are both racist and sexist, playing into the desperate fear-mongering that is taking place in a futile attempt to keep teenagers from having sex. They manipulate people with the image of a cute child who looks sad and a caption like, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate from high school because you had me as a teen.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “This campaign makes very clear to young people that there’s a lot at stake when it comes to deciding to raise a child. By focusing on responsibility and the importance of education, employment, and family in providing children with the emotional and financial support they need, we’ll let thousands of young New Yorkers know that waiting to becoming a parent could be the best decision they ever make.”

Along with the shame, another aspect of these advertisements that infuriates me is the implicit theme that a family should consist of two heterosexual parents who are married. Yes, a two-parent household might contain two incomes, but the delivery of the message – “Chances are he won’t stay with you…” (hinted at: “Because you were such a slut and got pregnant…”) are patronizing and insulting.

Yes, teen pregnancy is a big decision, weighted with many different factors. And yes, education and employment are important things to take into consideration when thinking about having a baby. But rather than play into fear and guilt, why isn’t all of this money being spent on a campaign to raise education and empowerment? Why not provide information about obtaining birth control if you don’t have health insurance? Or information on where to have a safe and healthy abortion? I know a middle school teacher whose students asked him if a Wal-Mart bag could be used as a substitute for a condom. There is no doubt about it: teenagers need to be educated.

A healthy sexual relationship should not be riddled with shame or guilt. It should be a consensual decision made by two young adults and pursued in a healthy and safe way. The effective way to avoid unwanted pregnancies is through education and empowerment, not fear. Abstinence-only programs are proven to be ineffective.

This education can take place. New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice (NYCRJ) is launching a campaign named “No Stigma! No Shame!” in response to the campaign to push for a teen pregnancy prevention campaign that doesn’t shame and blame teen parents, particularly teen parents of color.

They have put out a call for individuals and organizations to stand with them and sign on. To do so, send your name, any affiliation or organization, and state to nyc4rj@gmail.com and help spread the word by tweeting to handle @NYC4RJ or using #NoStigmaNoShame.

8 Responses to Sign a Petition to End HRA’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of Shameful Fear-Mongering

  1. Ashley says:

    Seriously I don’t get how this aims to prevents teens from having (unprotected) sex. What evidence supports this kind of campaign?

  2. Celia says:

    Hello! I like this blog. It looks like interesting reading.

    I must write to express, though, that I did not experience the same reaction of repulsion to these ads. What is wrong with communicating the economic and human consequences of having children when you’re not ready? I agree with Mayor Bloomberg’s statement.

    Fear *can* act as an effective deterrant: I don’t smoke because I’m afraid of getting lung cancer, I’ve never tried drugs because I don’t want to become an addict, I don’t turn right on red lights — not necessarily because I agree with the rule but because I fear the consequences. I don’t think this message is shame mongering so much as admonishment of consequences.

    It is completely true that the life of innocent cute kid (as depicted) is at stake, and that when born to a teenage single mom, the kid’s likelihood for success at life is significantly reduced.

    It is interesting to view the ads from a teenage single mom’s perspective.
    To read that my kid is twice as likely not to graduate from high school – what effect would this have on me if, as a single teenage parent, I didn’t finish high school myself? It may certainly cause shame, not exactly a positive catalyst for seeking constructive resources.

    But it brings to public view that teenage parenthood is not exactly something societally desirable. The negative consequences of bad choices do indeed need to be brought to the public’s awareness (we as society have to share in the teenage parent’s burden, after all); and, like the anti-tobacco campaign, such fear-mongering campaigns can actually be tremendously effective within the proper policy frameworks (or, they may even inspire adoption of improved policy frameworks, including smoking bans in bars, restaurants, etc.).

    So far, it looks like the campaign has catalyzed a teen pregnancy prevention campaign, as you cite.
    Sometimes you have to be a little provocative and controversial to rile up change?

    • carey says:

      Celia, thank you for visiting my website and leaving your comment! You make some interesting points. I agree with you that fear *can* act as an effective deterrent, I do not support the resources of time and money should being devoted to a campaign of fear and shame, rather than one of education and empowerment.

      When people are scared, they are most likely not capable of thinking as clearly or rationally as they could in a different situation. If someone yells at someone, their defenses will probably go up. If someone addresses another person calmly and respectfully, it is likely they will come to a more positive solution.

      Regarding any statistics or numbers used in the campaign, if they come from a reputable source, facts are facts, but the way in which we present them can make a big difference, and I do not agree with the choices this campaign has made in how to present their information.

  3. Celia says:

    I brought up the ideas you raised in this blog around the dinner table the other night, and my friend mentioned hearing an NPR segment featuring a current teen mom describing her reaction to the subway ad. She said she wish she had been told where to access necessary resources when she was 14.

    Is it really true that not everyone receives explicit, cold-fact sex-education by the time they’re 13? Was I actually privileged to receive it at my own public middle school? I recall learning about human reproductive systems in, like, 4th grade, and methods of STI transmission and prevention in 8th grade.

    If there is such a lacuna in current NYC curricula, then I agree – funding is better spent on THAT programming in lieu of the subway messages. What good is establishing in the public psyche the better choice to make (become a teen parent or not) — and I have ABSOLUTELY no problem with letting that message ring loud and clear — if the message’s target demographic is not educated and given proper access to preventative measures to begin with? This is what the legitimacy of the messaging hinges on: what % of the target demographic (kids 13+) actually knows about
    (1) how pregnancy occurs
    (2) how STIs are transmitted
    (3) how 1 & 2 above can be prevented, and
    (4) where and how, feasibly, to *access resources* to prevent pregnancy & sexually transmitted infection

    perhaps you’re right: if teens were sufficiently informed on all counts above, there’d likely be no need to admonish teens, as chances are they’d take appropriate action on their own, anyway.

    So: what is the current state of sex-ed in NYC? a juicy investigative journalism/ sociology topic 🙂

    cheers,
    Celia

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  6. I’ve grown sick and tired of seeing these awful ads posted everywhere and I’ve created a change.org petition to help end this awful campaign please sign or contact me this is my first petition and I don’t want it to go in vain..

    http://www.change.org/petitions/nyc-hra-take-down-stigmatizing-teen-pregnancy-ads