I have watched with horror over the last few months stories of the most heinous crimes committed against young girls. Two that come to mind include the story of Shaniya Davis, a five-year-old in North Carolina who was sex trafficked by her mother and then allegedly kidnapped and killed by a friend of the mother. America watched the grim video, taken from hotel security cameras, of the accused man carrying Shaniya into a room. A similar dark story involves the kidnapping and death of Sarah Haley Foxwell, an eleven year-old from Salisbury, Maryland, who was taken from her bedroom by a registered sex offender on December 22. Her body was found in nearby woods on Christmas Day.

As an aunt to two young girls, the horrific nature of these crimes haunts me. I wonder how and why these kinds of disgusting acts seem to be occurring with more regularity in our culture and assume that major components involve an increase in child pornography, an overall depiction of the ideal beautiful woman in popular media as being very young, and a general insensitivity to the seriousness of sexualizing young children.

Onto this backdrop I want to draw attention to the deeply offensive statement recently made by Washington Post TV Critic Tom Shales. Ironically, Shales was in the process of an online discussion about the cultural impact of TV when he made the following comment in defense of Roman Polanskis rape of a 13-year-old, There is, apparently, more to this crime than it would seem, and it may sound like a hollow defense, but in Hollywood I am not sure a 13-year-old is really a 13-year-old.

Comments such as Tom Shales are not funny and are definitely not harmless. Quite to the contrary, attitudes such as this create a culture in which young women are objectified as sexual objects, not as human beings with inherent dignity.