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Pretty Little Liars Has A Problem With Statutory Rape We Need To Discuss

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    Update: Tonight Pretty Little Liars took home a surfboard at the Teen Choice Awards for Choice TV Show: Drama — something they’ve done every year since 2012. To be clear, there are so many reasons why this show should have won (there was cheering in our office when it was announced), and I was rooting for it as our resident-R29-recapper of the show. Yet, this just emphasizes how many young people are tuning in each week, and taking notes from the relationships on the show — reminding us all why the presence of statutory rape on this show needs to be addressed.

    This story was originally published on July 20, 2016.

    On last night's Pretty Little Liars, Ezra (Ian Harding) proposed to Aria (Lucy Hale). I know most fans were cheering — this is one of the most-loved couples on the show. (Even executive producer and showrunner Marlene King has called Ezria the "end game.") But I was pissed and feeling cheated. If you read my recaps you know that I love the show, but that I have a huge problem with its persistent use of inappropriate relationships: namely, when a grown man dates an underage girl.

    Many TV shows have used these relationships to add some drama and score ratings. It's almost always the same dynamic of a grown man and underage girl, although there have been some notable exceptions that flip the gender-role script — for example Tamara (Leann Hunley) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) on Dawson's Creek. However, few shows have used these May-December relationships as often and without consequence as Pretty Little Liars.

    The most prominent example is the Ezra and Aria romance. Ezra was Aria's high school teacher when they started dating — she was only 16 — that alone was creepy. The backstory only made it worse. He had previously hooked up with and romanced Aria's friend, 15-year-old Ali (Sasha Pieterse), until the night she disappeared. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was also using Aria as material for his book on Ali, hoping for the next Gone Girl-esque best-seller. We are supposed to believe that he truly fell for Aria, but it's hard to get past the fact that a grown man put surveillance cameras on his girlfriend and her friends, all of whom were still in high school.

    Somehow, the only people who ever have concerns about the relationship are Aria's parents, and even they give in. The pair — known to fans as "Ezria" — was beloved from the beginning. I figured the writers and fans would change their alliances once Ezra's lair was revealed. He was literally sitting in a creepy apartment watching unauthorized surveillance cameras of four underage girls. Yet the characters forgave him, the writers forgave him, the fans forgave him. I was just repulsed.

    When they broke up as Aria graduated, I was thankful. We could move on. Five years later, Aria is no longer underage, so when they got back together it wasn't illegal anymore. But their history is still there. Last week, Liam brought it up. He rightfully called out the relationship for being inappropriate and accused Ezra of taking advantage of a student. These things are all true. Ezra left to figure out how he felt about those "criticisms." I was hopeful. Maybe people were understanding the consequences after all. Nope. He came back and proposed. Actually, he told her to listen while he talked (so essentially, "shut up") before he asked her to commit to him for life.

    I just couldn't believe that moment — the first time the Ezria relationship is accurately described —was used as a catalyst for a proposal between the two. But, considering all of the inappropriate relationships the series has served up, I shouldn't have been surprised. Here's a look at Pretty Little Liars' history when it comes to grown men and high school girls. Let's just hope that when Ezria gets married, they don't mention how Aria aced both English and Human Anatomy with Ezra.

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