Sending the wrong message to abusers

A public awareness campaign about domestic violence might actually make things worse for some victims

By Kate Harding
Published July 17, 2009 11:18PM (UTC)
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After their Berlin ad agency went high-tech with an interactive bus shelter poster that illustrates how domestic violence "happens when nobody is watching" (when you look directly at the poster, you see a happy couple, but when you shift your gaze, the man hits the woman), Amnesty International in Lisbon has started an awareness-raising campaign that strips things back down to basics -- like, with actual strips of paper. The strips, printed on one side with unfortunately cartoonish (at least in translation) exclamations like "Nooooooo!" and "Aaaaaaarggggh!" and on the other with the message, "An escaping sound can be a cry for help. Domestic violence. If you hear it, report it" are being inserted into random openings in buildings across Lisbon -- mail slots, door jambs, keyholes. Mark at Copyranter responds, "How invasive!" and also seems irritated by the excessive cutesiness of the concept. "What's next? Sky-writing ads that read: 'Domestic violence is skyrocketing. Report it today!'"


I'm basically with him on both points, but what troubles me most is that, realistically, if these are being left at residences all over the city, they're going to be left on doors behind which domestic violence is actually taking place. Maybe that's the point, but if so, it's ill-considered. I can just imagine an abuser coming home to find such a strip on his door and imagining that someone left it there as a specific message to him (the abuser is usually, though not always, a man), rather than the general one it's meant to be -- and consequently taking his anger out on his victim. I'm all for finding creative new ways to grab attention for important causes, but I think this one is not only invasive (and pointlessly so, since it will probably just register as another junk flyer) but potentially dangerous to the very people it purports to help.


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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