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At Last! A National PSA Campaign to End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

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2013-09-23-ScreenShot20130923at5.05.07PM.pngAfter writing almost a year ago about the need for a major public campaign around sexual violence prevention, I was overjoyed to hear that The Joyful Heart Foundation (headed by Mariska Hargitay of SVU fame) and No More were joining forces to create a nationwide (nationwide!) PSA campaign to address domestic violence and sexual assault. They have designed a three-year campaign that will run in local and national markets including print, broadcast, online and outdoor ads. But there's more: You'll also be seeing these PSA videos in movie theaters, major airports and medical facilities. This is no blip on the map -- it's the real deal. It's actually happening.

More than 40 celebrities and public figures appear in the ads, which are designed specifically to urge bystanders to get involved. Why this approach? A major reason is the findings of the "NO MORE Study" conducted by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, and funded by the Avon Foundation for Women, which reveal that silence and bystander inaction are what stand in the way of effecting any real change. While this doesn't come as a surprise, seeing the data in black and white is sobering. According to the report:

  • 60 percent of Americans know a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
  • 73 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 said that they have not had a conversation about domestic violence or sexual assault with their children.
  • 67 percent of Americans say they have not talked about domestic violence with their friends, and 73 percent have not discussed sexual assault.
  • 80 percent believe domestic violence is a problem in our society, but only 15 percent think it is a problem among their friends.
  • 75 percent of Americans say they would step in and help if they saw even a stranger being abused, but in reality, most people do not help.

Clearly, the general public isn't talking much about this issue. One reason for this is that the reporting on domestic violence and sexual assault is usually episodic, meaning we periodically hear about dramatic "newsworthy" incidents like the Steubenville and Vanderbilt University cases without much discussion of the greater societal reasons these things keep happening. In response to individual incidents, we easily revert to comforting, self-protective (and often victim-blaming) thoughts like, "I would never have let that happen to me," or, "I would never let anybody treat me or anybody else like that," or, "if I had been there, I would never have let that happen."

As the research findings above indicate, we still have a long way to go before our silent/inactive reality catches up to our swoop-in-and-do-something intentions. Campaigns focused on bystander intervention are crucial, as they break this pattern by helping us move away from an individual framework that fosters victim-blaming, to a community framework that fosters connection and intervention.

Here are some examples of the excuses for inaction that the No More campaign highlights:

NO MORE: "He comes from such a good family."
NO MORE: "She was flirting with him."
NO MORE: "It's none of my business."
NO MORE: "Why didn't she tell anyone?"
NO MORE: "She seems fine to me."
NO MORE: "I'm sure they will work it out."
NO MORE: "Boys will be boys."
NO MORE: "Well, what was she wearing?"
NO MORE: "Hey, he said he was sorry."
NO MORE: "But he goes to my church."
NO MORE: "Well, he was drunk."
NO MORE: "She was asking for it."
NO MORE: "But he's such a nice guy."
NO MORE: "It's just a misunderstanding."
NO MORE: "She's too smart to let that happen."
NO MORE: "Why doesn't she just leave?"
NO MORE: "She was drunk."

Hearing these messages said out loud in the TV commercials by both male and female celebrities gives me goosebumps.

I still have a lot of burning questions about this campaign, which I hope will be answered as the launch progresses over the next few days. I wonder what the reasoning is behind using the phrase, "no more bystanding" instead of, "no more standing by." I have only ever heard, "bystanding," used in a positive light, so this sounds a little strange to my ears. I would love to know more about the process, and what other words and messages the team considered and discarded as they carefully crafted this campaign. I'm also curious about distribution: What magazines will be carrying the print ads? Will any major TV networks will be running the No More commercials during the highly-anticipated season premieres happening over the next few weeks? Will there be ads on Hulu to reach the huge audience who now consume their TV shows exclusively online? What about radio ads? This campaign seems like it would translate perfectly into radio ads, and I would love nothing more than to hear my Pandora stream interrupted by these messages.

Lastly, I'm curious to know what the evaluation process will look like. It's not an easy task to determine whether a PSA campaign is effective, and it very much depends on what you are trying to measure. Since so much domestic and sexual violence goes unreported, it's very likely that this campaign could cause an uptick in reports instead of a decrease, as some might expect. It's possible that the metrics for success will focus on whether peoples' answers to the "No More" Study survey questions start shifting to reflect an increase in bystander behaviors.

But aside from all the burning questions, I'm just really, really happy this is happening.

[Side Note: I can't stop thinking about this possibility: It has recently been reported that so many advertisers have pulled out of Rush Limbaugh's radio show that only PSA ads are left to fill the ad space. Maybe if this campaign creates a radio ad, it will choose to stay away from that show entirely (I wouldn't blame them) but imagine the glory of hearing Rush Limbaugh's misogynistic ranting broken up periodically by messages of strength and solidarity against sexual and domestic violence.]