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advert provokes rant

I just saw an ad on a website, it read, "A child is helpless. You are not. Prevent child abuse." The whole being illustrated with a large picture, almost entirely black except for a little white light falling across a nearly-closed door. Now, I'm sure that everyone involved in making this advert had the best of intentions, but somewhere along the line, all those good intentions went badly astray.

You may now, if you wish :

The opening statement "A child is helpless" straight away devalues the very young people the advert aims to protect. Except in the case of abuse of babies, the child actually is not helpless, however much they may feel they are helpless to stop their abuser. In fact, the first step towards stopping abuse happening is often for the child to realise that there is something they can do, such as call a helpline or tell another adult. Please be clear that I am not arguing that this will immediately stop the abuse, but it is a positive step that the child can take, to help themselves. Of course, there are degrees of vulnerability, and a younger child will be more vulnerable to abuse than an older child, and children will be more vulnerable to abuse than adults, however, if it were truly true that they were helpless there would be no sense in running this advert, as if abuse were happening it couldn't be stopped, ie. it would be helpless. So, "You are not.". I've already talked about degrees of vulnerability, and how a child may feel that they are helpless. Exactly the same is true of an adult. People protesting child abuse often forget that many adults are also in abuse situations, and may feel just as trapped and helpless, not even taking into account the number of adults who are more vulnerable to abuse because of age, mental illness, or emotional or other problems. When faced with abuse from a loved one, adults can feel as helpless as children, but, just as with children, the first step away from the abuse is realising that something can be done about it. To airily declare that children are helpless and that everyone else should be able to look after themselves is a dangerous simplification of the actual situation. (On a side issue, the assumed "you" is a bad idea anyway. I picked up the ad on dictionary.com, which is likely to see a fair quantity of visiting children.) Run the two statements together, and they actually make the situation worse. To say "A child is helpless. You are not." is making freedom from abuse something the adult can withhold or bestow, as opposed to the inalienable right of the child. It underscores and reinforces the power structure which makes the abuse possible in the first place, and far from empowering the abused person to increase their sense of self determination and self worth and work with others to take positive steps to halt the abuse, it actually empowers the abuser, making them all-powerful protectors (strictly in the mafia sense of the word) of the helpless child. And who is being called on to prevent this abuse? The children have already been dismissed as helpless. The artwork, shrouded as it is in shadow, suggests a difficult job ahead of anyone attempting to investigate child abuse. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this advert is actually aimed at the current or potential abuser. After all, it attracts attention through the seductive combination of shadows, a closed door, and a helpless child. It then plays to the ego of the abuser/protector by reinforcing the all-powerful nature of adults and the helpless vulnerability of children. The shadowy artwork holds no suggestion of being found out, the focus on the domestic detail keeps it all nice and safe and family. The overwhelming impression is that preventing abuse lies in the hands of the abusers realising that what they are doing is wrong and stopping. (You may, if you wish, insert an appropriate metaphor here.) But possibly this callous interpretation is something they would prefer to keep, as their artwork implies, behind closed doors.

Further reading

www.preventchildabuse.org
www.childhelpusa.org

www.childline.org.uk
www.nspcc.org.uk

Comments

( 8 worms — Feed the birds )
applez
19th Nov, 2002 10:54 (UTC)
Okay, this might blow things a bit out of context, but ...
> "In fact, the first step towards stopping abuse happening is often for the child to realise that there is something they can do, such as call a helpline or tell another adult."

Or, in the Columbine case, having the child arm themselves to mete out their sense of justice. If there is the perception that there is no legal or authorised arbitrator recourse (such as the sensational legal case in the early 90s of the child divorcing his parents), in this all-too-violent situation, jungle law dominates.

---

To your rant specifically - that advert, I think, is the product of marketing selection. The target audience of the ad isn't the abused, it's the neighbours who stay politely silent, the suspecting in-laws who do not report their relations to the police, and as you mention, the abusers themselves.

It is therefore an inherently an offensive tactic, rather than a defensive one ... and to be fair, probably has a greater chance of success (for $ spent) than building up protective barriers around children within their own families.

It then becomes an aggressive means of getting responsible adults to step outside themselves and to act against the abuse.

I agree it's terribly flawed, but that's the nature of the '10 word or less' advertisement beast.

I agree that such an ad design (by your description) is likely to do more harm than good in the case of unrepetant guiltless (-feeling) abusers. It may, on the other hand, have a useful impact on guilty abusers and those silent witnesses I wrote of
cleanskies
19th Nov, 2002 17:17 (UTC)
Re: Okay, this might blow things a bit out of context, but ...
*shrug* I was comparing it to the statistics-led, human-face style marketing used over here, which is aimed at young people and adults (responsible or otherwise) which while it uses shock tactics aplenty seems a lot more touchy about victim respect.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "building up protective barriers around children within their own families" -- I'm talking about encouraging self-respect and a sense of self worth, and using peer support and other support networks to reach out for help if you need it. That should actually strengthen any family worth saving.

But one thing I did think was that the American market looked *very different* to the UK market. Probably it does work differently over there. After all, in this coutry you can't just grab a gun if you feel pissed off. On the other hand, people have been known to kill their abusers in all sorts of other exciting ways, though that's nothing compared to the numbers of deaths caused by abuse, of course.

Guilty abusers and silent witnesses. Yes, that's pretty much who the advert was aimed at. I agree completely with that.

I just feel that's a pretty narrow market spread to be aiming at.
applez
19th Nov, 2002 19:23 (UTC)
Re: Okay, this might blow things a bit out of context, but ...
> "*shrug* I was comparing it to the statistics-led, human-face style marketing used over here, which is aimed at young people and adults (responsible or otherwise) which while it uses shock tactics aplenty seems a lot more touchy about victim respect."

Well, there's that too ... though admittedly it's more of the 'this is your brain on drugs'; this new low-income family college graduate died to a drunk driver; and the my drug recreation supports terrorists bit.

> "I'm not quite sure what you mean by "building up protective barriers around children within their own families" -- I'm talking about encouraging self-respect and a sense of self worth, and using peer support and other support networks to reach out for help if you need it. That should actually strengthen any family worth saving."

Agreed on self-respect and -worth; I meant in the hypothetical that a legally-backed social valuation of child as independent individual in a family structure necessitating extensive interdiction on the merest accusation of abuse. One may consider that a hypothesis taken far out of context, but in the US at least ... once a principle is set, it will be tested to the limit.

> " After all, in this coutry you can't just grab a gun if you feel pissed off."

Well, having argued with my gun nut uncle about this sort of gun issue for some time ... I've come to the conclusion that:

a) it is stupidly easy to acquire a perfectly legal firearm in this country relative to other like-developed countries. This excludes countries like Somalia where a bull or cow can buy you a perfectly good Soviet-built Khalashnikov. That having been said, it does take either several days of legally-obliged waiting time; or skill at assembling disparate gun parts procured from gun shows and flea markets; or skill at fraudulent identity.

b) in both the UK and US (and even Japan for that matter), the criminal black market for firearms is fairly successful at circumventing legal limits on these weapons. Examples include Swedish Hell's Angels using antitank rockets against enemy biker gangs; the high percentage of gun crimes in the US commited by illegal (and often recirculated) weapons; the unprecedented (in living memory at any rate) spike in gun crime in the UK fuelled by largely Russian Mafia-supplied weapons (Janes). And that then becomes a factor of connections as much as wealth to acquire these.

Nevertheless, as you said, there are plenty of means of violently retaliating against abusers, and that pales in comparison to the statistics of abuse.
phlebas
20th Nov, 2002 01:54 (UTC)
Re: Okay, this might blow things a bit out of context, but ...
...although in cases like Columbine there's not necessarily much correlation between the abusers and those "punished".
applez
20th Nov, 2002 09:04 (UTC)
Re: Okay, this might blow things a bit out of context, but ...
Well, that blows open the question of what is abuse.

In the Columbine case: were the two teenagers physically abused/bullied by parents or peers? Not that we know of. Did they feel slighted and ostracised? Certainly.

What I find far more interesting about the national reaction to the crimes was less the shock-horror 'what of my child?!' bit, but what appeared far more common: the many nods of understanding and recognition of the act as its own justice (misguided though it may have been). The celebrity-murder at a smaller more intimate scale.

To put some consistency to this thread, I'd argue that social abuse can be every bit as hazardous as physical abuse ... be it expressed verbally, socially (i.e. the clique structure), or otherwise - and can have real physiological impact (clinical depression, bulemia/anorexia, etc.). I would also argue that both forms of abuse stem or are catalysed by the same inherent problem in human relations: the challenge of empathising, of moving beyond one's self and one's narrow self-interests. A challenge we all face and all can do better at, I think.

I'd also argue that, at that age at least, people are at their most vulnerable - which makes the current law of the jungle approach to this emotional education a bit callous, to say the least.

(Bah! Now I'm in the hierarchy of needs. damn. *g*)

Apologies for weird writing structure ... I'm writing this on a mini-break from summarising government documents. If that doesn't warp one's mind, nothing will! :-)

Incidentally, Moby 18 makes for good work music
applez
20th Nov, 2002 09:09 (UTC)
Re: Okay, this might blow things a bit out of context, but ...
Umm, to clarify a point which I may have been vague about:

(and I will be showing my liberal stripes here)

I'd argue that there was a systemic failure that lead those two boys to find no other expressive outlet but vengeful violence.

I'll stop there before I go down the path of violent games as catharsis vs. actually being violence reinforcers and that long inconclusive diatribe. :-)

---
sparkymark
20th Nov, 2002 05:54 (UTC)
A guy from Liberty was on News 24 last night finding fault in the proposed "grooming" legislation, saying that while it might reduce the five-a-year child murders by strangers, it could deter children from trusting people outside the family(or rather people willing to be trusted by children they are not related to) outside the family who could protect them from the two hundred murders that occur within the family per year.
applez
20th Nov, 2002 09:10 (UTC)
Cheers Mark!
that was the point I was stumbling about trying to make.
( 8 worms — Feed the birds )