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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

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. :-)

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