This Is Abuse
This Is Abuse is a new-ish government web campaign offering advice, support and information to the younger generation about abusive relationships and domestic violence. School and college can be a trial-by-fire environment for anyone who has been abused and isn’t sure what their next steps should be. Information and help resources might be lacking. Peer pressure is king. The concept of losing one’s game face feels dangerous. No-one wants to be slut-shamed. No-one wants to make a big deal out of nothing. When something bad happens – and the victim knows in their heart that it IS something, even if they feel unable to say it out loud – it’s hard to know what next steps should be. Sometimes it’s a struggle to even know what to think.
A 2009 survey of 200 12-19 year olds by the Boston Public Health Commission found that 46% of respondents blamed Rihanna for the brutal attack by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown. A 2010 survey by the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that 29% of 16 to 18-year olds have been subjected to “unwanted sexual touching at school” and 40% had not received lessons or information on sexual consent or didn’t know whether they had.
Creatives from the This Is Abuse campaign
Laura from Women’s Aid conducts the live web chats offering shared advice on the This Is Abuse website. She has this to say: “Because of the nature of teenage relationships, there’s a tendency not to take them as seriously. But it’s essentially the same pattern of coercive, controlling behaviour, and the same levels of physical, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse. A lot of it is done via social media and texts; essentially, they’re using the tools at their disposal.”
The most recent shock ad campaign by This Is Abuse takes a strong and potentially very useful approach. If you haven’t seen it, the ad shows a boyfriend emotionally and physically abusing his girlfriend as he pressurizes her into having sex with him. As he has an out-of-body experience and bangs on the window, begging himself to stop, the ad’s tagline is: “If you could see yourself, would you stop yourself?”
There is a general fallacy of opinion regarding sexual activity and relationships among young people. They’re often dismissed as shallow hormone-driven dramas, ultimately meaningless and best brushed aside and forgotten. The shock tactics ad features young people, giving weight to the issue rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.
As the ad shows a scene of domestic abuse, it’s also taking the issue off the streets and into a perhaps more likely domestic scenario. Abuse in a domestic scenario is often seen by the attacker and victim as a grey area, but it’s one of the most likely social environments for abuse to take place. It’s important to dispel the notion that rape always involves a shadowy stranger in that unlit alleyway you’ve long been taught to avoid. Statistics over the years do seem to point to many rapists being known to their victim in some way – attackers are by no means necessarily a shadowy stranger but often someone in the victim’s social circle, whether they’re a friend of a friend or an ex who doesn’t know where to draw the line.
Image from the This Is Abuse campaign
If the attacker is known to the victim, it can make it far harder for the victim to steel themselves and classify it as rape. Sometimes you don’t know what a person is really like – or what they’re potentially capable of – until you’re in too deep. It’s important to encourage to encourage victims of abuse who are fearful of “making a big deal out of nothing” to be able to stand up and say to themselves “yes, it happened to me”.
Another thing that’s very interesting about this campaign is that it’s not demonizing the abusive boyfriend. At the end, the boyfriend is looking at himself getting lost in anger, and he doesn’t want to be in that situation. He doesn’t want to be that person. A campaign that encourages potential attackers or people that have already been abusive in the past to see themselves as being able to change can only be a good thing.
As well as hosting information on what constitutes abuse, the This Is Abuse website uses excellent charities like Women’s Aid and ChildLine to provide live web chats and forums to offer expert advice.