Recently I saw an advertisement aimed at teenagers that encouraged them to think about violence against women.
It starts with a young heterosexual couple. They get into an argument. During the advert this argument escalates until the teenage boy punches his girlfriend at a railway station. Now up to this point, I was totally on board with how the build-up of anger was being portrayed and how lashing out is wrong because violence is not acceptable.
What happens next I found completely disturbing.
The teenage boy — and I will emphasise his youth here — is next seen getting a tattoo branding him as an abuser.
This may seem justified — after all he just punched his girlfriend in the face. But — and it is a big but — will this branding him and many other boys abusers help change the statistics around gender abuse? I get that they are saying that you can’t undo the hurt you do to someone, but I would argue that the ultimate message is actually harmful.
Once branded where is the incentive to change?
Labelling someone a monster does not give them the hope or skills to change. In fact, it will create a further sense of helplessness, self-loathing, and resentment which will probably lead to the anger and violence increasing.
In the version I would have made, the ad would run exactly the same, right up to the point where the boy punches the girl. This is not acceptable and I do not believe that that anybody deserves to be treated that way. But action needs to taken to prevent this from happening.
A more effective ending
So from that point this is what I would have written:
The boy looks at the girl in horror at what he has just done and reaches for his phone, where he calls for help. We see him saying, “This is not who I want to be or how I want to behave and treat the people I love.”
We see him at groups and with counsellors, doing different activities to help deal with his anger and rage.
At the end we cut back to the train station where another boy is screaming at his girlfriend and, as the boy makes a fist to punch his girlfriend, we see our boy stop the other one by grabbing his fist. Our boy then hands him his phone. The cycle of reaching for help begins.
Why getting people to ask for help is more effective
In my version, instead of labelling the boy as an abuser, we are showing that there is a better way of being in this world. By reaching for help, he can become a person he is proud to be.
I know from experience that if you are bought up with abuse and neglect, breaking the cycle of violence is difficult. Without support and being taught the skills on how to behave differently, it is almost impossible.
We must start teaching our children that there is that there is a better way than abusing and give them the skills to make it happen. At the same time we must start we must start teaching all our children and adults what it means to be in a healthy loving relationship.
Domestic violence is wrong — we all know that. Instead of branding those abusing, let’s start looking at teaching them how to become a person that values their own worth and the value of respecting other people. Blaming and labelling are not bringing about a solution and surely a solution is the important thing?