Thursday, May 8, 2014

1 is 2 Many: Can a Celebrity PSA Help Men to Stop Sexual Assault?

Last week The White House released, “Not Alone”, the first report of a task force on protecting students from sexual assault. To accompany the report, they also produced a public service announcement featuring several well-known celebrity men: Dule Hill, Benicio Del Toro, Seth Meyers, Daniel Craig, and Steve Carell.  Vice President Biden and President Obama appear in the PSA as well.

There were a lot of good things about the video.  In 60 seconds, it answered these key questions:

  • What is the problem? Sexual assault.
  • Where is it happening? Everywhere- on college campuses, at bars, at parties, even in high schools.
  • Who are the victims/survivors? Our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our friends.
  • Where can I find more information? 
  • How can I help? Intervene.

The PSA encouraged viewers to intervene if they find themselves as a bystander. This is important because bystander interventions are promising, evidence-based strategies for preventing sexual assault.
The celebrities outline several key actions that bystanders can take to help the victims/survivors and combat stigma of sexual assault:

  • VP Biden: “If I saw it happening, I was taught you have to do something about it”.
  • Benicio Del Toro: “If I saw it happening, I speak up”.
  • Daniel Craig: “If I saw it happening, I’d never blame her, I’d help her”.

While I liked the PSA for all the reasons above…there were also a few things I found interesting and would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the video development:

  • Celebrity selection: They did a nice job recruiting some diversity in terms of the men’s racial/ethnic backgrounds and their fans/audiences. Meyers and Carell are primarily comedians, Del Toro and Craig have starred in more drama/action movies, and Hill has done both (I’m a huge fan of his from both “West Wing” and “Psych”). The PSA did not list their names to identify them, so I did wonder- “Would every viewer recognize all these actors?- How does that affect the video’s impact?” I also wondered about Del Toro and Craig’s inclusion because they have starred in some incredibly violent movies (e.g., “Traffic” and the James Bond series, respectively). Of course this doesn’t mean they are violent in real life, but how do these movies contribute to violence being accepted in our society?
  • The audience: While we can assume that the intended PSA audience is men (based on language in the “Not Alone” report, their recruiting of all male speakers and their description of victims/survivors- “our sisters, our daughters, etc.”), they never actually say they are speaking to men. They say things like, “we have to stop it”; “we need your help”. Since the intervention strategies can be applicable to anyone regardless of gender, I wonder if they purposely did not use the word “men” to engage a broader audience? 
  • Male victims/survivors: Although the website and report note that men comprise a small number of victims and are no less important, they do not make an appearance in the PSA. This huge national initiative has an opportunity to be inclusive and I worry this exclusion could further stigmatize male victims.

What do you think?

  • Do you think the celebrity PSA can help stop sexual assault? Why or why not?
  • Do you think the video producers clearly defined and spoke to their audience? Why or why not?
  • If you read the “Not Alone” report: what do you think about the initial action steps (e.g., launching a sexual assault climate survey for campuses)? Will these steps lead to effective prevention and response?

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to share an important point contributed by my friend/colleague Beth Grampetro (Director of Student Health Services for Mt. Ida College in MA):

    "My big beef is that yet again the White House is using their favorite "sisters mothers daughters" narrative. I feel that encouraging men to take ownership of the issue via chivalry is actually upholding rape culture, not dismantling it".