Keeping the Spotlight on Domestic Violence Awareness

October 27, 2016

Pop culture and television continue to increase empathy and reduce shame during October's Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Image Credit: Safe Horizon

October is a season of fall colors, football, pumpkin spice, and two major campaigns highlighting women’s health and safety. While breast cancer awareness swathes the country in pink, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), which in recent years has been  super inconvenient for some major sports leagues and athletes. Much like former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, New York Giants kicker Josh Brown will soon fade out of the news. We’re more likely to hear about the Cubs’ trying to overcome a 100 year World Series drought than relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman’s violent assault against his girlfriend, for which he endured an MLB-imposed 30-day suspension.

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But it’s not all bad news on Sports Twitter. One Cubs fan started #PitchIn4DV, a pledge to donate to anti-violence organizations with every pitch Chapman makes. Elsewhere on Twitter, hashtags #DVAM and #EndDVNow took off. These online campaigns are an excellent example of how to turn tragedy into traction for social issues, and DVAM is a timely opportunity for organizations and activists to use pop culture and make some noise. In fact, it’s right in line with how AndACTION thinks stories should be used to draw more attention to issues like domestic violence. By combining storylines from current TV and movies with popular social media campaigns, organizations can draw even more visibility to their issues, especially during designated months of awareness.

Domestic violence warrants as much exposure as it can get. One in four women and one in seven men will be a victim of domestic violence in the United States. Yet 67% of Americans have never discussed the issue with their friends and family, even though 80% think domestic violence is a problem in our society, according to the AVON Foundation for Women.

Fortunately, some networks are creating shows and films to get us talking. Because the combined power of pop culture, storytelling and social media is evergreen, domestic violence organizations and activists can still capitalize even after DVAM is over. Here’s some of the great content we saw in October:

Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le (October 15, Lifetime)

Photo Credit: Lifetime

This biopic tells the story of R&B star Michel’le (Rhyon Nicole Brown), who suffered verbal and physical domestic violence at the hands of her former partner Dr. Dre, and later Suge Knight. Dr. Dre’s and Suge Knight’s gangsta rap group N.W.A. was the subject of Academy Award-nominated 2015 film Straight Outta Compton, which omitted all instances of violence against Michel’le. In response, Surviving Compton amplifies the story of Michel’le’s domestic abuse and her role in N.W.A.’s rise to fame.

While accounts of domestic violence are often silenced or sensationalized in news media and pop culture, Surviving Compton is a rare narrative that centers the true experience of the survivor. Check out our Story Record for easy digital sharelines that link Surviving Compton to your work.

Chance (October 19, Hulu)

Photo Credit: Hulu

In this noir series, forensic neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance (Hugh Laurie) is drawn to a patient (Gretchen Mol) who suffers from a multiple personality disorder, making it impossible for her to get away from her abusive husband. It’s unclear if Chance can portray domestic violence with more complexity than a mere plot device, but we think the storyline has potential to educate on the psychological effects of abuse. Read our Story Record on Chance for more information on how this show can relate to your domestic violence advocacy.

The Girl on the Train (October 7, Dreamworks)

Photo Credit: Dreamworks

This film addresses multiple forms of domestic violence and abuse. Three women (Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson) who narrate with varying degrees of reliability, suffer from gaslighting, endure emotional and psychological abuse, and are manipulated into pregnancies and abortions by their husbands and lovers. These women observe each other’s abuse but do not intervene, highlighting the toxicity of the bystander effect and how it can have deadly consequences. Our Story Record includes sharelines you can use to connect your work in domestic violence and abuse with The Girl on the Train.

Grey’s Anatomy (September 22, ABC)

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This season, Grey’s Anatomy will tackle the topic of domestic violence by exploring the long-term impact of the violence experienced by Jo (Camilla Luddington), who was forced to run away from her abusive husband. Knowing Shonda Rhimes’ strong track record of writing narratives that challenge the status quo, Jo’s story will be complex and nuanced. Sign up for AndACTION’s Daily Email Alerts on domestic violence to stay in the loop as this storyline unfolds.

DVAM is coming to an end, but there’s still time for organizations to use TV and film storylines to elevate the issue of domestic violence. For example, the New Orleans Film Festival recently screened 35-minute documentary, Five Awake, which narrates action taken by Louisiana legislators to pass six domestic violence bills. USA Network also honored DVAM through a marathon of Law & Order: SVU, which focuses on cases of rape and sexual assault. Organizations including RAINN and SVU actress Mariska Hargitay’s own Joyful Heart Foundation promoted the marathon with the social media campaign #NOMOREexcuses.

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Nonprofits working on domestic violence and related issues can stay plugged into relevant social media campaigns and upcoming storylines by signing up for AndACTION’s Daily Email Alerts, which will deliver timely pop culture intel straight to your inbox! No matter what month it is, domestic violence is an issue America needs to talk about more, so let’s keep the conversation going.

 — Amy Lynn Smith for AndACTION