Super Bowl domestic violence PSA: Listen and speak up

No More's Superbowl ad was paid for by the NFL. It was a powerful first step to turn public attention to domestic violence.


BETHESDA, Md., February 2, 2015 — The No More public service announcement (PSA) that aired during Super Bowl XLIX seeks to accomplish what no other domestic violence campaign has been able to do: to educate, incite action and shatter myths in hopes of ending the epidemic of domestic violence.

A 911 call plays in the background as a camera moves through a nicely furnished, single-family home. “What’s your emergency,” asks the dispatcher. “I’d like to order a pizza,” answers the female caller. As the call continues, the camera pans the home, revealing items spilled on the living-room floor, a sink filled with dirty dishes, an unmade bed, a damaged wall and a shattered picture frame wedged between the wall and the base of a garbage can. It becomes clear to the dispatcher that the caller is in a possible life-threatening situation. The dispatcher assures her that officers are on the way before the recording abruptly ends. The screen goes black and flashes the following message: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”

Unlike companies that spent $4.5 million to air their 30-second ads during the game, the cost to produce and air No More’s PSA was completely covered by the NFL. Whether that was a conscientious decision made because the NFL has a deep interest in protecting victims, or an attempt to obfuscate the NFL’s real interests — continued sponsorships and profit — is a matter of debate.

The importance of the ad is not.

Last September, immediately following the release of the video capturing Ray Rice punching his fiancee unconscious in a New Jersey casino elevator, many NFL corporate sponsors voiced their disappointment in the NFL’s poor handling of the situation. They encouraged the League to take action to correct the situation.

A September statement issued by Covergirl said, “COVERGIRL believes domestic violence is completely unacceptable. We developed our NFL program to celebrate the more than 80 million female football fans. In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence.”

However, when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrien Peterson was arrested on September 13, 2014 and charged with recklessly and negligently injuring a child, Radisson reacted by immediately and unapologetically suspending its sponsorship:

“Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children,” the company said in a statement. “We are closely following the situation and effective immediately, Radisson is suspending its limited sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings while we evaluate the facts and circumstances.”

Regardless of the NFL’s motives, the ad is powerful and is a first step toward exposing a reality few understand. Yet many victims and survivors reacted with a mixture of support and disappointment.

“I appreciate the fact that the NFL and whoever does all of this allowed that commercial for free. I don’t feel like it’s enough. I saw more people posting [to social media] disgusted with the insurance company commercial than the domestic violence commercial. If you have not gone through it, you just don’t get it,” said Debbie Prothro from Texas, a survivor of domestic violence and advocate for victims.

“I just watched the Super Bowl. I don’t follow sports; I follow commercials, and this year they were really bad. The PSA about abuse was a joke. Who wrote that? Who was the ad agency? Why didn’t they show the bruises, the beatings and let the listeners hear the screaming? Why not?,” asked MrsX Nomore, the author of The Secret Life of Captain X: My Life with a Psychopath Pilot.

The PSA used an edited version of an actual recording of a 911 call. Although eye-opening, the juxtaposition of the call and visual only tells part of the story, leaving many unanswered questions.

How did the situation inside the home escalate? How was the woman able to make a call while in danger? What happened after the police arrived? Was there an arrest and conviction? Did the victim receive proper support and medical attention? Was she sent to a shelter while her abuser remained in the safety and privacy of the family home?

No More’s intent may be to encourage domestic violence conversations to switch directions. Instead of continuing the accusatory conversations that generally begin with, “Why don’t you just leave?,” the unaware who become aware after watching the ad might start asking more compassionate questions like, “What can I do to help you leave?”

Many victim advocates who have been hard at work spreading awareness for years remain skeptical and hesitant to celebrate the ad as a victory. After all, domestic violence is not a new epidemic. The statistics detailing the volume and frequency of domestic violence and its aftermath have been available for years, as have the campaigns and organizations tasked with spreading the numbers:

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience domestic violence during their lifetime.
  • Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes at the hands of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults.
  • Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes.
  • On average, approximately 20 people a minute in the United States are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 59 men in the United States will be raped.

Neither the numbers nor the PSA explain why abuse happens. They offer no insight into the relationship dynamics that lead to emotional, sexual and physical violence against intimate partners. The ad also fails to define domestic violence outside of the physical, leaving many victims who have not been physically abused but who have experienced regular emotional and spiritual abuse convinced they are not in abusive relationships.

Domestic violence is about control at all levels, from the emotional to the physical. Many abusers never strike their victims physically; they use violent verbal and passive-aggressive abuse tactics to render their victims helpless and emotionally traumatized. By the time a victim in a domestic violence situation is able to find clarity and take advantage of a brief moment of calm detachment like the caller in the ad, it’s too late. The damage is done.

Regardless of the circumstances leading to the No More PSA, the positive takeaway of the ad is that it exists and conversations have started. To maintain the momentum and increase the spread of awareness, everyone interested in influencing change must participate. Now is not the time to rest or leave the responsibility in the hands of others.

Now is the time to reach out to No More, to the NFL and to other corporations with your story and collaborative ideas. Never assume No More knows exactly what the campaign’s next steps should be. More importantly, never assume your voice doesn’t matter or that your ideas won’t be heard.

After all, the ad clearly encourages each of us to use our voice and for each of us to listen attentively. Without exception.

Follow Paula on Twitter.

Paula lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area. She holds a master’s degree in Communication and Adult Education and a bachelor’s degree in English. She is the author of the novelette Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath. Her latest book, Unashamed Voices: True Stories Written by Survivors of Domestic Violence, Rape and Fraud Exposing Sociopaths in Our Midst, is now available on Kindle and iBooks.

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