Until recently, TV advertising has been a broad-stroke, minimally-targeted medium. But while it hasn’t attained the personalisation of internet advertising (yet), PVRs and streaming make it a lot easier to individualise who sees what.
Which is why I think it’s time we had either a trigger warning, or an opt-out system for certain kinds of advertising. Specifically, traumatic advertising.
There’s a Home Office anti-rape TV ad that’s being shown a lot at the moment – this one (trigger warning: rape).
I completely agree with the ad and its media schedule. It’s an important message, especially over the Christmas and New Year party season.
But the ad is pretty upsetting and triggering to people who’ve survived rape and sexual assault, and for those people, it isn’t achieving anything. They don’t need to be shown what rape looks like, in any form – they know better than anyone. And this ad comes on with no warning, intruding into their lives as they’re trying to heal and bringing back painful memories and flashbacks.
Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting we withdraw the ad or don’t show anti-rape messages on TV. Not for a minute, not for a second. But I think given that we have a system in place for protecting children from harmful or sexualised messages (the watershed), it’s not too much to ask that we put something in place for traumatised people to avoid this kind of ad.
Ideally, this would be an opt-out system. A quick online or on-TV form that you send your TV provider saying “please don’t show me ads that might trigger X, Y, or Z” (there could potentially be other types of triggers caused by ads, though I’m focussing on rape here). And then those ads just aren’t shown. Instead, you get a blank screen, muzak, or ideally just go to the next ad so there isn’t even a suggestion of the subject.
I realise this requires a fair bit of infrastructure. So if that’s not possible, could we at least get a trigger warning? We’re warned if there are going to be strobe lights, strong language, sexual content etc – maybe just a one-second warning before the ad? Yes, that’s going to be annoying to everyone else, but they’ll get used to it.
The TV providers will probably argue (and I intend to contact them about it) that there isn’t enough demand. But if only 1% of the population has epilepsy, and only 5% of those are affected by flashing lights (source) then only 0.2% are covered by the strobe warnings (which are 100% necessary and needed, mind you).
Approximately 0.5% of the UK public has suffered rape or attempted rape (source), and up to one in four have suffered sexual assault. And those figures are only the reported numbers – far more victims stay silent.
That’s not to say that all of those victims would want to opt out of anti-rape advertising, but wouldn’t it be worth finding out? I know the ads upset me enormously. I can’t be the only one.
On the internet, we have fiercely-enforced trigger warnings on blog posts and tweets – isn’t it time we extended that courtesy to rape victims trying to feel safe in their own living rooms?