by Rome Jorge
MANILA – “In Australia, one woman every week is murdered at the hands of a current or former partner. In the Philippines, 39 percent of murders of women occur from someone intimately close to them. One in three women in Australia experience physical violence. In Philippines that’s one in five. That’s a lot of people in this room,” testifies Anne Rayner, Global Head of Communications Research of international research consultancy group TNS (formerly Taylor Nelson Sofres), in front of a hushed audience at the adobo Tambuli Asia-Pacific Conference on May 31, 2016, at the Fairmont Hotel, Makati City, Philippines. She adds, “Ninety-six percent of us condemn that. But you will be surprised at the number of us who hold attitudes that actually lead to violence. There are violence-condoning attitudes that we don’t even realize.”
Communications research, when done right, can save lives and change entire societies for the better, Rayner attests. And she has the research and the results to back it up.
At a time when industry leaders are questioning the validity of metrics acquired by culling opinions through questionnaires at focus groups and are instead going back to traditional behavioral science and psychology, Rayner highlights how projective techniques—personality tests designed to let a person respond to ambiguous stimuli—when properly applied to focus groups, get to the very source of domestic violence culture. The 57 focus groups included children ages 10 and up, grandparents and parents, urban and remote rural communities.
The results were startling, especially for youths: “One in four young people thinks it’s not the serious if a guy who is normally gentle sometimes slaps his girlfriend when he had too much drink or when they are arguing. One in four young young people thinks it’s not the serious if guys yell abuse at girls in the street or verbally harass them. One in four young people think it’s pretty normal for guys to force girls to have sex with them. This is obviously unacceptable,” she states.
From these focus groups, four insights were distilled:
1. Heuristic influences or unconscious biases were uncovered:
- Victim Blaming or “She must have done something (to deserve it or provoke it).”
- Minimization or “It wasn’t that bad. (It’s not like he punched her.)”
- Empathy with Males or “You feel conflicted as a mother of boys. (You don’t want them to be labelled.)”
2. The high cost of getting involved included:
- Social exclusion.
- Reflection on poor parenting.
- Scaring your child.
- Embarrassing your child.
- Personal threat appraisal.
- Inadvertently escalating.
- Causing conflict with parents.
- Exposed as hypocrite.
- Jeopardized relationships.
3. Social norms:
- The realization that influencers need to reconcile their role in perpetuating the problem before they could be influential, participate in their own rescue, and recognize that stopping some behaviors is just as valuable as starting others.
4. Low Self-Efficacy:
- The mistaken belief that people have no influence or control over the culture of domestic violence.
From these insights, they identified four commonly-held perceptions that needed to be challenged:
1. To avoid /perpetuate is comfortable versus avoid/perpetuate is uncomfortable
2. It’s about building resilience/acceptance versus it’s about building non-acceptance
3. You think you stand ‘against’ versus you may be standing ‘for’
4. It’s about influencing others versus it’s about changing yourself.
They then developed a strategy:
1. Recognize the behaviors in ourselves.
2. Reconcile the high cost of getting involved, and realize that in the long run the cost of not getting involved is much higher.
3. Choose how we will respond.
4. Reinforce it by modeling this behavior to others, particularly young people that we influence.
The result of this communication research, the insights derived from them, and the strategy formulated as a result, was this riveting and indelible PSA for the Australian government by the BMF agency released in April 2016 entitled “Stop It at the Start.” In the video, a girl who has the door slammed in her face by a mean boy is told by her mother, “He just did it ’cause he likes you,” and a woman who is yelled at by a man who slams the car door in her face tells herself, “You’re okay. He loves you.” In the final scene, the woman is chased upstair to her bedroom by the man where she stumbles, cowering in fear. But as she looks up, the man she fears is revealed to be the same boy who slammed a door at her face as a young girl. Even after it ends, the scenes replay in the viewers’ minds. The video’s resonance speaks for itself.