Last year, fashion company Liz Claiborne Inc. launched the “Love is Not Abuse” campaign to raise awareness about relationship abuse. And to target digital relationship abuse among teenagers, they released an iPhone app that allows parents to take the positions of their teenage children by receiving texting, emailing and calling from a fictional abusive boyfriend or girlfriend. According to the article found on Mashable.com, nearly 24% of American teens have been a victim of technology abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend, but because these teens do not recognize that they are in an abusive relationship, they remain in the dangerous relationship. Psychotherapist Dr. Jill Murray, a contributor to the app, claims many parents often overlook dating abuse, while concentrating on other topics such as drugs, alcohol and sex. This app, she hopes, will help parents recognize characteristics of abusive relationships and to get parents talking to their teens regarding this serious issue.
After reading this article, I immediately downloaded the app myself to get a better understanding. Upon opening the app, you are greeted by an introduction video that discusses relationship abuse. After the video, you are given two options: to experience the digital dating abuse simulator or to read up on information regarding teen dating abuse. I of course jumped right into the simulator and was quite shocked by the experience I received. During the course of the simulation that covered topics such as checking up, threatening, excessive contact, sexting and family and friends, I received over 10 phone calls, 5 text messages and 5 emails, all filled with very negative content. And even though it was just a simulation, I couldn’t help but feel just the tiniest bit less about myself afterwards. I would definitely recommend everyone to download it and experience it for themselves.
There were a couple of things I noticed from the app that was also pointed out in the article and that was how gender-biased the app was. During the threatening topic, I was explicitly contacted by a male character and during the excessive contact topic, I was contacted by a female character. I give the app credit for just having a male abuse victim, however I think but using the violent male stereotype and the clingy female stereotype, that could seriously mislead parents into thinking that females cannot be threatening and males cannot be stalkers, which is obviously not true. Actually, I was once told by a police officer that in most relationship abuse cases, it is actually the male who is the victim however because he is usually too ashamed to report it, we don’t often hear of them.
The second thing I noticed is a point Amy Hasinoff heavily criticizes in her article Sexting as media production. Hasinoff points out that safety campaigns against sexting often target the victims, rather than the perpetrators. These safety campaigns tell young women how to behave in order to avoid sexual predators, almost treating these young women as the ones to blame. Like the sexting campaigns, “Love is Not Abuse,” does not address the abuser but the victims and it teaches parents how to talk with the victim, even though it is clearly the abuser who needs counseling. In this case, it is almost worse than the sexting campaigns because it treats the issue after the incident has occurred whereas the sexting campaign was a preventative measure.
Overall, the article nor the app ever explicitly points to social media as being a factor for relationship abuse among teens however because of the way the “Love is Not Abuse,” campaign used digital media to target teens within their campaign shows that they do believe there is some kind of correlation. The “Love is Not Abuse” campaign does not only target teen relationships as the app would lead one to believe, but targets relationships of all ages; it just uses more traditional mediums such as print to target adult relationships. It was when the campaign wanted to focus in on teens did they come up with the idea of the iPhone app. The app indicated that most teenage relationship abuse occurred in the form of digital media, which is why the iPhone app was needed in order for parents to really experience how their teenage children felt in an abusive relationship.
Mashable did a great job presenting the app and the concept however I don’t think the campaign itself was done thought out extremely well. Yes the app was extremely interesting however the campaign spokesperson is Tim Gunn. Sure teenagers may know him from Project Runway but other than that, they do not have much connection to him. He was probably chosen for the job because he is Liz Claiborne’s Chief Creative Officer, but in the video where he presents the iPhone app, he is very dry and not interesting at all. I think this app could have made more headlines if promoted properly.