Love is Not Abuse


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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, 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.

Missed Calls


Example of "Checking In" Text

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.


Example of "Threatening" Text


Example of "Excessive Contact" Email

 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.


Example of "Sexting" Email


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.

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  1. I love the connections you made here to the ‘love is not abuse’ campaign! I hadn’t seen their new app, and it’s interesting that so much of the abuse is related to pressure for nude photos. and it’s really too bad that this app, and other online safety messages like it, seem to only focus on changing victims’ behaviours rather than trying to address perpetrators.

  2. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  March 25, 2012

    This is such a useful example, Amanda! Thank you for bringing it to our attention! (And thanks, Amy, for your comment!)

  3. There are some really good comments under the Mashable article, such as:

    Chances are, that parents of either an abuser or someone who’s abused have already passed on the codependent tendencies to accept the abuse or to be abusive themselves. If they haven’t already educated their offspring about it, the parent or parent is probably still stuck in those tendencies.
    […] I disagree with Dr. Murray’s assertion about “teens, especially girls.” Men (or boys) are just as likely as women (or girls) to abuse and to be abused. Is there some data to support that claim?

    (in reply to DY3KT)
    Elaine Winter
    I agree. It’s such a stereotype to think only the guys can be violent. Women can be just as bitchy and cruel.

    Brian Block
    This app can be helpful because a lot of people don’t recognize when they’re in an abusive relationship. Maybe they think it’s their fault or “that’s just how things go, right?” People around them may not realize what’s happening or don’t notice the signs. Will this stop all abusive relationships. No. Will it help? Yes.”

    I was in a relationship last year before coming back to New York. It was all about “checking up, threatening, excessive contact,” and “sexting,” and I was the victim. I took it as a karma getting back at me for being abusive in the previous relationship. I was abusive in a clingy way the year before, so it seemed just that I go through the same pains I inflicted. I learned a lot.

    This simulator is useful for making someone go through this type of mess without having a real person bring scary consequences, but, as you and other Mashable readers commented, the gender stereotypes might limit the understanding of abusive relationships.

    Also, the way the app was presented is problematic:

    Marc Thomas
    This is terrifying. Plus, the guy in the video looks like someone is forcing him to make the video. Sign of dating abuse?

    Chris Hawking
    You guys need a different face to your campaign. Your presenter is not someone you warm to or feel like you can trust at all. To be honest, he comes off as really creepy. This video is getting forwarded around our office for this exact reason.

    I thought Tim Gunn’s deadly calmness added more seriousness to the horribly color-schemed app (looks like an open-source webpage from the 90’s). He sounded rather too dry and limpid to others, I guess.

    I do not want to install this app as it will bring back the trauma and shame from my past. Nevertheless, it’s a great find.

  4. maddiechivi

     /  March 30, 2012

    I think this is extremely fascinating for many different reasons. Our generation specifically has grown up in a world where technology is extremely influential in almost all of our relationships. Whether we are friends on Facebook or Twitter or whether we text regularly, it allows for different commentary and wording to be acceptable.

    I for one think its so interesting that Liz Claiborne implemented this application. As a fashion designer, technological abuse seems to me like the last thing on her mind when trying to implement a new partner business model. Perhaps something about eating disorders or self-esteem issues would be more appropriate. I also agree Tim Gunn is definitely not a great spokes person…. if anything somebody like Rihanna, who many teens feel they relate to and can associate something involved in abuse with would be a better spokesperson (but now that she is releasing a song with Chris Brown who the hell knows!).

    Another interesting point I would like to bring up is the importance of abuse via the phone. Because most texts are between two people, it allows for communication to differentiate from other means we communicate. Nobody would outwardly write an abusive comment on facebook (or would they… as we discussed in class, times are changing and things that are not considered socially acceptable seem to be accepted now). But when texting, the privacy allows for bullying. I think we need to also take a look at how privacy can intensify bullying.

    This new movie BULLY( that is being released March 30th is about students being outwardly bullied in school and the dangers it has on their mental health and stability and how it’s time to stop and change every bodies actions towards bullying. With technology though, is it impossible to stop it? These private setting such as texts, or facebook messages, or private tweets allow for people to attach one another without any outsiders knowing. The movie aims to empower people to take the step to stand up for the kid being bullied on the playground, or in class, or on the school bus. But how will we know when somebody is being bullied on the web, via texts, etc. This app helps display the problem that we have with cyber bullying but how can we ever truly stop it without having youth lose privacy entirely?


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