Case study: Controversial ‘Slap Her’ experiment tackles domestic violence (and gets 30m views)


One of the most viewed videos of 2015, this Italian ad from Facebook page Fanpage certainly provoked discussion in its attempts to tackle domestic violence through a controversial social media experiment.

The ad is from from Ciaopeople Media Group, a publisher that runs, an online newspaper that had Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone produce the video to raise awareness toward the epidemic violence Italian women face in intimate relationships.

The short video introduces the viewer to six young boys, who state their age, say what they want to be when they grow up and why they want to do these careers.

After the boys answer a few questions about themselves, the interviewer introduces them to a girl named Martina.

Each boy receives instructions to say what he likes about Martina, give her a gentle caress, make a funny face at her, and then, "Slap her. Hard."

Upon receiving that last instruction, the looks on the boys' faces say it all: They are shocked and they all refuse to hit her.

Asked why they won't hit Martina, the boys give answers like "you're not supposed to hit girls," "I don't want to hurt her," and quoting an Italian saying, "Girls shouldn't be hit, not even with a flower." And perhaps the most powerful answer: "Because I'm a man."

Though it's likely staged, the video's message is important -- especially in a country like Italy,

The ad has faced criticism for oversimplifying the problem of domestic violence, and also dehumanising the girl in the video (‘Martina’), who barely speaks, gives no background to the viewer (unlike the boys) and is largely objectified by the boys simply as a ‘pretty girl’.

Children's media culture expert Rebecca Hains wrote in a blog post that she found Martina's role in the video to be problematic. "While the producers present the boys as interesting people, they present Martina not as a person in her own rights, but as a girl who is expected to be an object of boys’ desire," Hains says, adding. "[O]ur boys need to understand that relationships are about respect and mutuality. Girls are not prizes to be won; they’re real people."

Hains also took issue with the lack of consent in video. "The off-camera voice directs the boys to touch the body of a girl they desire, without her consent," she writes. "It’s crucial to remember that Martina doesn’t invite them to touch her; she doesn’t say, 'May I have a hug?' She just stands there, silent, while they place their hands upon her body."

Despite its shortcomings, the ad went on to become on the most viewed video virals worldwide in 2015. The ad got over 30m views on YouTube.

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