Can Cartoon Characters Stop Child Abuse?

I loved Sailor Moon when I was a kid. I  mean I really, really loved her. But is a photo of her going to prevent child abuse? Probably not.

The latest campaign to go viral on Facebook asks users to change their profile picture to an image of their favorite childhood cartoon character to raise awareness about child abuse. Though the reporting and prevention of child abuse are, unquestionably, issues demanding worldwide attention, the “invasion of memories” that Facebook campaign administrators had hoped to create is unlikely to impact the lives of real children–because it lacks any substantial, meaningful action.

Viral campaigns, like Facebook’s now infamous “I like it on the…” campaign for breast cancer awareness, which asked women to say where they liked to leave their purses at the end of the day–but in the form of an oh-so-coy and clever sexual innuendo–gesture at social activism but seem to do very little other than create confusion and generate skeptical blog posts.

This is not to say that online activism as a general practice lacks substance or the potential for positive social change. To the contrary, campaigns like the #ihadanabortion Twitter hash tag generate dialogue and create community by opening up space for women (or the targeted group–in the case of the Facebook cartoon characters, survivors of child abuse) to speak about their experiences. By tweeting #ihadanabortion, women were able to take public ownership of their reproductive choices and put a human (or at least a Twitter-human) face on a complex issue that is often co-opted by the right wing to represent all “liberal evils,” like, you know, health care n’ stuff.

But changing your Facebook profile photo, or saying you “like it on the couch,” or posting “black” or “polka dot” (an oblique proclamation of bra color) as your Facebook status probably won’t open up space for survivors to tell their stories. The cartoon character campaign, which ends today, doesn’t seem to encourage survivors to speak out at all. In fact, one Facebook user, Louise Kerry, posted her story of child abuse in support of the campaign and was met with this reply: “wow quite a story there must of taken you….2 secs to copy and paste that.” Apparently the campaign isn’t meant to generate support for survivors…?

The campaign doesn’t seem concerned with generating funds for charities or NGOs working to prevent child abuse, either. The Facebook group page for the cartoon character campaign lacks any information about donating money or volunteering for anti-child abuse organizations. In the case of the breast cancer campaigns, it wasn’t clear what the status updates even meant. If social media users themselves aren’t sure of a campaign’s purpose, is it likely that any real change can take place? Where’s the  meaningful action to go along with the obscure gesture?

As one of my family members, himself a father, said: “How is changing my profile pic to a cartoon going to prevent child abuse??”

Here are some great ideas from Prevent Child Abuse America on what you can do to stop child abuse.

Photo from Flickr user davinelulinvega under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Natalie Rose says:

    Child abuse is so rampant because children are the easiest victims to silence, and they often stay silent even after they grow up. Hence, posting a picture or posting a status to show solidarity, to show a willingness to speak up about these issues, is actually pretty important. Nothing will change if there's no dialogue. Just a thought.

  2. my friend starting changing their profile pics. I gave them the national hotline number and a little known fact to post below the pic. Take the trend and give it some substance.

  3. I have changed my pic to the box of goods I have ready to donate to a social service organization. My cousin donated money to a child abuse agency and put the receipt on his pic. Lets put up pics of what we are doing or have done to help others!

  4. mentalocity says:

    I was sexually abused and raped as a child. I was physically abused and verbally attacked. I'm that kid, only I'm 27 now and I'm an advocate. When a similar grassroots campaign was created last April during Child Abuse Awareness Month using photos of people as children themselves, it didn't go very far because there was the possibility of abusers and survivors being triggered by it. Associating a picture of yourself as a child with the concept of abuse is a recipe for disaster; someone obviously did not think that through. The cartoons were a way to accomplish the same goal in a non-threatening way that everyone wants to join in on and find out about. You're right- it's the same principle that was behind the bra color status updates for breast cancer. Only unlike breast cancer, where every other product you pick up has a pink ribbon stamped on it, people don't event know that there IS a ribbon for child abuse. (It's blue, by the way.) People are aware of child abuse but they don't discuss it- the point is to get it mentioned, if nothing else than so there is less fear and shame surrounding it. Parents hopefully were asking their kids why there were cartoons all over facebook, and if there was any decency in the parent, they would find out what it meant when their kid said, "I don't know; something to do with child abuse." It could open up a dialogue that wasn't there before. At least, that is my fantasy. It's a nice one, isn't it?

  5. Adult Child says:

    I found it especially egregious that this “campaign” wanted you to replace all potentially human profile pictures with those of cartoon characters. It seems to me that this does the exact opposite of what you would think should be desired: expressing the human cost of child abuse in terms of consciousness raising; that it is real people who are physically or mentally or verbally abused. To obscure it behind a meaningless and unhelpful veil of nostalgia for childhood is ridiculously ineffective and also incredibly lazy insofar as online “social activism” is concerned. To top it off, it’s also offensive!

    I must admit, however, that the extent of my own “activism” was only posting a Facebook status update decrying these kinds of awful, misguided attempts at consciousness-raising and suggesting instead to (e.g.) donate money or volunteer time at an organisation that attempts to actually diminish [and ultimately eliminate entirely, of course] child abuse. I hope I’m not being too hypocritical of me.

  6. why so cynical? of course it wasn't going to make such an impact as to stop child abuse. of course nobody was making it out to be comparable to actually donating time or money to the cause. but it was a way to make people think about it at least ONE more time than they probably would have throughout the course of a day or a few days. what's just as annoying as people acting like they've cornered the market on caring about something? …people who act like they're so ABOVE what all those silly other people are doing and looking down their noses at them. like another poster mentions, it was as much a show of solidarity and concern as a hope to get people actually talking about it.

  7. We just want to thank you for the thoughtful post and for drawing attention to our work. We also wanted to share an entry from our blog that we posted today about this campaign and its potential impact –…. Thanks.

  8. But didn't it work since people are writing about it?

  9. From what I understand, people started changing their pictures just for fun, and then somebody else just added on the child abuse part to get more people to do it. Then, of course, it went viral. I changed mine because I didn't think it was as sexual as the breast cancer awareness ones. But that's the reason the group page didn't have any information about child abuse; it wasn't started for that purpose.

  10. natalie wilson says:

    Thanks for you astute analysis of the latest lacking-in-substance facebook campaign.

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