New Anti-Incest Campaign Employs Disney Princesses

2475705_origA new art campaign entitled “Princest Diaries,” was recently released by Middle Eastern artist Saint Hoax as a way to encourage incest survivors to report their abuse to authorities. The posters feature a variety of Disney princesses being forced to kiss their fathers, with the reminder, “46 percent of minors who are raped are victims of family members. It is never too late to report your attack.”

The posters are startling and poignant—a reminder that victims of incest could be anyone we know, including close friends and even childhood idols. The artwork takes characters we inherently associate with innocence and turns our expectations around to remind us that abuse can warp even precious childhood memories.

Indeed, the posters certainly prompt talks about a significant issue that largely flies under the radar. Various estimates suggest that millions of Americans are affected by incest, and recent high-profile accusations against author Marion Zimmer Bradley and filmmaker Woody Allen point to the fact that incest often goes unreported. As more and more people speak out about sexual assault in general, these posters importantly insert incest into that discussion.

However, the posters don’t seem poised to accomplish their stated goal of encouraging minors to report abuse. As Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), points out, the posters don’t offer any information on how to report the crime.

Indeed, the posters seem to simplify an issue that can’t be broken down into a statistic and a command. The posters instruct children to report abuse, but ignore the reality that they might be too scared to do so, and that witnesses may ignore their pleas for help. RAINN’s website notes,

Many non-abusing parents are aware of the incest and choose not to get their child out of the situation, or worse, to blame their child for what has happened.

In this environment, reporting may not be a conceivable option for a child. Story after story of incest demonstrates that not only are non-abusing parents complicit in incest, but entire communities may protect abusers and hinder the ability of victims to seek help.

Woody Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow said about witnesses of her abuse,

All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, ‘who can say what happened,’ to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Zimmer Bradley’s daughter Moira Greyland writes about her abuse in a poem titled, “They Did Their Best,” and said that people try to forgive abusers by claiming they “somehow did their best.” She counters with, “My mother did her best, yes she really did her best / To drown me for not being her willing lover,” and says that by ignoring abuse, witnesses “may condemn a small child to die.”

The posters also do little to address the fact that many children believe their abuse is a normal component of a familial relationship. These children may not know what they are experiencing is rape or incest—indeed, those words may not even be in their vocabularies. They may not know that their father or mother touching them counts as an “attack” or that they count as “minors.” Overall, the language of the poster is inaccessible and ineffective in communicating to children that abuse is wrong and that alternatives exist.

Finally, since abused children already feel vulnerable and helpless, the posters may appear jarring and re-traumatizing. Survivors of incest have an incredibly difficult time coping with their abuse, leading to eating disorders, self-harm and sexual problems later in life. Yet the posters don’t consider the tenuous mental state of someone undergoing abuse.

Overall, the posters may be far more effective in speaking to older survivors of sexual assault and other individuals unaware of the extent of this issue. And perhaps parents could use them as a way to teach children about abuse and how they can safely report abusers.

If you have been abused or molested, RAINN offers a variety of resources to report the abuse and cope with the aftermath. The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, also provides a “comprehensive guide that offers hope and a map of the healing journey to every woman who was sexually abused as a child—and to those who care about her.”

Poster published as part of the Princest Diaries campaign, courtesy of Saint Hoax

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Margaret Nickens is a senior at Brown University and an intern with Ms. magazine. Check out her blog or follow her on Twitter

 

 

 

Comments

  1. That image just evokes a whole lot of ick. I think it needs to be targeted at Parents – they need to know they can do something about it in a way that will actually HELP the child. They really do want to help, but do not know what to do that will actually make the situation better for the child.

  2. Please note that “The courage to Heal”by E..Bassand L.Davis is not a novel but a contested incest and sexual abuse survivor’s guide.

  3. Marianne Connolly says:

    Hi Margaret. This is a horrible idea. It’s creepy, confusing, and I’ll never get that twisted image out of my head now! Girls love and identify with the princess characters, and seeing them — visually — hurt or exploited or in incestuous relationships hurts the girl. Cartoons are about imagination and fantasy and play. My daughter probably saw Aladdin twenty times, and if she then saw Princess Jasmine kissing her father…? Her bumbling and beloved good-guy of a father….? No, that’s damaging, not educational.
    Children keep silent for lots of reasons, but usually because it isn’t safe for them to speak up. Last week I read Moira Greyland’s statement and poetry, and it makes this Princess idea even more disturbing. (Moira Greyland is MZB’s daughter.) The cartoon has absolutely no resemblance to violent sexual abuse and the reasons children keep silent. Kids don’t need pictures to know something’s wrong.
    It sounds like this isn’t going to be broadly distributed…? I hope not. We need more depth and healing and less mind-blowing creepiness. Thanks.

  4. Kay Jackson says:

    I am in my 70′S and and still carry the hate and guilt of the molestion by my supposed father around with me every day. Guilt because I somehow felt I was wrong for allowing it to start when I was 6. It has ruined most of my life, controlled all of my major decisions in my life, for the worst. I struggle daily from major depression and sadness. I just wish I could just die, enough is enough! No I am not going to take my own life! But am willing to go!

  5. Yes, these images are disturbing, but so is the problem! Anything that gets the message our to people that this behavior is WRONG and is ONGOING is a good thing. Sorry to people who are shocked and disturbed by an image, but that is a small price to pay if it gets someone who is actually going through this trauma some help. Incest is not usually a violent act. It is a creepy, brainwashing sexual act by a parental symbol that messes with the childs’ confidence level and provides horrible childhood memories for life. Get over your issue with the “disturbing” image and get these kids some support!

  6. Part of what’s disturbing here is that all of these images are of older children–either adults in their own right or close to it. Much incest occurs at younger ages, which isn’t reflected here at all.

    I think the urge to raise awareness is a good one, but these posters don’t do that well. They’re discomforting–which can be a helpful thing, but these do not appear to be discomforting in a helpful way.

  7. Shawna Matthews says:

    “Finally, since abused children already feel vulnerable and helpless, the posters may appear jarring and re-traumatizing. Survivors of incest have an incredibly difficult time coping with their abuse, leading to eating disorders, self-harm and sexual problems later in life. Yet the posters don’t consider the tenuous mental state of someone undergoing abuse.”

    This is a bit hard for me to agree with. Apply this idea to the situation of a friend of yours who was raped and now she has developed an eating disorder and depression from it. Lets say that we all live in Saudi Arabia and no one will believe her that she was raped if she did speak up and she doesn’t exactly understand that what happened to her was wrong. Should you as a supportive friend who does empathize with what happened to her tell her that something wrong was done with her and you understand why she feels depressed, that there’s a good reason for her feelings and eating struggles ? Or should you keep quiet and go along with the rest of society’s denial because “She already has an eating disorder and depression. She’s too fragile to hear the truth.” My thinking is that she is suffering precisely for lack of having the truth.

  8. Kara Rich says:

    The poster seems to serve its purpose especially since it is aimed at those who suffered incest years ago. I disagree with the criticism leveled against it; one has to take into consideration the culture in which this poster is being used which would explain why this particular Princess would be used (I know this is one of many but its relevance is not lost on me). The Middle Eastern culture is a high context culture where what is unsaid is more than what is said. I do think that this poster is very important and it will accomplish what it is meant to which in my opinion is to start a dialogue. Great piece.

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