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South African children join the #MeToo movement

A collaborative campaign between McCann Worldgroup Johannesburg, Picture Tree and the TEARS Foundation is aiding in creating awareness about child abuse – and giving young children a much-needed voice in the #MeToo conversation.

The #MeToo movement gained prominence late in 2017, when the hashtag sparked frank and meaningful exchanges about the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. The famous women who first dared to speak out, the ‘Silence Breakers’, were consequently named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2017 – and the movement is still going strong. With millions of online mentions to date from dozens of different countries, it has splintered into sub-conversations and pledges from groups who undertake to change their behaviours. Ultimately, it has legitimised the once-taboo topic of sexual violence and paved the way for ongoing global dialogue. McCann’s new #MeToo campaign, consisting of executions for television, print, and social media, builds on the momentum of the original movement with a specific focus on young children who cannot yet take advantage of the online conversations.

A hero commercial recently started flighting on South African television screens and aims to point out that child abuse victims are often left to deal with the pain and trauma of violence in isolation. The narrative kicks off with slow and languid shots of children in a classroom, enjoying typical activities like playing and colouring. One child is shown to be considering her artwork more carefully than the others, and her masterpiece is not shown until a sudden and stark revelation that she had written #metoo instead of the typical childlike drawings of her classmates.

According to director Bevan Cullinan, the contrast between the initial light tone and abrupt and dark twist helped to bring the message home that child abuse is going on right under our noses – and where we least expect it. Perhaps best known for his comedic work, Cullinan and a highly skilled crew felt compelled to tackle this serious subject matter for a worthy cause. “I hope that the commercial will resonate with victims as well as those carrying knowledge of abuse and will ultimately empower them to take action and to report crimes of this nature,” he says.

“It’s a sobering statistic that 34 per cent of children in South Africa are the victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they reach the age of 18,” says Mick Blore, chief creative officer, McCann Worldgroup South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. “The problem is that the #MeToo movement is essentially a social idea, and this automatically excludes young children who don’t make use of social media. Ironically, children are one of the age groups most taken advantage of, sexually molested and raped.”

TEARS (Transform Education About Rape and Sexual Abuse) Foundation is a local NGO specialising in assisting and supporting young victims of sexual violence. According to Mara Glennie, founder of the TEARS Foundation, “it is our collective legal duty as responsible citizens to protect all children against abuse and to report abuse when we suspect it.” She continues: “Through the #MeToo campaign, we opted to communicate a USSD number that can be dialled to access the contact details of the nearest help centre. Although abuse cannot be officially reported through the foundation, we provide access to crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling, and prevention education services for those impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse.”

Blore concludes: “The #MeToo campaign is testament to McCann’s deep-rooted commitment to utilise tools and expertise nestled in our midst as a creative community to solve social challenges. Thank you to our partners and a courageous client for helping us bring the campaign to life.”

The public can get involved by visiting www.tears.co.za or dialling the 24/7 Free Helpline on *134*7355# to find assistance for abuse and can also donate towards the cause.

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