Row over rape ad that offended men

By Luke Alfred Time of article published Oct 2, 1999

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The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa has banned a controversial anti-rape advertisement featuring Charlize Theron, the South African-born Hollywood actress.

The anti-rape campaign was spearheaded by a lobby of concerned parties, including Rape Crisis, Cape Town, and the Trauma Centre in Cape Town, as well as a popular women's magazine.

The advertisement was aimed at heightening public awareness of rape and violence against women - an endemic problem in contemporary South Africa.

According to the lobby that conceptualised and commissioned the advertisement, it was "pulled" largely because a member of the advertising authority's committee took umbrage at the implication within the text that all South African men were rapists.

The story behind the story has it that the advertising body originally received two letters of complaint about the Theron advert, one of which was signed by 30 men, who said that one of the two advertisements accused all South African men of being rapists.

After a hearing at which the case for the advert was made, it was agreed that it did not, in fact, accuse all South African men of being rapists.

In the midst of the hearing, however, one of the committee members interjected to say that they were offended by the statement that all South African men condoned rape. The committee subsequently informed the lobby behind the campaign that "the context of the advertisement as a whole creates a negative perception among viewers that the men not included in the category of rapists are all complacent".

The lobby behind the advert has found the ruling difficult to accept, arguing that the committee "unilaterally and illegitimately changed the nature of the complaint, and that their finding is therefore invalid".

It argues further that the decision to find the advertisement in violation of the authority code of advertising practice - specifically section 2, clause 3.4 - was not made on the basis of the original complaint, but rather on the basis of a point made by a member of the committee during the hearing itself, and therefore constitutes a ruling by committee and not by law.

The lobby is planning to oppose the ruling because it believes that advertisements of this kind are essential to freedom of speech and highlight a deeply disturbing aspect of South African society. More adverts of a similar kind are in the pipeline, the lobby says.

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