Powerful South African PSA forces us to confront our apathy when it comes to domestic violence

In light of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and the devastating new study which found that more than one in three South African men admitted to rape, check out this sobering PSA about domestic violence from the South African group People Opposing Women Abuse.

The video starts with a young man loudly drumming in his living room in a townhouse complex in Johannesburg and quickly provoking a noise complaint from his neighbors. Another night, the same man plays a recording of a violent domestic dispute, complete with shattering glass and a woman’s frightened scream. The fight is loud. He waits. None of the neighbors come. The video ends with the text: “Every year 1,400 women are killed by their partners. Don’t you think that’s worth complaining about?”

As the Guardian reports, even the video’s creators were shocked by the lack of response:

Fran Luckin, the advertising executive who created the film, said: “We weren’t sure what was going to happen. We were astonished. People complained about the drums within minutes. We played the sound of domestic violence three times and there was nothing.

“It’s a horrendous sound – we really took it over the top. We were hiding in the house and thought somebody would come with a gun, but they just looked away. It was a real eye-opener. I think nobody really believes that someone dies in a domestic argument.”

But I’m actually not all that surprised. I think that I’d do something in that situation. But then again, I once sat in a subway station in Manhattan late at night and watched a man try to get a sobbing, drunk woman to leave with him. I hesitated, not sure what to do. A few minutes later the police arrived; someone had acted, but it wasn’t me. Just last week, I saw a man aggressively slap a woman’s butt as she walked past in my neighborhood. I looked the other way, and she didn’t say anything either. I ignore sexual harassment—directed at me or others—pretty much every day.

The social norms that cause us to look away from violence against others or stay silent when it happens to us—to mind our own business, to avoid confrontation, to feel ashamed for being the victim, to feel uncomfortable making a scene—are real after all. And, in the moment, they can feel even stronger than those that tell us it is totally unacceptable to abuse, rape, and harass women.

Of course it’s tempting to believe that, unlike those people in that neighborhood or that country or that part of the world, we would do something. But the reason POWA’s video is so troubling—and powerful—is that while it’s obvious that someone should have intervened, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not at all clear that we would have.

h/t to my friend Sam

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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