Rape Is Cheaper Than Bullets

by Cara on February 25, 2009

in activism, International, marketing, media, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

cheaper-than-bullets1Yesterday, I came across this new UK ad campaign by Amnesty International, called Rape Is Cheaper Than Bullets.   It’s apparently intended to bring attention to the use of rape as a weapon of war around the globe:

This morning I received a text message from a friend who was on her way to work. It read: “Am just in the tube and there’s a really offensive poster up there but it says its Amnesty – do you know anything about it? It says ‘Rape is cheaper than bullets’.”

I quickly replied saying yes, it was an Amnesty International advertisement launched this week, and if it’s offensive then that is nothing compared to what hundreds of thousands of women and girls are suffering in conflict zones around the world.

Well, yes.  Indeed, one’s personal offense is never the equivalent of a grievous bodily assault, inflicted on one for the simple fact that she is a woman.

But like Sylvia, I still have my concerns.  And my concern is, namely, about what the hell this campaign is trying to convey.

My first thought was:  yes, rape is indeed cheaper than bullets.  And I suppose that I had never thought of it that way before, or consciously realized that the incredibly low economic price of rape, combined with very high “results” in terms of effort to terrorize a people, would indeed make it desirable to the kind of people who are intent on destroying other human beings with limited funds.

But where, exactly, does that analysis get us?  Because my first question after considering that was, and still is: so what, we should make bullets cheaper?

I’d certainly hope that’s not the goal, to discourage rape by encouraging more gunfire, and to suggest yet again that being raped is clearly a fate worse than death.  But the only image of the poster I was able to find, the tiny one above, sheds no further light on the intended message, or why the fact that rape is cheaper than bullets makes it worth highlighting.  Amnesty International’s own article on their campaign doesn’t help us out a lot either.

And so I’m still left with the question of what it is intended to convey.  Perhaps simply that rape is a war tactic, just like shooting bullets at people?  If following the tag line “rape is cheaper than bullets” came the line, also in large letters, “but it’s still used as a weapon of war,” that message could potentially get across.  But it doesn’t seem to be there.  So maybe the idea is that this is yet another reason why we ought to end war?  Or maybe they just want to spark conversations like this one — though I’m doubtful that such a thing might readily occur outside of a feminist context?

Maybe.  But yet again, I don’t know.

And so,  yes, I suppose that I do indeed have an issue with quite easily triggering sexual assault victims when I don’t even know what the point is.  Searching for more information on this campaign, one of the first hits I came up with was a video of some young adults joking around on the train, and though I can’t make out everything they’re saying (and therefore hope that none of it is offensive), they are clearly wondering what “rape is cheaper than bullets” means.  They may not be representative of the general intended audience in any way, but the anecdotal evidence so far, including my own reaction, doesn’t look promising.

It makes me sad, because I’m usually a fan of Amnesty International, and I’m glad that they’re attempting to bring attention to this issue.  I just wish that they were doing it in a way that, well, made a bit more sense.

What do you think the message is supposed to be?  Do you think that it’s going to get across to a reasonable amount of people?  And do you think it’s worth it?

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{ 27 comments }

1 jj February 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Maybe a lot of people don’t realize that rape is a weapon used in war? Whatever their intentions, I think one has to be very careful about getting messages into people’s minds. I don’t have any idea what the different messages are that people will take away from this, but I wouldn’t suppose they’re all in accord with Amnesty’s views.

One message might be: compared to killing someone with bullets, rape isn’t so bad.

And that’s awful.

2 J.D. February 25, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I assume the message is that in the course of war, militants use rape as a weapon and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves as people are more focused on the literal cost of war (bullets, tanks, etc.)

That being said…the message is blurry and like you, I believe a bit more thought should have been put into this campaign. The message isn’t even remotely clear and it runs the risk of trivializing rape. Especially rape used as a military tactic.

3 Dee Es February 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Like y’all, I think the ad is confusing and probably ineffective. I do wonder, though, why the default effect of confusion is the trivialization of rape. It seems that any number of responses might stem from this perhaps misguided attempt to educate the public about terrorization tactics.

I guess my question comes from a deeper skepticism about what a less confusing, more effective ad might actually accomplish. Would it turn people as yet undecided against warfare and sexual terrorism? Is there anyone in the tube who considers themselves *for* sexual terrorism? Neutral on the matter?

This issue seems complicated by the fact that, while many people may not know rape is in fact a central element of war, not merely a bi-product, (and that’s true even when the cost of war isn’t an issue), public knowledge does not itself seem to constitute an effective means of preventing mass/systematic rape.

Despite my skepticism, however, I do think that Cara’s analysis gets us somewhere. Her reasoning leads to the realization that rape yields high results in efforts to terrorize an entire demographic. That’s a key point in understanding the way rape works across contexts.

Unfortunately, I doubt that the ad will help foster the sort of analysis this blog post offers. But who knows? The ad seems at least as likely to forge a collective mental association between bullets-rape-violence-war as it is to encourage the production of cheaper bullets.

4 OuyangDan February 25, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Wow…if the intended message is that rape is indeed a weapon of war, I would give them high marks for message but poor marks for delivery.

When I looked at that advert my gut reaction was “Zuh?”.

I don’t get it. I get what I think it could be, but if we have to think this hard about it then I think they need to rethink their tactic. I think it could (sadly) be open for people to mock and make fun of, and I think that in a rape culture like the one we live in that is too likely to be a reality.

I am a huge fan of AI. They usually do great work, but this left me scratching my head.

5 OuyangDan February 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm

OMG, and don’t read the comments at the Guardian piece, please! I feel the need to smash things now.

I am so sick of hearing about how these systemic rape numbers are false and how DV numbers are false (that is, unless they show women as aggressors ya know, they could never be disproportionately victims…no) that I could cry.

6 jj February 25, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Could it trivialize rape? Here’s a concern. The ad gives us an implicit comparison between rape and murder. A whole lot of people have a deep realization of how awful murder is; far fewer, I would bet, understand how awful it is to be raped and how that can murder a soul. Perhaps the ad wants people to see them as comparable, but I wouldn’t bet that would succeed.
So here’s the thought I’m afraid some people would have: Well, I am certainly not a murderer, and by comparison maybe a little force in sex isn’t really all that bad.
This is of course pure conjecture, but it’s a mistake to think we have much control over how people will take in the words, unless (I’m willing to believe) we’ve done a lot of studies, etc.
In fact, believe it or not, I’m setting up a group to look at the effectiveness of some public ads in the US; we’ll do an extensive multi-modal investigation with brain scans, etc. It would be really interesting to see if Amnesty’s ad had any systematic effect on how men feel on viewing various pictures, such as those of forced sex, soldiers behaving very awfully, etc. If this is showing up in lots of trains, people are going to see it time and time again.

7 Eghead February 25, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Yeah, terrible execution on their part. FAIL.

8 Anna February 25, 2009 at 7:50 pm

This saddens me so much – AI have usually been fantastic, and I’m sure they meant to be here, but they missed the mark so much.

9 Restructure! February 25, 2009 at 10:58 pm

I actually got this at first glance.

There are many wars in poor, non-white countries, and rape is used as a weapon. Some conservative white people think that it’s because non-white people are innately savage and uncivilized, but it’s actually because rape is cheaper than bullets.

The other point is that there is an intersection between poverty and war. War in a poor country is worse than war in a relatively rich country. People (especially women) in poor countries suffer more from war than people in rich countries.

However, I think the ad only makes sense if you already know the context of the phrase, so it’s like preaching to the choir…

10 Restructure! February 25, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I think it’s quite an inappropriate ad, though. Somebody who wants to shoot somebody to get revenge might see the ad and then get an idea.

11 Renee February 26, 2009 at 12:02 am

I don’t like this campaign one little bit. It assumes that cost can only be waged in economic terms. This is offensive both as it relates to rape and the people who dies when bullets enter their bodies. There is human cost to both activities and this needs to be realized. I think one of the greatest issues with our society is that we have come to value a social construction i.e. money over people.

I also think that it is important to note as well that there is a financial cost to rape. These women in the Congo need expensive surgeries to recover and extensive psychological treatment.

12 Doctor Alias February 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

It is a ridiculous attempt to sensationalize and no rationalization will get them out of the fact that they have failed terribly at communicating whatever they tried to communicate. The copy writer should be fired and look for a new profession!

13 OuyangDan February 26, 2009 at 2:19 am

It assumes that cost can only be waged in economic terms.

Wow, Renee, I didn’t even think about it that way. You are so right. It does assume that their is no cost to being raped.

That just brought it to a new level of cold for me.

14 Kira February 26, 2009 at 3:11 am

My first guess was that it was a bumper sticker sold by one of those horrible websites that sell teeshirts saying things like “help stop rape. say yes.”

I am thrilled AI is running a campaign to raise awareness that rape is warfare but I think this slogan is extremely ill-advised. In my opinion, it requires more contemplation than what someone in a rush, whizzing by on the tube, can give it.

15 Ron February 26, 2009 at 8:35 am

Hi, i am one of the afore mentioned ‘young adults’.

None of what was said was offensive, we were just supprised at how vaugue the message was and how easily an audience could misconstrue its message and meaning.

I personally think its dangerous to use these kind of advertising/awareness tactics as such a phrase needs interpretation and consideration that a bried glance on the tube cannot suffice.

I think Amesty are optimistic, to say the least, to assume the general public would have such an understanding of the subject, let alone a knwledge of what Amnesty work is focused on.

16 Annie February 27, 2009 at 12:59 am

Hmm, I’m really unsure about this ad. My first thought was, “wow, that’s horrific.” So it certainly is attention-getting. But just the phrase “rape is cheaper than bullets” doesn’t really say anything.

If I was unaware that rape was used as a war tactic (which I was until fairly recently, I’m ashamed to admit, and I don’t think I’m alone on that) I would likely be horrified but uninterested in learning more. I would probably just be left with a lingering, unpleasant feeling of confusion, and I don’t think that’s what they’re trying for. This is a really fabulous cause to draw attention to, so huge props to AI for trying. I just don’t know if they’re going to succeed.

All that said, I cannot read the small text underneath the main slogan. Can anyone tell me what that says? Perhaps it explains the slogan a bit better.

17 Michael Price February 27, 2009 at 4:34 am

The point is that people (well men to be honest) are making that judgment and acting on it. We need to realize this. We need to do something to stop it. If we are allowed to pretend that this isn’t happening we won’t. Sure the message is upsetting, but it should be.

18 Michael Price February 27, 2009 at 4:45 am

“There is human cost to both activities and this needs to be realized.”

We all realise that Renee, nobody disputes it. The point is about the cost _to the aggressor_. Obviously aggressors don’t care about the cost to their victims or they wouldn’t be aggressors.

19 Cara February 27, 2009 at 8:55 am

Obviously aggressors don’t care about the cost to their victims or they wouldn’t be aggressors.

This doesn’t make sense. When you’re fighting a war, you do care about the cost to your victims, and you want it to be as negative as possible. That’s how you win a war.

20 cats February 27, 2009 at 2:57 pm

So, glancing at this article, I thought that you’d posted a shirt from t-shirt hell, not an ad from amnesty international.

Without any context (and that ad certainly doesn’t have any) it’s really just a threat. I think that’s the feeling that amnesty international is going for. Women will see it, and feel threatened, and then consider the circumstances of women in warzones and hopefully pass that empathy along. PETA uses similar tactics. It’s exploitive.

21 karak February 27, 2009 at 7:40 pm

When the Nazis started the Final Solution, they had a serious problem: there weren’t enough bullets to do the job. They needed to come up with a faster, better way to kill. And that resulted in the gas chambers.

Killing everyone in a nation is expensive. Damaging, killing, and destroying them through rape? Absolutely free. The goal is destruction. The tool is rape. It’s not a by-product of war, it’s a weapon and a means to an end. Just like bullets, only cheaper.

That’s what I get, anyway. The same efficient logic that the Nazis used.

22 Arum February 28, 2009 at 7:03 pm

My first thought, to be honest, was that it was some kind of rape advert. “Look lads – it’s cheaper if you rape the bitch! Don’t waste precious bullets!” It’s awful.

23 Rachel March 1, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Well, and the large text never actually uses the word “war,” nor does the imagery – to move it to the “rape as a weapon of war” interpretation, you need to either already know about the issue or have your primary association for the bullet image to be war – rather than associating the bullet with violence closer to home, in the home or from the police, or with a hobby, or with a job. A bullet doesn’t automatically equal “war.”

24 whatsername March 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Very honestly, I don’t think most people know rape is even used as a tactic of war. If these ads help that awareness I’d say they’re doing a good thing. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t be done better though, and I think your concerns speak to that.

25 Will_Full March 2, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I think it works. I really do. It’s a tube ad which means people will generally have plenty of time to read the rest of the copy at the bottom. It’s a big sensational headline which will grab the attention of bored commuters (exactly the kind of people this message needs to reach) and then they’ll read on. Very few will take anything more away from it than ‘rape is used as a weapon of war’ which will shock a lot of people.

Amnesty always used pop culture (and I include mainstream advertising techniques in that) to get the message across and it works. It gets people talking. Do you really think a sober statement of ‘Rape is used systematically as a weapon of war’ would have had the same impact on the average person on the street? Yes its an uncomfortable message and isolated and interogated with other facts and knoweldge the slogan doesn’t give the whole picture. But it’s only supposed to raise awareness and I think it will.

26 Alex March 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm

The Guardian comments include this gem of ‘what about the men?’ BS. The terrifying thing is that Guardian readers would think of themselves as liberal. God knows what else is out there. Also, why is it that rape apologists have such terrible grammar?

‘I remember when Amnesty International used to campaign against torture and to free prisoners of conscious – now it is just a feminist propaganda machine spreading victim feminism at every opportunity. This campaign basically says that it worse to be raped than to be killed. As 95 % of all fatalities are male, this is saying a womans suffering is worse that a mans death. Well you know what they are wrong. Rape is ruins lives but at least you have a life. I am so glad I resigned my AI membership and now refuse to give to them.’

27 annag March 3, 2009 at 5:45 pm

“I also think that it is important to note as well that there is a financial cost to rape. These women in the Congo need expensive surgeries to recover and extensive psychological treatment.”

The advert isn’t talking about the cost to the victims. It’s talking about the cost to the perpetrators – saying that for an army to wage war using rape costs less than it would using bullets.

I thought it was actually a very effective advert as it effectively conveys how horrible and calculating these rapists’ calculations are – deciding which life-detroying tactics to use on the basis of cost..

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