A Revealing Video About Domestic Abuse and Sexual Harassment

Recently I saw an intriguing headline on Facebook from Fast Company:

“This Video Shows What Happens When Little Boys Are Asked to Slap a Girl”

The article shares a video PSA from Italy that attempts to make a statement about domestic violence. Without even watching the video, you kind of know what’s coming–these boys are going to show adults how ridiculous and inappropriate domestic violence is.

I went into the video with that expectation, and that’s what I got. But there was also a shocking surprise to me that was totally overlooked by Fast Company and Fanpage, the media outlet behind the video.

In the video, an unseen man instructs young boys to say their age (7 to 11 years old), what they want to be when they grow up, and why they want that career. It’s light and fun–these are good boys.

Then Martina enters the frame. The narrarator asks the boys what they like about Martina, and they say a variety of things, most that add up to “She’s a pretty girl.”

This is all building up to the moment when you know that the narrarator asks the boys to slap the girl and they refuse and we all look down on domestic abusers. But before we get there, the narrator says this (minute 1:12):

“Now, caress her!”

Verbatim quote. And guess what the boys do, without a second of hesitation or asking for permission from Martina? They touch her. One boy rubs her shoulder, another her hair, another her face, then her neck, then her face.

The video continues, with the narrator asking the boys to make a funny face. When I saw this the first time, I was shocked that “Now, caress her!” was on the same level of joviality as “Now, make a funny face!” in the fun build up to the “real” question, the slap question (which of course happens, and of course the boys don’t slap her).

But…it’s not cool to touch or caress someone without asking for permission and receiving that permission. Granted, these are kids. They wrestle and play in a way that adults cannot. But this is a video about kids showing us that they, the innocent and untaught, know better than to violate someone else. So it’s shocking to me that slapping a girl is not okay, but caressing a girl without permission is fine? Neither of them are okay!

What do you think? Did the caress question have any place in a video like this? Are you as surprised as I am that the video made caressing seem okay to do?


11 thoughts on “A Revealing Video About Domestic Abuse and Sexual Harassment”

  1. It’s not a random girl though – there’s implicit permission because she’s part of the whole setup, and these kids know it. They probably just assumed that if she’s there with cameras on her, then when the person behind the camera says they can do something they know is not obviously wrong, then she’s probably just fine with it.

    If they were asked to caress a random passer-by, they probably wouldn’t do that either.

    • I respect your opinion, and I’m partially just playing devil’s advocate, so please don’t take this the wrong way. But if what you’re saying is true–if the kids know that this is all just part of the setup, and it’s okay to follow instructions–why is slapping wrong but caressing is okay? That’s my point–caressing isn’t okay, and while it’s not quite as bad as slapping, getting permission from a third part to caress is VERY different than getting the girl’s permission.

      • Definitely not taking it the wrong way, don’t worry 🙂

        I think the difference (when asked to do something with a camera present, and the girl obviously part of filming something) is that one is violent, and therefore well and truly out of bounds, while the other is something that is ok with permission, which is implied by the girl when she and the camera operator approached the boy to participate.

        I imagine it could very well be different if there was no camera visible.

        Either way, there’s a whole bunch of editing and before and after that we don’t see in the video. These kind of videos only ever show a VERY specific circumstance, and you don’t see how many kids did slap and didn’t caress either. Your (and my) opinion is manipulated by what is not shown here. It’s quite possible she asked him to follow the instructions in the first place before what we’re shown.

        All that said, I’d expect my kids to get permission before doing either 🙂

        • I agree with your words, but I don’t agree with the boy’s actions. 🙂 I think it’s inappropriate for them to caress a girl, and my hope is that they’re taught not to do that. Somehow it’s innate to them that hitting is wrong–even if an adult gives you permission and insists that you do it–but it’s not innate to them that caressing is wrong, and I hope they’re taught not to do that.

  2. I find their answers to why they refuse to slap the girl slightly problematic. Most answered that they shouldn’t hit girls.

    Of the boys we see, one boy said he was against violence, which I think is a much better mentality to have compared to the gender-driven moral value.

    If the experiment was with 2 boys, would the result be the same?

    • Allen: Yes! I totally forgot about that, but I thought the same thing. Isn’t hitting anyone wrong, not just someone of the opposite gender? Great point.

      • I think there’s one really good reason to teach boys not to hit girls (not discounting that I don’t think being a gentleman ever goes out of fashion). While you can teach that hitting anyone is wrong, after a few years there is a significant difference in size and strength between the average male and the average female (sure, there are outliers on both sides, but in general any given man is bigger and stronger).

        I teach both my sons and daughters not to hit. But my sons I teach “don’t hit. But *never*, *ever* hit a girl. Even if they hit you first.” If my wife were to hit me as hard as she could, I’d probably be hurt, and have a decent bruise. But if I were to hit her as hard as I could, I could seriously injure, and possibly kill her. I tell my daughters not to hit their brothers, but that not every boy or man will be as self-controlled as their brothers, so they shouldn’t hit someone who can hit back twice as hard. And I teach my boys that they don’t *ever* hit a girl.

        • I understand the reasoning and I don’t take exception to it. That said, I think it’s important to recognise its flaw.

          When we assess the potential physical harm that could result from violence, a person’s physique is really the key determining factor. So wouldn’t, “don’t ever hit someone much smaller than you” be more encompassing? This would also include bigger kids bullying smaller kids.

          I think chivalry as a social value, while nobel, does have some side-effects. There was a study (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15534510.2013.869252#.VLh9GIqUebe) that had men who have doors held open for them by other men experienced a drop in self-esteem and self-confidence. While the study doesn’t explore the notion of women holding doors for men, I can imagine the effect might intensify.

          • It’s tricky to go with ‘smaller’ as the special case because the average man is physically stronger than a woman of the same size (obviously this is talking in generalities – there will be outliers at either end of the spectrum).

            I read a little while back that a significant portion of (heterosexual) domestic violence incidents involve a woman hitting her partner, and him hitting her back. He’ll then have the weight of the law come down on him, because it’s so much easier for him to hurt her physically. I don’t want my boys to have that happen to them, so I’d rather teach them they don’t ever hit a girl/woman, and to attempt to just leave when they are in a violent situation.

            Either way, if people would refrain from hitting anyone, it would make the world a much better place 🙂

  3. This is turning out to be a much more interesting discussion than I thought I’d see when I first saw the video. Let me add that Italians are, culturally, very physical in their communication. It wasn’t unusual among older relatives in the Italian side of my family for someone to talk to you by putting their arm around you (so you can’t go anywhere, I guess) and talk very close to your face. A girl will hold a man’s arm if they’re walking together even if they’re just having a conversation, without it signifying anything other than familiarity. So asking a boy to caress a girl of the same age is probably not as far of a reach for Italian children as it is for American children (who are told that touch is unwelcome and even disallowed except with family or within a private residence).

    That said it’s a bit weird to stroke a stranger’s hair – I’d more expect “give her a hug” or “give her a kiss on the cheek”. This last one is actually pretty common in Europe – I spent an evening hanging out with German conference attendees a few years ago and was surprised that as I took my leave the men not only hugged me but the women gave me kisses on the cheek – one noted the reaction and said “oh, that’s right, you Americans just like to shake hands”. But what’s probably more important here is that for this experiment to work (even off-camera – you don’t want the girl actually getting hit), the boys should have a behavioral precedent of “be nice to her”. I think it psychological reinforcement, do things that make her smile, appreciate her beauty (the thing they know most about her after just having met), use your hands for something nice if a bit untoward, and you’ll not only set the precedent but probably weed out any kids who wouldn’t be gentle, who would actually think to slap the poor girl.

    My digression. Carry on.

    • JT: Thanks for your comment! I can see that Italians might have fewer physical restraints than other cultures. My impression from women who have traveled through Italy is that they’ve had a big problem with the physicality of men there–men who don’t ask before touching. I think that’s why this stood out to me in the video (though it would apply to any culture).


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