Effective or Just Plain Creepy? Snake and Rat Posters Aim to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

You might recall BabyCanWait's guerrilla teen-pregnancy prevention tactics from that "elaborate hoax" of a movie trailer they sprung on teens last year. They're back with a new campaign in partnership with United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Serve Marketing, and this one likens sexual predators to rats and snakes:

young latina girl covered in rats. Caption reads: What kind of man preys on underage girls? young black girl with a snake wrapped around her. Caption reads: What kind of man preys on underage girls?
Ad copy reads, "When an older man has sex with an underage girl, it's more than creepy. It's statutory rape. Learn how to encourage healthy relationships."

I'm a little conflicted about this campaign. On the one hand, it places the blame for teen pregnancy on older men, which is good a good thing since according to Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way of Greater Milwaukee, "Most of the children born to teens are fathered by adult males." This ad calls these men what they are: statutory rapists.

However, the lack of agency given to the girls in these images is just as creepy as the rats and snake. After all, who are these spots for? They clearly aren't addressing teens, seeing as how the two models—both of whom are non-white, which I'm sure is no coincidence—stare motionless at the camera, powerless against the predators out to ruin their lives. The ad doesn't directly target the men having sex with these girls, either. If it did, it would have some language in there about, you know, not having sex with girls. Is it for parents then? Members of the community?

The latest statistics show teen pregnancies in Milwaukee dropping by more than 30 percent (though these posters are too recent to have affected those stats)—are these snake and rat posters a step in the right direction or just plain creepy?

h/t AdRants

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

18 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I think it would be

I think it would be interesting to see what underage/preteen girls think of these ads. But it's almost impossible to know if they're 'effective.' I think the audience question is a good question; who exactly is being addressed here? Seems like it's mostly for parents/guardians/mentors.
I do like that it clearly establishes that sex with underage girls IS statutory rape. It reminds me of the poster that says "Abuse, it's a shame" and "shame" is crossed out to be replaced with "Crime" reminding people that it's not just something 'sad' but it's punishable by law.
The matter of non white girls is a little annoying. There are plenty of underage white girls, I'm sure, who have engaged in relationships with grown men. There is an element of racial stereotype it feels like, in these posters.

As for the matter of agency, I agree that should be addressed, though it seems in smaller letters they have mentioned that you can go to a website and see how to "encourage healthy relationships." So it's acknowledging the ability of girls to say "No" to creepy men.

Hey, longtime reader first

Hey, longtime reader first time commenter. I am 27 years old and mother to a 9 year old. I gave birth to my son the day after I turned 18. His father was 25 at the time-the relationship began when I was only 15.The relationship with my sons father ended shortly after I gave birth. In the 9 years since I've come to terms with the fact , that besides the fact that statutory rape was a factor, I was very much pressured into a sexual relationship before I was ready for it, by an adult. In other words, I was raped. I like these ads. I can understand someone questioning them, as they don't portray the girls as having any kindof agency -sexual or otherwise. That said, I for one know that often these kinds of "relationships" are more or less orchestrated by the older male , who is a predator, so in my opinion I think that the imagery is accurate. Of course there are 15 year olds who WANT to have sex and give "consent" but I doubt very many of them are old enough to truly be in touch with their own sexuality let alone consent and be anything other than a victim at the end of the day. If the people who made these ads portrayed these girls as anything other than victims, I believe it would have only served the defense of statutory rapists, as it fuels the stereotype of the eager, mature girl who tempts or convinces the older man to cross that line.

Yes, I see this as an ad

Yes, I see this as an ad geared at parents discussing and educating this issue with their daughters. My sister is 16 and my dad has gone out of his way to make sure she protects her identity online for this reason.

The ad certainly over simplifies the issue, but the truth is, many girls don't have the agency IF it's not discussed in their family. Plenty of girls would avoid predatory dudes, but there are so many ways a guy could be predatory that girls may not recognize.

I think it's and effective campaign in the end.

Comment + Question about the demographics of the area

I 'm not sure how I feel about the girls' lack of agency in these posters, but I do agree with the intent to publicize the fact that adult men having sex with girls is statutory rape. I think this ad is addressed to the community, and if that's the case I understand why the makers would attempt to make the girls seem powerless - it would presumably cause community members to remember that these girls are children and that they have a duty to protect them from the predatory relationships that may become a part of their lives. My question is in regards to the race of the girls pictured: is this in an attempt to target a minority demographic of the city, or are these girls used in the ad because that's the majority population of whatever high school or community the posters are being placed in? I don't know the demographic make up of that area, this is a legitimate question. Maybe it's not so much racially motivated targeting as a community-appropriate poster. Either way, this is definitely an issue that more community organizations and nonprofits should be focusing on, at least in my community (Cleveland, OH).

i hate these posters!!!

i hate these posters!!! there are two big reasons why.... 1) the use of the rats & snake do not identify, or give a face to perpetrators, yet does define the girls without agency.
2) I really hate when humans use & identify other animals as bad, evil & intentional causing harm to the defenseless...... the snake, nor the rats will be attacking, forcing, causing any harm to, or impregnating girls...or women!!! STOP defining other animals by what we, humans, define as bad!!!!!

Steaming mad

My soon to be ex had affairs with young girls as young as 14 or 15 when he was in his late 20's .He also was charged but got off for a sexual assult on a young girl,he has a history of this going back when he was a young teen.The goverment doesnt give a shit about it !

I don't see the problem with

I don't see the problem with the girl's agency. They do seem vulnerable, but it's because underage people are. I'd argue that the one on the right, with her hand on her hip, is meant to be confrontational and show that the girl thinks she's in control of herself. And what teen doesn't think that they've got control of themselves and their destinies? As to the animal imagery, I think it's cheaply done and doesn't really get the point across to me, but I like rats and snakes. But then again, would showing creepy older dudes in the background be effective? Maybe if a shadow was cast on the teens, in the shape of a man? Maybe the copy could address that having an older boyfriend isn't "cool" and is statuatory rape, since I feel that many girls get with older dudes to feel "adult" and impress their friends.

Why on Earth would United Way

Why on Earth would United Way do something so irresponsible as to contribute to the already undeserved negative stereotypes surrounding snakes, and other animals? Demonizing innocent animals for the crimes committed by *HUMANS* is absolutely inexcusable! As a woman, a survivor of abuse, and a reptile keeper, I find this to be totally off the mark when it comes to actually informing people of the issue of statutory rape, and can only result in additional cruelty against animals that don't deserve it.

That beautiful Burmese python is being an absolute doll with that little girl, and in spite of being gentle, non-aggressive, etc., it is portrayed as a monster! Isn't it enough that we already have laws coming at the reptile community from all angles that completely, and utterly lack solid scientific evidence to back them up? Now the reptile community will have to deal with the added stereotype of sexual predation on top of the already negative image they've been fighting from HSUS and PETA.

The salt in the wound is that this won't make a difference in saving any underaged girls from sexual predators! Why don't any of these campaign efforts ever have an intelligent thought behind them, and actually *do* anything that has any chance of changing things for the better instead of just more PR spin based on absolutely unsupported superstition? Not to mention the implied slam that "men are snakes", etc. that completely ignores female offenders, and men who are not sexual predators at all. How many other ways can this campaign absolutely violate, and marginalize men, reptiles, reptile keepers, and sexual abuse survivors?!

Agreed with Melissa W.

The first thing that I noticed was that they were portraying rats and snakes in a very negative light. I'm a former snake owner and current owner of four ratties who are sweeter than any dog/cat that I have ever met. Considering how much hate they typically receive, it's now worse that they're equated with pedophiles and rapists.

Look at the snake for a moment -- if it were truly a threat, it would be strangling that poor girl. Clearly, it means absolutely no harm whatsoever. What exactly was going through the ad-maker's mind when they put the snake around her shoulders, anyway? I doubt the owner of the python was very amused with the end result.

Not to mention that the ad is target solely at males. Women can rape men too, and it's not as uncommon as some may think. In fact, I'm involved with a friend who just recently went through that exact scenario. It's not something to joke about and instead of "witty" similes, hard facts need to be presented to deliver a proper message. Way to go, internet.

age of consent for a reason

the age of consent has been set for a reason... it is hard to define whether a young person (in this case under age girls) has the ability to consent to sexual activity.
When my nephew was 14 he swore that his teacher, who he had a crush on, liked him back, and I was faced with having to explain why it is wrong for someone to take advantage of a younger person. I told him that going through puberty is like being on drugs, with all those hormones running trough your system, you are more susceptible to pressure and more likely to make bad choices. This was an analogy he understood well (having seen me and his mother go silly when tipsy) and the matter was closed.
To argue that it is a matter of agency for the hypothetical girls in these ads is ridiculous, as a predator will use any and all tricks they know to get what they want, even manipulating young impressionable minds in to thinking it was their idea.

Wait. I recall a poster

Wait. I recall a poster recently with the caption question, "How to prevent rape?" and a list of responses were addressed directly to men - thereby calling out the problem of addressing only girls as the only solutions to a problem clearly perpetrated by men.

Now we're critiquing this tactic by saying the posters do not properly address the girls? That the girls are too passive and inert? Sheesh. They're just no winning is there? I think the imagery works just fine. It's not necessarily robbing the girls of agency because it is clearly a metaphor. The images function as symbols for the specific act of recognizing what rapists are: creepy subhuman predators.

I think these posters are also focusing on a demographic of young people who are in a zone of developing self-sophistication where an older man hitting on a younger woman could possibly be confused as cool, flattering and enticing. These posters seem to aim to de-entice the image of the "older man" by representing him as the pathetic rodent that he is. How are the posters not addressing teens just because the teens are non-white? I don't see the connection here.

I don't know, that girl with

I don't know, that girl with the snake looks kinda badass.

I think my issue with these posters is the lack-of-agency bit. They are portraying girls as victims to be rescued rather than people capable of protecting, educating and empowering themselves. While, yes, young teens are vulnerable and susceptible to the manipulations of adults and should be protected by more responsible adults, I think that going the damsel-in-distress route, the one where the nubile young girl is pursued by a pervy villain and requires rescuing, is a step backward. It reminds me of all the protect-the-womenfolk rhetoric I've heard that makes my skin crawl. I'm all for making people who aren't teenage girls aware of statutory rape, and educating those people on how to educate teen girls on the subject, but I think this campaign missed the mark slightly. The girls are still being shown as weak and passive objects. That being said, I don't know what would have been a better idea. Maybe something that's more directly shaming towards would-be statutory rapists.

I also happen to be fond of snakes and rats (and spiders), so this is doubly off to me.

think of the audience

These posters address adult males in this community. They are simplistic, rely on gender stereotypes, etc., but they get their point across. The animals on the girls are meant to be literally skin-crawling and yes, creepy. Yes, it is sad that humans must resort to portraying animals in a negative light as a metaphor for monstrous humans--humans do a great job of being monsters without the help of animals, who for the most part keep to themselves. I'm not complaining, however--I know several happy owners of rats and snakes, and the population of both animals is thriving (sometimes to a negative extent--ever hear about those snakes some dolts released into the Everglades? http://www.gastongazette.com/articles/pythons-72194-snakes-habitats.html ). Moreover, a threatening human presence would be rife with problems in itself. Frankly, the image of the young girl/woman (even an empowered one) being threatened by an older man has been seen over and over again in images and on screen, to the extent that I wonder if it has been fetishized. In many of these images, from female murder victims on, say, 'CSI,' to noxious advertisements that glamorize the subjugation of women (warning: some are disturbing: : http://jezebel.com/5916650/fashions-ongoing-violence-against-women/galle... ).
These awareness adverts are breaking away from this sort of imagery. It does so in a simplistic and problematic way, but it does so to send a direct message to potential perpetrators of this sort of crime.

I think the idea behind these

I think the idea behind these posters is to attack the culture that treats statutory rape as acceptable (and yes, there is such a culture.) They're aimed at both people who might one day commit it, and at their friends, family, etc who might sit quietly back and accept it.

Hence the way the girls are portrayed -- the lack of agency is very very deliberate and is really the main point of the posters, since many adults tell themselves that statutory rape is all right as long as the girls "wanted it", regardless of whether they're emotionally ready to make that sort of decision. Driving home the fact that the girls are victims and that they're too young to make that choice -- that they are, basically, victims -- is the goal of this poster.

(As for why it doesn't have language about not having sex with young girls, that's simple -- it's for the same reason "just don't rape" by itself doesn't work as an attack on rape culture. The problem is that many of the men who commit these crimes don't consider it to be rape. Attacking that mindset in the space of a single poster -- which would, ideally, involve showing people how horrible it is and the damage it does -- is very difficult, which is why these posters are a bit odd. But one of the most important ways to undermine that mindset is to show that, yes, these girls are young and vulnerable and not yet ready to confront the kinds of adult choices necessary for sexual agency.)

I think the posters are fine.

I think the posters are fine. I can't BELIEVE people would come here and complain about the stereotyping of animals above statutory rape. You've got to be kidding me.

When I had sex as a teen with an adult man, I was manipulated and had no idea what I was doing. Of course victims of statutory rape are going to be depicted as innocent and somewhat passive. That's precisely the dynamics that rapists benefit from. Much better these ads, outing rapists and addressing their crime, than ads telling girls to be careful or whatever.

I also don't think this should be about limiting teen pregnancies. The adult man whom I had sex with (was he a rapist? I was young, but it was consensual...) was very careful about using protection. These ads should be about young girls being able to claim their bodies as their own, and them having the right not to be assaulted, not about decreasing teen pregnancies.

It's creepy, and as usual

It's creepy, and as usual focuses on girls avoiding predators instead of focusing on the predators themselves.

Ageist

Underage is ridiculous. The age of consent should really be younger, not for men but for women's sake. When I was 17 I could consent even though the law says I couldn't. Also these adds are creepy and I could see them being in a girls' locker room instead of a guys, definitely puts pressure on women and not the predators themselves.

These posters are damaging in more ways than one

Snakes and rats are not "like" pimps. Pimps are humans, they perform behavior that is known in humans. We refer to snakes as evil and vilify them to make our points. Meanwhile this is how we treat them in the name of entertainment (warning, extremely graphic footage in these links):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwswtI2UamI&list=UUcB8ad1B3A8CiCgy52hrpfA...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6kkNTJIQDo&list=UUcB8ad1B3A8CiCgy52hrpfA...

But no, they're the ones that are evil because we need to hold onto our precious misogynist mythology, which tells us that the big bad snake seduced the stupid and helpless woman.

As for rats, rats are almost as misrepresented. Yes, they can be "pests" and do devour anything they can but they are much more intelligent and even affectionate than people give them credit for. They have their place in nature and it should be respected. BTW, the rat species that caused the plague is not the same as the species seen in the poster. Sorry about the rant but I have been trying to educate people about the facts on these animals for years now and posters like these are serious set backs to my cause.