Jessica Clark and Barbara Abrash: DESIGNING FOR IMPACT
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This “pro-sex, anti-sexual violence” project from producer/director Nancy Schwartzman addresses the need for communication among young people in a highly sexualized and increasingly permissive society. An extensive outreach campaign centered around a 30-minute film based on one young woman’s experience provides language, information, context and spaces for articulating terms for mutually respectful relationships.
The campaign, which is aimed at men as well as women, asks users to engage the question, “Where is your line?” The film has been screened on college campuses, at festivals internationally, and by professional organizations. The resources provided by the project and the conversations it generates circulate virally through feminist social networks internationally. This is an example of how a social issue documentary that employs digital tools for knowledgesharing and community-building can inspire social change on the most intimate, personal levels.
Professional and educational organizations are incorporating The Line and its resources in violence-prevention training and orientation programs.
The Line is a 24-minute documentary accompanied by a website. It is available both through streaming and on DVD. It utilizes a variety of social networking platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
The Line addresses issues of:
- consent and communication in sexual relationships;
- violence prevention; and
- gender equality.
The project was triggered by the director’s personal traumatic experience and her decision to use this experience as a springboard to open a universal 33 conversation about a common but rarely discussed reality, and to counter
mainstream media’s misrepresentations of sex and sexual assault.
The primary aims were:
- to frame and spark public conversation around sexual health and consent, in language that is accessible to people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives and includes a wide spectrum of violence, coercion, and assault;
- to contribute to an emerging movement with the capacity to promote open
discussion and effective, positive responses;
- to embed The Line in college campus programming; and
- to create accessible viral media with multiple points of access.
The Line was designed to reach general audiences in the U.S. and internationally, but it was rejected by television programmers for its explicit content.
Specific targeted audiences were:
- young women and college-age students;
- mentors, teachers, administrators, and advisors;
- violence prevention professionals; and
- young men and women activists.
The film was produced in tandem with an outreach campaign that explores universal questions of trust, respect and communication in sexual relationships, through the lens of one young woman’s story. Composed of interviews, verité footage, and reenactments, the film invites discussion about the terms of intimate relationships and personal safety in a changing social environment.
The Line was designed for distribution in educational and community settings, and for use by activists addressing complex issues surrounding healthy sexual relationships. DVD and digital download distribution is handled by the Media Education Foundation. The Line Campaign, www.whereisyourline.org, is a hub for information and exchange that features a study guide, resource list, newsletter, and group blog, and uses several social networking platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and Tumblr.
The strategic campaign took shape during a lengthy production process, during which Schwartzman worked with groups responding to gender violence.This allowed her to participate in the culture of the young people who would be her primary audience and to identify the networks through which the film and campaign would travel.
The content and style of the film (an intense personal drama with MTV-style editing) invites young people to identify with the story and share their own experiences, especially in face-to-face environments. Meanwhile, the campaign provides digital platforms and resources for safe discussion and social networking.
The strategic launch of the film through international film festival circuits was intended to give the film visibility and credibility, and highlighted the universality of its issues and cross-cultural reach. At the same time, campus screenings and discussions demonstrated the effectiveness of the project to administrators and students with the capacity to embed The Line in their anti-gender violence programs. Finally, partnerships were formed in order to
promote and amplify the message of the film, expand outreach to new groups, and conduct training programs, as well as to provide incubation sites for replicable workshops.
Two key goals were to broaden the spectrum of organizations that recognize the relevance of The Line to their agendas, and to demonstrate the importance of men’s involvement in violence prevention. Significant partners include:
- Men Can Stop Rape, an organization seeking to educate men to prevent violence against women: www.mencanstoprape.org
- Hollaback, an international group seeking to end street harassment: www.ihollaback.org
- Planned Parenthood NYC, which provides reproductive and sexual health services: www.plannedparenthood.org/nyc/
- The Pixel Project, which seeks to end violence against women through the use of social media: www.thepixelproject.net
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which provides information, resources, and services for all types of sexual violence: www.nsvrc.org
- AEquitas, The Prosecutors Resource on Violence Against Women, which seeks to improve safety of victims and accountability of perpetrators of violence: www.aequitasresource.org
The funding model consisted of grants, donations, and DVD sales. The total budget was $159,000; production and outreach were $85,000 and $74,000 respectively. Major funders include the Fledgling Fund ($72,000) and the Playboy Foundation ($2,000). Production was also supported by individual donations ($24,000), fees for work-in-progress screenings and campus appearances, and DVD sales ($15,000 from January 2010 to January 2011), as well as unpaid labor and out-of-pocket-expenses.
As The Line evolves into a full-fledged campaign, Schwartzman plans to create an independent 501(c)(3), which will be better able to attract and deploy the funding necessary to build scalable, replicable programs.
Obstacles & Responses
The Line, an intervention in a highly sexualized cultural environment, was challenged by its treatment of a difficult subject and entrenched attitudes, as well as difficulties with achieving sustainability.
The subject: The filmmaker faced general denial of the prevalence of sexual violence, mass media exclusion of “explicit content,” a lack of rules for social networking sites, and resistance from national fraternities and sororities.
Response: The film is offered on many platforms, from screenings in bars and college classes to streaming and DVD distribution, contextualized with discussion questions and other resources. Schwartzman established rules for civil conversation, and personally edits the site’s blog to shape productive discourse. Schwartzman is now fostering a relationship with a receptive national fraternity organization.
Sustainability: A project that represents the vision of a single person must develop practices and financial resources to ensure its growth and survival.
Response: Schwartzman is training a group of blog editors; conducts workshops to embed The Line’s methods into college orientation programs, Planned Parenthood staff training, etc.; and encourages feminist organizations
to understand the potential power and reach of media to advance their agendas.
To generate more substantial funding support, The Line — branded and with a well-crafted message that establishes its identity and credibility — will be pitched to future funders as an organizing initiative, rather than an individual event-based film.
The Line Campaign is an example of strategic outreach conceived in adigital environment and designed for both active face-to-face and onlineparticipation. It is actively participating in a global movement to:
- expand the spectrum of activities identified as sexually violent;
- develop strategies for responding to those activities; and
- engage institutions with the capacity to incorporate and amplify the language and tools of the campaign.
The project reaches target audiences through on-the-ground events, mainly for young adults, and online through well-established international digital feminist circuits. It is too early in this first year of experimentation to gather
useful metrics or patterns of use.
Lessons learned early in the campaign are informing plans to stabilize and sustain the project by strengthening partnerships and encouraging adoption of the project by fraternities, reproductive health organizations, and other
groups that serve sexually active young adults.
Evidence of Quality
The Line is has been accepted as a trusted resource by activists, educational institutions, and advocacy organizations.
- The Line was the official selection of the Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival, Ankara, Turkey; UC Davis Feminist Film Festival; International Women’s Film and Arts Festival, Toronto; Filmmor International Women’s Film Festival, Istanbul; International Women’s Film Festival, Israel.
- It was cited as a model audience engagement project in the Fledgling Fund report, From Distribution to Audience Engagement — Social Change Through Film (2010).
- It was accepted as a training tool by Planned Parenthood and anti-violence activists.
- It was introduced by AEquitas at meetings in Monrovia and the Carter Presidential Center.
- Whereisyourline.org has been named one of the top 50 blogs for women’s issues.
- The Line is listed among the Top 20 Feminist Twitter Feeds, as well as 80 Great Twitter Feeds for Tracking Human Rights.
- Nancy Schwartzman is an invited speaker on college campuses and at conferences, forums, and cultural centers in the U.S. and abroad.
The Line campaign has provided platforms for discussion across cultures and differences of opinion, online and on the ground, from military anti-sexual violence programs and Muslim women’s conferences to Facebook.
Because the film has been distributed through non-traditional channels, evidence of its reach is reflected primarily in its use by partner sites and online fans.
- Hollaback (www.ihollaback.org), a global organization focusing on street harassment, will launch a series of screenings in 18 cities including Melbourne, Philadelphia, Prague and Atlanta.
- 590 DVDs were sold by Media Educational Foundation between January 2010 and March 2011.Washington State Coalition against violence recently purchased 66 kits, which include a study guide, DVD, tool kit and stickers, at $2500.
The Line’s message and tools are amplified by packaging and marketing through national organizations; the participation of young people is fueled by social networking, especially Twitter and the feminist blogosphere. Digital tools also stimulate meet-ups, conferences, and other on-the-ground gatherings.
- Twitter is the campaign’s main source of news-sharing and activist engagement, with 2,221 active followers including activists, bloggers, journalists, and NGOs. Tweets may drive traffic to the website, as was the case of a blogger whose witty Superbowl tweet produced a large spike in activity.
- Facebook, with 1,321 fans, is useful primarily for sharing blog posts, announcing events, and highlighting notable comments.
- Whereisyourline.org is a daily blog that registers 4,900 visitors monthly (77% are new visitors), and has an active group of ten contributing bloggers. Since launching in September 2009, the site has registered a 524% increase in traffic, and a 100% increase since February 2010. In January 2011, 3,626 visitors were from the US, followed by Canada (178), UK (157), India (137), and Australia, Germany Pakistan and Turkey. According to Google Analytics, 56% of traffic was generated by referring sites, 20% from search engines, and 24% was direct traffic. Reblogs appear on Feministing.com, Jezebel.com, Bust.com, MTV.com, the Fledgling Fund blog, and others.
- Pixel tweets resources countering violence against women globally.
Schwartzman describes herself as “a mentor, a voice,” rather than a leader of the “sex positive” anti-violence movement. Her strategy for making an impact in a noisy media environment is to establish a distinctive “voice” and attitude, and to court the blogosphere by attracting “smart, sharp, opinionated” people.
The Line has been covered by print media (Ms. Magazine, Jezebel, etc.) and blog posts (Bust.com, MTV.com, etc.). Internationally, it inspired “The Line Campaign” of Australian Government and the UK anti-violence movement’s “Where is your line?” video.
The Line campaign provides trusted content, platforms and tools for a digital network of the feminist anti-violence movement, and has modeled bridgebuilding initiatives across cultures. It strengthens a growing movement by introducing language and tools accessible to people of diverse backgrounds and providing replicable training models to professional organizations.
As noted above, Schwartzman has worked with a variety of existing networks to amplify the film and related issues. For example:
- Men Can Stop Rape expands reach to Department of Justice and the U.S Navy.
- Planned Parenthood NYC responds to politically conservative efforts to narrowly construe “rape” by redefining sexual assault. It will incorporate The Line in events on issues of consent, violence prevention, and empowerment to establish boundaries. The goal is to create a replicable model for such events.
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center links The Line to an extensive database and with women’s and sexual violence centers.