Viacom and its Velocity division had the privilege to work with Mariska Hargitay, of Law & Order: SVU fame, on a series of public service announcements addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. The mission of the PSAs is to dispel the stigma and disrupt the silence around these issues that are so critical and relevant for our audiences. In partnership with the NO MORE campaign, we produced the spots with celebrity talent from across the company. These issues affect everyone, so we wanted to use the whole spectrum of VIACOM’s bold voices to reach all of our brands’ fans. I must say, watching Mariska direct this campaign blew me away. Her passion, grace, support—and compassion—for the people participating in the PSA left me deeply moved and hugely inspired. She actually had that effect on everyone, from the celebrities in front of the camera to the people behind the scenes, everyone was just so moved by her care and commitment. In advance of the spots’ release, I spoke with Mariska about the creative process for the PSAs, her experiences founding the Joyful Heart Foundation and what it’s really like working with Viacom. What inspired you to found the Joyful Heart Foundation?
MH: When I started doing research for my role on SVU, I was floored by the statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault and domestic violence. I think my first reaction was, “Wait, this can’t be”— but of course it is. I knew right away that I wanted to do something about it, but the thing that really moved me to action was the letters that started coming to me from viewers. First there were a few, then more, then hundreds, and thousands since then. The women and men writing the letters didn’t ask for an autograph or a headshot. They disclosed their stories of abuse. I was holding in my hands the stories behind the statistics that I had learned. I was proud to be on a show that was brave enough to go into territory that no one was talking about, but I also knew I wanted to respond in a more complete way, to do more to help survivors heal and reclaim their lives. So the Joyful Heart Foundation was my response. Since I started Joyful Heart in 2004, we’ve raised more than $14 million in private funds, directly served over 13,000 survivors and the professionals who care for them, and connected with over a million individuals through education and awareness initiatives. We’ve also championed critical legislation and policy reforms to pursue justice for survivors, including the All-Crimes DNA law in New York State, the first of its kind in the country. And we’re at the forefront of the movement to test the hundreds of thousands of untested sexual assault evidence collection kits—known as “rape kits”—sitting in police storage and crime lab facilities across the country.
The spots are very powerful. Can you talk about the creative for it?
MH: Let me give you a little context first. For the first time in history, the domestic violence and sexual assault movements are coming together under one symbol and one unifying message: “NO MORE. Together we can end domestic violence and sexual assault.” You can’t overstate the significance of that unity. Because these issues have been so underfunded, organizations have had to stand out—and, by definition, stand alone—to receive support: “We’re not like that organization over there, so please honor our grant request, and not theirs.” It’s not that explicitly stated, but that’s the spirit in which they’ve had no choice but to work. But that is changing. It’s not a coincidence that the first word in the NO MORE declaration is “Together.” That’s very good news for those working to end this violence. At the same time, that unity is bad news for perpetrators. They benefit from silence, from a spirit of scarcity in the movement, from fractured efforts against them. To all of that, we say: NO MORE. Over the next three years, the PSA campaign will roll out across the country in local and national markets via print, broadcast, online and outdoor advertising, in movie theaters across the country, and in major airports and medical facilities. In other words, it will be impossible to ignore. It will also allow us to develop new and meaningful partnerships with visionary organizations like Viacom to spread this message. And most importantly, it will give the field of hardworking organizations that have done so much with so little over the past 40 years a tool to highlight and validate their own work, their own local media relationships, and their own fight to be heard. I’ve had so many advocates tell me how emboldened they feel by being able to point to a NO MORE billboard and saying, “That’s the work I do. Right there. That’s the team I’m on. And we’re all over the country, and we have people in the highest offices of government with us, and advocates like me, and athletes, actors, musicians, and citizens everywhere. And getting stronger every day.”
What was it like directing an emotional spot around such a difficult issue?
MH: Directing the NO MORE PSAs was a dream come true. To be honest, it’s been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. What we saw during the filming, brave and strong and authentic person after person, was people standing up for each other, for the people they love, for their partners, wives, husbands, children, friends, mothers and fathers, for people they’ve never met, for themselves. I was just moved beyond words.
Why is NO MORE as a movement so important to you?
MH: Society still misplaces the shame and stigma on survivors—it’s embedded in the way we think and talk about these issues—and it has to end. A vital goal of NO MORE is to lift that shame and stigma, to liberate the conversation from the attitudes that have suppressed it for so long. Once the conversation begins, the depth of people’s concern about sexual assault and domestic violence has a chance to emerge. But those same people haven’t had a way to demonstrate publicly that these are issues they think about. That’s where the NO MORE symbol comes in. It’s the simplest, most eloquent way to say, “This matters to me.” You can think of NO MORE as a commitment, a vision, a line drawn, but most of all, it’s a call to action. We are confident that, like the red ribbon did for AIDS and the pink ribbon for breast cancer, NO MORE will break down the barriers that prevent people from talking about these issues. The question that so many people have—that practically everyone has—is “What can I do about this?” And the answer is “TALK.” You will pull these issues out of the margins; you will move these issues higher up on the political agenda; you will help lift misplaced shame and stigma; you will help create a society where it is easier for survivors to come forward; you will shrink the sphere of operation in which perpetrators can commit these crimes with impunity. You can say a little or a lot, but TALK. And the NO MORE symbol starts the conversation.
Tell me what you really thought about your experience working with Viacom. How was the process of combining your vision with other creative and production teams?
MH: I am so grateful to you and your team for being so willing to just go there – to think with us, dream really big with us, and to embrace NO MORE wholeheartedly. I cannot wait to see the new PSAs broadcast across your networks this summer: MTV, Spike, Comedy Central, TV Land, BET, and so on. So much has gone into NO MORE, so many people have stepped up, and I’m hard pressed to tell you how moving and inspiring it is to me to have the people of Viacom—with their reach and influence—put their shoulders to this wheel. All of it fills me with so much confidence and renewed hope.
What do you hope audiences take away from these PSAs?
MH: As I said earlier, perpetrators of violence have relied on the fact that the movement to stop them would not come together. They depend on our silence to keep doing what they do. And so we say to them in one collective voice: NO MORE. We will not be silent any longer.
For more on the great work the Joyful Heart Foundation is doing to heal, educate and empower, check out their website here.
Niels Schuurmans is EVP, Creative Content Solutions, Viacom Velocity.