Police department's viral lip sync challenge paints a very real domestic violence warning

PHOTO: The Pickens County Sheriffs Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence. PlayPickens County Sheriff's Office
WATCH Police's viral lip sync challenge paints a very real domestic violence warning

Police in Georgia have drawn millions of views, and praise, for using this summer’s viral “lip sync challenge” among police departments to shine a light on a serious subject: Domestic violence.

The Pickens County Sheriff’s Office’s video doesn’t just talk about domestic violence, but shows it in a very real way.

The video, which has 10 million views and counting, starts like any other “lip sync challenge” video, with officers dancing and lip synching to the 90s hit “Whoomp! (There It Is)” by Tag Team.

PHOTO: The Pickens County Sheriffs Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence. Pickens County Sheriffs Office
The Pickens County Sheriff's Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence.

When the sheriff stops them and reminds them they’re “determined to make a difference,” the music changes to "Titanium" by David Guetta.

What follows is a very dramatic and very real reenactment of a domestic violence incident, including a man choking a woman and a child hiding alone for safety. Police officers break into the home and put the man in handcuffs.

PHOTO: The Pickens County Sheriffs Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence. Pickens County Sheriffs Office
The Pickens County Sheriff's Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence.

The real-life portrayal has drawn praise, and surprise, on social media. The police officers themselves were divided at first over how far they should go in the video.

“Everyone was not on board until we watched the first draft of the video and we realized we were onto something,” said Capt. Kris Stancil. “We knew we wanted to show what it really looked like and there’s no easy way to portray that.”

The video has received more than 24,000 comments on Facebook.

"As a survivor of domestic violence this, is very hard to watch even with the trigger warning. But the message is very powerful. I had tears in my eyes," wrote one commenter.

"This made me choke up. I spent 16 years with the Seattle Police Department and this is why. This is what it was all about. Thank you for bringing a new vision to the lip-sync challenge. Be safe," wrote another.

Stancil said the sheriff’s office has also been flooded with private messages from people sharing their stories of abuse and how they survived. One woman wrote to tell them the video made her see things through her daughter’s eyes and gave her the courage to leave and call the domestic violence hotline for help.

“The raw emotion of reading about 100 stories a night for the past week, you just can’t prepare for that,” Stancil said of the response. “They’re real people and they just immediately felt comfortable sharing their story, the hell that they lived in and how they got out.”

Watch the full video on Facebook.

In Pickens County, a county near Atlanta with around 32,000 residents, around one in 10 calls to 911 are a domestic call, according to Stancil. The sheriff’s office has seen a 20 percent increase in those calls over the past year.

On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines in the U.S., according to statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). More than 10 million women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. each year, on average.

Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the NCADV, described the Pickens County Sherriff’s Office’s video as, “One of the most powerful things I’ve seen in a very long time exploring the issue of domestic violence.”

She said it was particularly important that the video came from police officers, who often struggle to gain the trust of victims of domestic violence.

“Many, many women experience domestic violence just like that,” she said. “I hope people take away that domestic violence is real, it is an act of terrorism and to have children exposed to that by perpetrators is awful with huge, long-term effects.”

PHOTO: The Pickens County Sheriffs Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence. Pickens County Sheriffs Office
The Pickens County Sheriff's Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence.

The young girl in the video is the niece of a department employee, according to Stancil. Everyone else in the video is one of the department’s 93 employees who volunteered to film it on their time off work.

PHOTO: The Pickens County Sheriffs Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence. Pickens County Sheriffs Office
The Pickens County Sheriff's Office did a lip sync challenge video with a warning about domestic violence.

The Sheriff’s Office plans to use the stories people have shared with them as part of their training for responding to domestic violence incidents, according to Stancil.

“We didn’t realize just how raw of a topic it is until we started to hear one story after another and that encouraged us to move forward,” he said.

For anonymous, confidential 24/7 help on domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

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