Public Service Ads Get More Graphic

Keira Knightley takes a beating in PSA to call attention to domestic abuse.

April 3, 2009, 1:49 AM

April 3, 2009 — -- A shocking new ad starring actress Keira Knightley created to call attention to the issue of domestic violence draws criticism for being too violent.

Some say it is too graphic and crosses a line, but victims of domestic violence call it a realistic depiction of the abuse many suffer.

Click here to watch the ad.

The ad shows actress Keira Knightley coming home after a long day of work. A jealous boyfriend, in wait at home, asks angrily, "Did you have a good time with your leading man?"

He starts to hit her. Then the ad shows the actress on a movie set, with no one around.

So the boyfriend continues hitting her and kicking her in the stomach.

That graphic depiction of violence has turned the stomach of some critics, such as advertising executive Jerry Della Femina.

"Couldn't they just show his face while he's kicking? No. It went too far, and I question the motives," Della Femina said.

"A lot of advertising people take on these PSAs because they think, 'Hey, I'm going to win an award,'" he continued. "This was a little movie. I think people think it was ugly, violent. It was horrible, and I don't think it's going to help anybody."

And that's the heart of the matter. Would the ad encourage a domestic abuse victim get help, or force her to turn away?

Roughly one in four women in this country, and one in nine men, become victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

ABC News showed the ads to to a domestic abuse survivor, who we agreed not to identify.

"I think that it was really well done," she told us. "We have a responsibility to see the PSA, be moved by it, and do something action-oriented to stop domestic violence."

Bea Hanson, who works for Safe Horizon, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the country, said the ad reflected reality.

"It's real in many women's lives," Hanson said.

Do the Means Justify the Ends?

She says as difficult as ads like this are to watch, they bring benefits.

"We've done ad campaigns in the past with graphic images of women who've been abused, and our call volume goes way up, so we know there is an impact," said Hanson.

And that may be why some public service ads have become increasingly graphic, even gruesome.

A recent ad aimed at smokers from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also has some asking if some PSAs go too far.

In the ad called "Separation," a little boy walks into a train station with his mother. Soon the mother releases the little boy's hand. He is alone amid the crowd. It slowly dawns on him that his mother is no longer there. He grows upset and is soon crying.

A voice over says: "If this is how your child feels after losing you for a minute, just imagine if they lost you for life."

The message is clear: Quit smoking now for your child.

But the crying child appears very distraught, leaving some to wonder if the child was actually left alone and frightened for dramatic effect, or if he's just a very good actor.

Do public service ads need to be graphic and disturbing to get their messages across? Let us know what you think on the comment board below.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Safe Horizon:

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