Men get message to end rape

Rape is still a very high-incidence crime. One in four US women will be raped in her lifetime, and on average a woman is raped every 54 minutes in California.

Rape is still a very high-incidence crime. One in four US women will be raped in her lifetime, and on average a woman is raped every 54 minutes in California.

With that reality, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) hired LA-based PainePR to put together a campaign that focused not on helping women protect themselves, but on what should precede it - rape prevention. To do that, they needed to talk to young men, ages 14 to 18, and convince them to take a serious stand against rape and also influence their peers.

The awkward subject made it harder to create a credible message for the target audience, especially as young men don't often read newspapers or watch television news.


The ad campaign had been completed, so PainePR decided it had to get attention with a grassroots effort that would speak directly to teens at their level.

"Our goal was to engage young men to stand up and speak out against sexual violence," says Chris Kuchenmeister, PainePR director. "That's just what this campaign was doing - starting that dialogue and moving that into action."

CALCASA also wanted the message put out both in English and Spanish, and to have it reach parents, state legislators, and educators. The firm gathered representatives from 66 rape crisis centers around the state and developed "MyStrength."


The timing of the push meant that the message competed with 24/7 hurricane coverage, which made it harder to reach the already elusive target audience.

PainePR hired the Strength Team - "cool," young, bilingual men - to be the campaign's face and voice. The agency media-trained them, hired actor Dorian Gregory (from Charmed) as celebrity spokesman, and produced local market campaigns for six pilot areas in California: Los Angeles, Riverside , San Luis Obispo, Petaluma , Weaverville, and West Fresno. The Strength Team went on the road, delivering the message to local media and high schools. There are also two Web sites: and


The Strength Team reached thousands of young Californians at student assemblies in many high schools. It distributed 200,000 pieces of collateral material to students, and the Web sites had 13,000 hits on the first day. The story featured in 150 print, broadcast, and online media stories. Youth impressions were 13 million.

It's difficult to measure rape-prevention effects through crime statistics. Awareness programs may even temporarily show more rapes reported due to open discussion of the subject, encouraging victims to speak up. But CALCASA's director of public affairs, Robert Coombs, believes the strategy was on target: "To get through to men 14 to 18 is tough. The extent to which [the campaign was] used in schools shows me we've done a good job."

But if he could do it over again, Coombs would look to change the media mix.

"If I had the resources, I'd have asked them to put more time into PR," he says. "We carried weight in the media, so I know we broke through the clutter."


Measuring results on social marketing campaigns is a complicated process, and it will take time. Therefore, whether or not the campaign will be repeated is yet to be determined.

PR team: California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (Sacramento, CA) and PainePR (Los Angeles)

Campaign: My Strength is Not For Hurting

Duration: September to October 2005

Budget: $350,000

PRWeek's view

The statewide outreach program met its goals and got the MyStrength message out to a multicultural audience.

By finding a fitting celebrity spokesman and competent peer counselors, PainePR was able to build credibility among its 14- to 18-year-old target audience. It also managed to open dialogue about a topic that can be controversial as well as uncomfortable for a variety of people.

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