The poster is a simple design—black and white over a purple background, a man’s hand cupping the tiny palm of a child. The tag line reads: "It doesn’t feel right when I see them together."
This poster has raised the ire of fathers’ rights fighters like Rush Limbaugh, who feel it alleges all hand-holding daddies are also sexual delinquents.
The poster comes from the Stop It Now! campaign from the Virginia Department of Health that asks adults to try to spot the signs of child sex abuse and call a confidential hotline to seek advice or make a report.
But the campaign recently took heat from father advocates who say the poster goes too far. "If you see a father holding his child’s hand, call the cops!" reads a blog post from Glenn Sacks, a "men’s and fathers’" issues columnist, commentator and radio talk show host. Sacks called the posters "man-bashing."
Rush Limbaugh picked up on Sacks’ post: "You’re going to have some oddball feminists or people that believe that garbage running around the malls, the grocery stores…and this poor guy is going to get a visit from somebody," he ranted.
The Stop It Now! program has been in Virginia since 2005, but recently rolled out the posters and expanded to different regions.
Becky Odor, director of Sexual & Domestic Violence Prevention, stands by the campaign. "We worked with a marketing firm in D.C.—American Institutes for Research. …It was a very difficult process." Odor says the image was chosen because it was simple and does not sexualize children. The tag line is appropriate because "the campaign focuses on encouraging people to trust their ‘gut’ feelings," says Odor. The campaign’s website also lists warning signs for adults who might be unsure what behaviors to spot, including grownups who have no adult friends or who insist on physical contact with kids even when they protest.
"Over the 18 months of the campaign in Virginia, the helpline staff has not received any calls from someone who perceived handholding as a warning sign of abuse," Odor says via e-mail. As for the supposed gender discrimination, Odor points out that 89 percent of child abuse perpetrators in Virginia are male.
Walker Thornton with the local Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA), says the campaign is "a little unusual" because it appeals to members of the public who may not be used to reporting abuse. But Thornton says child sex abuse is a serious issue locally. In the past year, 53 children in the five-county area were reported to SARA as abused.
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