A new awareness campaign about rape and incest features some unlikely stars: Disney princesses. And their dads.
Saint Hoax is the pseudonym of a Middle Eastern artist whose self-proclaimed signature is “Combining pop art with tyrants and world leaders.” Her latest series shows Disney princesses with their eyes open in disgust, shock and terror and their hands up in what looks like defense against their fathers’ shoulders. Because that’s who is kissing them: Ariel, Aurora and Jasmine are all in the eyes-closed embrace of their dads. The series, titled “Princest Diaries,” is described by Saint Hoax on her website as:
“An awareness campaign targeting minors who have been subject to sexual abuse by a family member. The aim of the poster series is to encourage victims to report their cases in order for the authorities to prevent it from happening again.”
Lately, much of the highly-publicized conversations around rape and rape culture have focused on the teenage and twenty-something crowd. Rampant sexual assault on college campuses, not to mention the victim-blame-y “advice” hurled at women from all sides and the the abysmal failure of universities to handle those cases with urgency and care, makes up much of the coverage. But the issue at the center of the Saint Hoax campaign is one that is arguably the most taboo topic of all: incest.
“You don’t see a lot of this, primarily for intellectual property reasons,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). “But I think adapting the style of the communication to the age of your audience is effective. Anything that causes people who don’t normally spend a lot of time thinking about this issue to stop and read is great. I think the more attention we can draw to it, the better.”
That said, Berkowitz doesn’t think these posters would be effective for very young children. The posters just tell you to “report” the crime, but there’s no information on how exactly to do that, or what “reporting” even entails. “Younger kids need simple messages,” Berkowitz said. “Usually, the messages to really young kids are more along the lines of ‘if someone did something to you, tell an adult you trust.’ Because they’re not going to understand what reporting is, or what’s involved with that. My guess is that this would appeal most to older folks or adults who were abused as children; it plays on that nostalgia for the characters.”
“For young kids, you really need to simplify the message. I think it’s a fairly sophisticated message that requires some thought and some reasoning ability.”
Another important caveat about these posters: the “46 percent” statistic Saint Hoax cites is from a 1992 Department of Justice study. A more recent study from 2000 by U.S. Bureau of Justice puts the number at 34.2 percent.
With that in mind, the audience who would get the greatest impact from this campaign is probably a demographic that put away the princess gear long ago. But that still encompasses a huge portion of the population: probably anyone born in the 1990s or 1980s. It was in 2000 that Disney plucked its nine most popular princesses out of their separate movies and branded them together as a “Princess” clique unto themselves. Anyone who came of age in the early ’00s likely couldn’t escape the ubiquitous franchise. According to Disney, the “Princess” label “is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet.” Today, there are tens of thousands of Disney Princess products, and it’s the current twenty- and thirty-somethings, a generation obsessed with nostalgia, who keep the princess properties alive, even when that involves making fun of the once-beloved characters:
Saint Hoax has played around with Disney and Disney Princess imagery before. Her “Happily Never After” series is a “graphic commentary” on her grueling, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful process of trying to get a visa to the UK. Her request was rejected due to the “current situation of your country.” Saint Hoax’s artwork features fake newscasts from Agrabah, the fictional Arabian land where Aladdin takes place.
She also created the “Televicious” series, which mashes up Disney princesses with the Madonna-Britney Spears-Christina Aguilera kiss from the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.
Saint Hoax’s incest awareness campaign takes these princesses, who could and so often are seen as disenfranchised, disempowered, passive and hopelessly regressive — Sleeping Beauty, who in her original telling is raped in her sleep; Ariel, who trades away her body, her family and her home in exchange for a stranger who only falls for her when she can’t talk — and turns them into a source of identification and, by extension, strength.
If an adult who was a rape victim as a child can see herself in these posters, she can connect the horror of what she sees to the crime that was committed against her. She can feel empowered to take action for her own health and safety. The immediate revulsion inspired by these images relies on a shared understanding: you have to know the guy with the beard is Ariel’s dad, not her (much) older paramour. And you have to care about Ariel for the visual to register. The people to whom these posters are speaking know and care for these characters; maybe that will be what helps these victims know and care for themselves.
Incest takes something that should be happy and wholesome — family — and disfigures it into something terrible and cruel. In a way, that’s exactly what Saint Hoax’s posters do, too.
“I think that if you can educate people that what they experienced is a common thing, and that there’s nothing that they should feel ashamed about but that this happens to many people,” said Berkowitz, that’s going to have a positive effect, but only “if you already are an adult or are close to adulthood who can reason out the next step and figure out what to do. I don’t know that anyone is going to report directly from seeing this poster, but it might stir up the thoughts of, ‘maybe it’s not too late to get justice.’”
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800–656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.