Listen. is an email- and web-based campaign sponsored by The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. We were inspired to create this campaign by a number of factors.
First, we are well aware that the largest problem faced by organizations that combat sexual assault is the stigma and secrecy that surrounds the crime. Only an estimated 16% of rapes are ever reported to the police. Moreover, one of the most important things a survivor can do is talk about their experience with a trusted friend or therapist. In conceiving of this campaign, our primary goal is to empower survivors to share their experiences, by making them aware that they are not alone.
Beyond this, we want to encourage a more open and frank discussion of sexual assault in our society. Our goal is to raise awareness generally, in partnership with the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign, and in tandem with our other organizing efforts around SAAM.
Finally, we recognize that traditional media campaigns are both expensive and often have limited reach. We were recently inspired by innovative uses of technology for grassroots organizing, in particular by the WTO protesters, the Howard Dean campaign and the MoveOn virtual primary. Recent writing about communication strategies, in particular "viral marketing" and "stickiness", also inspired us:
This idea of the importance of stickiness in tipping has enormous implications for the way we regard social epidemics as well. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how to make messages more contagious - how to reach as many people as possible with our products or ideas. But the hard part of communication is often figuring out how to make sure a message doesn't go in one ear and out the other. Stickiness means that a message makes an impact. You can't get it out of your head. It sticks in your memory. … Unless you remember what I tell you, why would you ever change your behavior or buy my product or go to see my movie? The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.
Much of this theory was developed for the business world, but is at least equally relevant to grassroots advocacy. For these reasons, we looked for an innovative campaign with similar "viral" possibilities. We looked for a simple activity which participants could engage in. We wanted an activity which:
We decided to ask participants to simply share their answer to a specific question which meets all these criteria:
This question is relatively unobtrusive, as it doesn't ask participants to share their own experiences. It does, however, require participants to think about the prevalence of sexual assault. Moreover, since the answer is a simple, anonymous number, we can use it to construct statistics which dramatize the problem as a whole.
Participants typically experience the campaign first as an email. The email comes from somebody they know, and will include their answer -- for example, This email was sent to you by Sam; 6 people have told Sam about surviving a sexual assault. Sam was invited by Kate; Kate knows 14 people who have survived a sexual assault. The email goes on to include some statistics about sexual assault.
The recipient is invited to visit a Web site where they can share their own answer to the question. They will then be able to invite others to join. Throughout the process, we are very sensitive to privacy issues, but we require participants to enter an email address in order to invite others -- invitations cannot be anonymous. We also ask participants if we can contact them from time to time (opt-in) about events and activities, particularly relating to SAAM 2004. Minimal demographic information such as age and zip code will be collected, optionally, to facilitate research and evaluation.
We also use the site as an advocacy vehicle, offering basic statistics, announcements, and ways to get involved. The site's goals, in descending order of importance, will be: