The best of non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes

Statutory rape

Statutory rape


Three ads about teen pregnacy from United Way of Greater Milwaukee. A recent study found that Milwaukee has the 7th highest rate of birth to teens in the USA. In 2006, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee approached Serve, a non-profit advertising agency, to request help in raising awareness about the problem.

Serve focused on statutory rape for this particular campaign because in Wisconsin it is a huge part of the teen pregnancy crisis. In Wisconsin: 71% of babies born to teen girls are fathered by adult males over 20 years old.  In 20% of the cases, the fathers are at least six year older than the mothers.
Serve give us the opportunity to look behind the scenes making a campaign with some exerpts of a video made during talks in a focus group.


The ads were tested in several focus groups of inner city teens and young adults ages 15-25 (over half of the participants were teens moms). The campaign tested very well and was universally embraced by the target audience for its ability to attract attention and spur in-depth discussion about the pervasive problem of statutory rape. Serve did recognize, however, that audiences outside the target found the campaign highly objectionable, which is why it did not move forward.

The objective of this tactic was to change public perceptions about the now largely accepted behavior of adult males having sex with young teenage girls and to spur discussion about the issue.
Objective is to make people aware of the problem of statutory rape so that they cannot continue to ignore it. Most important is to capture the attention of statutory rapists and let them know that what they’re doing is wrong, it’s rape.
Testing the campaign in several focus groups results in the knowledge that the only way to be successful in reducing statutory rape and ultimately teen pregnancy is getting inner city families (where the problem of teen pregnancy is most prevalent) to talk about statutory rape. In other words it is important to understand that statutory rape is the key problem.

The ads did run briefly as an indoor (bathroom stalls) campaign. However, the larger billboard campaign was cancelled at the last minute.

Thanks to Serve for the background information.

Update 10-02 Maybe I’ve seen too much shockvertising why this campaign didn’t shock me at all. But doing a search makes me clear that the statutory rape campaign made a lot of hassle and misunderstanding last weeks.
The campaign came by on many blogs and sites. most made comment: “Offensive, disturbing, obscene”. And most commenters thinks it is about pedophilia. It isn’t. One of the comments at Copyranter: “Do they not realize that pedophiles don’t fantasize about women’s bodies? They like little girls the way they are.”
Statutory rape is something complety different than pedophilia.
In my opinion the origin of the problem is the sexualizing of our society. Youngsters are getting physical mature at a more early age.

As seen on the focus group video the target audience don’t have any problems with the used images. Most of the blogs and sites which make a hassle about the campaign don’t belong to the target group.
As Heather Aldrich from Serve said to “It was never for Caucasian women,” she said. “It was for the largely African-American and Hispanic inner-city youth—ages 15 to 25.”
Aldrich said it’s a shame the ads never got a chance to find their intended audience, which didn’t find the images offensive in the least.

What can we learn from this? In the age where information is available for almost everybody, and where everbody have a opinion about everything, you can conclude that focussing on target audiences isn’t enough anymore. Audiences outside are getting more important in public relations and image.




United Way of Greater Milwaukee

Founder of Osocio. It all started with collecting election posters in 1973. And that's never stopped. Read more.


  1. ekforan 9 years ago

    There are so many things wrong with these ads, I do not know where to begin, but I will say this: I believe there is a difference between pedophilia and statutory rape. The fact that the target audience did not make this distinction during focus group testing does not justify the decision on the agency’s part to reinforce such a warped message.

  2. Author
    Marc van Gurp 9 years ago

    @ekforan I think you are right. See my update above.

  3. hans 9 years ago

    I agree with Heather that it’s sad this campaign did not run and reach it’s intended target with an important message about how wrong statutory rape is. Clearly, the target audience was impacted by this ad, and it’s rare that you can reach teen boys or young men and engage them on this kind of topic-something they don’t want to hear. Kudo’s to serve for having the guts to create a message that they knew wouldn’t appeal to everyone but have a big impact on the actual problem. maybe if the people on some of the blogs that are ripping apart the ad actually stopped to think about the positive impact of this campaign, rather than going through life as the chronically offended-then bad behaviors could be changed. It’s a sad statement about our society that we can’t tackle tough problems in creative and provocative ways without offending someone. If this same adult audience ever saw some of the ads done in the gaming category to kids, I wonder if they would stand up and be so vocal.

  4. Jon 8 years ago

    I find it rather worrying that people seemed to point out how “Offensive and disturbing” these ads were and not how “Offensive and disturbing” the act of Statutory rape is!

    I have omitted the word obscene as it carries a connotation of inducing lustful thoughts, and whoever found the ads obscene should get their heads checked, or choose their words more carefully.

    Exceptional events call for exceptional measures and while these ad evoke displeasurable emotions (such as “Offensive and disturbing” ) it is precisely these emotions that need to be evoked in those who may not understand the issues involved with Statutory rape. 

    I agree with one of the reviewers of this ad when he said that young women mature at a young age, physically, and for young men, this may be extremely confusing.  I think this ad addresses this issue; it clearly displays the contrast between a young girl’s physical appearance and their personal development.  It is an important fact to bring to the attention of all young men.

    I knew immediately, upon viewing the first poster, that this ad would never have been released. I agree that it is truly a sad moment in time when something that may actually be effective is band because it does its job properly.  To all those who find these ads “Offensive, disturbing”, thats precisely what you are supposed to feel.

    These ads were doomed because they worked!

    Great ads, unsuited times, try this in another 10 years and you would probably get it right.

  5. John 8 years ago

    I find it pretty disgusting pasting the heads of preteens onto mature bodies for an advertising campaign… It misses the target audience completely and is worthless.

  6. MillyMills 7 years ago

    I was underage when I saw this poster and it made me think a lot about what was going on around me. I had older guys making passes at me, but luckily I was warned about this sort of stuff, being an early developer, and I was exactly the kind of girl this nearly happened to. Luckily I was aware of statutory rape. I think that these posters should really be publicised and seen by young teens, because this stuff happens and not nearly enough people know about it.

  7. Arbroath 4 years ago

    I would totally do the first one. Mwahahaha

  8. J 4 years ago

    17 is legal in Louisiana… which makes it OK in the eyes of the law.

  9. Obbop 4 years ago

    Just one aspect of the War Against Males underway in the USA.

    Search the Web about the MANY females accused and/or convicted of statutory rape but good luck finding ANY public service advertising about that common event,

    MGTOW ( Men Going Their Own Way) a rational response by males who have determined USA society has declared a “war” against them.

  10. Tenerife 4 years ago

    “Search the Web about the MANY females accused and/or convicted of statutory rape but good luck finding ANY public service advertising about that common event”

    That’s true, but it’s partially because most men consider a teenage boy lucky to be getting sex from an attractive adult woman. Of course, plenty of teenage girls would like to have sex with Robert Pattinson.

  11. anne 3 years ago

    Ephebophile is what you would call someone attracted to children ages 15-19.
    hebephile is someone attracted to early pubescent children 12-14.
    and then there is pedophiles.

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