Although the government of Puerto Rico committed more than $500,000 to a publicity campaign to inform about and prevent gender-based violence, the impact, reach, or continuity of #ElMomentoDelPARE (Time to Stop) — the initiative run by La Fortaleza through the dissolved Committee for the Prevention, Support, Rescue and Gender Violence Education, or Comité PARE — remains unknown.

The campaign commissioned to Publicidad Tere Suárez, the main advertising agency used by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s administration, cost the government more than triple what was initially announced, but neither members of the Comité PARE nor the compliance officer, prosecutor Ileana Espada Martínez, can show its effectiveness in attempting to “promote a change in human behavior at all levels,” which is what the Governor said was pursuing with this effort, an investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism’s (CPI, in Spanish) Gender Unit in alliance with Todas, found.

On July 1, 2021, the Governor’s Office awarded a one-year contract to Publicidad Tere Suárez for the general communication strategy called #ElMomentoDelPARE (Time to Stop), according to the Comptroller’s Office. The compensation cap would be $180,000. However, the contract was amended twice, in October and December of the same year, to increase the limit to $430,000, and then to $580,000.

“There were economic resources, there was graphic design, there was an ability to reach out through radio, television, to have that type of influence, because it’s a campaign that comes from the State and has that chance,” said the president of the National Gender Violence Shelters Network, Coraly León Morales, who was a member of Comité PARE. “But what community impact did it have? I didn’t see it,” León Morales claimed.

Coraly León Morales, president of the National Gender Violence Shelters Network.
Photo by Ana María Abruña Reyes | Todas

Data on how many people were exposed to the campaign also went uncollected or estimated. According to the compliance officer of Comité PARE, there is no more information other than visits to the official campaign page, which since its launch in 2021 until last December was 50,000 users. Espada Martínez acknowledged that evaluating the media effort “is an area that we still have to work on.”

So far, there’s no way to validate the general impact beyond the anecdotal. “Most people you talk to acknowledge that ‘El momento del PARE’ has to do with domestic violence,” Espada Martínez said.

The campaign consisted of two phases. The first being the launch, on July 13, 2021, of the website, as well as publications in print and digital media, social networks and radio, in addition to posters and other printed material distributed by government agencies. The Government of Puerto Rico’s Central Communications Office managed the page.

The second phase added murals in The Mall of San Juan, an upscale shopping center, and in the working-class neighborhood market square, La Placita de Santurce, ads on television, billboards, in shops, on goods in brand alliances, and events.

“I still visit places where I see the ‘QR codes’ [that direct to the website], the website is still up, the mural in the Placita de Santurce is still there. So that’s positive after two years,” said the compliance officer of Comité PARE.

The advertising efforts also appear on the Instagram and Facebook accounts created under the name of Comité PARE. In just over two and a half years, the Instagram account has barely 1,064 followers, and the Facebook account 3,500.

Campaign falls short of generating behavioral changes

In general, the campaign material contains messages showing some manifestations of violence. “Advises based on experiences of that precise moment, ‘El Momento del PARE,’ the moment to reflect and take action,” said former Family Department Secretary, Carmen Ana González Magaz, during the launch.

Anilyn Díaz Hernández, an expert in Communication and Public Policy with experience in advertising campaigns, said ads must be short, precise, targeted and, above all, memorable. The messages, she added, should be consistent across all platforms the campaign is on.

“If we judge this campaign under these criteria, it doesn’t meet all of them,” said the professor of Communication for radio, television, and cinema at the University of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo and Río Piedras campuses.

For instance, the videos recorded by Comité PARE members exceeded one minute, and while some images have the PARE logo, others show that of the government of Puerto Rico logo or both, lacking consistency in portraying a unified effort.

Díaz Hernández added that a key benchmark, both in commercial and community advertising, is the call to action.

The call to action that emerges from the illustrations of this campaign takes the form of a QR code, which leads to the Comité PARE page. Once there, there are messages recorded on videos from government officials, statistics, a registry of domestic violence convicts and news, which have not been updated since 2021.

For example, one of the illustrations shows a child sitting, a message that reads “When you tell him: ‘boys don’t cry’,” and the QR code.

“The message falls short. I don’t feel the ‘call to action.’ It doesn’t answer the question that that message may prompt,” said Díaz Hernández.

“By not completing that message and directing you to a ‘QR Code,’ I already lost part of the audience because, for me, perhaps, the audience that uses the ‘QR Code’ is much younger,” she said.

Gina Hernández, professor at Sacred Heart University’s Strategic Communication program, said, in terms of the distribution and content production, it is a well-thought-out campaign, which, among other things, included “very well documented” execution processes for agencies and municipalities.

In her opinion, the ‘El momento del PARE’ tagline defines a message well to promote an end to violence, but she questioned the clarity of the campaign’s goal. “Was it for people to go to the page? Was it for people to know that this problem exists, to raise awareness? Was it to promote a change in behavior?”

According to the Governor, the goal was “to promote a change in human behavior at all levels and that isn’t easy.” And, indeed, for Hernández, the campaign fell short of achieving that goal.

“You have to start by creating awareness that there’s a problem, and you must educate the audience. And achieving a change in behavior isn’t going to happen in three months, in six months, or even in a year. You must carry it out in phases,” she explained.

Psychologist Vilma González Castro, executive director of the Coordinadora Paz para las Mujeres (CPM), another of the five non-governmental organizations on the Committee, agreed. “[The campaign] fell short in terms of being something much more massive, more consistent — that we could be constantly exposed in the media, which is something that definitely hasn’t been achieved — and that included elements of prevention.” González Castro recalled the campaign to promote the use of seat belts in vehicles as an example of constancy and success.

The effort also lacked a defined audience, since the public is all of Puerto Rico, according to Espada Martínez. “Not everyone likes to get a message about gender-based violence, but you can send an objective message, a universal message. Violence is universal,” the compliance officer suggested.

In general, having a universal audience would make sense if the campaign’s goal were primarily to expose an issue, professor Hernández said. However, #ElMomentoDelPARE does not put a spotlight on the problem, the practices that cause sexist violence, but rather its manifestations, said León Morales. For example, one of the ads shows a woman trying to cover up her bruises, while a voice urges victims to report abuse by calling 9-1-1. Beatings are the manifestation of physical abuse, so the ad is not aimed at stopping the violent practice but rather holds women who survive sexist violence responsible for their own salvation and does not appeal to changes in sexist behavior.

The president of the National Shelters Network recalled a campaign by the Women’s Advocate Office (OPM, in Spanish) that in 2018 sought for women to avoid exposing themselves to violent situations at the yearly held, massive, San Sebastián Street Carnival by warning  them to be “on alert on the street,” to not walk alone, avoid alcohol consumption, among other measures. The OPM chose to change the campaign “because under no circumstances could we contribute to a sense of holding women responsible for abuse or aggression,” said Deputy Women’s Advocate Carmen Lebron González at the time.

The United Nations (UN) and other organizations define as successful campaigns some examples with a clear audience and message. For instance, the UN highlights the “Amigo date cuenta” campaign from Argentina, which promotes healthy masculinity among teens — breaking gender-based discrimination and stereotypes that favor men. The United Nations also positively emphasizes the “Yo me ocupo” effort, which promotes the fair distribution of household chores. These initiatives have in common questioning the individual roles and cultural practices that sustain violence.

A risk prevention campaign isn’t a campaign to eradicate gender-based violence

“When we talk about prevention campaigns, in addition to the media part, having a good hashtag and a good graphic design, there has to be an aspect of reaching people,” said León Morales.

The social worker referred to complementing the media materials with in-person activities, and used as an example the “Tu paz cuenta” educational campaign from community based NGO Taller Salud, which in addition to spreading a message of reducing and preventing violence, is inserted in the community with “discussion and collective healing processes,” among other practices, that allow “a permanent dialogue where people are a fundamental part of the development of the content of the services,” according to the organization’s page. She also used as an example CPM’s “Ama y janguea con sentido” campaign, which delivers workshops to universities and schools to promote healthy relationships.

“It isn’t about setting up information booths, like the Women’s Advocate Office is doing, which accomplishes the work of disseminating information [about services], but isn’t a preventive measure,” she argued.

“How did this prevention campaign extend to the communities beyond the San Juan murals? How many workshops are being held in the communities? How many activities that, through games, break stereotypes about what gender is and how we should relate to each other? Who were those murals aimed at? What was the reason for those murals in that space?” questioned León Morales, a former member of the PARE prevention committee, knowing that the answers to her questions were not addressed.

“The content that invites people to rethink themselves, to reflect on what our role is in [the reproduction of violence] is very limited. Content that questions cultural practices that normalize violence…? None,” she said.

A questionable process within the Committee

Both González Castro and León Morales were members of the Comité PARE and confirmed in separate interviews that their role during the development of the campaign was to support very specific things, such as the creation of printed material for general distribution with information about the organizations that provide services, and offer feedback, which did not always translate into specific changes.

“It wasn’t a genuinely participatory process. There was a disconnection in terms of communication, in terms of what was done and what was not done,” said León Morales. “I was on the prevention committee, and I wasn’t aware of the murals until after the murals were done.”

González Castro acknowledged that some suggestions from the organizations were adopted so that the message and images were more inclusive. The graphics ended up including same-sex couples, children, and Black people.

“An advertising agency may not develop the message that we want to convey and that is a result of the experience of the organizations where we’ve already identified what those needs are,” said the executive director of CPM, referring to how to use language, including the visual aspect.

León Morales added that “one thing that I said all the time is that it wasn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. You have organizations that have  very good materials, but that don’t   have the same reach, they don’t have the resources to be able to put content, for example, on radio and television.” She assured that efforts that already exist and that have been effective on a smaller scale were not included.

Now that the Comité PARE is dissolved, the campaign — to which an additional budget of $350,000 was assigned — will continue, Noelia Cintrón Musignac, from the La Fortaleza Press Office, confirmed in written statements. This brings the total allocation to $930,000.

“It was possible to get the collaboration of media companies in radio, television, press and billboards. The campaign is currently active in the media through these agreements until March 2024,” said Cintrón Musignac.

According to the Committee’s report, in January of this year, the campaign message was tweaked by adding the phrase “Cambia la historia” (Change the Story). Espada Martínez said in the campaign’s new phase, they want to “rethink what we really have to tackle” using data collected through the efforts that were the product of the State of Emergency declaration due to gender-based violence to “understand a little more about who we have to reach.”

“We have been able to see, in 2022 and 2023, what type of gender violence is being reported. And that can help us in a campaign. Now non-fatal strangulation is being addressed as a high-risk element, for example,” she highlighted when referring to the work of the Protective Order Operations and Processing Center. But this initiative has existed for more than a decade, the CPI found.

Another diluted attempt to prevent sexist violence

When its efforts began, the Comité PARE established nine goals to fulfill the mandates of executive order 2021-013, with which Governor Pierluisi declared the State of Emergency on January 25, 2021.

Three of these nine goals were directly linked to prevention: the implementation of a gender-sensitive curriculum in schools, scheduled to begin in August 2021; the design and launch of an educational campaign in no more than 30 days; and preparing and presenting a comprehensive Gender-based Violence Prevention Plan in no more than 120 days. None of the scheduled goals were met.

The school curriculum with a gender perspective didn’t happen and ended up becoming the “integration of the ‘equity and respect among all human beings’ issue” after pressure from fundamentalist sectors. What they initially called the ‘Comprehensive Gender Violence Prevention Plan’ ended up becoming the ‘Social Reconstruction and Violence Prevention Plan,’ which was presented on March 5, three years after the State of Emergency declaration.

León Morales believes this is the result of the government’s lack of will to address sexist violence.

“For a year and a half, they had more than 20 expert organizations working on the matter, giving away hundreds, if not thousands of hours, giving away our expertise, and they didn’t know how to use that knowledge capital to move this forward. We had all the will, we put all the effort, we put all the energy into doing the work. But there was no adequate response from the State. What was discussed was not executed, the decisions that were made weren’t fulfilled, things weren’t implemented how they were decided to be executed,” she said.