November 16, 2018

Fighting sexual assault: An idea for Mark Zuckerberg

Dear Mark,

It’s been an ugly year. The recent release of a “hot mic” recording of presidential candidate Donald Trump, in which he bragged about forcing himself on women, was disgusting, although not shocking. It was in keeping with the coarseness we’ve come to expect from this election season. But it did signify a tipping point, a sense that we’ve reached a rock bottom of ugliness, with much of the country asking, “How much more of this can we take?”

In the Jewish tradition, we are called upon to repair the world as best we can. Regardless of how ugly or dark things get, it is our duty to confront squarely the ills of our world and try to make things better.

The national firestorm that has been lit on the issue of sexual abuse gives us a unique opportunity to address this societal plague. Every 109 seconds in the United States, someone gets sexually assaulted, according to the Department of Justice. The majority of victims are women 18 to 34 years old.

As horrible as these statistics sound, this is hardly a new phenomenon. It’s been with us since time immemorial. What’s different now is the mass awareness that comes from the digital universe. Any enterprising activist who wants to highlight a cause can now do so and reach millions of people virtually overnight.

Take the case of Canadian author Kelly Oxford. A week ago, in the wake of the Trump revelations, she tweeted, “Women: tweet me your first assaults.” Well, within a few days, nearly 27 million people had responded or visited her Twitter page.

Twenty-seven million! That’s almost the total population of Canada. Here were millions of women who were given a chance to finally come out of the shadows and share their dark, lingering trauma of sexual abuse. They were given a chance to share their stories with the world.

The glare of social media is the modern-day silver lining for society’s dark ills. It can take ugly causes we’d rather not deal with and force us to look at them. But this glare can come and go. What we’re seeing now with sexual abuse is only a spark. We must seize this moment of awareness before the spark dies.

Which is why I’m writing to you to share an idea. What this cause needs right now is to enter the mainstream in a big way. It needs to connect with 100 million people simultaneously and cement its core message permanently in the country’s consciousness.

The most efficient way to do that is with a memorable commercial during the Super Bowl.

Can you think of a better vehicle than the Super Bowl to convey the message that boasting about sexual assault is not locker room banter? Can you think of a better way to unify the country than with such an emotional and bipartisan cause? And can you think of a better time to do this than this coming February — as we all try to heal from a horrible and divisive 18 months?

If you agree that this is a good idea, I can offer to put together a “dream team” to produce the commercial. I have a background in advertising, so I’ve seen the power of good commercials to shake people up. One simple and strong concept I heard recently to fight sexual assault is, “Imagine if this was your daughter.” There are plenty of others. 

The point is, just like the famous commercials in history that still resonate to this day — such as Apple’s “1984” and “This is your brain on drugs” — this commercial must do the same.

After making a splash on the Super Bowl, the message can then spread on social media, beginning, I would imagine, with your billion Facebook friends. This would make it a movement. For a call to action, we could include the website for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

So, why am I addressing this idea to you? It’s not just because you obviously have the financial means and media clout to make it happen, but because of something you and your wife wrote in a letter to your newborn daughter last December.

“Your mother and I don’t have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future,” you wrote. “Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.”

One way to create this better world would be to dramatically reduce the incidence of sexual assaults against women. That’s the kind of future all daughters of the world deserve, including yours and mine.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at