Although Halloween is a few days passed, on almost any residential street ventured down, one might expect to find a final few decorations still waiting to be put into storage for another year. And rightly so! Halloween is a fun and beloved occasion, and decorating is an integral part of that. Year after year, the event has become about so much more than just placing a Jack-o’-lantern on the doorstep. However, for many households in Canada, despite their scary exteriors, what goes on inside is far more terrifying.
Specifically, acts of family and intimate partner violence across the country have been on the rise for the last five years. According to a recent report by Statistics Canada, in 2021, over 127,000 acts of police-reported domestic violence took place - with women and girls representing 69% of the victims. Not only that, but in many cases, these acts of violence turned deadly. 154 of the 788 acts of homicide reported in Canada that year were committed by a family member. These grim statistics are only compounded by the fact that generally, only one in five victims of domestic violence actually reports the acts to the police. In a place like Quebec specifically - where one quarter of all crimes against individuals are linked to domestic violence - this is very bad, especially for women, who are the victims nearly 78% of the time. In fact, according to SOS Violence Conjugale, since 2022 started, 12 women and six children within the province have lost their lives to acts of domestic violence. It’s for this reason that Rethink, and non-profit organisation, La Maison Grise, wanted to shed light on these violent acts. Working together, the two launched ‘Fear Windows’ just in time for Halloween. Providing a poignant commentary on the terrors that can reside within the domestic home, the campaign saw homes throughout Greater Montreal outfitted with vignettes of domestic violence, and featured a simple message which drove viewer’s attention to the organisation where they could learn more, and possibly donate.
Launched alongside a 60-second campaign spot, ‘Fear Windows’ reminds Canadians of the extent of these violent acts, the frequency with which they occur, and the strong need for victim support. After all, if domestic violence only becomes public knowledge when things turn deadly, at that point, it’s already too late to help.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Rethink Montreal executive creative director Xavier Blais, and La Maison Grise general manager Nathalie Lamarche to discuss this issue, and how the campaign came to life just in time for Halloween.
LBB> Domestic violence is obviously a pressing and sensitive subject. What was the brief like? What immediate ideas came to mind when you first saw it?
Xavier> We’ve been toying around with the idea of juxtaposing the horrors of domestic violence with the terror that is often portrayed in the context of Halloween for a while now. And when we did so, it was always with La Maison Grise in mind because we had a contact there. We just didn’t know what form it would take until a few weeks ago.
With that said, the window execution came up in the last week of September, which turned this into a really fast and furious project because we knew we had to launch a week before Halloween.
LBB> The campaign draws on a wide array of data - as such, what was your research process like? What key data points and takeaways came from it?
Xavier> To be honest, we didn't have to look into the data to know that the number of assaults is on the rise. We see it every day on the news. This gave us the urgency to put this idea into the world. We have to find new contexts to talk about the issue if we want to create different outcomes and encourage more women (and men) to seek help.
LBB> Producing decorations which reflect the horror of domestic violence was a key aspect of this campaign. Please tell us more about this. Who did you work with, and what was the design process like?
Xavier> We teamed up with our partners at Atelier Bang Bang to screenprint the made-to-measure visuals on acetate - in order to create texture with the backlit windows. It was important to us to portray different situations that pertain to domestic violence, showing verbal and physical violence, and even the impact it has on children.
LBB> Another integral part of ‘Fear Windows’ is the spot that was released with it. Please tell us more about how it was made.
Xavier> For us, the video is the most important part of the campaign, because it’s the amplifiable piece that will reach the most people (along with our window key visual). Jean-François Sauvé (represented by ALT in Québec) directed and was the DP on the project. Since time and resources were very limited, everything was shot in one night, in a dozen windows across the city. The creative team ended up doing the location scouting themselves, because we had little to no time to make it happen. Every member of the team had to be a PA, a set AD, and a producer to make things happen in such a tight timeline.
LBB> The sound design and editing of the spot both evoke horror movie vibes. Who did you work with on these aspects, and what was the process like?
Xavier> We worked with the fine folks at Circonflex
for music. We initially experimented with a more touching piano approach, but the SFX and music that resonated most in our internal peer review process was going all in on the horror approach, which created the best juxtaposition between Halloween and the harsh reality of domestic violence.
LBB> What has the response to the campaign been like?
Xavier> We deployed the campaign for a few days in a dozen windows across Greater Montreal. We only kept them up for a little while, because Halloween is a family-friendly event and our aim wasn’t to confront kids with a reality they can’t really grasp.
LBB> While this campaign has been impactful, the issue of domestic violence again women, sadly, will not go away overnight. Is there the possibility of follow-up campaigns down the line?
Xavier> Absolutely. The issue is pressing, and we’ll want to show up in moments when people least expect La Maison Grise to speak - to keep garnering media attention and get more women to seek help.
LBB> What’s something you wish more people knew about domestic violence? And what can Canadians do to help?
Nathalie> It is important to understand that domestic violence affects women of various socio-economic statuses and backgrounds. There is no typical profile or ‘perfect’ victim of domestic violence. It is an insidious violence, which sets in over time and leads the female victims to find themselves completely isolated and excessively suffering. We can sometimes think that leaving an abusive partner is easy - that we just have to end the relationship. But, it’s essential to remember that these women may have children, they may have no income or employment, and they are often alone and have lost all self-confidence. In the majority of cases, the prospect of leaving their partner represents enormous challenges and sacrifices. These women need help and support that can take various forms.
We believe it’s essential that Canadians remain aware, informed, and participate in breaking taboos regarding violence against women. This involves a range of actions, such as denouncing violent comments towards women, or approaching relatives and colleagues who seem to be going through a difficult situation in their relationship. People have to break the isolation by reaching out to victims in distress and showing kindness, even if the person does not want to immediately leave the situation of violence they are experiencing. After all, it is a process that can take a lot of time.
LBB> Is there anything you’d like to tell us about La Maison Grise, and the work you do?
Nathalie> La Maison Grise offers psychosocial assistance services as well as a shelter service for women victims of violence - in all its forms. We offer clinical training to psychosocial workers, as well as awareness conferences in the workplace. We believe that informing the general population and front-line workers is part of the solution to ending violence against women.
LBB> Given the sensitive nature of domestic violence, what did the chance to be involved in this project mean to you?
Xavier> ‘Fear Windows’ won’t change domestic violence forever. But knowing that one person sharing the video could lead to one woman calling, one man seeking help, or one unaware person learning a crucial lesson feels extremely gratifying.