Battered Barbie

A PCC student uses Barbies to raise awareness of domestic violence

Lately, the buzz at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus has been all about Barbies. But not in the way one would usually expect.

A PCC student uses Barbies to raise awareness of domestic violence

Lately, the buzz at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus has been all about Barbies. But not in the way one would usually expect.


Rather than focusing on the Barbie as an object or child’s play thing, a PCC student, Becca Ellenbecker, decided to use the popular doll as a way to raise awareness of domestic violence. And while her method is unconventional, it hammers home the fact that attention needs to be brought to this issue, regardless of the controversy involved.

Ellenbecker admitted that she was looking to shock and awe her audience into awareness by displaying bruised and battered Barbies throughout Rock Creek. The Rock Creek Women’s Resource Center had been looking for a new way to promote awareness of violence—and they certainly found it.

Sure, posters and flyers are great, but when you are running late to class on top of having a million other things on your mind, ephemeral advertising sometimes gets lost in the static. By using abused Barbies and dispersing them throughout the campus, Ellenbecker was able to hit home and reach her audience.

When advocating against something as serious as domestic violence, one needs to grab attention in an effective manner. While displaying battered Barbies certainly grabbed the attention of students and staff alike, whether it conveyed Ellenbecker’s original intent is not quite clear.

Along with the Barbies were guestbooks asking staff and students to share their thoughts on the project. For the most part, the general consensus was that the display was “going too far.”

One student left an anonymous message saying that their friend’s sister had been the victim of domestic violence, and that the display was very triggering to those who had been abused in the past.

Kristen Martin, the coordinator of Rock Creek’s Women’s Resource Center has defended the project. “The students who had a hard time with it didn’t necessarily disagree with the message. It’s a tough thing when you walk in and you see Barbies that have been abused,” said Martin in a statement released through KATU News.

“It’s a child’s toy, so there’s that concept that it symbolizes people and yet our society is notoriously known for not facing [domestic violence] and it’s prevalent,” Martin said. “It’s just helping people be more than bystanders that don’t know how to react. This gives them some tools so they feel like they can intervene, know what to say and where to help that person go for help.”

It is understandable that some would be opposed to such a violent display involving Barbies. Barbie is an American icon and has been a staple toy for small children for decades. That said, raising awareness of domestic violence is a great thing to advocate, so props to Ellenbecker for having her heart in the right place.

Domestic violence is something that needs to be more heavily publicized. According to the national Domestic Violence Resource Center, one out of four women has experienced violence in an intimate relationship, and three women are killed by their partners every day. The DVRC website goes on to state that 74 percent of Americans know a victim of domestic violence.

While Ellenbecker’s way of raising awareness may have been triggering to some, it did what she set out to do. But what about PSU? Should students here follow the same trajectory, using a child’s play thing to raise awareness?

The PSU Women’s Resource Center did not give a concrete answer as to whether or not it would support the use of abused Barbies to raise awareness. However, much like Ellenbecker said, the WRC stressed that raising any kind of awareness of domestic violence is good.

Currently the WRC is working with students to raise awareness of domestic violence. Last October students organized the first domestic violence candlelight vigil. Now the WRC is looking to hold its first ever Consent Awareness Month in April. The planning for this event is still underway, but a calendar of events should be released and available to the public by March.

It is important to include the fact that the WRC has its own interpersonal violence program. The IPV provides support, advocacy and assistance to students who have been exposed to domestic violence and abuse. The WRC is full of resources involving the IPV program for those who need help.

Once a month, the WRC hosts a “healthy relationship group” that focuses on building healthy relationships, exposing unhealthy relationship practices and providing a safe haven for women. Also, every Wednesday at 5 p.m., the WRC hosts the Take Back the Night/Bike Back the Night committee meeting.

The support and advocacy is not just limited to students living on campus either. The WRC provides aid to students and staff alike, so as long as you are a PSU student you can get the help you need. Also available in the WRC is information on birth control, counseling, support groups and other forms of fellowship.

Domestic and sexual violence both are strictly prohibited in PSU’s Student Code of Conduct. According to the code, “effective consent must be clearly communicated in sexual situations.” The code defines effective consent as “A voluntary non-coerced and mutually understandable communication indicating a willingness to participate in a particular act.”

With the recent sexual assaults that have taken place on campus, consent is something to take into consideration. The consent rule is one that we should all bear in mind when going about our daily lives. Consent is a part of normal sexual practice, and if any form of coercion is involved in gaining consent, said consent could technically be nullified.

Domestic violence is a terrible thing, but it will continue to happen unless we fight it. Stand with the WRC and do something about it. Even if it means battering up some Barbies, any awareness is good awareness if it gets people into action to fight the spread of domestic violence.