The Best Work You May Never See: BBH London, Optical Arts Find Refuge With Film Targeting High-Tech Domestic Abuse In U.K.


Robert Goldrich
Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021


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Refuge, the U.K. organization which runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, is marking 50 years of supporting victimized women and children in a campaign created by BBH London that highlights the insidious ways technology is being used by abusers to monitor and control their partners, and how this makes the charity’s job more complex than ever.

At the heart of the campaign is this 40-second film which, at first glance, appears to be promoting a new smartphone. But as the camera lingers on the phone’s elegant design and a voiceover details its features, things take a sinister turn. Maps in real time, we are told, can “keep you up to date with traffic in your area...and her movements” while smart home features can be used to adjust the heating and lights “even when you’re not at home, so you can control her from wherever you are”.

It ends by reminding us that as domestic abuse gets smarter, the job of Refuge gets harder, along with details of how to make a donation.

This kind of control is one of the fastest growing crimes being tackled by Refuge, which saw a 97% rise in complex tech abuse cases between April 2020 and May 2021. It is also the latest example of how the organization has continued to adapt the services it provides and issues on which it campaigns since it opened its first safe house for women and children escaping domestic violence in 1971.

The full-length film--produced by creative studio Optical Arts founded by director and photographer Dan Tobin Smith--is running on television, cinema and social media, with a 15-second version also being shared by influencers. 

Refuge has found that in the U.K., two in five women say that a partner or family member knows the password to their personal devices, with 28% of these women reporting that they did not give the password out willingly.

Kimberley Gill, creative director and partner at BBH London, said: “It’s chilling how much control an abuser can take of their partner’s life without anyone suspecting a thing, and when you think of how much we rely on our devices these days, it makes you realize it can be almost impossible to escape. So while we would have loved to send out a celebratory message about Refuge’s achievements on their 50th anniversary, the fact is there is still so much work to do, and they can’t do it unless we support them.”


Client Refuge Lisa King, communications & external relations director Agency BBH London Jennifer Ashton, Oliver Short, creative team; Kimberley Gill, creative director; Joakim Borgstrom, chief creative officer; Helen Rhodes, executive creative director; Lucy Moody, strategy director; Jemima Bowers, producer. Production Optical Arts Optical Arts, direction; Hannah May, exec producer/producer. Design, Editing, CG Animation, Color Grading & Postproduction Optical Arts Mastering & Titles Electronic Theatre Collective Sound Grand Central Stud9ios Markus Ffitch, sound and music composition

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