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A Best Buy customer rushes in to purchase a copy of the game Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008.

Paul Sakuma/AP

A man knocks a woman to the ground with a baseball bat. Another slams a woman's head into a glass case until she is bloody and unconscious. Amid all the news that has brought issues of violence against women to the forefront recently, these are scenes that sound all too real.

But instead, the new advertising campaign from YWCA Canada points to the depictions of violence against women found in pop culture – music videos, video games and cartoons.

A series of radio ads takes scenes from video game franchise Grand Theft Auto, the cartoon Family Guy, and the video for the Kanye West song "Monster" – in which dead women in lingerie hang by their necks from the ceiling, and the rapper plays with two other female bodies in a bed. The point is to ask why scenes like this are considered entertainment, and to start a conversation about real violence.

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The timing is uncanny: the campaign launched on Tuesday, the day before former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi appeared in court to face charges of sexual assault. Tuesday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the date is the annual kickoff for the YWCA's campaign on the subject.

The campaign also includes three online videos:

When the YWCA and ad agency Juniper Park began working on the campaign in the summer, the conversation was all about Ray Rice, the former NFL player who was shown in video footage hitting his then-fiancée.

Both stories have ignited a conversation about abuse. Some organizations that work in the field have latched on to that conversation with timely campaigns, hoping it will bring more awareness to the issue.

"We're not happy about what happened, but we're happy that people are starting to react to it," said David Toto, managing director at Juniper Park. "The trivialization of the subject in pop culture … was an angle that we thought was missing from the conversation."

However, the people behind the campaign stress that the idea is not to imply that there is a direct causal link between video games or other entertainment, and real violence. Nor is it to suggest a censorship approach.

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"It's not about that. It's about starting a conversation," said Ann Decter, YWCA Canada's director of advocacy and public policy. "Think about it, pay attention to it. It's about the way that violence is melded into our everyday lives."

The radio ads will run nationally until mid-December (timing differs depending on the radio station: for public service announcements, media outlets will often donate time. But the holiday season makes for crowded airwaves for advertising.) The video will run online only, and its creators are hoping it is compelling enough that people will share it with friends.

The campaign also introduced the #NotOkay hashtag – a device used for highlighting a topic on Twitter, and also used in other social media such as Facebook. (The campaign is using #PasCorrect in French.) The idea for the hashtag, Mr. Toto said, is that people could use this phrase to start discussions about anything, not just pop culture depictions of violence.

"It's something you could say to a friend. 'That's just not okay,'" Ms. Decter said.

YWCA Canada wanted the campaign to be focused on social media after observing how discussions about Mr. Rice and Mr. Ghomeshi took shape online – a medium disproportionately used by the young people YWCA is especially hoping to reach.

"We know that prevention is a big factor," Ms. Decter said. "Your peers call you on your behaviour, you stop it before it starts. … What we need in violence against women is something like the campaigns against drunk driving, or anti-smoking. We really need to make that societal change, where it becomes less acceptable."

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