Matt Pyeatt, 7-UP Commercial Jokes About Prison Rape, Say Human Rights Groups, CNSNews.com, May 22, 2002.

A coalition of nearly 100 human rights groups wants a 7-UP television commercial yanked, because they say, the ad tries to draw laughs about prison rape.

The coalition is led by Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), a "non-profit human rights organization dedicated to ending sexual violence against men, women and youth in all forms of detention," according to the group's website.

The controversial advertisement depicts a 7-UP salesman distributing soda cans in a prison. When the man accidentally drops a can, he states he will not bend over to pick it up. SPR said the ad implies the salesman would risk being raped if he bent over. The commercial ends with an inmate sitting with his arm around the salesman and refusing to remove his arm.

"Jokes about prisoner rape are part of why this abuse has been tolerated for so long. 7 UP should not be teaching our young people that rape is funny," Lara Stemple, executive director of SPR, said. "Men and women are routinely raped and sexually brutalized in prisons throughout the country. Unfortunately, we all 'get it' when the spokesperson won't bend over."

Stemple said it was an issue of basic human rights. "Prisoner rape is a serious human rights abuse that is dehumanizing and sometimes deadly. Victims have been left beaten and bloodied, they have suffered long-term psychological harm, and they have contracted HIV," she said.

The joint protest also includes groups like Families with Loved Ones in Prison, Florida Prison Legal Aide Organization, Inc., The Hudson Institute, Human Rights Watch, The Pennsylvania Prison Society, People Against Prison Abuse, Prison Policy Initiative and the Prisoners Advocacy Network of Ohio.

Dr. Pepper/7-UP Inc. is the company that oversees the advertisements for 7-UP. Philippa Dworkin, vice president of corporate communications, said the company understands the concerns of the groups involved and that the commercial was never meant to be disrespectful to human rights.

"It was not our intention to do a commercial like that," Dworkin said. "I think the commercial was really trying to be humorous in terms of the whole advertising strategy that has gone on for the last couple of years. It's all about this 7-UP marketing guy who is trying to get the word out about how great 7-UP is, and everything he does turns out to be wrong."

Dworkin said she was concerned that the commercial has been linked to prison rape. "We are, as a company, now looking at that ad and the timing to replace it to see just what can be done," she said.

The commercial never would have aired if the connection had been made in advance, Dworkin said. "We would never have aired it had we thought that there was something as distasteful as that or making a mockery of what I think is a lack of human rights."

Stemple said the subject of rape would never be addressed in such a manner involving individuals outside a prison and should not be used as a form of humor about those in prison.

"No company would make jokes about rape outside of the prison context. It's time to stop the joking and start taking sexual violence against men and women behind bars seriously," Stemple said.

Dworkin agreed. "We really have listened to them. Their points are very valid and we are with them on human rights."

Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association, said it wasn't enough to just apologize for offending people. "This is truly troubling ... not only that they have crossed the line, but that they tried to cover themselves by saying that they don't desire to offend anybody. I think they need to be exercising much greater care in the future," he said.

Johnson said companies often cross the line of decency and try to hide behind the fact that they didn't mean to offend people. "Well, this is offensive and [the apology] sometimes comes off as a disingenuous comment," he said.

"Rape, in whatever context, is a dehumanizing, troubling matter," Johnson said.