These bruised apples contain a safety message

There’s arguably no place in the grocery store where food items are subjected to more scrutiny and customer fussiness than the produce section. So why would two Toronto stores create displays consisting of nothing but bruised apples?

It’s part of a new awareness campaign for Interval House, Canada’s oldest shelter for abused women and children. Developed by Toronto agency Union, “Bruised Fruit” is designed to provide assistance to women experiencing domestic abuse while educating others about the troubling rise in intimate partner violence during the pandemic.

Each piece of dented and dinged fruit in the displays at The Big Carrot and Unboxed Market features a discreet sticker providing important information relating to the rise of domestic abuse during the pandemic, such as “Isolation creates the perfect conditions for abusers to exert total control” and “During the pandemic, abusive relationships became more physically violent.” The stickers also contain contact information for Interval House’s 24-hour crisis line.

According to reports, intimate partner violence soared during the second wave of Covid, with Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline taking 20,344 calls from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, up significantly from 12,352 calls in the corresponding year-earlier period. While lockdown restrictions are gradually easing, many women remain trapped at home during the pandemic.

“It’s the perfect storm,” says Paula Del Cid, manager of shelter services and outreach at Interval House. “Women are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than ever, and it’s also harder than ever for them to reach out for help. The bruised apples are a way to get them the information they need, secretly and safely.”

Adam Thur, executive creative director with Union, said the campaign arose out of discussions with Interval House counsellors who said that grocery stores are among only a handful of places where abused women can escape the scrutiny of an abusive partner, since they tend to closely monitor their phone conversations and online activity.

“The only places that women are not monitored by an abusive partner are either drug stores or grocery stores,” said Thur. “We realized that there’s a violent connotation with the image of bruised fruit and that we could shock people out of their complacency and also reach women who might be at risk themselves.”

At the outset of the pandemic last year, the U.K.’s Victims Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, recommended that supermarket employees should be trained to recognize code words from victims of abuse. “[Y]ou may be a very controlled person but the likelihood is you are sent out to buy the food,” she said in explaining the vital role grocers can play in ensuring women’s safety.

The Big Carrot has been a donor and supporter of Interval House since 2007 and its leaders were shocked to discover the grocery store’s importance as a temporary refuge for abused women, said marketing coordinator Krista Schoen. “As a business, giving back to our community and providing educational outreach is very important to us. Considering this, we felt it was our duty to help spread awareness.”

The initiative has been positively received by customers both in-store and online, said Schoen. “Even when the truth is difficult or uncomfortable to share, we believe it is important to bring issues like this to light… Our customers have thanked us for providing them with the education and information surrounding this growing issue.”

The displays will be in place through mid-August, although Thur said the hope is to expand the program into other stores.

Last year, Union and Interval House created “The Way to Live/The Way to Leave,” a website masquerading as a lifestyle site that actually contained resources and information for women trapped at home with an abusive partner. At first glance, the site appeared to feature items relating to handbags and purse essentials, but viewers can access resources aimed at helping them escape an abusive partner by simply holding down the “esc” key on their keyboard.

Chris Powell