By Samantha Cooney
Updated: November 8, 2016 4:33 PM ET | Originally published: November 4, 2016
MOTTO
Samantha Cooney is the content strategy editor at TIME.

PETA is under fire after releasing an ad that uses the stories of sexual assault survivors to promote veganism.

The ad, which debuted on Wednesday on the animal rights group’s Twitter account, starts with women sharing stories of sexual assault and how the experiences made them feel devalued. “I feel everything. And I feel worthless,” women in the ad say. But, then, one woman featured in the ad holds up a picture of a cow and says, “Because I am you — only different.”

The ad ends with this message: “Every year, billions of animals are born into the meat, egg, and dairy industry. Almost all of them are a result of forcible artificial insemination. Almost all of them are a result of rape. Don’t participate. Go vegan,” the ad says.

Many were quick to denounce PETA, which has been criticized in the past for objectifying women in its ads, for seemingly dehumanizing sexual assault survivors by equating rape with the consumption of animal products.

PETA responded to some of its detractors directly on Twitter on Wednesday.

In a statement sent to Motto, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk defended the ad, saying that the “sexual abuse” of animals has largely been ignored.

“We are talking about rape: It is rape when someone sticks their hand into a vagina or rectum without permission. That’s the dictionary definition of rape. We believe that everyone should see the reality of dairy, meat, and turkey production and then, unless they’re ethically blind, they will be appalled,” Newkirk said. “Every decent person abhors and denounces sexual abuse of women but we cannot blithely accept the sexual abuse of other females who happen not to be human but have the same vulnerability to pain. We can’t fill our mouth full of steak, turkey or cheese knowing that mother cows are routinely sexually abused and that their calves — their beloved offspring — are taken from them shortly after birth. Any woman (or man!) with a heart should scream bloody murder on behalf of the animals who can’t scream it themselves.”

In response to an inquiry from Motto about whether the women in the video were sexual assault survivors or actors, a PETA spokesperson said: “All of the women are volunteers. Some of the women are survivors. Out of respect for their confidentiality we are not going to say which ones are. These women chose to be in this video to tell the animals’ stories.”

Newkirk’s statement attempts to justify the distasteful ad, but PETA’s message of animal abuse could have been just as effectively delivered without tying the plight of animals to that of sexual assault survivors.

UPDATE: PETA connected Motto with one of the women in the video, who said that she’s a survivor of sexual assault and wanted to appear in the video to draw awareness to the struggles animals are facing. The woman, who requested anonymity, disagreed that the ad devalued sexual assault victims. “You’re placing a box on labelling who can be assaulted,” the woman said. “And that’s not fair. I have a voice, and these animals don’t.”

PETA said that the response to the ad has been positive, pointing to several thousand likes on the ad out of their combined several million followers.

Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com.

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT

Read More From TIME

EDIT POST