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Publicizing Domestic Violence

IT is your business.''

That's the message on the screen at the end of one of the ads the Family Violence Prevention Fund and the Advertising Council have produced to engage the larger public on the issue of domestic violence.

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The ad shows a couple in their bedroom just before lights out, casting troubled glances at each other and toward the ceiling, through which are coming the sounds of another couple upstairs arguing violently. The downstairs husband reaches toward the nightstand beside him. His hand hovers briefly over the telephone -- but then he decides not to pick it up. Instead he just turns out the light.

Although the fund's campaign, ''There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence,'' has been running since last year, President Clinton has just named Bonnie Campbell, a former Iowa attorney general, to head the Justice Department's new Violence Against Women office.

Esta Soler, the fund's director, is heartened that the public considers domestic violence a ''very serious problem'' -- 73 percent, according to a Time/CNN poll in January, up from 57 percent in 1991. Yet at the same time there is a ''disconnect,'' she says; people may be aware of cases of abuse, but what do they do about it?

First steps are willingness to call the police, in the case of an emergency, and willingness to talk -- to confront the abuser verbally, or at least to talk with the victim. Ms. Soler is quick to acknowledge that this won't always be easy.

But her goal is to ''publicize'' what has been a very ''private'' problem -- that is, not just to give it publicity but to make it public, to make it everybody's problem -- as has happened in the case of drunken driving, with the designated-driver campaign and the message, ''Friends don't let friends drive drunk.''

Soler is interested not just in criminal sanctions but in nongovernmental sanctions, the informal but very powerful means communities use to control unacceptable behavior. What if a man discovers that his otherwise suitable tennis partner beats his wife? Will he drop him? It's a low-risk way of sending a strong signal.

And will a corporation be willing to cancel the contract of a high-visibility spokesman found to be abusing his wife, as O.J. Simpson was found to be?

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As another of the fund's ads say, ''If the noise coming from next door were loud music, you'd do something about it.''

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