The mother of a 6-year-old girl whose photo appeared on an anti-abortion billboard targeting African Americans is suing the ad company that created the campaign, claiming it violated the terms her contract.
The controversial ad, which initially caused a stir in February, featured Anissa Fraser, 4 at the time, in a sun dress and the warning, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
The ad triggered a tsunami of outrage, culminating in the Reverend Al Sharpton threatening to picket its location near the mouth of the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan.
The target of the suit, Heroic Media, which developed the ad for anti-abortion group Life Always, stood by its work at first, saying that it was designed to “provoke a visceral reaction.” Life Always Pastor Stephen Broden told the press at the time that Anissa was selected for the billboard “because of her innocence.”
But the Christian group eventually bowed to public pressure and took the ad down.
Tricia Fraser, the mother of Anissa, says in the suit that she never agreed to have her daughter’s image associated with “an offensive, defamatory, and racist statement.” She said that she only signed a release allowing her daughter to be photographed for stock "family photos."
The photo was purchased by Heroic Media from the photo agency Getty Images with the agreement that it would not be used "in connection with a subject that would be unflattering or unduly controversial to a reasonable person," a condition that she charges Heroic violated.
Fraser said that as a result of the controversial ad she was forced into the awkward position of having to explain to her daughter about the birds and the bees—and what it had to do with her picture appearing in the national media.
"While Life Always and Heroic Media certainly have the right to engage in such offensive speech, they do not have the right to exploit the likeness of an innocent child to do so," she says in the complaint.
Fraser also claims her daughter’s budding modeling career, which had been taking off since the 2009 photo shoot, is now in a tailspin. “Anissa has also suffered from emotional distress resulting from the use of her image in the New York billboard, as well as damage it has caused her career,” the New Jersey mother said in court papers.
Heroic Media, Life Always, and Pastor Broden did not immediately respond to calls for comment.