Sunday, November 21, 2010

Edmonton Sexual Assault Prevention Campaign Challenges Myths Around Assault

Sexual Assault and Rape Prevention campaigns often are associated with self-defense classes and the modification of women’s behavior (check out this educational video from the Department of Defense 1977), depicting rapists as inevitable predators and ultimately implying that women who are sexually assaulted were too weak to defend themselves or were otherwise responsible for their assault.

With this kind of precedent, the new assault prevention campaign from the Edmonton police department and Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) stands out and has gotten quite a bit of media attention. The campaign is called Don’t Be That Guy, and it’s targeting potential perpetrators. The images and languages focus on debunking myths surrounding sexual assault, particularly emphasizing that women who are drunk and unconscious or nearly so cannot consent. The launch is timed particularly for the holiday party scene and print advertisements will be posted above the urinals in the bathrooms of bars as well as magazines and bus stops in order to target men between the ages of 18 and 24.

While it could be said that the campaign reinforces gendered myths around sexual assault, there is something to be said for specificity. The ads not only target a certain audience, but also challenge several pervasive myths around sexual assault. By making it about “That Guy” rather than “an evil rapist”, the ads make it clear that predatory behavior is not inevitable or distant – you could, in fact, be that guy. Your friend could be that guy. Maybe you already are that guy. The guy that sexually assaulted someone. Maybe you didn’t know that having sex without direct consent was sexual assault. Now you know. Rapists aren’t just racialized/mentally unstable/homeless/drug addicted/sociopathic strangers that hide in alleyways and kidnap women. They are just another guy at the party.

Edmonton Police Service Superintendent Danielle Campbell unveils two posters that are part of the Don't Be That Guy campaign focusing on the issue of alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults.

(image by Larry Wong for the Edmonton Journal)

Just the refocusing of attention onto perpetrators seems revolutionary. It is crystal clear from the get go here that this woman did not ask to be sexually assaulted, even if she is blackout drunk. The popular victim blaming strategy, prevalent not only in our common culture but in our courts, does not have a place in this campaign. It directly tells the perpetrator “You are the one exclusively responsible for this sexual assault” and by doing so, implicitly lets all survivors know that it is not their fault. While the ads are depicting a particular kind of assault, the clear responsibility can easily transition to other scenarios. Instead of the copy reading “Just because you help her home, doesn’t mean you get to help yourself” could easily be adapted:

“Just because her clothes are revealing, doesn’t mean she wants you to touch her”

“Just because she’s said yes before, doesn’t mean she can’t say no”

“Just because she likes you, doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you”

With all the national media attention around the campaign, we can only hope that this style of assault prevention material continues and catches on.

Article in the Toronto Sun:

Article in the Vancouver Sun: