December 5, 2010

Finally…A Sexual Assault Campaign I Can Get On Board With!

A new approach to sexual assault prevention education may be a sign that times are changing.

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In one of my previous blog posts, Friends Don’t Let Friends Hook-up Drunk…Or Do They?, I questioned the target audience of contemporary sexual assault prevention initiatives. Copious sexual assault prevention education initiatives have focused efforts on educating women about how they can avoid being victimized. This seems contradictory to me–after all it is women who are often the victims of sexual assault, particularly during the college years (over 95% of sexual assaults in college include a female victim and a male perpetrator). Such programs caution women to avoid certain situations like parties, to avoid certain behaviors like drinking alcohol, and to consider the messages they may be sending through their clothing and attire. Although I can see the utility in promoting risk reducing strategies to women in order to help them reduce the risk of being in a situation which may result in a sexual assault, women should not feel in any way responsible for their assault, nor should they be made to feel that they could have prevented it. I am intentionally being very careful in the language I am using here–women can engage in certain behaviors which may help reduce the risk of a sexual assault occurring, but there is nothing a woman can do to prevent a sexual assault because only the perpetrator of an assault can prevent it, by not sexually assaulting. Most current efforts at sexual assault education tend to imply that the victim could have prevented her assault by engaging in a different set of behaviors and that feels a lot like victim blaming to me. Instead, I think sexual assault education should provide a focused attention on educating men about gender differences in nonverbal communication, about male privilege and patriarchy and about how alcohol can cloud their judgment, especially when trying to determine consent.

Out with the Old, In with the New…

On Friday November 19, the Edmonton police department and Sexual Assault Center in Canada launched a new campaign to address sexual assault prevention entitled: “Don’t Be that Guy.” Uniquely, their target audience is: Men! The police department and Sexual Assault Center indicated that the goal of their campaign was to warn young men that sex without consent is a crime.

According to Danielle Campbell, of the Edmonton police department, sexual assault campaigns have historically focused on informing women about how to protect themselves. However “a recent study out of the United Kingdom involving 18-25 year old males revealed that 48% of the males didn’t consider it rape if a woman is too drunk to know what was going on.” She followed up by saying, “those statistics should haunt you.”

A Good First Step…

I am really pleased to see that there are intervention initiatives which are focusing on male behavior with regard to sexual assault. I think the benefits of this campaign are twofold: first, it will help to raise awareness among men that sex without consent or when a woman is too drunk to give consent is rape, secondly, a campaign like this helps to raise awareness that men need to take responsibility for rape prevention. I think a campaign like this can be an initial step in shifting the current cultural climate which supports blaming the victim for causing her own sexual assault toward placing responsibility on the perpetrator. I hope that other sexual assault initiatives will start to follow in suit and focus more attention on providing education to men about rape prevention and promoting less of a victim blaming mentality.

  • I have mixed feelings about this campaign. I do like that it targets behaviours rather than telling survivors how to avoid being raped. However, the frequent portrayals of the campaign as “finally telling men not to be rapists” is more than a little minimizing to male rape survivors. Further, it does give the impression that only men commit rape and that they are all going to be rapists unless taught otherwise. Consent campaigns are an improvement, but I take offense at the concept that I have to be taught not to be a rapist. When I was the age of the target demographic – I was being raped – by a woman who used alcohol she bought to drug me. I’m not a statistical anomaly, more than simply a deliberately ignored demographic. Consent is not a gender issue, regardless of how some may wish to paint it for their own purposes.

    The woman who raped me BOUGHT my drinks for me and spiked the second one before doing what she wanted and then blackmailing me into silence. Of course, I’ve been told by both men and women that I must have wanted it, was at fault for drinking with a woman I didn’t know, men can’t be raped, women can’t be rapists and every other victim-blaming tidbit you can think up.

    Someone never told my rapist “Don’t Be That Gal.” 20 years, countless panic attacks, years of lost sleep, and thousands of dollars in therapy bills could have been avoided if she’d cared about consent herself. How many women violate the consent of their partners regularly, only to get away with it because female on male rape is considered a big joke, or worse – that he was asking for it (i.e., erections = consent, men can’t be raped, men always want sex).

    Somedays I hate her and other days I reserve my stronger emotions for those who make excuses for people (not just men) who violate consent and do what they want, when they want, without regard to the damage they leave behind.