The good people of the Internet doled out a much-needed correction this week to a rape awareness campaign poster from England’s National Health Service. The campaign, which first launched between 2005 and 2007 but was recently recycled, showed a black and white shot of a woman in distress along with the caption, “One in three reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking.”
It’s a well-meaning campaign that completely misses the mark. Blaming the victim for sexual assault is an old, tired tactic. It shifts responsibility onto women who experience violence rather than the people who actually initiate it. Which is why Twitter user @neverjessie helped fix the poster.
It’s good general advice to tell women (and men, for that matter) to be aware of their surroundings and circumstances. Drinking is often a factor in assaults. But talking about alcohol evades the actual problem: rape culture and the pervasive assumption that men have agency over women’s bodies. Assault is never justified by what a woman is wearing or drinking, and pretending that the fault here lies on the victim is offensive. The ordeal is similar to posters on the Vancouver Skytrains that informed riders that “Not reporting sexual assault is the real shame,” a ham-fisted attempt to combat shame with still more shame that likewise places the burden on the victim.
The real problem is that rape culture is so deeply engrained in our culture that even posters attempting to combat sexual violence play into it. That is how deeply rooted the assumption is that victims of assault are “asking for it” through their mannerisms. Clearly, even those who are trying to help correct the problem need their awareness raised.
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