Poster Campaign Reminds Us the Victim Blaming is Alive and Well

Heavy sigh. I am so disheartened by this that I barely even have the will to write about it. But I feel I must. Some posters have surfaced in downtown Edmonton and on the U of A Campus that say 'Just because you regret a one night stand doesn't mean it wasn't consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime. Don't be that girl'. There is another one that says 'Women who drink are responsible for their own actions especially when sex is involved. Double standards. Don't be that girl.' In case you're not getting the reference, this is a response to the public awareness campaign called 'don't be that guy'. It's a series of posters that says things like 'Just because she's drunk doesn't mean she said yes. Sex without consent = Sexual Assault. Don't be that guy' and 'Just because you gave her a ride home doesn't mean you can help yourself. Sex with consent = Sexual Assault. Don't be that guy.' It's a brilliant campaign that for once, finally, puts the onus for preventing sexual assault on the people that do it, not on the victims of it. It is an education on what does and does not constitute consent. Of course, some people got angry about it because they still want to blame women for supposedly putting themselves in situations where they could be raped and they still want to justify their actions or their friends actions or whatever.

So I'm not actually surprised by the posters. I knew there were some people who really got their shorts in a knot over this campaign and I expected a response. But whether I expected it or not, it still makes me angry and sad. Why oh why oh why are we so married to the idea that women routinely lie about being assaulted? Yes, it has certainly happened but it is so very rare as to be absolutely inconsequential and yet we talk as if one instance indicates that this is a common thing. Worse still is the people who claim that being falsely accused of rape is just as bad or worse than being raped. First, why do we have to take sides? Both things are bad. Cannot they not both be bad? Secondly, I don't agree. While I do think it would be awful to be falsely accused and to potentially lose your job and your credibility over it, those are probably the worst things that could happen. The very worst would be to go to jail for it but since our record in Canada of convicting actual sex offenders is so pitiful, I seriously doubt that this really ever happens. It is highly unlikely. For victims however, there are serious lifelong effects including - physical injuries, nightmares, PTSD, loss of trust, fear, damage to relationships, loss of relationships, loss of reputation and credibility from other who find out or when incidents go public and the person is blamed or not believed, loss of jobs, loss of income, depression, suicide. A sexual assault never leaves you. You can heal from it but you will never be the same. It is a life sentence. I'm not saying it is necessarily worse that being falsely accused but those who say that seem to think that the effects of being sexually assaulted are limited to the assault alone and one just gets over it. That's not what happens. Ever.

Some people are saying that the poster about false reports is no big deal. It's just saying that false reports are bad and you shouldn't do it. But it is a big deal. Why? Because this poster sends the message that there are some women - perhaps lots of women - who just willy nilly go to the police and charge a guy with rape because they had a one night stand and then felt bad about it later. They make it sound as if this is an easy, simple thing that women do just to calm their own conscious when they choose to have sex that they later regret. If we have people telling us this all the time and we come to believe it, we are much less likely to believe a woman who reports a sexual assault - particularly if it wasn't a 'forcible rape' (I hate that term for many reason but it is a term that is commonly used in these arguments). Instead of just believing her, taking the report and investigating it, we are much more likely to wonder first if maybe she's just making the whole thing up. This should never ever be a question. Any complaint of sexual assault should be taken seriously. Instead what often happens is women are questioned about what they were doing and how they contributed to the situation. Putting posters like this all over town just makes people think that this is an acceptable way to respond - that women do this all the time so instead of helping them first, we should question them first.

The other poster is, if possible, even worse. That one says that women are responsible for their own action when they drink. I agree 100%. I am responsible for my own actions. If I get drunk and pass out and miss work the next day, that is totally my fault. If I get so drunk that I tell off my best friend and she never talks to me again, that is 100% my fault. If I get drunk and drive home, get into an accident and kill someone, that is 100% my fault. However, if someone else sees me passed out and takes the opportunity to assault me - how in the world is that my fault? It's my fault I was drunk. I got drunk. But I did not assault myself. The person who assaulted me did it and that is that person's responsibility. I still cannot understand why this is so unclear to people. Why do we excuse violent and aggressive behavior? Why do we take it as such an expected norm in our society that we decide to blame the victims of it? Getting drunk and passing out does not cause sexual assault. People who take advantage of people who get drunk and pass out does. In most situations if a women, or man for that matter, gets drunk and passes out at a party, most people at that party will take care of the person - put her to bed, find someone who can take him home and put him to bed, or stay with her until she wakes up to make sure she doesn't throw up and choke. That's what the vast majority of people will do. This is normal behavior. Only a very few will use that situation to hurt the person. So why then, if that happens, is that the person's fault. When you see someone drunk and incapacitated, you have some choices about what to do and if you choose to hurt them, it's your choice.

I think our confusion or trouble with this stems from two things. 1. We want so very much to think that nothing bad will ever happen to us that we want to believe we can control every situation and keep things from happening to us. So when we see a situation where a woman was assaulted when she was drunk and passed out we say 'well that would never happen to me because I wouldn't get drunk and pass out like that'. We look for the thing that person did wrong so that we can convince ourselves that we can keep it from happening to us. 2. Our culture wants to control women's behavior. We don't want women being overly sexual or overly aggressive or overly independent. We don't want them to drink or have random sex with hot guys. We want them to behave themselves. So when something bad happens to a woman who was doing something we don't like, we blame her instead of the person who was doing the bad thing. We use these examples to try to scare women into behaving - don't get drunk because you'll get raped.

Contrary to what some people are saying, these posters are not harmless. They exemplify and perpetuate a belief system that harms all of us - that keeps us from believing and supporting victims of sexual violence. They help to keep offenders on the street by denying and excusing their behavior. They stir up anger against people who are doing their best to help educate about the realities of sexual violence and worst of all, they turn that anger against victims.

The only possible good that could come out of this is that it may cause some people who have had similar thoughts and beliefs to see these blatant victim blaming statements, hear the response, and really question their position. Maybe a few minds could change.