As a freshman in high school, I was required to take an introductory health course. Out of the months I spent in the class, there is only one lecture that I still remember. It revolved solely around the issue of rape and sexual assault. The first half dealt with your basic crime and perpetration statistics. It’s really the second portion of the lecture that’s stuck with me all these years. We were given a list of strategies for preventing sexual assault which included gems such as “don’t wear revealing clothing,” “never go out alone,” and “don’t consume alcohol.” From conversations I’ve had with peers, I’ve come to recognize that my experience was in no way isolated or unique.
Countless young people are taught, either through official school curriculum or through daily interactions with media coverage of sexual assault, that rape is a crime that can and should be prevented by the victim. In these lessons, the perpetrator is barely mentioned, much less held accountable. This strategy is problematic for a variety of reasons: not only does it make a survivor feel responsible for an experienced assault, it also creates an imagined ‘checklist’ in many people’s heads. “If a survivor didn’t follow all of these instructions, then what did they expect? Of course they were going to be assaulted!” Attitudes like this HAVE TO STOP. And employing accurate and supportive educational curriculum is one of the best ways to discredit these viewpoints.
Luckily, there seems to be an ever-growing trend of informed and sensitive ad campaigns that rely on principles of bystander intervention and enthusiastic consent rather than scare tactics, purity myths, and victim blaming. Read on for some of my favorite examples from around the (English-speaking) world.
We Can Stop It is only the latest in a line of truly excellent ad campaigns from Rape Crisis Scotland, the most visible and vocal crisis organization in the UK. These ads go further than many others by actively encouraging men to become involved in the prevention of sexual violence. This is not only a fantastic promotion of bystander intervention, it also attempts to represent sexual violence as a universal issue, rather than just a women’s issue. Other examples of RCS’s stellar campaigns are 10 Top Tips to End Rape (a personal favorite), Not Ever, and This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me.
Who Are You?, a PSA from Wellington, New Zealand, is the ultimate in bystander intervention campaigns. Although long and somewhat repetitive, this video is truly an excellent watch. There are many things that this video does well, the most important of which is the highly realistic depiction of sexual assault (trigger warning), and the very reasonable suggestions for how a bystander might intervene in such a situation. The PSA asserts that you don’t have to get into awkward or physical confrontations in order to prevent sexual violence, a concern that many people have when considering intervening. This video proves that a scene isn’t necessary, and all you need to do to be an effective bystander is trust your gut and check in with the people around you.
It’s On Us is an ad campaign released by the White House in the midst of the recent outcry surrounding campus sexual assault. For that reason, this ad is extremely well-timed as well as being highly sensitive to the issues. Not only does this ad never mention a victim’s responsibility in their own assault, it also upholds the (completely correct) viewpoint that it will take a concerted societal effort to end rape culture and sexual violence. This attitude promotes not only bystander intervention and coordinated support of survivors, it crushes principles of victim blaming at the same time.
Don’t Be That Guy is an ad campaign from Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton, an organization based out of Alberta, Canada. Much like We Can Stop It, this campaign places the responsibility for preventing sexual violence entirely on men. The tagline of the campaign is “Urging Men to Own Their Role to End Rape,” which is a simple and highly effective way to encourage men to become involved in something that has been traditionally seen as a women’s issue. The campaign is really able to achieve its goal by depicting simple scenarios in their posters which have the benefit of also being highly recognizable and realistic. It is likely that anyone viewing these images (especially college students) would have witnessed or experienced many of the scenes being represented, which is a straightforward way to personally connect viewers to the issue.
Hopefully other organizations will take a cue from these campaigns, and continue the trend towards discrediting and correcting safety strategies which blame victims and ignore perpetrators. Make sure to share these PSAs and campaigns with others — after all, education is most effective with a diverse audience!
Camille Zimmerman has been a Companion since 2013. She provides support and resources for survivors of sexual violence and is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. She has previously contributed a post about how to support a survivor.