The writing’s on the wall for rape and sexual assault

Katie Cunningham is our media volunteer in the Scotland office.

When I started university in Edinburgh one of the first things drummed into my head – before my classes had even started – was that I was in danger. Warning signs in bathrooms, in corridors, and even organised groups for walking home were all there to keep me safe. It almost reached saturation point – perhaps I no longer even saw the posters warning against rape and sexual assault. But then the attacks started.

I’m going into fourth year now, and four of my friends have experienced a sexual attack. That’s four who have told me; rape and assault aren’t easy subjects to talk about, especially in a culture where the victim is often made to feel blame and shame. The line between consensual and non-consensual sex can often be blurred, especially when it comes to justice.

But I think of Edinburgh as a “nice” city – surely we are protected by the courts?

Compare that to the recent case of Norwegian woman, Marte Deborah Dalelv, who after reporting rape in Dubai was not only charged with having sex outside of marriage and imprisoned but received a longer jail sentence than her than her assailant. Although she has just been pardoned and released – thanks in no small part to an international outcry – this is just another example of Dubai’s appalling attitude towards women’s rights.

This sort of story makes me remember that although I may have been slightly blasé about the personal risks of being attacked when I started university, sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time.
Rather than ignore the warning posters I now believe anything that raises awareness of what exactly rape is, is good.

One example is the award-winning “Don’t be that guy” campaign, launched in 2010 across Vancouver, Canada, by the University of Alberta. The graphic images were shockingly successful – the sexual assault rate in the city was reported as being down ten percent. The posters are brilliant – they depict a woman (and potential victim) unconscious, drunk, or vulnerable and state unequivocally that it’s not sex when someone isn’t actively saying yes, or when they’re incapable of making decisions. The final line: ‘Don’t be that guy’, places the stigma squarely on the attacker, absolving the woman from the shame and blame in a radical move that really shouldn’t be all that radical.

Great campaign with a positive message – surely there is nothing here that could possibly cause anyone to take offence?

As it turns out, there is. Recently, a parody of the posters called the “Don’t be that girl” campaign appeared all over Edmonton. Produced by a “men’s rights” group, these posters use the original design and twist the message by posting glib and, frankly, dangerous taglines such as: “It’s not rape just because you regret it”.

Where to begin with what’s wrong with this?

What makes the “campaign” so appalling are the potential effects it could have – not only on attitudes towards rape and sexual assault, but on victims of such attacks who are dealing with the stress of reporting crimes or struggling to regain their lives in the aftermath of an assault.

Will positive steps forward in the fight against sexual assault ever be taken if progressive campaigns are subject to ridicule and abuse by the very audience they are trying to reach?

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts
0 comments