Rape is a People's Issue, Not a Men's Or Women's Issue


An incredibly successful Vancouver-based campaign was implemented in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. in 2010 with the intention to educate the public on rape awareness. Battered Women's Support Services, in cooperation with the Vancouver Police department, Bar Watch, WAVAW, and BC Women's Hospital and Health Center, were the main organizations behind the behavioural marketing campaign. It campaign catered to young men between 18-25 and emphasized, unlike many other campaigns, that the responsibility to prevent rape is in the hands of those same young men. The posters define what does and doesn't constitute consent in a straightforward definitive way, ending with the campaign's slogan "Don't Be That Guy: Urging Men to Own Their Role to End Rape." 

According to a study done by the creators of the campaign involving 18 to 25-year-old men, 15% of Canadians believe women encourage sexual assault by flirting and 11% think women can invite sexual assault by wearing revealing clothing. 48% of their sample did not consider it rape if a woman is too drunk to know what is going on.

That 48% has responded. According to a men's rights group based in Edmonton, Alberta, the message in the "Don't Be That Guy" campaign leads to the conviction of innocent men in rape cases and is anti-male. They have started a disturbing counter-campaign called "Don't Be that Girl," which takes a vengeful approach and proves that we need to stop genderizing the issue of rape prevention. 

The posters put up around the University of Alberta campus and in downtown Edmonton used images from the Don't Be That Guy campaign and changed the text to send a contrary message, saying things such as "women who drink are not responsible for their actions, especially when sex is involved" and "just because you regret a one-night stand doesn't mean it wasn't consensual." 

This reverse "campaign" is supposed to be in the interests of innocent men convicted of rape, but it takes a completely warped approach. It's hard to discern whether Don't Be That Girl is really a call for more thorough investigations in rape cases or whether it's a rape-apologist campaign. The campaign purports that "reporting rape can be an act of revenge," which is a completely unnecessary way of discussing the issue the men's rights group claims to be so invested in; the claim simultaneously makes reporting rape, which many women are already hesitant to do, an even bigger step for victims.

This is the problem: The "Don't Be That Girl" campaign's slogans are "Double Standards" and "Lying about sexual assault = a crime." Still, false rape allegations occur much less often than the men's rights movement claims.  Dr. Christina Stasia, a women's studies professor at University of Alberta, says that statistics actually show sexual assault as being one of the most under-reported crimes.

Of course, one falsely convicted rapist is one too many. But the men's rights counter-campaign isn't helping. For men who actually have been wrongly charged with rape, the legitimacy of their voices is made weaker by "Don't Be That Girl," which childishly turns an anti-rape message around to one of "double standards." For women, it makes the reporting of sexual assault look shameful.

The original "Don't Be That Guy" campaign aims to educate an impressionable and high-risk demographic, and this men's rights group viewed that as an accusation against men. This is the root problem; it is not a war. They didn't need a counter-campaign. They didn't need revenge.

We need to address rape as a people's issue, not a men's issue or a women's issue. Vancouver's "Don't Be That Guy" did the right thing in sending a message that it is the not responsibility of young women to prevent being raped. The continued development of that message, however, needs to emphasize not gender but making sure that there are clear lines which define consent. Those lines cannot be blurred, and they are not open to interpretation.