When Anti-Rape Posters Don't Get the Message Right

PSAs are failing sexual assault victims by making women bear the blame.
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PSAs are failing sexual assault victims by making women bear the blame.
(Photo: Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board)

(Photo: Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board)

Earlier today, BuzzFeed reporter Rossalyn Warren took a look at the victim-blaming that is inherent to so many anti-rape posters dotting our buildings and highways. As Katie Russell, a communications coordinator at Rape Crisis, explains to Warren, too many ads pressure women to, say, not drink so much, rather than calling attention to the assailant. A 2011 Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board poster, for example, “basically claims that a woman drinking too much is a direct cause of rape,” Russell says, “when the truth is that the only direct cause of rape is the rapist’s behaviour.”

Russell’s point is especially important given the prevalence of victim-blaming in our everyday culture. As Starre Vartan reported for Pacific Standard last year, cultural reactions to rape can have a huge impact on how a victim recovers, and can factor into later struggles, like PTSD. More specifically, Vartan cited a 2004 study that analyzed the effects of secondary victimization on women who had been sexually assaulted. The study found that most women felt any combination of shame, anxiety, and even a reluctance to seek out help, all of which the authors said were "significantly positively correlated with posttraumatic stress symptomatology."

And it’s not just the immediate community’s response. Songs like “Blurred Lines,” with lyrics arguing that any woman refusing the narrator’s advances is essentially denying her own sexual impulses, effectively normalize rape.

As to the drinking argument made in the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board ad: If anything, shouldn’t we be telling men not to drink as much?