Know Your Limit . . . For Rape?

Via the 52nd Carnival of Feminists comes this post by Debs about an appalling campaign taking place in the UK called Know Your Limits. It has been running for what seems like quite a while by now, but it’s still definitely worth talking about.

The Know Your Limits campaign raises awareness about how drinking can lead to sexual assault. That is, if you’re a woman, drinking can lead to you being sexually assaulted. Check out the poster (pdf) that shows a woman laying down and sobbing, next to the big bold words one in three reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking. Debs refers to the woman “as evidently having had too much to drink.” That’s one interpretation; I’d say that she looks more like she has just been raped in the street and is now laying there sobbing. Oh, and she was probably drinking. So let that be a lesson to you, ladies. Do you want to end up raped and sobbing in an alley? I didn’t think so.

Obviously I agree with everything that Debs has to say about how this campaign is blaming the victim. As she notes (like many before her), women aren’t raped because they’ve been drinking, women are raped because they are in the presence of a rapist.

But I find something else interesting going on, here. You see, this isn’t, as you might expect, a sexual assault prevention campaign. This is an anti-binge drinking campaign. And here, according to the Home Office, is why you shouldn’t binge drink: you could get into a fight, you could have sex without a condom and get an STD, you could drive and hurt yourself or someone else, you could die from mixing alcohol with drugs, you could get fat, and you could get raped.

Nice, huh? Drinking too much will make you do stupid things like start fights and get behind the wheel of a car and have unprotected sex. It will also make you do stupid things like gain some weight and get yourself raped. Isn’t it nice to see how all of those things are lumped together?

The Home Office isn’t trying to prevent rape. They’re trying to prevent drinking to excess. And using rape against women as a fear tactic is just one of their supposedly-but-not-really effective tools. Women aren’t going to stop drinking because they’re afraid of being raped. If women didn’t do things because they were afraid of being raped, those of us who could afford to would live alone as hermits with state of the art security systems and get necessities delivered to us by a female delivery person, to whom we slide the money though the mail slot. Women are still going to drink. This lovely little campaign will just make them more likely to blame themselves if they happen to be raped while drinking.

The campaign, of course, leaves out the little caveat of why women are more likely to be raped while drinking. Women are more likely to be raped while drinking, of course, because rapists use alcohol as a tool. Even more though, women are likely to be raped while drinking because they’re more likely to be around men who have been drinking. You know, because most bars are unisex. And despite everything you’ve heard about how rape happens when women are drinking so women should stop drinking unless they want to be raped, here are some facts (pdf): most sexual assaults related to alcohol involve both parties drinking. That’s right, rapists drink, too. And what’s more? In cases when only one person has been drinking, this study shows that the rapist is more than twice as likely as the victim to have been drinking.

But is there anything on this website about how men shouldn’t binge drink because it makes them more likely to be rapists? Nah. They’re trying to stop people from drinking; the truth won’t help that. And apparently men don’t care about what they do to other people, just whether they get a citation for disorderly conduct. There’s an obligatory sentence on the “Sex” page about making sure you have consent . . . not because you might hurt a woman, but because you might go to jail. And of course, there’s no mention of how when drinking, you’re less likely to seek let alone get consent.

But the Know Your Limits campaign really wants to hammer the message home. So they have this fun interactive game on their site. A fun interactive game with a lesson. Go play it. It’s called “A Night Out.” It’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. You choose a character, male or female. Then you get a bunch of options, and when you pick the “good” ones (not drinking), you have fun. When you pick the “bad” options (drinking, talking to people), you get hurt. Try picking all the bad options. See what happens.

I’ll tell you. If you’re a woman and you chat up a “cute guy,” he spikes your drink and rapes you. The scene ends with a woman sitting on a bed crying, no more “cute” rapist in site. If you drink and don’t talk to the guy but do try to take a cab home, the cab driver locks you in the car and rapes you.

Now, if you’re a guy, something distinctly different happens. If you chat up the “hot girl,” you get to fuck her. But oh, the skank may give you an STD. If you’re irresponsible enough to not use a condom. And is the last thing you see a man checking out his infected penis? No, you see a picture of the “hot girl,” then a a silhouette of a man with some weird shadows that I couldn’t make out to save my life. After that, you’re stupid enough to talk to some guys looking for a fight and get your ass kicked.

Surely, it’s not the guy’s fault for being attacked, just we know that it’s not the woman’s fault. But somehow, flirting with a guy seems a little different from talking back to a group of guys yelling “what are you looking at?” in your face when you’re by yourself (the actual game scenario). Again, the guy doesn’t deserve to have his ass kicked. Being a moron doesn’t invite violence. Yet, the guy’s situation seems a little bit more, oh . . . preventable. You choose whether or not to wear a condom, and the game explicitly gives you the option of walking away from the fight. Neither the “cute guy” or cab driver gave the woman an indication that he was going to rape her (again, still wouldn’t be her fault). The game doesn’t even ask if you want to go home with the guy; you just do because he drugs you.

The point here is clearly that guys retain some agency when drinking but might use that agency to do stupid things (not rape, though). That stupidity amounts to contracting STDs and getting into fights. The woman’s drunk stupidity is being raped, because SHE IS VERY, VERY VULNERABLE TO RAPE WHEN DRINKING. WHAT WITH HER INTOXICATION AND VAGINA AND VULNERABILITY AND ALL. Really, the difference between the campaign and my version is the capital letters. Except for, oops, when you go back and look at that original poster about how drinking gets you raped. Lots of capital letters there.

In the comments at Debs, one person posts the response she received from the Home Office after filing a complaint:

“Thank you for your email of 27 January to the Department of Health about the Alcohol – Know Your Limits (KYL) advertisements. Your email has been passed to me for reply.

The KYL campaign tested a number of different creative ideas, and a hard hitting approach with ’shock factor’ was found to be highly effective with the 16 to 24 aged target audience of young binge drinkers. Young men and women claim that they need graphic and compelling reasons to re-appraise their behaviour. The KYL campaign is designed to encourage young people to drink more responsibly by communicating alcohol-related harms, and this includes the risk of sexual assault.

The Department recognises that alcohol is not always involved in rape cases, but it can be a significant risk factor, with young women putting themselves at greater risk and losing control of their personal safety. The campaign in no way seeks to blame the (female) victim and the Department regrets any offence that may have been caused in the communication of our messages.

So they’re not blaming women for rape, they’re warning them that drinking increases the risk of being raped by a mysterious force that is definitely not a man who has also been drinking (which is why the rapist the game magically disappears as soon as rape is mentioned). The letter was sent almost exactly one year ago. But according to other commenters, the posters are still around, and there are apparently radio ads, too (tried to find them, couldn’t, let me know if you have better luck).

Soon, I plan on posting about another campaign about preventing rape — on that is actually designed to raise awareness about rape, amazingly enough — that is rather old, but a hell of a lot more responsible and thought-provoking. It’s been on the back burner for a while now, so hopefully mentioning it will compel me to actually do it.

In the meantime, those of you in the UK can complain about Know Your Limits at: And hey, even if you’re not in the UK, complain anyway. Might as well. I’m sure they won’t give a shit regardless of where you are.

0 thoughts on “Know Your Limit . . . For Rape?

  1. Debs

    Thanks for posting about this!

    “Debs refers to the woman “as evidently having had too much to drink.” That’s one interpretation; I’d say that she looks more like she has just been raped in the street and is now laying there sobbing.”

    I agree, on closer inspection the picture is actually quite disturbing. I thought that at the time but it didn’t make it into my post for some reason.

  2. Kristen

    Thanks Cara for posting on this. It touches on something I’ve been struggling with myself lately. As much as I feel *enlightened* or whatever this *blame women* mentality still seems to linger in my psyche. I was one of those teenagers who never drank in public, always drove herself everywhere, and rarely dated solo. I’m sure had I been raped I would have blamed myself.

    My husband brought it up something similar the other day when some asshat was staring at my breasts on the way home from the beach. I was somewhat upset and said that I should have covered up better. My husband said (somewhat irritatedly) that I’m always saying stuff like that and worried about what I wear and regardless of what I’m wearing the guy shouldn’t have been staring. Of course intellectually, I know he’s right. I’d say the same thing to one of my girlfriends, but when it comes to me…I’m going to blame myself. It drives me crazy that no matter how much I think I’ve changed I still have these issues stuck in my brain.


  3. Cara Post author

    I think that it’s a process, Kristen, and actually quite common to blame yourself for things that you wouldn’t blame other women for. Knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as believing it for yourself. If social indoctrination was that easy to overcome, I’d have to write a lot fewer posts about shit like this.

  4. Mortality

    The whole thing annoyed me. With the “responsible” choices (have a soft drink) you just got back to square one (boring to me, I wanna chat with my “mates”), but the irresponsible one (rounds) you just went on and on and on. In real life you CAN CHOSE to only have one round of drinks. You don’t HAVE to have five just cos you had one >.

  5. Mary Tracy9

    “This lovely little campaign will just make them more likely to blame themselves if they happen to be raped while drinking.”

    To add insult to injury, if a woman has been drinking, she stands a 0 chance of seeing her rapist convicted. You know, “she should have known better than to drink and get raped and all”.

  6. Thealogian

    Yeah, great way to also sway potential jurists– the womins have been warned! Now its your job to convict the women of having “brought this on.”


    Public policy assholes at that.

  7. Jack W.

    The “game” is the most interesting thing here… according to your description, she’s not even raped because she’s drinking/makes a bad choice but because the guy at the bar *spiked her drink.* So, having even one drink is equivalent to losing all control and binge drinking? It’s even possible that the rapist might spike a non-alcoholic drink, though it makes his cover story a little harder.

    Other thoughts: I know men who’ve been raped by women partly because they have been impaired (prescriptions, at home, a “safe” environment, not alcohol and a bar) and women who’ve been overpowered and raped when they were not impaired in the slightest. Risk factors are loose correlations used to invoke fear, not science.

  8. Nat

    The Australian Government did this ad, (i don’t really know how to hyperlink so i’ll just add the address at the bottom) clearly explaining to men that only THEY are responsible for violence against women and asking women who have been assaulted and men who HAVE assaulted to seek help.

    I think it’s a good one and that we should be praising good efforts as well as criticizing bad ones. What’s that old saying? “you catch more flies with honey” if we lauded the ads and government initiatives that did well, we might find things changing faster…

    Fantastic post though, I’ll go and read Debs later, bit busy at the mo.



  9. Nat

    i should add that this:

    is the address for the add where it tells men that if they are violent it is only their fault and they should do something about it

  10. Al

    “And here, according to the Home Office, is why you shouldn’t binge drink: you could get into a fight, you could have sex without a condom and get an STD, you could drive and hurt yourself or someone else, you could die from mixing alcohol with drugs, you could get fat, and you could get raped.”

    And God forbid someone suggest that the real way to stop rape would be for men to:

    1) Sit back and take a long look at the concept of sexual entitlement and how it applies to them,
    2) STOP RAPING WOMEN. That would be pretty exacting as a tool to combat rape I think.
    3) Even if the above two don’t apply to you personally, as a man who exists in this culture, if you do not actively attempt to help in the cause by loudly and forcefully denouncing that behavior in other men, in my way of viewing the world, you are complicit in the crime of rape.

  11. Carl

    So a couple other things about the game:

    First off, when playing as the male I can’t find a way to get the girl to go home with me unless I’ve had at least 2 drinks. I’m assuming sex is something just drunk people do.

    More importantly, if you are playing as the male and do decide to have more than a soda especially if you just do 2-3 shots with Danny, the girl will often slap you and turn you down for being drunk. However, if you keep talking to her, even without doing anything that might sober you up (water, smoke, whatever), eventually she will give in and you get to go back to her place.

    So remember kiddies, if you are drunk and a girl turns you down, just keep trying and eventually she will have to give in to your studly charms… or some shit like that.

  12. Mickle

    Jack W., I noticed the same thing.

    And the woman who was raped by the cab driver – wtf does drinking have to do with that? When they warn you to drive slowly to a public place if a cop pulls you over in the middle of the night, it sure as hell isn’t because they assume that you have been drinking.

    It’s like the problem isn’t so much that alcohol impairs women’s judgement (because, apparently, as Cara points out, we have no agency) it’s that having even a single drink is some special signal to men that we are fair game. But don’t worry ladies, we aren’t blaming you if you are raped after you have a drink and we really sorry if you were offended by this campaign. Please also ignore the fact that we are actually harming women by putting forth such a stupid campaign.

  13. orangeplaid

    When I worked doing rape prevention education I hated, and worked really hard to combat, the idea from boys and girls that rape was a natural consequence of drinking. My favorite poster that is still in the health class said something along the lines of “if you think waking up with a hangover is bad, try waking up as a rapist” with stats that a large number of rapists drank before the assault. It’s nice to be able to put messages out there that put the responsibility on men not to rape. As opposed to the false idea that women can prevent themselves from getting raped.

  14. Cara Post author

    That poster sounds great! Thanks for sharing. Though of course I know that there are people out there who “get it,” writing about this kind of crap day after day can almost make you forget. It’s good to have a reminder.

  15. BettyBoondoggle

    That poster is great. Esp since it deals directly with the “grey rape” garbage by putting the focus on the one who commits it.

  16. kristina

    i always wonder about that. we (women, that is–maybe men too, i dunno) here all these statistics in the passive voice: one in four women are raped. women are more likely to be raped by someone they know. women are often drinking when they are raped. the wording of all of these statistics, which are widely known, give the impression that the rapes just hAPPEN. who does the raping? is one guy running around attacking ten women? or is there one rapist per rape-ee? when is someone more likely to turn to rape? do rapists identify themselves as such, or do they not see what they do as rape? these are far more useful questions to ask if we really want to stop rape. it’s easier, of course, to say: hey ladies. if you’re drunk, you might be raped, than it is to say: hey gents. if you’re drunk, you may not recognize someone else’s personal boundaries as easily and can ruin their lives or your own.

    it’s also problematic because this ad campaign suggest that there was practically no rape before, say, prohibition ended. or in muslim countries where alcohol is not sold, or at least, not sold in places that a woman can go. sadly, however, this is not the case.

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