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: DHMail@dh.gsi.gov.uk. 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.