Scotland Anti-Rape Ad Tackles “She Was Asking For It” Myth

A short, sparkly blue shirt hangs on a clothes rack. Two large tags, in the style of price tags, hang from the skirt. The top tag reads "Asking to be raped?" The tag immediately below reads ""

Trigger Warning for rape apologism.

A few months back, I wrote an article for the Guardian’s Comment is Free about a U.K. study, which showed a significant number of respondents thought that some rape victims were at least partially to blame for their attacks. The various reasons that respondents blamed women were the unsurprising — if she had been drinking, if she had worn something revealing, if she had engaged in some other kind of sexual contact with the rapist, etc. — but no less disturbing than they’ve always been.

Well, it seems like someone in the Scottish government decided to do something about it. Rape Crisis Scotland has launched the “Not Ever” campaign — the title referring to when, exactly, a rape victim is actually to blame for a rape.

The television ad, which has just been released, focuses on the rape myth that women who dress a certain way are “asking” to be raped. (And thank you, BBC, for putting the word “myth” in scare quotes, as well as “prejudice.” What ever would we have done without that oh-so-subtle dismissal?) The ad can be seen on the Not Ever website or below:


A scene of a party. A pale blond woman in her 20s stands talking to two men, one pale and one with darker skin. She wears a black top and sparkly blue skirt, and all parties hold drinks in their hands and appear to be having a good time.

Woman: (laughing playfully) You’re terrible! (laughs) You’re so bad! Shut up!

Cut to two presumably white men across the room.

Man One: (looks at woman, sucks in air between his teeth) Check out the skirt! She’s asking for it.
Man Two: (laughs)

Cut to scene of the same woman in a department store. She pulls two skirts off the rack, one the sparkly blue skirt she wears at the party, and takes turns holding up each one to her hips. A sales assistant, a pale middle-aged woman, walks up to her.

Sales Assistant: Can I help?
Woman: Yeah, thanks. I’m going out tonight and I want to get raped. (smiles) I need a skirt that will encourage a guy to have sex with me against my will. (holds up each skirt again)
Sales Assistant: (smiles eagerly and folds arms across chest) The blue one. Definitely the blue.
Woman: (nods and smiles)

Woman turns and directly faces camera, with a sarcastic look on her face.

Woman: As if.

Male Voiceover: Nobody asks to be raped. Ever.

Here is what I love about this ad: it treats rape apologist attitudes as a problem, regardless of whether or not they refer to a specific rape. There is no indication in the commercial that the woman has actually been raped. There is no indication that she will be raped. There is no indication that the man who makes the “she’s asking for it” comment is actually planning on raping her, or anyone else, for that matter. And still, in spite of all of this, his comments are dangerous, they have a real impact, and they are worthy of our attention. They’re worthy, in fact, of a PSA about how incredibly fucked up they are. All on their own.

And that, I think, is absolutely fabulous.

Here’s what else I love about this ad: while there’s no indication whatsoever that the man is a rapist, there’s no way to tell for sure that he’s not, either. As Thomas has pointed out many times at Yes Means Yes, while not all men who make rape apologist jokes are rapists, rapists do tend to make rape jokes and apologist comments. Leaving the man’s motives up to interpretation thus manages to do two important things: tell guys who aren’t rapists but think that rape is something fun to joke about that it’s not, as well as tells guys that if their friend is making these types of comments, you should probably point out that it’s not cool. As bystander behavior is incredibly important, I have to say that I love this potential dual effect.

A few points are also scored for the casting. While it’s my understanding that beauty standards on UK television are far less rigid than they are in the U.S., I still appreciate that the man making rape apologist jokes is an average looking guy — not “hot,” not purposely and “demonically” ugly — and that the woman, while pretty, looks like someone you might see walking down the street. Of course, we can also talk about how, yet again, the woman in the ad who is portrayed as most definitely not to blame is presumably white, middle-class, abled, straight, and cis, when women who are not these things are likely to face even worse blame. That’s a disappointment, though on the race front at least it’s worth noting that my research says Scotland is about 98% white — not meaning that erasure is therefore acceptable and harmless, as I’m sure many non-white Scots will tell you, but simply that we’re dealing with a different climate than the ones I usually write about (and therefore can’t effectively speak to).

Sadly, for a campaign which I unusually happen to have very few other complaints about, it all starts to break down on the website.

Most of the material on the site is great. In addition to the section about “dress” that goes with the ad, there are also short but smart sections about rape myths involving “drinking” and “intimacy” — and when I saw that the latter actually used the phrase “sexual autonomy,” I damn near swooned.

The problem is with the “Have Your Say” section of the site. The section can’t be avoided by browsers — excerpts appear right on the front page. As I write this, the five comments scrolling across the front page are as follows, three anti-rape, two rape apologist:

“Rape seems to be the only crime where it’s seen as ok to put the victim on trial.” Natasha, Female from Glasgow

“Every woman has the right to wear the clothes she likes, have fun with her friends and has the right to say no at any point, without the fear of rape.” Jo, Female

“Women need to understand men don’t think logically when they are aroused, and its the way they dress and act that arouses men.” James, Male

“It’s about time there was a campaign about something other than women having to curtail their actions to prevent rape.” Mooji, Female

“Obviously its ridiculous to think that anyone ever “wants or deserves” to be raped but to ignore that how someone behaves affects the possibility of their being raped is foolish and to start a campaign to deny it is irresponsible.” Mark, Male

The comments from James and Mark are the exact opposite of what this campaign is trying to get across — they fully represent the attitudes it wants combat. I could understand taking these comment and addressing them on a serious level as an educational tool. But placing them on the front page of the site uncritically just about undoes the job the campaign seemingly intends to do.

Users are also invited to share their views on the forum (trigger warning). I opted to not delve too far into it, but from what I did see, the many thoughtful users who are posting have not prevented it from nonetheless quickly turning into a space where rape apologist views can be freely aired, often unchallenged. This is especially sad, as I think the user oriented parts of the site have transformative potential — if moderators and educators were watching and engaging with topics, it could serve as a great 101 learning space. Some users are in fact asking questions, and those questions deserve to be answered. Unchecked, rape apologist, victim-blaming tirades, on the other hand, don’t serve to educate anyone of anything.

Website moderation matters. As I’m sure most people here would agree, if you’re going to allow comments, it’s part of the job of running a website. I know better than anyone that moderation can be difficult — it can be overwhelming, it can be triggering, and sometimes it can feel outright impossible. But here, I can’t even see the faintest illusion of trying.

I’d really, really love to see Not Ever get the website situation under control — either moderating out rape apologist comments and discussion topics, or directly challenging them and using them as learning tools when they do appear — because I otherwise think the campaign is pretty great. Great enough, in fact, that I’m really curious as to whether or not they’ll do future ads about rape myths surrounding drinking and intimacy, and look forward to seeing them if they do. I also noticed that they’re doing some polls on the site, with some of the results coming out disturbing — I’d love to see them use the information they gather as a resource for effectively extending the campaign.

What are your thoughts on “Not Ever”?

Thanks to Pamela for the heads up.

UPDATE: Video added, some text updated to reflect that it is embedded in the post. Rape Crisis Scotland has also responded to the critiques of the website in comments!

0 thoughts on “Scotland Anti-Rape Ad Tackles “She Was Asking For It” Myth

  1. Astrid

    This is a good first step to combat this myth. Of course, there is a long way to go. It is good that this will run on TV, since I think mos tpeople not concerned with rape, would not visit the website otherwise.

  2. Feminist Avatar

    It’s not only running on tv, its first airing was during half time of a world cup football match (and football is BIG in Scotland) last night!

    In the interests of openness, I have friends at Rape Crisis Scotland, so I am biased, but I thought this was a good campaign. While I don’t know who is monitoring their website, in their defence, all Scottish women’s orgs are in the process of receiving major funding cuts, and most of our websites are ran by staff as extras on top of their day to day jobs (like providing services to women), so it may well be they just haven’t got the time/money to monitor it effectively. This however may be a good reason to shut down the forum…

    I think the woman had to be white, because Scotland is soo white as a country- in 2001 census, we were 98.19% white. I never saw a black person in real life until I was 12. My village had one family of Indian ethnicity and that was the entire ethnic diversity. Even now, I live in a village where there is no non-white people at all (bigger cities are better now-a-days). Most of our ethnic diversity comes from South Asian immigrants (who are now here for several generations- making 1.09% of the pop) and in the last decade, we have had some African and other black immigrants, but this is still quite unusual- in 2001, black people made up 0.16% of the population (we also had black people in Scotland historically as slaves, I should add!). It’s not really a good excuse, but I wonder whether the Scottish population would have read an ethnic minority as ‘Scottish’ (a lot of us would assume English I might add who have a better ethnic mix, not necessarily ‘African’ or ‘Indian’)- and given that the advert was trying to drive home that this applied to us- and it wasn’t trying to deal with our racist proclivities- perhaps that would have just confused the message?

  3. Callie

    I love this ad! I think it’s great for all the reasons you said, so I’m really just on here to throw more love at it. It did a great job.

    Also, I get what Feminist Avatar said about the add needing to really be for the most people watching it, even though it’s unfortunately exclusive because of it. I think it would be great if this type of ad campaign became prolific enough that diversifying the casting would be successful. I worked with a domestic violence organization in Baltimore for a long time and I know there was constant discussion over whether having the only woman in any given ad be African American would reach out to a group that needed to be communicated with or if it would encourage the idea that DV was a “black issue”. For me, it means there need to be more ads, enough to portray proper diversity of all kinds without singling any group out as “the people who get raped”. Because if it’s something that “happens to those other people” then, unfortunately, many people just don’t care.

    Thanks for being awesome, Amanda.

  4. Jaye

    With the way it’s completely accepted (in Britain, at least, where I live) to blatantly harass women on the street for no reason at all, I’m not surprised some men have a rather “relaxed” attitude towards rape. You can’t be a young woman in London without having sexual insults, cat-calls, and random abuse shouted at you or gestured at from men on the street or, especially, in vans as they drive around the city. It’s worse in summer when the city is 90F. Are we asking for this abuse by walking to work in dresses as opposed to our usual coats and boots?

    I’ve often wondered where the line would be for some of these men if we found ourselves alone together. This is a slightly different discussion than that of a party or alcohol, but it’s certainly related: I started to count how many times I was addressed (usually shouting) in a sexual manner on my way to and from work on a daily basis. The biggest day yet this year has been five. Sounds like not much, but that’s five times someone has found me “deserving” of very low-level sexual harassment. I wonder what else I might “deserve”, according to them?

    Guys just don’t see this harassment because, obviously, I get none of it if I’m with a male. One day, when we’re walking together and remember, I’m going to get my boyfriend to walk home with me through my (supposedly quite nice) neighbourhood, but twenty feet behind me, and just watch what happens when London’s less pleasant residents think I’m alone.

  5. Rape Crisis Scotland

    Thanks for a great piece on our new advert. We noticed you were unable to access a video of it & wanted to let you it’s not available on YouTube at . What we’re really hoping to do with it is to shake out and challenge ingrained prejudices many people have towards women who have been raped. We take on board comments that have been made on the subject of giving a platform to rape apologists & wanted to let everyone know that we will be taking a very pro-active approach in terms of the publication of these views and ensuring that every rape apologist has their view refuted with a clear response (whether it be from ourselves or someone else). There are some for whom no argument about rape myths is ever going to cut it, but we are hopeful that many of those who might have shared those views will be encouraged to think twice about them – and in discussion with others, encourage them to do so too. Thanks for everyone for taking the time to comment on the campaign – it’s really helpful to us to hear everyone’s views.

    1. Cara Post author

      Thanks so much for the response! I’ve added the video to the post, and I’m really glad to hear your response with regards to the website, and look forward to seeing the changes implemented!

    2. ElDiablo666

      I think you might want to consider another rape myth that your ad promotes: that a woman needs to be socially attractive in order to get harassed or raped.

  6. Crystal

    I went to the website to read the comments posted on their discussion boards… some of them are terrifying. 😦 Many of the comments made on the site illuminate the need this video campaign is responding to.

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  8. Lina Pais

    I read the BBC article and sent them an email criticizing their use of quotes in the words myths and prejudice. They just make the whole article sound so dismissive it made me so angry…

  9. Pavlov's Cat

    I agree with you about both the ad and the comments. The placing of the ones on the front page really annoyed me. You can reply to the comments posted for discussion, and I plan to pick out a few at some point, but those two statements are just sitting there unchallenged like the millions of others in the media and in public and private spaces. Right now they just remind me how helpless I am in challenging those myths.

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  11. Kelly

    This campaign is encouraging to read about. & Cara, your points and reservations are also important. Thanks for a great piece. I’m sharing it with my tweeps.

  12. anne

    (here via Shakesville) I enjoyed reading about these ads here and I appreciate your interpretation. In defense of the BBC, I don’t think those are “scare quotes”. The BBC frequently uses quotation marks like this for one word, when they feel that the word may contain an opinion or bias, or when the word is part of an allegation. It seemed strange to me at first, particularly coming from the U.S. where this is not the general practice, but I think it’s their style and not intended to imply that the person they’re quoting is wrong, only that they’re quoting.

  13. Sarah

    I think the only way it would have worked with an ethnic minority is if the woman had been of colour. If either of the men had, it could easily have been accused of reinforcing the stereotype that ethnic minority men are more likely to rape than white men.

    Also, I think they wanted to address as much of the population as they could, and as Scotland is overwhelmingly white it makes sense that they would go with white actors.

  14. Sophie

    James and Mark – you poor, poor vulnerable men! This is what I don’t understand about sexist attitudes that some men hold – under every circumstance, they believe men to be more rational and emotionally strong than women (I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of rape apologists hold that particular sexist view), yet when it comes to sex they use the excuse that men are the weaker sex – poor vulnerable creatures who can’t be held responsible for their actions. Utterly pathetic.

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  25. Michelle Medina

    I’m glad to see that Scotland is doing an ad campaign like this!!
    Even so, it makes me wish, in a lesser evolved part of my brain that people like james & mark could be hanged or burned at the stake. I say that so strongly, because it’s guys like them who help perpetuate the idea that rape is okay & as you’ve already said, rape is NEVER ok, for any reason, under any circumstance! My mother was raped as a young girl, & there was NO EXCUSE! If you can’t function when your aroused then cut it off! You won’t have any problems then.
    Anyway, good message, & thank you for sharing with us!!

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