• Tue, Jul 9 2013

I Really Want To Like These Anti-Sexual Assault Posters (But Can’t)

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Missoula’s Intervention in Action Project, a group of community organizations that aims to educate and prevent sexual violence, has unveiled a new initiative called Make Your Move Missoula, urging citizens to speak up and intervene in incidents of sexual violence. Make Your Move has created a series of six posters aiming to increase awareness of sexual assault by re-purposing typical rape justification into messages of prevention.

I really want to like this campaign. It’s extremely well-intentioned, and flipping rape-apologists’ catch phrases on their heads like this is clever and arresting. But, my name is Julia and, as usual, I’m here to ruin your fun.

The posters are ominously lit, and the models have concerned, disapproving expressions. They couldn’t find some tasteful damn wallpaper to pose in front of? Why are they in the ugliest haunted house of all time? More importantly, these posters shift the responsibility to bystanders instead of laying the blame squarely on the aggressors. Obviously it’s important for bystanders to speak up, but what about addressing the actual violent behavior? These posters fall way short and ultimately miss the point.

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Okay. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but maybe a better option would be to encourage bystanders to ask the woman in question if she’s uncomfortable, instead of treating her like a piece of furniture. The “treat a lady thing” is aggravating for a lot of reasons (not the least of which is the fact that men are also victims of sexual violence), and surprisingly tone deaf for a campaign that aims to empower victims.

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This poster is intense, because obviously this is the type of man who might rape you. He has tattoos and facial hair, so it’s especially cutting to see him advocating so powerfully for victims of sexual violence. Right? Wrong. And again, the copy here suggests ignoring—further marginalizing—the woman.

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“Some dude was hanging all over her, so we took off…and got her to leave with us. She was drunk and we didn’t trust him. “
“He was acting all sweet, offering her a ride…but it just didn’t feel right. So my friends and I stepped in and got her out of the bar.”

The two (of six) posters that feature female models (inexplicably in “tough girl” poses) both touch on the concept of following your instincts when gauging personal safety, which is important and I’m glad was mentioned. Like in the previous two posters, neither make any reference to asking the woman about her comfort level.

The most problematic aspect of the campaign is the fact that these posters all depict someone, male or female, coming in to save a female in distress. It feels incredibly disempowering which seems to work directly against the point of the project. It’s a disappointing interpretation of helping, to say the least.

Missoula’s Intervention in Action Project is doing good work and these posters are a commendable effort. However, even with the dramatic lighting, in-your-face expressions, and edgy font choices, the campaign ultimately looks at sexual assault from a distance. How about instead of dancing around the issue, the posters said something like “It’s Not Okay To Touch Someone Without His Or Her Consent,” or “Unless You Explicitly Ask For It, You’re Not Asking For It?” But you know, snappier.

Photos: Make Your Move Missoula // H/T Jezebel

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  • Tania
  • Anonachocolatemousse

    These remind me of the Dating Site Murderer Meme.

  • http://sarahhollowell.com/ Sarah Hollowell

    I actually like them. We need campaigns that target the assailants and that empower the victims, but this angle is also important. I’ve been in rape support groups and have heard from way too many girls whose friends were there but didn’t help them at all.

    There should be more of an emphasis on making sure that the woman (or man, for that matter) is actually uncomfortable with the attention rather than just assuming, but I think they’re still headed in the right direction. I also don’t really see it as placing the blame on the bystanders, so much as telling them that if they think there’s trouble, they should step in.

  • Kelsey Johnson

    I agree with @smhollowell:disqus below. I think this angle is important to address. Bystanders most definitely can be a part of diminishing rape and rape culture. I think that if these posters speak to people and empower them to step in then that is great. Only thing i would say is I wish the font of the “punchline” part would be a bit bigger, to make sure people keep reading past the headline.

  • Tusconian

    They’re not perfect, but I do like them. Having been in situations that would have been a big hilarious joke if my so-called feminist, socially aware friends had bothered to say anything instead of passively staring, or even suggesting that I should be “glad for the attention,” I can say that awareness of this type is not exactly commonplace.

  • Sean

    I want to like them, but the subtext “reveal” is so small I fear the message might be lost if these are posted in a subway or such. If it was bigger, and balanced with the size of the primary text, the message would still come across and it would still have the same positive effect.

  • Julia Sonenshein

    These are all great points, and I really do think that these posters are a positive step forward. I just hoped for a little more out of them.

  • blh

    OMG you’re dumb. If a woman is saying NO and a guy isn’t listening I think it’s pretty safe to assume she’s uncomfortable and you don’t need to ask her. What a stupid question. If God forbid I was ever in a bad situation I hope someone would be ncie enough to help me out. I sure wouldn’t be mad I was “disempowered”. If you’re so empowered then I guess you don’t need anyone to help if several guys were harassing you?? And if my friend was very drunk and about to leave the bar with some random guy I for sure wouldn’t let her go and I’d expect the same thing form my friends.

    • Joanna Rafael

      Situations can be far more nuanced than a scared lady in distress screaming no as the Boogey-Man violates her. If that’s the case, clearly a hero should step in and stop the evil; however, I think Julia is saying that in more realistic and grey areas it’s better to ask a woman who might be in trouble “Are you ok with what’s going on?” than it is to swoop in and ignore her voice entirely.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Thanks, Joanna, this is dead on.

    • Nerdy Lucy

      OMG, the author’s point flew over your little head.

  • Katie

    Haha “tough girl poses”. I thought the first girl was holding onto backpack straps. Then after a second look saw it was just the collar? Have you ever stood like that in your entire life?

  • LindsayCross

    I think these would be great…. if we already had coherent, well-supported campaigns that empower victims, both male and female, and address the assailant’s responsibility. I really get what you’re saying and what some of the commenters are saying.

    I think this is important to reach out to bystanders and friends who can help keep each other safe. Maybe if we weren’t all just so desperate to hear PSAs that say, “If you don’t get an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’, the answer is ‘No!’” we might be able to appreciate this attempt, which kind of looks at a secondary issue.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Absolutely. So well said.

  • Bluey

    I think you’re kind of missing the point. The subjects and language need to be ominous and tough and threatening because that’s the only thing that will make anyone look twice at these posters. The “It’s not ok to rape anyone” messaging doesn’t and won’t ever get through.

  • Melissa

    Bystander intervention is an incredibly important part of creating community awareness around issues of sexual assault. While I agree it is not the ONLY important issue, I think before tearing down these adds you should acknowledge that maybe the reason they have been created is because we as a community are much more likely to stand by while witnessing something questionable then step into a potentially awkward conversation. By encouraging people to do so, it’s not taking power away from a potential victim, but helping to show that we as bystanders and members of a community do not condone questionable behavior.

  • anna

    Well, i really really like the fighting of drunk=consent. There are so many things we have to fight, this at least spreads the message that a drunk girl is NOT just an easy target, and even an enthusiastic YES from an inebriated person is not necessarily a yes.