lifestyle

The advertisement designed to stop you getting raped on New Years Eve.

WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.

This advertisement is designed to stop you getting really, really drunk and then raped on New Year’s Eve.

The public service message to young women (the reckless drunken ones) is simple:

‘When you drink too much you lose control and put yourself at risk.’

At risk of what you ask? Rape or sexual assault.

It’s part of a series of advertisements – not just aimed at women – that encourage young people to rethink excessive alcohol intake on the biggest party night of the year.

And the aims of the campaign are admirable. Alcohol obviously does limit one’s inhibitions. It’s also bad for you, causes you to say things you don’t mean and often results in one’s head being attached to a toilet. That’s a general lesson that we should be teaching all young adults across the board.

But where this particular image in the campaign gets it completely wrong, is that it implies alcohol can cause rape.

The campaign also includes adverts warning against ‘mindless drunks’ and ‘drug drivers’

Now, alcohol can play a role in some sexual assaults – of course it can. But the key word there is some. Because it doesn’t matter how much you drink, you will still only get raped if you come into contact with a rapist.

Because rape is just unlucky.

That is not a fact that anyone wants to hear. But it’s true.

There’s nothing that anybody can do to avoid being raped except avoid rapists. And because rapists are not a homogenous, externally identifiable group of people, ensuring that you never cross their paths comes down to nothing but luck.

When we talk to the women we love about rape we need to make sure they know that a woman does not create an opportunity for a rapist by wearing a high heels and a short skirt, or by taking a different route when she walks home or by drinking more than two standard drinks. Rape doesn’t occur because a victim creates an opportunity for the rape to take place, it happens because a rapist chose to rape.

So what does cause rape? Coming into contact with a rapist. That’s it.

Every so often an organisation – like the ones who created this advertisement – will try to navigate the intensely loaded line between giving advice to try and keep women from harm, while not placing blame on survivors of sexual assault.

It’s tricky. Really bloody tricky.

But perhaps the reason nobody has successfully navigated that line yet is that it’s simply not possible. It’s not possible to enunciate the idea that someone can or should take positive steps to avoid being raped. Because you can’t.

The only people who can take steps to prevent rape occurring, are rapists.

This is a difficult reality to accept because it means relinquishing our feelings of control. If rape is a completely random and awful occurrence, then how can we make sure that our daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers, friends avoid it? The idea that our loved ones all have some chance of being assaulted is a devastating one. So the urge to teach our loved ones behaviours that might prevent them from coming to harm is a perfectly natural one.

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I’m not a mother. But I have little sisters that I’ve played a big part in raising. I also have an 11-year-old niece who I love like my own and would do anything to protect. So I understand the overwhelming desire to want to teach our loved ones behaviours that can help them to avoid sexual assault. And I don’t think that people who want to talk to their daughters about harm minimisation, or organisations that try and tell young women to be careful with alcohol intake, are always victim-blaming.

But.

When you’re talking about ‘staying safe’, it’s imperative to emphasise that we have a complete lack of control over whether or not we are raped. A woman can avoid wearing heels so it’s easier for her to run, she can limit herself to two drinks whenever she goes out, she can make sure that she always has someone to accompany her home… But no matter what women do in an attempt to protect themselves, they cannot control whether or not they cross paths with a rapist.

The danger of not making this exceptionally clear is that we end up landing victims with the responsibility to prevent their own assault. And that is a terrible tragedy. It is a distressing emotional and mental position that many rape survivors live with every day: a feeling that somehow what happened to them was their own fault.

According the NSW Rape Crisis centre, less than 1% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by complete strangers in random attacks. Less than 1%. Conversely, in 70% of sexual assaults, the offender is a family member, friend, work or school colleague. Of the remaining 30%, the offender is usually someone the victim knows socially.

Those numbers indicate that a woman is most likely to be sexually assaulted by somebody she knows, and more often than not that assault will occur in an environment that she feels safe in. An environment where she doesn’t expect it.

Why is it then, that we continue to focus so predominantly on the behaviour of women who have been assaulted and ‘assault avoidance’ tactics? Why do we continue to focus on, for example, female binge-drinking, when a woman is far more likely to be raped by a male relative at home?

If ‘harm-minimisation’ is truly the goal, where are all the articles warning women not to stay home alone with male relatives? Where are all the articles warning women never to get married because there’s a chance of marital rape?

It all comes down to luck. Words cannot describe how awful an occurence rape and sexual assault is – but crossing paths with a rapist just makes you incredibly unlucky. It is out of our control. No matter how much you wish that there was a magic formula to prevent you and your loved ones from being sexually assaulted – there isn’t one.

You can be drunk. You can be sober. You can wear a short skirt or a nun’s habit. You can go out or stay home. You can walk home during the day. You can walk home at night.

You can follow every rule in the book, or you can follow none. Your luck remains the same.

There is nothing you can do to stop a rapist from raping someone.

A rape is nobody’s fault but the rapist’s.