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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Don't be that Guy gets a Makeover, and it's bad news

By: Eudamontatrix

TRIGGER WARNING: lots of talking about sexual assault, images related to sexual assault on lots of the links, victim-blaming, MRAs.


Edmonton has a problem. Thankfully, it's garnered national media attention, so some of you fair readers may have heard about what I'm talking about.

Here's the short version: in 2010, an Edmonton-based coalition called SAVE launched the 'Don't Be that Guy' poster campaign to international acclaim, and is credited with reducing instances of sexual assault in Vancouver, Canada, by 10%. The aim of the campaign was simple and unsurprisingly (though seriously frustratingly) controversial: to ask male perpetrators of sexual assault to, you know, stop doing that.

A couple of days ago, Men's Rights Edmonton (not going to link that - I'll link to the news shortly, but I don't want these guys to get even more web hits than they already are) put up rip-off "Don't Be That Girl" posters whose messages are, unsurprisingly (and seriously frustratingly) that drunk girls who are victims probably aren't and also, probably lying.

Ugh.

ACTION: If you're in Edmonton and want to be part of the action, YEGSlutwalk is happening on July 27, and would be a good place to get your solidarity on (they're currently fundraising to host the march). There are also a few counter-poster campaigns and community watch reporting initiatives on the go. A Voice for Reasonable People Edmonton is a good place to go to get information on what's happening. So is twitter (#yeg).

INTERNET RESPONSE: There's been a lot of thoughtful (and a lot of not so thoughtful) commentary on the issue so far. I recommend checking out University of Alberta Womens & Gender Studies Chair/SAVE Coalition member Lise Gotell on CBC Radioactive, for starters if you want to hear some good thoughts on it. If you're up for joining the never-ending comment wars that get waged over these kinds of things, two problematic columns are up for your viewing pleasure. Paula Simons from the Edmonton Journal raises some good points (yay for more feminism!), but also some really bad ones, and this column from the National Post's Robyn Urback is just a disaster. And while not directly on the current controversy, I think this piece from Slate on an infographic about sexual assaults in the US is pretty on point. On a related note, anyone who has the opportunity to do so and can do it safely should take in Jacyln's Freidman's Beyond Consent workshop: also a very thorough reflective piece on why we need to talk about blaming perpetrators and re-framing consent and sexuality.

I've been doing a lot of writing on this issue for the past couple of days, so I'm also going to share what I've been writing - this is going to be a bit disjointed, but I wanted to share in case it helps other people who care about this share.

On the idea that "Don't Be That Guy" victimizes men by being sexist:
1) Most sexual assault perpetrators are men. (Note: this is not the same thing as saying that most men are perpetrators).
2) Men are more likely to be sexually assaulted by other men than they are by women (Note: this is not the same thing as saying that women do not sexually assault men)
3) Feeling "insulted" by some posters is not the same thing as feeling oppressed or threatened by the world you live in, and is certainly not the same thing as being sexually assaulted. (Note: Women are often the victims of those last 3 things, and are more often the victims of those three things than men. This is not the same thing as saying men are never the victims of those things).
Therefore, those posters were trying to reach a target audience informed by statistics - that audience being male perpetrators of sexual violence, or their male friends who might be able to intervene before they commit sexual assault. Not a perpetrator? Ignore the poster - just like you can ignore posters directed at women telling them to buy tampons. Not friends with perpetrators? That's great - ignore the posters.

On the idea that 'raising awareness' of false accusations is a constructive thing to be doing in response to campaigns asking perpetrators to not rape people:
Of reported sexual assaults, between 2 and 4 percent are found to be false accusations. Sure. HOWEVER, sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported compared to other crimes, so the number of false accusations compared to the number of sexual assaults that actually happen is WAY less than, say the number of murders committed versus the number of false accusations of murder.
Man or woman, you are far, FAR more likely to be the victim of a sexual assault than you are to be falsely accused of one - cracking down on the problem that people actually commit sexual assaults is a touch more likely to positively affect large numbers of people than cracking down on the number of people who make false accusations (a problem the system is already relatively good at catching).
Maybe we should try 'raising awareness' of that.

On Paula Simons' column (via a facebook discussion)
 I agree with quite a bit of what she has to say, but disagree with her narrative swap - the narrative in the 'Don't be that Guy' posters is about focusing on the perpetrator as the person responsible for stopping sexual assault, and she plays into why that's (tragically) novel and important by jumping on the 'yeah, but...' train that almost inevitably shows up when anyone tries to assert that "rapists cause rapes. Period." Rapists cause rapes. "Yeah, but, what about the behaviour of the victim?" is not a constructive question to ask, and will not help end sexual violence.

I also resent her generalization that young women who drink too much do it so that the feel comfortable having sex they don't want to have. I get that she's critiquing that as a social structure problem we're all responsible for and would benefit from fixing, but it's a disingenuous red herring to raise here. Don't Be that Guy's aim (while imperfectly executed) is to clearly state that perpetrators cause sexual violence, not victims. Don't Be that Girl seeks to put the blame right back on the victims - "you're responsible for your own sexual assault and furthermore, you're probably a liar." They're not equally flawed messages - Don't be that Girl is worse.
 
On the broader issue of how victim-blaming hurts us all (private facebook chat)
One of the really big problems with blaming victims is that no one has anyway of telling who the rapists are. They look just like anyone else. So advice to "protect yourself" (typically directed at women) is basically saying "protect yourself from all the men, and especially the men you know the best" (your likeliest rapist) . Flip side of same coin: men who get abused and raped are assumed to have failed to defend themselves from something they should have "easily" been able to stop. Which is just as horrible a thing to say. Talking up false accusations makes all that worse - it brings up an INCREDIBLY rare issue that serves to reinforce the idea that all kinds of sexual assault are less common and more likely to be falsely reported than they actually are.
The result: when a woman gets up the courage to honestly (as opposed to falsely) accuse someone of rape, it isn't usually "send that bastard to jail!" It's usually "what were you wearing/you were drunk/why were you out alone/you deserved it you slut."


And for male victims it's just as bad, if not worse.

Here's hoping the voices of reason manage to turn this into an opportunity to really move the conversation on ending sexual violence forward. It's high time we got used to the idea that the solution to this is for perpetrators to stop committing sexual violence, and for us to work together to end the patriarchal systems that allow them to get away with it. No buts.
UPDATE: YEGSlutwalk responds to Paula Simons, and Metronews engages in some shoddy journalism by publishing completely made-up "statistics" about false accusations (page 16, for those of you who click that last link).