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A campaign in need of some awareness March 15, 2006

Posted by Winter in media, rape.

This is one of the posters for the UK government’s much talked about consent awareness campaign. I’ll have more to say about the campaign itself soon, but right now I just want to have a close look at the material.

What’s wrong with this image?

Could it deal with the issue any more crudely or clumsily?

Did they hire the team at Nuts magazine to create this campaign? “Yeah, we’ll do a crotch shot of a “hot” white model with a no entry sign on her knickers, that’ll make people take rape seriously. No one will laugh at that.”

No doubt they wanted to do something eye catching, but this is eye catching for all the wrong reasons.

Then there’s the horrible association made in the text between entering the woman sexually and entering a prison. As other people have already pointed out, this campaign seems more concerned with protecting men from accusations of rape than protecting women. Why can’t we have a campaign which finds a way of saying don’t have sex with any woman without her consent because that’s called rape and rape is wrong, rape will hurt her physically and mentally, rape will mess up her life and for this reason rape is illegal.

Also, this image objectifies women. This woman here is not represented as a person. She is reduced to her crotch, a nameless, faceless cunt which exists to be penetrated. How can we fight the objectification of women with …. the objectification of women? We need a campaign which asserts the personhood of all women.

And she looks so helpless doesn’t she? So pale, so incredibly white, and so vulnerable with her slack hands dangling by her sides, nothing but a “stop” sign between her vagina and the (penetrative) gaze of the presumed male viewer.

So, has anyone got any ideas for a less icky, less lazy, and more intelligent campaign?

Stop press: Bookdrunk furthers this discussion.



1. girl uninterrupted - March 15, 2006


My 1st instinct is a depiction of a victim, give them a face and a soul, and make people face the reality.

Alternatively there may some very unpleasant situations that could be depicted, in which a man might find himself, where it could be argued that he ‘never said no’ (implying the ridiculousness of a woman having to state ‘no’ clearly to avoid being attacked, as there must be many situations where it is darn bloody obvious that they are unpleasant and you shouldn’t have to specify ‘no’).

I mean, I know this is a very crude example, and I really don’t mean to offend anyone, but having drunk my way through most of a bottle of wine this is the only example I can conjure for the time being:

A man, smirking and arrogant, obviously in a situation where he is being questioned by the police, saying “well, you know how they are when they’re drunk? And anyway, it’s not like *he* actually said no…”

I know this is a cheap shot in that it just plays on homophobia, and it isn’t a suggestion in itself, its just me trying to depict an image that might help the average man empathise with a rape victim.

2. Winter - March 16, 2006

I agree that a better option would have been to depict victims properly as real people. They could use actual rape survivor’s testamonies.

And if they wanted a more witty campaign it could be fun to invert the situation in some way. But we probably should stay away from anything that’s going to look homophobic.

I’ve just realised what the model looks like – a shop dummy!

I think I’m going to email the Home Office and complain.

3. Andrea - March 16, 2006

I find this poster totally inappropriate, too. But then the whole thing seems to rest on the threat of the inconvenience of rape accusations, rather than a woman having to go through a rape.

Women have been largely removed from the whole campaign, so I’m not surprised they’re removed from the poster, too.

4. Winter - March 16, 2006

It’s like they went out on a limb to create the most inappropriate campaign possible. I’d like to know if any women’s organisations were consulted and, if so, did they approve it???

5. existsnomore - March 16, 2006

girl uninterrupted, I like your first instict. Perhaps an image of a victim with a quote from a man in the foreground. “My name is John. This is my sister/mother/daughter. She was raped by a man she knew and trusted. He didn’t ask if she wanted to have sex/wouldn’t take no for an answer,” and go on to describe how it affected the victim. Make it hit close to home, showing these women as people with lives, and appealing to men’s desire to protect their female relatives. Think that’ll work?

6. bookdrunk - March 16, 2006

Have you seen the second poster (pdf) which seems to threaten homosexual assault? It’s a picture of prison cell with a grim man on the top bunk looking at the camera with the caption ‘If you don’t get a yes before sex, who’ll be your next sleeping partner?’ – because clearly the reason not to rape is not that it’s wrong, but because someone might rape you too.

For a better campaign, how about a picture of women at a bar (complete with faces) all dressed differently, with the caption ‘a short skirt isn’t consent’?

7. Winter - March 16, 2006

Oh my God. So they are already using homophobia in the campaign. Dreadful! A campaign to raise awareness about rape which is both sexist and homophobic! How on earth is this supposed to help anything?

8. MissPrism - March 16, 2006

It might be better to have a more positive campaign, as otherwise people may write it off as anti-sex and schoolmarmish.

How about a montage of women – healthy, sober, happy women – saying ‘Yes’? And then a slogan along the lines of “Sex minus Yes equals Rape”.

9. pixiewitch - March 16, 2006

Oh dear I’m fuming. I’ve seen the other poster with the guy in the prison cell and thought that was inappropriate enough…. But showing a faceless crotch pic that might actually turn some guys on? I agree totally with everyone who’s commented on the fact this campaign leans more towards relieving guys of the inconvenience of being accused of rape – now they follow it up with sexist and homophobic illustrations! The only way to properly portray this is to concentrate on the woman and the effect of rape on her – not tacky pictures of her crotch

10. aeonsomnia - March 16, 2006

Hopefully, I’m not reiterating someone’s point that’s already been made, but why did the ad makers have to put a big white-on-red-background minus sign on her crotch? Minus=negative in math. Aren’t the ad people aware that women’s crotches are seen as negative (or “minus”) in so many ways – and I mean globally? (I’m sure the majority of you have heard of women’s supposed “bad smells”, and of course of “vagina dentata”, and then there’s the countries that check ultrasounds so that female fetuses can be found and aborted – that’s just 3 examples of female genitalia=minus/negative)

This ad might subtly reinforce the (misogynistic) belief that raped women “deserved” it. Jeez, I hope they put more consideration into their other ads, more than they did for this!

(I’m sorry this doesn’t make more sense; I’m placing the blame on cough syrup).

11. girl uninterrupted - March 16, 2006

I love the idea of making guys think about impact on female relatives. No matter how much of a sexist pig you are you still have empathy for your mother/sister. You’re all right of course, it needs to focus on the victim. My other idea sucked!

Also, I was just looking at the truth about rape website and I love the way their postcards expose some of the myths about rape. No pictures on these but I found the concept very powerful.

12. HeoCwaeth - March 17, 2006

New York City had one a few years back with a very middle-class white kid washing his face in the bathroom, and looking in the mirror. The (female) voice-over said something like “If you rape someone, you’re not a rapist for six months to three years, you’re a rapist forever.”

13. jo - March 17, 2006

Threatening with jail when so very few rapists goes to jail?

Also, wasn’t there a proposition to reduce rape sentences?

I think we are in dire need of a
“Hey guys! Women are people too! Respect them!”campaign instead.

14. manxome - March 18, 2006

I imagine a poster with women’s faces on it. There can be different ones in the campaign. One, the faces are straightforward, no particular emotion or personality dsiplayed. Two, a variety of emotions, smiling, laughing, interest, etc, but otherwise the same. Three, the faces are similar in lack of particular expression, but the dress is different.

Or, it may be a matter of “test marketing” that sort of thing first, pictures only, to see what people assume about the faces on a variety of things. (Like those implicist association tests) One or two combos might really stand out where the assumption is high that someone is saying “yes”. Then you’d use those.

The question on the poster would be something like “Which of these women is saying yes?” At the bottom, in slightly smaller type, the answer would be “None. You don’t know unless you ask her” or something similar. Then below that a few sentences defining consent.

15. Wolfie - March 20, 2006

Spot on. My thoughts entirely when I first spotted that campaign poster but then I have noticed over recent years that generally the objectifying of women has taken quite an up-swing in the media with a deluge of “soft porn” on the shelves of my local newsagent. To be honest the whole notion that young men don’t know that no-means-no is daft; its just what they can get away with which motivates their behaviour and as young women drink more there is more opportunity. Lord knows how we could prevent this nasty social trend, I just don’t know. Increasing conviction rates would be more effective that’s for sure.

16. TP - March 20, 2006

Ch-rist. The two ad concepts are horrendous, and the visuals entirely innappropriate for the campaign.

The ideas suggested here are all far better – I too wonder if anyone bothered to ask any women’s organisations for suggestion of opinion.

Are ad agencies so utterly obsessed with the ‘sex sells’ idea that they can’t get around it even for a rape awareness campaign. Our tax contributions went on this…

17. Diane - March 21, 2006

Two words: passive aggressive.

18. amyjames - April 18, 2006

I hate those adverts so much!

I’m glad I’m not the only one – everyone I’ve spoken to about this was all “well, but it’s great that this issue is being given some attention” and I wanted to say “NO this issue shouldn’t need to be ‘given attention’ it shouldn’t need advertising – rape is just wrong as in never OK – how can people need to be ‘educated’ that that is the case?”

And it seems to suggest that there are degrees of rape – it’s not wrong UNTIL she says “no”?

And then to have an advert which is just not appropriate on so many levels, and not least to me because this is such an infantilised picture of clearly a young girl.

I like the NYC advert.

I do think maybe the way to go is with an ‘all women are sisters/mothers/daughters’ type message becuase hopefully that strikes some chord with everyone?

But I don’t see why this should be an issue I think sadly the people who rape rape have issues which are not going to be influenced by a poster and the people who date rape are a) drunk and b) have been poorly educated about respect for other people never mind just women – which is going to take more fixing than just a quick glimpse of a poster campaign.

Question – are rapists inherently selfish and so appealing to their fear of prison/personal violation has most effect on behaviour change?

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