Thursday, July 31, 2014

8-year-old NHS PSA causes fresh outrage over victim blaming

Via Daily Mail

Patrick, a reader, made me aware of the latest example of an anti-binge-drinking ad that ends up promoting the culture of blaming victims of rape.

In this case, it's the UK government's National Health Service that is causing outrage.

The Drum reports that the poster actually dates back to 2006,  part of the "Know Your Limits" campaign, but it is still available as part of an online toolkit and posted in some health facilities.

A petition, launched recently, states:
Two honourable intentions -- to stop people drinking, and to stop rape happening - are being completely deformed. Of course we don't want people to drink so much they make themselves ill, but threatening them with rape by implication is not the way to do it. Of course we don't want anyone to endure sexual assault and rape, but making them feel like it's their fault if they do, is so far out of order. 
It is not consistent with the NHS' own guidelines on 'Help after rape and sexual assault' in which they say 'If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.' This is a much more helpful approach, and we ask the NHS and the Home Office to destroy this poster in all formats. 
It currently has over 62,000 signatures.

There have been a number of prominent anti-alcohol campaigns in recent years that have hit these same triggers, including PSAs by MADD, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, CabWise and West Mercia Police.

The fact that the NHS campaign is an older one shows how far we've come in understanding the cultural issues around rape in just a few years, but it is also a reminder to keep your PSA libraries up-to-date.


  1. I don't see how in any way, the poster above blames the victim. It is how one wants to take the "fact" and do with it as they chose. There is no blame in that sentence.

  2. @Anonymous — there's no way to state a "fact" without attaching meaning to it. There are (at least) millions of statistical indicators available to cite: as soon as you choose to mention one indicator, and not another, you've introduced your own bias and a message into the conversation.

  3. @david One Hundred pennies equals one dollar. Fact.

    1. Not in Canada. Not anymore. ;)

    2. Clearly, @Anonymous, you wanted to try to demonstrate that facts could exist in isolation, without context. Unfortunately, the fact that you wanted to demonstrate that is the context, the subjective message behind the objective fact.

  4. I'm taking offense to people taking offense at this. Why do we have to pander to every person that gets offended and has a Twitter account?

    1. Good point. Why am I bothering to reply to every clichéd comment from people who won't even put a name to their opinion?

    2. clearly my anonymity is the issue here and not that we should teach the youth to be mindful of their alcohol intake because lots of bad things happen when you get drunk and bad people look to take advantage of easy targets. we should all just pretend there are no ways to protect oneself either for fear of upsetting the internet social justice warriors. let's also make sure never to teach kids that wearing seat belts is statistically safer because we don't want to be accused of blaming victims of car accidents.

      good thing we're focused on whether or not i choose to link another account to your site.

    3. No, that was just a cheap shot. The issue here is not "upsetting internet social justice warriors," it is about the real psychological harm that the unintended message of the ad can do to victims of sexual assault.

      It is attempting to keep people safer, but was extremely insensitive to the self-blame that many victims experience. "Was it my fault because I was drunk? Because of what I was wearing? Because of my behaviour?"

      NO. It was the rapist's fault.

      People already know that alcohol makes you vulnerable to all kinds of bad things happening. This PSA accomplishes nothing positive, and can actually cause great distress to people who are already hurt.

    4. The comment from @Anonymous is the only place a word like "offend(ed)" or "offense/ive" appears in the blog posting, the comments, or the petition (it does appear in a user comment on the petition, but not in the petition itself).

      FWIW, I don't believe in using "feeling offended" as a weapon against other people and what they say, so @Anonymous and I probably agree on that point. After all, there's no basic human right not to feel offended. But nobody is playing the "offended" card here — the concern is about the messages an old government-funded PSA was sending about who's responsible for rape, not about someone having hurt feelings.

      So I call "strawman" on the "offensive" joke.