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when anti-drinking campaigns become victim blaming campaigns

A recent ad campaign in North America, entitled “Control Tonight”, and sponsored by The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has once again turned rape into a pathetic blame game. The campaign, which aims to tackle teen binge drinking, has instead taken an uncouth stance that if you or your friends drink too much, you will get raped; essentially just propagating the overtly sexist and cave man maxim, “she was asking for it”, with an added ‘you have been warned’.

One of the ads in the series warns about letting your friends drink too much by featuring a young woman’s legs sprawled on a bathroom floor, with her underwear around her ankles. The slogan “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no” is followed by a warning that if you let your friends drink, they will make bad decisions and ultimately get raped. Wait…what? The “Control Tonight” website also underlines that “Calling the shots starts with you”.

While I like to say I watch out for my friends, this usually includes hauling them to a taxi or holding their hair while they puke, and in one case spiking my friend’s drink with water, what this ad campaign is doing is shifting the blame onto both victims and their friends and away from the actual perpetrator of the crime: the rapist.

Sure, watching out for your friends and not drinking too much are both ad-worthy material but making it the sole responsibility of a woman and her friends to avoid rape is a grossly skewed approach. For too long we have been surrounded by similar messages, which only disempower women when they should be making us bolder to stand up and speak out against rape. How is any victim of rape, or for that matter a friend of theirs, supposed to speak out against the rapist when they are surrounded by messages claiming it is their fault and their responsibility alone?

While alcohol sometimes plays a role in rape and many a drunken teenager has done something stupid (planking on the roof of a house as an example) this doesn’t mean that we should keep perpetuating a message that essentially places the onus on women to somehow ‘prevent’ rape. Rape is a serious crime and should be treated as such; sadly, this kind of campaign seems to be pedaling us all backwards.

Although these advertorial geniuses may have the right intentions, their execution is beyond poor even to the point that the subtext of the images is somehow sexual and fetishised. In reality, rape is something that happens in many different and sinister non-alcohol related scenarios. Not only this, but also the “she was asking for it” mentality is completely divorced from the simple fact that rape is a deliberate and violent act committed by a rapist.

Instead of pointing the finger at them, we should be providing more support for victims of rape and investing more in educating young men about the power of a simple “no”. But to shine light on the gloom, there is an ad campaign, albeit again in North America, which aims to do just this. The “MyStrength” project’s underlining principle is “Men can stop rape”.

So, yes we should take safety measures for our friends and ourselves but this doesn’t mean that we will be safe. Just like you can’t plan whether a bus will hit you, even though you may have looked both ways before crossing, there is no way of actually preventing rape. So it is heartening that the “MyStrength” project recognises this by featuring slogans such as “So when she was too drunk to decide, I decided we shouldn’t” and “So when she changed her mind, I stopped”.

This, dear PLCB, is what the message should look like.

It is always best to just try to figure out how you can help an alcoholic instead of putting the blame on him or her.

4 thoughts on “when anti-drinking campaigns become victim blaming campaigns

  1. Pingback: Three rape prevention advertising campaigns that highlight the best, worst and WTF of the genre « can be bitter

  2. Great article. A similar strategy has been used in South Australian anti-drinking ads.
    (See: and

    The video accompanying this campaign shows a young woman been ridiculed by her friends for drinking to excess and throwing up in a public toilet. Apparently, she was ‘asking for trouble’.

    The blatant use of- what I would call- Rape Myth #2 (the first being ‘she was wearing ___ so therefore ___’) by a public health campaign is atrocious.

    I just do not understand what kind of responsible drinking message SA Health thinks that they’re trying to send. There are such recognised links between drugs and alcohol consumption BY BOTH PARTIES and sexual assault that, under SA, you can’t be said to have consented to sex if you were drunk.

    However, according to SA Health, young people are still completely responsible for whatever ‘trouble’ happens once they’re passed out in a public toilet. Nice to know.

    Possibilty of sexual assault aside- shouldn’t we be encouraging young people to look out for each other at parties/clubs and help to keep each other safe? Nope. Judging from this campaign, it’s far cooler to ridicule your drunk friends and then leave them alone, sick and vulnerable in public places.

    Slam dunk for promoting rape myths and bullying, as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Victim blaming is pervasive, and helps no one, but simply keeps women from being relaxed in a social setting and able to drink as much as they want. Men don’t have to keep an eye on their drinks and women do. The male rapists need to be targeted, not the victims.

    Great post!

  4. Clare,
    A large percentage of rapes of men happen as a result of spiked drinks. Also a friend of mine who had his drink spiked (but managed to get to a cab rather than be lead away) was given the drink by a woman (who had a man with her). So while most rapists are men and most victims are women lets not pretend that men don’t need any care or that women are saintly.

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