New approach to end sexual assault

By Emily Macphail

In 2010, more than 60 per cent of sexual assaults that were reported in Calgary involved either an impaired offender or an impaired victim. Men between the ages of 18-35 made up 55 per cent of offenders and 58 per cent of victims were women in the same age group.

Now Sexual Assault Voices Calgary, in partnership with Alberta Health Services and other agencies, is running a campaign titled “Don’t Be That Guy” to reduce these numbers.

The “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign is focused on alcohol- or drug-facilitated sexual assault. The campaign takes a different approach than most traditional sexual assault awareness initiatives, focusing on changing the behaviour of the offender rather than the victim. The SAV Calgary website states that “sexual assault is never the fault of the person it happens to, not under any circumstances.”

Traditionally such initiatives focus on teaching women techniques for self-defence and offer advice on how to stay safe. A current study being carried out at the University of Calgary is taking this approach, looking at interventions to “help women learn how to reduce their risk of sexual assault.” The study website states that women who participate will increase their ability to assess risk, determine and communicate their sexual values and needs, and develop verbal and physical self-defence skills.

The “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign contends “the offenders themselves are responsible for changing their behaviours. They are the only one responsible for an offense being committed.”

The target audience for the posters is males aged 18-35, and funding for the outside advertising campaign has been contributed to by the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, Calgary Police Service, AHS, and HomeFront. Liaison for the campaign on the U of C campus Genevieve Hoffart said, “for years it has been about victim blaming [and how] women shouldn’t have put themselves in that situation, and now awareness is shifting to the perpetrator.”

Director of the Women’s Resource Centre Nanako Furuyama agreed.

“No matter what kind of situation a woman is in, what they wear, there’s no excuse to commit the sexual assault,” she said.

The campaign was initially launched in Edmonton in November 2010 and has since been used in cities across Canada, including Ottawa, Vancouver, Kingston and Saskatoon. Phase one of the campaign began on Oct. 13 in Calgary, including on the U of C campus. The posters are designed to be displayed on public transit, in bars and in other areas which are likely to reach the target audience in areas where these situations may occur.

Hoffart stated that it is becoming a global movement, similar to Slut Walk — a series of protest marches that began in Toronto to dispute the idea that women are responsible for sexual assault if they dress in a particular way.

The response in Edmonton was positive. They are currently considering another round of poster distributions. The posters are very forceful in their message, including statements such as “Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f**k,” and “Just because you help her home doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.” The website states that their intention is not to offend, but rather to generate discussion and change behaviour.

“The message is very straightforward. It’s a great opportunity to start a discussion on what this poster means,” said Furuyama. She states that she would love to see more students being able to have open discussions on sexual assault and would like to see an awareness campaign that goes beyond just posters.

The WRC is planning a lunch-and-learn session on the campaign and sexual assault in the future. “I think [the WRC] is a safe place to discuss sensitive topics like sexual assault,” said Furuyama.

Graduate student in biological sciences Shaelen Konschuh agrees that the posters’ shock factor is a positive for the campaign. “They’re very provocative, which is necessary to get people’s attention, so I’m all for them. I think we should put more up.”

Hoffart has also contacted the U of C debate club to organize a prepared public debate which will help bring awareness to the campaign and the issue of sexual assault.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter if there is a winner or loser in the discussion — it’s about getting people to talk about a major social issue and the different perspectives on solutions,” said Hoffart.


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