Agreeing to drink is not agreeing to sex

Edmonton Police' "Don't Be That Guy" anti-sexual assault campaign targets young men

Most people understand that “no means no” when it comes to not giving consent in sexual encounters. However, the definition of what constitutes “yes” to giving consent, especially when alcohol is involved, still remains unclear to some. This can lead to devastating consequences for those who are not in any state to consent to anything.

Alcohol was a factor in half of the sexual assault cases investigated by the Edmonton Police Service in 2009, and it was a factor in 52 per cent of cases investigated during the first six months of this year.

“In each of these cases, the victims were clearly intoxicated [… ]in some cases passed out at the time of the sexual assault,” police Supt. Danielle Campbell told the Edmonton Journal. “A person that is drunk or passed out cannot give consent.”

After noticing this alarming trend, Edmonton police partnered with SAVE (Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton) to launch the Don’t Be That Guy campaign against sexual assault. The campaign, aimed at young men aged 18-24, uses graphic ads to communicate that sex without consent, regardless of whether alcohol is involved or not, is sexual assault. The launch comes within weeks of the beginning of the I Know Someone campaign at the University of Western Ontario, that has the goal of  “challenging male and female students to increase their awareness and involvement in reducing incidents of sexual violence.” Considering the Don’t Be That Guy campaign’s target audience, this campaign’s message should also resonate strongly with students.

One ad shows a man helping a woman to her car after a night of drinking. The text underneath the photo reads: “Just because you help her home . . . doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.” Another ad shows a young woman passed out on a couch with liquor bottles next to her on the floor, as the text underneath reads: “Just because she isn’t saying no . . . doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.”

The advertisements are being placed above urinals in several Edmonton bars, at LRT stations, and in the University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan newspapers and magazines such as SEE and VUE. The campaign began Monday and will run until Jan. 2011.

It is encouraging to see a campaign aimed at the perpetrators of sexual violence, when most anti-sexual violence campaigns are focused on prevention tips for women. Karen Smith of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton told the Journal these methods can sometimes be counterintuitive. “Tips just reinforce the myth that women are somehow responsible for anticipating and preventing sexual violence,” she said.

The campaign struck a cord with some University of Alberta students, who say the images displayed in the ads are all to familiar. “Probably the most effective part is this right here–Don’t be That Guy. Because every guy, kinda . . . they think that way, especially when they’ve had a couple beers,” U of A student Tony Travanut told CTV Edmonton.

However, it’s discouraging that potential perpetrators have to be so bluntly reminded to not take advantage of women who are under the influence and are in no position to give consent.

Especially when certain students still believe that women have only themselves to blame when caught in these situations. A columnist for Princeton University student newspaper the Daily Princetonian came under fire in February after arguing that a fellow female student had no jurisdiction to accuse a man of raping her because she was inebriated when they had sex:

“She knew what would happen if she started drinking. We all know that the more people drink, the less likely they are to make wise decisions. It is common sense,” wrote contributing columnist Iulia Neagu. “Therefore, the girl willingly got herself into a state in which she could not act rationally. This, in my opinion, is equivalent to agreeing to anything that might happen to her while in this state. In the case of our girl, this happened to be sex with a stranger.”

Peer advisors for the university’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) centre fired back in an editorial published in the Princetonian a day later, stating that consent is absolutely necessary in all sexual encounters, regardless of whether those involved are drunk or not.

“If someone drinks to the point of an ‘advanced state of inebriation,’ there are certainly expected consequences. These could include hospitalization, blood alcohol poisoning and a massive hangover,” the advisors said. “To give carte blanche to perpetrators to take advantage of an inebriated person, however, is unacceptable . . . Agreeing to drink is agreeing to drink — nothing more.”

While it may be common sense that students need to be responsible and look after themselves if they are drinking, the belief that a woman is agreeing to anything and everything that happens to her if she becomes intoxicated is absolutely archaic. As the peer advisors stated in the Princetonian, agreeing to drink is agreeing to drink, not to be taken advantage of. Hopefully, the Don’t Be That Guy campaign makes this message clear to perpetrators of this awful crime.

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