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The University of Wisconsin-Madison launched a new sexual assault awareness campaign this week and they're not wasting any words when it comes to making their point.

Here's a poster that's part of the campaign:


Poster by University of Wisconsin-Madison police department. Used with permission.

I mean, it seems pretty obvious: There's no consent without actual, you know, consent.

And yet it must not be so clear, given how often women are sexually assaulted, both in general and on college campuses. Furthermore, the National Institute of Justice statistics prove that rapists aren't just strange men who lurk in dark places: 9 out of 10 women assaulted on college campuses knew the perpetrator.

It's safe to conclude there's a lot of date and acquaintance rape being committed.

Hoping to educate those who aren't clear on exactly what consent is, the University of Wisconsin-Madison got right to the point.

The university's "Don't Be That Guy" campaign aims to clarify what qualifies as consent for sexual activity during alcohol use.

"We need people (young men, in particular) to know what consent is," Officer Marc Lovicott, spokesperson for the university's police department, told me. "We need them to know that consent is a clear 'yes' — not the absence of a 'no.'"

This isn't a new approach for the school.

Back in April 2015, I shared an email the school sent out following a sexual assault on campus. It struck me as notable because instead of following up the news with tips on how women can stay safe, the campus police department instead offered tips to avoid raping someone.

And they're continuing to send that message today, with posters like this:

Telling men how to avoid being rapists instead of telling women how to avoid rape should be a given, but it sure feels novel.

How many of us grew up hearing what girls and women could do to stay safe far more often than we heard anyone telling men all of the ways in which they might rape someone — and how to avoid them?

And while nobody is saying that we shouldn't take steps to keep ourselves safe in life, regardless of gender, putting the burden of preventing sexual assault on the victims is both ineffective and just plain wrong.

I asked Officer Lovicott what motivated the department to take this important step. He said they've been working on spreading information about sexual assault on campus for a while, most recently running a "Tell Us" campaign targeted toward sexual assault survivors. But they took it a step further by really listening to people's feedback:

"The campaign was successful and received positive feedback — but we heard from many who said, 'It's time to target the perpetrators.' And we agreed. We searched for a way to say 'don't rape,' and this what we came up with. We're directly targeting young men, talking about alcohol use and about consent, and we're saying 'don't be that guy.'"

The campaign is targeted specifically toward men.


To be clear, men can also be victims of rape. However, statistics show that women are victimized far more often and so the campaign has used that information to guide its focus. The National Institute of Justice notes that 1 in 6 women will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape during her life, versus 1 in 33 men.

Officer Lovicott realizes that some will take issue with this very clear message, but he's undeterred. "We know not everyone is going to like this campaign — specially, some men who feel that we're targeting them, " he told me.

"We've already heard from a handful who have called this campaign 'sexist.' We understand that — we're not going to win with everyone on this."

But this isn't about winning everyone. It's about educating and changing behavior and stopping rape, and the school is steadfast in their approach.

"[W]e believe this campaign addresses a core demographic — young men — who are responsible for the VAST majority of sexual assault cases," he said. "Something needs to be done about sexual assaults on our college campuses, and we believe this is a step in the right direction."

This article originally appeared on 04.15.19


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