How ‘Aware’ is the sexual assault awareness campaign?

CW: references to sexual assault

Recently, when using one of the female toilets on campus, I noted a sticker on the back of the door which read: “1 in 3 women are victims of sexual assault.” On the sticker, someone had written that they were a part of this one in three. This caused me to think about how that one little sticker would impact all the different people who entered that toilet and read the fact it declared. In turn, this sparked the following question in my mind: how aware is the sexual assault awareness campaign?

On the one hand, I can see how knowing that you are not the only person going through such a horrible experience could draw awareness and create a sense of solidarity. Increasing awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault is very important if we are to ensure its reduction and eventual eradication. The sticker could also help those coping with the aftermath of experiencing sexual assault. However, I do question the approach that this campaign, and whoever stuck the sticker up, took. The statistic that one in three women are victims of sexual assault is not at all shocking to me, which in itself is shocking and horrible. Although this sticker was thought-provoking in some ways, I think it attempted to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault in the worst way possible.

Firstly, a campaign that focusses purely on statistics in order to generate an emotional reaction, feels incredibly sterile and seems to dance around the issue and its complexities. I also feel that this fact, coupled with it being in a place where it will be consumed predominantly by women-identifying people, is sending an odd message spurting sterile data rather than sharing a message of support. The sticker offered no support services or comforting messages to survivors. Indeed, the scrawl added to the sticker brought me a better sense of support and solidarity than the message on the sticker itself.

The placement of the sticker also made me feel uncomfortable, as there was no way for someone in that cubicle to not see it. This is most likely an intentional marketing tactic, however, its placement also means it is likely to serve as a trigger for people who have been impacted by sexual assault, which, according to the sticker, would be approximately every third person who walks into that stall.

I fail to see how this campaign, which ultimately aims to help survivors of sexual assault through raising awareness about the prevalence of the issue, could justify how trivially spurting this statistic back to survivors is a helpful position to undertake. I don’t think there was enough time taken to consider who would be consuming the campaign in its current location, and whether the benefits of raising awareness in this way would outweigh the potential of triggering others.

This also begs the question of just how useful this sticker, and indeed other campaigns, are in raising awareness, inspiring proactiveness and ultimately reducing incidences of sexual assault. There is no doubt that this sticker brings awareness, and plays on the emotions of the audience with the intention of angering them and, in turn, inspiring them to join the movement. However, while I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t angered at this too-real fact, I also think it would be difficult to find someone who immediately took action after seeing this statistic. The sticker offered no information about how readers could help make a change.

I think a different approach would be helpful, and necessary, in not only bringing about awareness, but also inspiring people to act on this awareness. Ultimately, the response desired is action, and this can be achieved in many other ways, while also being more considerate of survivors.

So, how do we bring awareness to this issue, and spur action, while still considering the feelings and needs of those directly impacted by it? I don’t think placing these campaign stickers in toilet cubicles, particularly in female bathrooms, is a good place to start. Campaigning to the entire community, rather than just to those more likely to be impacted by it, would be beneficial to the movement through enlightening broader society. Moreover, taking a more considerate approach to the issue rather than a trivial ‘did you know?!’ one could shed light on the issue while still respecting those impacted by it. Including details of local support services, a message of solidarity to survivors, or content warnings, within advertisements and campaigns could also help those affected by the issue. These suggestions will not bring about the eradication of sexual assault, but may help to draw awareness to the issue in a way that respects survivors.

In short, perhaps awareness campaigns need to both raise awareness about particular issues, but also remain aware of those most closely impacted by such issues.