‘Don’t be that girl’ posters in Edmonton spark debate

EDMONTON – Posters spreading a message that Edmonton police have been trying to fight for years with their “Don’t be that guy” campaign is generating mixed reviews, as well as a conversation in our city about sexual assault.

The Mens Rights Edmonton association is taking responsibility for the campaign. One of its members, who did not want to identify himself, says this poster campaign was intended to counter the “Don’t be that guy” campaign that he says made “rape into a gendered issue.”

“We don’t blame victims for anything, we’re simply looking for an accurate discourse on the subject.”

The subject was thrust into the spotlight on Tuesday afternoon, when a Women’s Studies instructor at the University of Alberta posted the following tweet:

Not only was it retweeted dozens of times, but it also drew plenty of reaction:

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City councillor and mayoral candidate Don Iveson was among those who expressed their frustration online over the “Don’t be that girl” posters.

“I think there are real barriers for women who have been sexually assaulted to come forward, and I think things like this cause more barriers, more hassles for women. Because it requires real courage to come forward,” he told Global News.

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Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA) also responded to the campaign with a blog post, writing: “This poster which has mimicked itself after the “Don’t Be That Guy” Campaign has crossed a line by using incorrect information to try to make a point that is absolutely false, inaccurate and 100% incorrect.”

“I think what their campaign is saying is that women lie about rape, about sexual assault to get back at a boyfriend,” said Karen Smith, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. She cited national statistics as evidence that false reports don’t actually happen as often as some people may think.

“One to two percent of sexual assaults reported to the police would be false. And that would be the same for any other crime that would be reported to the police.”

The same figure was also used by Acting Insp. Sean Armstrong of the Serious Crime Branch, which includes the Sexual Assault Section. Armstrong says that in the four and a half years he worked as a sexual assault detective, he came across only one false report.

“And I dealt with numerous files; many, many, many files. So they’re extremely rare.”

But the group’s message is seeing its fair share of support, as well.

On Global Edmonton’s Facebook page, dozens have voiced their for the message on the controversial posters.

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Robert says, “No place in that ad does it say rape is right. It is okay to slam men but when an ad like this is out it suddenly is pro rape? Once again it does not say rape is right so why read more into it?”

Reid writes, “Why are “don’t be that guy” posters acceptable if the opposite aren’t? They’re making a presumption that all men are potential rapists and should be viewed and educated as such. False rape accusations are a reality. This sign is factual and correct.”

Chanceala says, “This ad actually doesn’t say rape is ok. It’s saying don’t be that girl that says whoo hoo let’s get it on and then cry foul after the fact. Women are not all innocent.”

Robin writes, “We are in danger of becoming so concerned with NOT being a “rape culture” that we swing the other way and demonize men in all circumstances, whether they are actually guilty or not. The “outrage” from people such as Don Iveson indicates to me that this is the way our community has swung already.”

The “Don’t be that girl” controversy fell on the same day as the release of a Canadian Women’s Foundation survey, in which 19 per cent of respondents said women may provoke or encourage sexual assault by being drunk.

Nearly one-quarter of the 19 per cent were people between 18 and 34 years old.

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“The belief that women are responsible for sexual assault because of their actions or appearance is still common in our society,” said Anu Dugal, Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in a release, “and can cause women who have suffered abuse to stay silent and often feel responsible for what happened to them.

“Canadians must stop questioning and blaming sexual assault victims and start asking why some men rape women.”

The survey also revealed 15 per cent of Canadians believe women encourage sexual assault by flirting and 11 per cent think women can provoke sexual assault when they wear short skirts.

“These results show that many Canadians have incorrect and problematic ideas about the root causes of sexual abuse,” said Dugal.

In Edmonton, many of the “Don’t be that girl” posters that had been put up around the city’s downtown and University area were being torn down on Tuesday.

Iveson calls those who put up them up “cowards.” However, he wishes that their actions – however misguided – will get people talking about how to reduce sexual assaults in Edmonton.

“I hope at the end of this conversation our city’s having right now, that more women will feel able to come forward and tell their story, and help us bring the perpetrators of sexual assault to justice.”

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Follow @TrishKozicka

With files from Laurel Clark and Adam Frisk, Global News

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