There is a commercial that is floating around TV right now that was put out by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). It shows a very attractive woman wearing revealing clothing walking in a parkade at night. There just happens to be a “psychopath” wearing the stereotypical hockey mask and holding an axe hiding behind one of the pillars. It is implied that the “psychopath” will jump out and assault the woman. I was not surprised to see an advertisement that plays up the myths around sexual violence, considering these are widely accepted by our society. However, I was surprised and appalled to see that this advertisement was put out by an organization that is designed to help those who are at a disadvantage in our society. One would think that an organization such as this would understand the importance of not perpetuating myths and victimizing individuals/sexes/races etc… This advertisement has been taken down from the web but I managed to get a screen shot of it.
The impact of a 30 second t.v commercial is immense. It can reconfirm and strengthen misconceptions and beliefs that people hold. Challenging, changing and making people question their own beliefs becomes so much harder when so many different mediums are perpetuating and reinforcing myths around sexual violence. This advertisement doesn’t just represent one or two myths around the issue of sexual violence but instead almost every myth our society holds. Ultimately, it doesn’t just spread partial ignorance around this issue but rather complete ignorance.
To demonstrate how myth based this advertisement really is let me do some mythbusting…
1) The woman in the commercial is your stereotypical ” hot blonde.” She has the large breasts, tiny waist and the long flowing hair. This plays up the myth that only young, beautiful, sexy women can be sexually assaulted. In reality, anybody is susceptible to sexual violence. This myth is also reinforced by the belief that sexual violence is about sex when, in fact, it is a crime of power and control. It doesn’t matter how attractive someone is because it is not about the sexual gratification but rather the sense of being in control and having power over another human being.
2) In the advertisement, the “hot blonde” just happens to be dressed very scantily. She is wearing a belly top that is also very low cut revealing large amounts of cleavage. This is where the “she was asking for it” belief comes in. This boils down to the belief that because she was not dressed modestly, someone else has the right to assault her. What is implied is that had she not been wearing such revealing clothes she probably would not have been in that situation. Once again this stresses the prevention tactics and reinforces the victim blaming mentality. It doesn’t matter how much someone has had to drink, how revealing their clothes are, or what profession someone is in; there are no excuses for sexual violence. The perpetrators of sexual violence make choices to assault and no action of the survivor EVER justifies that.
3) It is perfect to set the scene at night in a dark parkade because the majority of society believes that is when and where women are most likely to be sexually assaulted. This is sending the message that if women stay indoors at night and avoid all secluded areas then sexual assaults and stranger attacks can be prevented. This message instills fear in women leaving the house at night and, once again, puts the blame back onto the survivor rather than the ones making the choices to assault. Most sexual assaults occur within the home in broad daylight by someone the survivor knows and may have even trusted. Most often, the sexual assaults don’t require large amounts physical force because the perpetrator has already gained the trust and access to the survivor. It is not the stranger attacks in dark secluded areas that are the most common.
4) It is a common belief that sexual assault offenders are easily recognizable. In the case of the CNIB commercial, it is the easily identifiable “psychopath” who is the sex offender. Most sexual assault offenders appear to be normal. They do not suffer from mental illness or personality disorders. Perpetrators are often considered responsible members of the community. Race, economic class or marital status plays no part in determining who is, or who will become an abuser.
Each myth does not stand alone but is supported and fueled by many other misconceptions and beliefs that are common in our society. All the myths surrounding the issue of sexual violence are intertwined and are perpetuated by one another. The only way sexual assault can be prevented is by education and awareness around the issue. This advertisement would not have been created if our society was educated around this issue.