Lies No One Ever Told

If ever there were a feminist campaign in need of parody it’s SAVE(Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton)’s Don’t be that Guy poster campaign. It’s mostly a Canadian thing, so I’m not sure how visible they’ve been on the internet down here, but they’re posters that show picture of, say, a girl passed out on the couch with an overturned glass of wine on the floor and a caption that says “Just because she isn’t saying no doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.”

No, it’s not that the messages on the posters are wrong. They’re dead right – and in the wake of the Steubenville Rape Case it’s an important message to get out there.

The reason they need to be parodied is because of the attitude and aims of the organization behind them. It’s very much one of these “don’t blame the victim” things that poses as a public safety campaign as a way of hiding a gender power grab. And if there were any doubt on that point, it’s been completely dispelled by SAVE’s reaction to the parodies.

The parodies are about what you would expect. They take the same graphic from the original poster and just change the caption – so, instead of “Just because she’s drinking doesn’t mean she wants sex. Sex without consent = sexual assault.” you have “Just because you regret a one-night stand doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime.”

There is nothing whatever objectionable about the message of the parody that I can tell – in fact, they’re in the service of a good cause. The only grounds I can see for objecting are maybe some copyright concerns – they’re stealing images from the originals after all.

Not so SAVE, which has this to say in response:

What’s been done to transform an anti-sexual-assault campaign into a rape-apologist campaign is just deeply offensive


And … wha…?

How is reminding people that falsely accusing someone is a crime POSSIBLY “rape-apologist?” What train of thought leads someone to that conclusion? If I’m a teaching assistant, and I think one of the students in class plagiarised a paper, and I present some evidence of this to the professor, and the professor basically agrees but first warns me to be absolutely certain of my case before we take it to the dean because these are serious accusations, is the professor a “plagiarism-apologist?” Clearly not. Asking people to be sure of their accusations before taking them to the police does not, for any crime that I am aware of, imply that the person so asking supports the criminal activity in question.
Nor is it even clear to me that this is undermining the cause of fighting sexual assault. After all, as we’re repeatedly told by activists in this area, stranger rape is vanishingly rare compared with acquaintence rape. Well, the thing about acquaintence rape is that it’s usually murkier. Signals get crossed, alcohol is involved, etc. Generally speaking, it’s not always clear that someone was violated. If you’re running a campaign that essentially says (by omission) that nothing is ever grey, that there’s always a clear perp, that there is never any bad judgment or misunderstanding, you’re talking about a fantasy world that everyone here in the real world instantly recognizes as such. By bringing some balance back to the discussion, the people behind the parody assure that we’re focused on the real-world issue.

Surprisingly, that quote isn’t as low as SAVE went. From their Facebook page, there’s also this:

Let’s hope this is a teachable moment that takes the conversation even further and helps folks understand that people don’t lie about sexual assault.

So there you have it, folks. They’re not even hiding it. Yes, in contrasdistinction to every other crime under the sun, sexual assault is that rare unicorn where accusers are never even mistaken, let alone make up stories. People lie about murder, they lie about robbery, they lie about their age to buy alcohol, but come hell or high water they never ever everever lie about sexual assault. Tawana Brawley is not real. Crystal Magnum is not real. This Wikipedia page on false rape allegations is entirely a work of fiction. Not once in the history of forensic anything has anyone ever been prosecuted for false rape allegations. It is not the case that chapter 11 of a famous textbook on rape investigation deals with false accusers because, you know, what false accusers? When the Founders wrote the Fourth Amendment and legislators the Fourteenth, they didn’t mean to include sexual assault, because who would need a fair, due process legal system for a crime that no one ever lies about?

It’s ridiculous, obviously. Not only do we know on sheer law of large numbers grounds that there will be false accusations here and there, it’s not even difficult to imagine a motive for it. More to the point, it shouldn’t be difficult for feminists to imagine a motive for it, since on odd-numbered days of the week they’re the ones who are concerned about slut-shaming. They complain that social norms don’t allow girls to have sex for fun in the same way that they do guys, and then they can’t possibly imagine why a girl might prefer for people to think she was raped if she got drunk at a party and slept with someone and was made to feel guilty about it later.

To summarize, I support the campaign to remind men that women who are drunk and passed out are not legitimate sexual targets. If she doesn’t consent, she doesn’t consent, and you need to keep your hands to yourself. I also support the “parody” campaign that reminds women that “regret” is not the same thing as “lack of consent,” and that you’re liable to do things while drunk that you wouldn’t sober. I don’t see any contradiction between these two positions – in fact, I think they complement each other very well. Feminists love to talk about “rape-culture” (though I’m not sure anyone knows exactly what that means). Well, you can’t have a culture without broad participation by both men and women. Men and women both go to these parties repeatedly and voluntarily; it simply cannot be the case that the “culture” at them is entirely up to the whims of half of the participants and entirely opposed to the whims of the other. If you want to change “culture,” you have to come at it from all sides.

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