**TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of Sexual Assault**
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s quite common to see company-endorsed public service announcements tackling the issue of sexual assault this month.
This past week, I had some business to take care of on an Army post, and I noticed the United States’ Army’s efforts to take on the issue of assault. Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that I’m in no way condemning the US military, nor am I trying to belittle their attempts to raise awareness about a very important matter. However, I do want to take a keen look at the tactics emulated in the Army’s public service announcement in order to make a prescription for what can be improved in future messages.
Given the very public scrutiny that the military has received for the handling of sexual assault cases, it’s always good news to see positive coverage on this matter. Here are the posters I found plastered around the Army post:
The text reads:
Intervene: When I recognize a threat to my fellow soldiers, I will have the personal courage to intervene and prevent Sexual Assault. I will condemn acts of Sexual Harassment. I will not abide obscene gestures, language, or behavior. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I will intervene.
Act: You are my brother, my sister, my fellow soldier. It is my duty to stand up for you, no matter the time or place. I will take action. I will do what’s right. I will prevent sexual harassment and assault. I will not tolerate sexually offensive behavior. I will act.
Motivate: We are American soldiers, motivated to keep our fellow soldiers safe. It is our mission to prevent sexual harassment and assault. We will denounce sexual misconduct. As soldiers we are all motivated to take action. We are strongest…together.
The text reads:
As a committed Civilian member of the Army team, I am enforcing the Army Standards of Conduct. I am also accountable to those standards. My strength and determination are helping to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault from within our community. I am a force in the fight to protect my team.
For starters, I love that these posters challenge the Bystander Effect. These motivational words encourage all to do their part to say something if they see something. They are held to a higher standard than to tolerate obscenities, and acts of sexual harassment and assault.
There are a few things that rub me the wrong way, though. I’m not totally comfortable with exclusively women being featured on these posters that talk about preventing sexual assault. Given that women are overwhelmingly the victims, not the perpetrators, of sexual assault, it seems strange to me that women are the proverbial poster children for a campaign championing the very injustice of which they are the victims. At the very least, I would have appreciated finding a man on one of the PSA posters. Having a male soldier explicitly stand up for sexual assault prevention could go a long way in projecting an image of solidarity in these posters, and in purporting the message of a zero-tolerance zone.
I’m also uncomfortable with the second poster, where the script reads, “My strength and determination are helping to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault from within our community.” I really can’t stand that this language, written next to a picture of a female Civilian, suggests that women are the ones that need to be the catalysts for change. No. Just no. This comes way too close to victim blaming. It’s NOT a woman’s responsibility to report assault as much as it’s the man’s responsibility to not commit the crime. While I understand that no one should ever be a bystander, the sole focus of these messages is one that shifts the responsibility away from the perpetrator, and onto the witness and/or victim.
I also don’t like that this style of PSA is more focused on intervention than prevention. “If you see something, say something” is great, but what about “if you think about committing assault, don’t”? Even the department responsible for producing these posters have their priorities misaligned: Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention. Innocent enough, the name still reinforces a reactionary emphasis, rather than a preventative one.
The “we’re all in this together” mentality is a great start, but it isn’t enough to prevent sexual assault. This year’s Army SHARP PSA’s aren’t terrible, but there are certainly ways that the messaging can be improved in future campaigns.