UPDATE! If This Rape Ad Infuriates You, Do Something About It.

Via Lauren Hanna
on Dec 7, 2011
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“She didn’t want to do it. But she couldn’t say no.”

Update: The ad has since been pulled by Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board. Read more here. and here.

Thank you all for expressing your opinions in the comment feed below. I think this discussion is an important one and as an enlightened community here on elephant journal, I am glad that we are able to look at this issue from all sides in an intelligent and compassionate discussion. Thank you for this!


If this ad hit you in the same way it hit me, I encourage you to write to [email protected] to help get it pulled. A sample letter below, with thanks to my friend Julia for offering to share her e-mail as an example.

Sure, Control Tonight’s message is important: Help prevent irresponsible drinking in youth. But blaming rape victims is not the way to go about it.

To Whom it May Concern:

I recently viewed one of your Control Tonight campaign ads against
teen drinking, in which a pair of apparently female legs are sprawled
across a tile floor with underwear around the ankles and a message
reading “02:19A.M. She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no.” As a
Pennsylvania resident and taxpayer, not to mention an educator and a
victim of sexual assault, I find this advertisement incredibly
offensive and potentially harmful to the very demographic it is
purporting to protect.

The advertisement implies that unwanted sexual advances are the fault
of the victim, not the assailant, and that victims of sexual assault
are only to be held blameless insofar as they are sober, if ever.
Rape, and sexual assault more generally, are not the results of
actions controlled by the victim–and that includes the victim’s
choice whether or not to have a drink that night. This fact is part of
the definition of assault, and your advertisement’s insinuation
otherwise is not only emotionally hurtful and false, but it is also
potentially dangerous in its implicit excusing of sexual predators for
their actions, as long as their victims have had something to drink.

Tonight, you have made me feel ashamed to call myself a Pennsylvanian.
If you actually care about the young women of Pennsylvania, I demand
that you reconsider your campaign: Pull this advertisement and those
like it from circulation immediately.

*Insert Your Name*


About Lauren Hanna

Lauren Hanna, E-RYT 200, MSS Candidate, is a social worker by day and yoga ninja by night. It was in Pittsburgh that she first discovered the thrill of yoga and her love for social welfare and animal rescue work. With her cats Lotus and Calia in tow, Lauren hopes to someday combine her love for yoga and animal welfare with her career as a social worker. Lauren likes to dream a lot about saving the world – one puppy, kitten and human at a time. Lauren also loves cobblestone streets, arts & crafts, action movies and writing books with her Grandmother. If she had a billion dollars she'd probably spend it all here. Follow her @laurenfoste.


40 Responses to “UPDATE! If This Rape Ad Infuriates You, Do Something About It.”

  1. Yup. Infuriated sums it up. Thanks for the contact information.

  2. elephantjournal says:

    I also didn't get that impression.

    Rape is caused by rapists. There's no other reason or excuse. That fact does not mean that we all shouldn't advise taking precautions and avoid putting ourselves in harm's way.

    That said, again, none of us are asking for it—anyone who says otherwise needs to reconsider, please.

    (I'm not offering the above as correct, but rather as where I'm at. I welcome being educated further. That said, as too many of us do, I have had dear friends and ex-girlfriends who have been raped, and I take this subject very seriously. It's pretty much the most awful possible thing anyone can do to anyone else).



  3. elephantjournal says:

    I used to live in a dangerous area in Boston, particularly dangerous for women apparently. When we moved in we were advised to walk together if at all possible, not too late, to keep our head up, to take a cab or get a ride if drunk, and to avoid walking with big packages. None of these precautions in any way excused any crime that may have happened.

    We followed those instructions—I lived in an apartment with four or five friends in that neighborhood for 5 years—and none of us, or our friends ever had any incident. That's not to say that said precautions would save us from misfortune—whether mugging, harassment or, I tremble to think, rape—but it is to say that those precautions may have helped and are in any case good sense.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    edit: may have been four years. A long time.

  5. I can see how people may not get the same impression as myself and some other viewers. A friend commented to the link on facebook, and I think it speaks clearly to why this ad bothers me irrevocably:

    "Oi vie, it just drills the point in that in this country we don't teach men not to rape but women not to get raped."

  6. Absolutely! I remember getting lost w/ a friend near Fenway on a sketchy street & feeling so stupid for putting myself in an unfamiliar, unsafe position at night. We were (thankfully) fine, and no problems other than unruly drunks making stupid comments, but it's a horrible feeling. We should all do what we can to be cautious and aware of our surroundings.

    I guess what worries me about the ad is any chance that it perpetuates the idea that if someone is raped while drunk, he or she got what she deserved. This happened to a close (male…not that it should make a difference) friend of mine. Probably why it struck a nerve.

  7. Most good men know this, but I think an ad geared towards men saying if she's too drunk to dance, she's too drunk to say yes (or something similar & more clever) would be a more useful PSA.

  8. YES! An ad geared from the other perspective would be much more appropriate. And "If she's too drunk to dance, she's to drunk to say yes." is perfectly clever!

  9. Or even a young couple standing next to a bed…girl looking intoxicated…saying something like "If she can't stand up, don't ask her to lay down."

  10. allison says:

    This is appalling. Thank you for sharing, I will be contacting them and sharing with others.

  11. Ysandre says:

    You seem to have missed her point entirely, FreeSpirit1981. Go back and re-read her letter, she states pretty explicitly why the ad is inappropriate. Oh hell, I'll just cut and paste:

    "Rape, and sexual assault more generally, are not the results of
    actions controlled by the victim–and that includes the victim’s
    choice whether or not to have a drink that night."

    Do you understand? It doesn't matter whether someone has too much to drink and makes a bad decision. Rape is not the fault of the victim, no matter what the circumstances. If they pass out completely naked and spread-eagled on their front lawn, they STILL are not to blame for being raped.

  12. FreeSpirit1981 says:

    I do get it, and yes I did read it. And what you are stating as fact, is your opinion. As a women I believe that I am personally responsible for ensuring my safety, which means not drinking to black out point. And I believe this message NEEDS to be spread out to young women. To ignore the fact that their actions put them at a disadvantage towards a rapist is like telling a cop to skip the vest.

  13. Jeanette Dunphy says:

    We had a similar ad campaign here in Australia. I thought it was excellent. It drove home the point that we as females, should not leave ourselves open to sexual predation.
    Most young women, as portrayed in this ad, don't have the life experience to be aware of the danger they are putting themselves in when they become very drunk.
    I'm sorry you found the campaign offensive.

  14. jsDunbar says:

    Ysandre Thank you for explaining in a way so others finally get it.

  15. Theresa says:

    This is a great conversation. I am not infuriated by this ad. I have a beautiful daughter. I teach her both sides of this debate. The bottom line, I don’t ever want any woman to have non-consensual sex. So if that means keeping your awareness up, listening to your intuition, not-drinking in excess, taking care of yourself and your friends, so be it.

    Yes, the imagery of this photo is dramatic, eye-catching, and maybe even sexy to some people. Whatever. I’m not into getting offended, it seems like a very American ideal to get infuriated and offended all the time.

    It’s not about BLAME it’s about keeping your own POWER.

    I love that we are so free that we can all have this conversation, when there are so many women in the world who don’t have this freedom. That does offend me.

  16. Theresa says:

    This is a great conversation. I am not infuriated by this ad. I have a beautiful daughter. I teach her both sides of this debate. The bottom line, I don’t ever want any woman to have non-consensual sex. So if that means keeping your awareness up, listening to your intuition, not-drinking in excess, taking care of yourself and your friends, so be it.

    It’s not about BLAME it’s about keeping your own POWER.

    I love that we are so free that we can all have this conversation, when there are so many women in the world who don’t have this freedom. That does offend me.

  17. Fiona says:

    Shouldn’t men be warned too as they also drink and can give off wrong signals by whipping their organs out to pee? Maybe a woman can get wrong message and rape is not about gender so where is an ad also educating men on keeping safe from female or gay predators whilst drinking, surly its the same thing if we’re not blaming women who drink.

  18. What I really have a problem with the fact that it is actually suggestive in the context that there is an element of promoting rape. If you really let yourself "feel" the ad, it's advocating taking advantage of young women. The woman's legs are positioned in an appealing and suggestive manner and the wording basically tells men what they can get away with if a woman has been drinking. My guess is that the ad was created by a group of people who would prefer to see women who consume alcohol get raped as a form of punishment than to actually educate men on boundaries and human rights. Yes, there are lots of people like that in the world. Grrrr. Yep, that one really got to me.

  19. elephantjournal says:

    Debz M: wow – terribly inappropriate and so harmful!

    Leslie K: I emailed last night, think they are prob getting flooded with public responses…

    Sara S: Why do you guys keep posting graphic, sexual, and sometimes violent images? I'm considering un-liking!

    Claudia J ‎@sara i think you are missing the point.

    M Patricia: They'd be better off using "beer-goggling" as an example in this campaign. Rape is never the victim's fault, no matter how much they drink. Choosing to go home with someone you wouldn't otherwise is something moderation or choosing not to drink can prevent.

    Bob: Please forgive me in advance for any blindness I may have… I don't find this offensive but painfully realistic. I went to the website and feel they are doing a service. Sometimes blunt shocking presentations are necessary with young people. Please know I deal with trauma victims in my daily practice and am a first responder therapist to rape and sexual abuse and do not minimize the impact. I feel that sometimes we "Disney-fy" harsh realities and soften the truth. In 67% of unwanted pregnancies at least one partner was drunk… the % at college age is stunning. The site aims at friends watching out for friends. I would hope that some of their media would clearly aim at obnoxious males as well.

    Heather R: I look at this, and I feel conflicted. On one hand, I agree that we cannot allow excuses for rape. It doesn't matter if she's drunk, passed out, high, if she said yes and then changed her mind, or if she's running around buck naked in front of you…. that does not give you the right to take advantage of her. I think most men KNOW this. On the other hand, as women, we also need to take some responsibility for our own saftey. In the same way that you don't play russian roulette and you don't hitchhike and you don't pick a fight with a professional martial arts person…. you don't go out and get drunk. Period. It's NOT safe. While it may not be RIGHT that some guy would take advantage of you, and while it's still RAPE, that's not going to make you feel any better if it happens to you. Rape can be prevented only by rapist stopping…. but we can avoid being an easy target. Just like those ads that talk about how to carry your purse in a crowded mall at the holidays, or locking your car doors…. it doesn't promise you won't be raped, and it doesn't say it's your fault if you are…. it's saying lets make it harder for these people to get away with committing a crime. I think the ad could have been done better, to convey the idea of….. don't make yourself an easy target for some sicko…. but I don't think it's wrong to say, going out and getting drunk with your friends can end up taking you places you don't want to go.

    Leslie K: the message should be "don't RAPE" not "don't live your life b/c rapists are going to keep raping and if it happens to you, you could have prevented it."

    Joe S: it ought to read "she shouldn't have to say no…if you think it's ok to take advantage of her or her condition…your sick…."

    Debra W Yes, in our society we still blame the young woman, or woman for rape. We drank too much, we flirted too much, we dressed too provocatively …. When will we not be blamed for this heinous act, which is not about sex.

  20. elephantjournal says:

    Lezlee M But rape IS going to happen. So is murder. So is bullying. Why are people so against bringing up the obvious in a country where binge drinking is sport????

    Steve D A huge tactical misfire.

    Michelle Anne Wood I'm not from Pennsylvania, I'm from Scotland where getting drunk is a national sport – however – I don't think our educators would stoop so low as to show such an advert in the name of "education". If anything this advert is titillation for would be rapists. Totally offensive and demeaning.

    Debra W Binge drinking is not a cause to, or excuse for rape.

    Tom Frascone Rape is wrong, when it's actually rape (i.e. against one's will), but I think the type of people who get black-out drunk tend to make poor decisions that land them in dangerous situations. They also tend to blame others for their decisions (e.g. someone sleeping with someone else, then claiming it was rape because they don't want to admit it was consensual). The gender is irrelevant, it can happen to females or males.

    I have met girls (and guys) who get black out drunk and do things that they would normally be ashamed of – and I can't tell you how many times I've heard people try to justify whatever happened with excuses like, "Oh, I must have been drugged." It's like, no, sorry, but you had 8 shots of vodka and you weigh 110lbs. What did you think was going to happen?

    People who drink in moderation and associate with trusted friends are obviously less likely to find themselves in dangerous situations, compared to the person who bar-hops and drinks excessively.

    We live in a dangerous world, that's a reality. It doesn't justify someone harming someone else (in any way), but if you swim with sharks…

    Amanda L: Disgusting that people blame women for being raped. Intoxication of not a justification of rape. You won't ever convince me.

  21. Ben says:

    I don't see that it's implicitly or explicity blaming the victim for the assault. I think it does suggest that we have some control over our immediate surroundings and that we should watch out for each other. To me, an analogy would be defensive driving. Encouraging defensive driving is not implicitly encouraging dangerous driving. Instead, it says that you should be wary of drivers that fail to stop or yield, even when they are legally required to. I see the options as "be careful and avoid the collision" versus "collide and be legally right."

  22. Kelly says:

    I myself have been victim to this and for one I kind of feel like I have to state that to be qualified to comment on this thread (which should not be the case). I don’t feel that this is blaming the victim at all… but as was said earlier it informs girls that they can put themselves in vulnerable positions and make bad decisions when drunk – which still never makes it THEIR fault or OK by any means. The fault of an action always resides with the person who committed the crime but what has also been said and is very true is that we do have to take responsibility for the choices we make. Young drinkers SHOULD be reminded that they can make bad decisions when they drink and should all look after each other wether that is to stop them drink driving, crossing the road or going home with a stranger… it is not a bad thing to encourage people to take a bit more responsibility for their safety… and this can be (and I believe has been) done without putting laying the fault on the victim.

  23. elephantjournal says:

    I actually did see an ad recently from George Clooney or someone addressing men about rape…It was a month or two ago…I'll see if I can track it down. But yes more messaging about this would be most welcome.

  24. elephantjournal says:

    Aoife M i find it incredibly offensive. if it was a guy with his boxer shorts down but showing the backs of his legs???

    Lesley W: I don't think the ad should be pulled. Such ads should be profound and shocking. They should be offensive because rape itself is offensive. The very idea should make people so angry that the next time they're out with their friends getting drunk the add will surface in their minds and they'll make smarter choices about how much to drink and about watching out for their friends.

    elephantjournal.com The purpose of the ad is to get people's attention because rape is such a serious and important issue…and because of the discussion people are having about this ad, I'd say it did just that. I also don't think that if this was a picture of a guy with his boxers down people would be saying the same things about it.

    Leah S: I don't think people who are against the ad fully understand it. Or if they simply find it repulsive, well, so is rape.

    Molly Donato I don't have a problem with getting attention. I am sad they implied responsibility for rape on the victim's shoulders, rather than on the rapists where it belongs. Ouch. Is the statistic still one out of every three women that have been raped? Can't blame all that on making poor choices about drinking can we. Rape is a crime. The rapists, not the victims.

    Molly D ‎(I changed the wording of that first sentence mid thought but it still makes sense.)

  25. elephantjournal says:

    Lieschen: I think the ad is powerful. I don't think it is saying it's your fault if you get raped, instead it does a great job of warning you that being drunk and leaving your friends puts you at higher risk of being a victim. Just as you might carry pepper spray on your key chain you should watch your drinks, your surroundings and your friends, something many teenagers often forget.

    Lesley W: Becca, agreed. Our society is to squeamish and permissive of rape and much to afraid to admit that men are rape victims too. I've been raped and I found the add to be very heartening. Maybe it means our culture will finally address the problem with the assertiveness it requires.

    Brandi: it should be directed at men, with a picture of a teenage boy, saying "if a girl is intoxicated or passed out or whatever, don't have sex with her. It is RAPE."

    elephantjournal.com I guess I just don't see how exactly it implies that the rape is the victim's fault. The image is graphic which is fitting because of the topic matter…but it states in the ad that we should make sure we are taking good care of our friends so that they are never in that type of situation-not that rape is the victim's fault.

    Aoife: this is victim blaming-and worse blaming you as the victim's friend. what's next a recommended curfew? if you stay out till 3am you're bound to get violently assaulted?

    Erik D: I cannot believe that Because "I have said no to dating and sex I am 26 year old and going 27 hm my education comes first" "The choice is mine and mine alone It's all in what you or I are willing to Allow!"

    Elizabeth G: too gd bad we have to educate our women on how NOT to get raped instead of educating men what exactly constitutes as rape and that rape is wrong.

    Brandi M i think if we had more ads telling boys not to rape, as opposed to telling girls not to get raped, we would have less rape.

    Mary F: During the 80's I worked in Denver's public hospital. I learned there about male rape. I have a bachelors in social work, worked at a battered women's shelter and know about rape personally. Rapes were just then being taken seriously. The gay guys were basically disregarded as many where selling themselves. Rape is never OK. I hammered into my son that no means no.
    Susi C: I agree with Molly. Don't put the blame on the victim. The ad could still focus on friends' responsibilities – like, stop your friends if you see them preying on women. Certainly it's not gonna be good if you drink enough to pass out…but there is so much blame already involved in rape…what you wear, how you act… Other crimes seem to not have nearly as much victim-blame.
    elephantjournal.com I'm not disagreeing that a lot of the time victims of rape put a lot of blame on themselves, but I don't get that from this particular ad. Probably because the ad is not directed at the victims, it's directed at their friends. In plain English it's saying "Don't let this be your friend. Take care of her (or him)."

    Lesley W: I agree that boys should be educated that it's wrong to rape (keep in mind that women can rape too). I also agree that the focus should always be on the rapist as far as blame goes and the woman should never be made to feel guilty based on the circumstances of her rape. But does that mean we shouldn't teach women how to protect themselves? That's kinda like saying we shouldn't teach women basic self defense because it's the same as blaming her for what might happen to her if she doesn't know how to do a spinning back kick. This add is about empowering women, teaching them to be aware of their surroundings. Should we not teach women how to protect themselves, how to watch out for each other in a dangerous world?

    Also, the ways in which we perceive things like this article are based on our own personal experiences and points of view. One rape victims perceives it as victim blaming, another sees it as empowerment. Take the time to analyze your point of view and ask yourself why you feel the way you do about it.

    Jen Hodge Williams I'm annoyed by the photo image. It contributes nothing, is generic, ridiculous, and somehow dumbs-down an important subject.

    Uma D Friends don't let friends get so smashed that they can't say 'no'. I wish.

    Uma D It should be more like taking the keys away — guiding the friend away from the drinks, and possible rapists. I don't like that there is nothing but a pair of pretty legs, with knickers around the ankles — which is porn-staple photography!

    Ashley P Did

    Odile W where does this ad say anything about blame? maybe the problem isn't with the ad blaming victims but with us (women) feeling GUILTy when we should NOT. I'm not even sure I believe what I'm writing right now but it's worth a thought…

    Cathy R I think this ad is very strong and real and does what it's intended to do.

  26. EmV says:

    I think that it would be less offensive if we actually had ads directed towards men. But almost none are. This puts women in the position of having to control their behaviour while men can do as they please. This goes directly against any feminist ideal. It also gives the impression that rapists are the dark scary stranger when in fact most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows.

  27. Mary says:

    I think it also implies that only pretty young girls get raped – rape is not always an act of sexual need against some young drunk girl, but an act of aggression against any woman, and potentially men as well. It is an act of war, an act of intimidation, an act of control and an act of violence. ALL are at risk – and we must go after the criminal, because we can't just profile the pretty victims.

  28. Mike says:

    Even a child can make good and bad decisions. Educating a child about the dangers of thier choices around certain people does not suggest that if an adult takes advantage of the child it is in any way the childs fault… Same goes for adults who may not know any better. Is it possible that there are girls out there that need to hear this? It may not apply to a lot of girls, but there are some who may not know what this is trying to say. If you get blind drunk 3 times a week, I’d say you just might be increasing your chances statistically of something bad happening. Maybe this isnt appropriate for the masses, but there are people out there who just might benefit from this. Just because this may not apply to you doesnt mean this couldn’t help someone.
    Its not your fault if you get robbed while walking through an inner city housing project while drunk with money hanging out of your pockets, but in the light of day you may see that maybe you could have made safer choices. And perhaps if you do that a few times a week, you might benefit if your friends saw an ad saying maybe they should keep an eye on you, next time you “go for a walk”.
    Criminals are attracted to vulnerable people. Rapists are attracted to vulnerable people. Bad people are attracted to vunerable people. Alcohol makes people vulnerable!…. Not deserving of bad things. Not everyone knows that. You might, but not everyone does.

  29. Krishnabrodhi says:

    @Mike you illustrated so well the point of this ad. Change the crime from rape to getting mugged, getting into a car and driving into a tree, or walking into a ask no questions chapel in Las Vegas and sayin "I do" and you don't have all the bruhahah. But because the lesson that needs to be learned in this ad puts one of the possible causalities as being raped it hits too close to the issue of "victim blaming" women for being raped. I can understand why those that are intoxicated by that emotional reaction to the hint of victim blaming might want this article pulled but I think that reaction to their reaction will result in some individuals not getting some good advice that could help them avoid having a viciously horrible and devastating life experience.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I have been sexually assaulted and this is no way is offensive to me. It's information that people need to protect themselves. That ad may make the teens think twice before having that last drink or going to a party without someone they know.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Men can be raped also, So it's not just male behavior, there are females out there who hurt men and women alike. It goes both ways in the genders.

  32. Lizz429 says:

    This ad seems to be appropriate and a much-needed wake up call for anyone who uses alcohol or drugs: they compromise your ability to control your situation. I was gang-raped as a virgin at 16 only because alcohol poisoning rendered me unconscious. This message is sorely over-due.

  33. integralhack says:

    No, I don't think the advert is blaming the victim at all. In fact, you need to take a wild inferential leap to get to that notion. The advert obviously can't please everyone–and it wasn't intended to. The criticisms here are legion: you shouldn't use pretty girls (I guess the legs imply someone who is too pretty?), men aren't represented, etc.

    Unfortunately, a single advertisement can't be an encyclopedic tome about why rape is bad.

    The truly sad part of this is that this is obviously an attention-getting advertisement that might be an effective tool to protect young women and now it has been pulled due to a hysterical and confused overreaction.

  34. […] the quotes they identified with. The results revealed that overall, more of the men agreed with the rapists, only changing their minds when the source of the quote was […]

  35. JoshMPlant says:

    I'm not wearing a bad guy hat, so do not shoot… please. I did not get infuriated by this ad, I think it pointed out an oft-overlooked aspect of rape (and excessive drinking): when we drink we make poor decisions. It is a poor decision, in and of itself, to drink to the point of being out of control, but that fact is compounded when you meet someone who knows how to manipulate you in this state.
    Sure, they willingly go home with them, sure they willingly get undressed and have sex. But what if they do not remember? Was that act conscious….? No. What if they were so drunk that they just went along with whatever was going on. That is still rape, but there is a level of responsibility on the part of the victim. People (men and women) need to be aware of their drinking, and even more acutely aware of the consequences of total inebriation.
    I am almost positive this was the germ of the ad.

  36. […] of all let me point out that this woman’s mere tone while discussing this sensitive issue was condescending enough for me to have a hard time even listening to her. News flash Liz, no one […]

  37. […] in provocative dress, he’s likely to have a mob of angry commenters after him. If a woman speaks up about rape, we rally behind her. If a man speaks out—it’s often a joke. Women being stalked or victims […]

  38. Phookah says:

    Remind me, as a guy if I get drunk and have sex with some girl in which I didn't want to, can I cry rape about it later because I was drunk? Because that's what this is saying. If you make stupid decisions when drunk, then don't get drunk. Or make sure you're supervised. But don't try to equate a stupid decision to fuck some guy as rape, because it's not. You ruin peoples life with that shit.

  39. Rick says:

    I’m not offended by this ad; in fact, I like it. I see it as a message of personal responsibility. I’m a gay male who was raped by two supposed friends (and just in case anyone wants to blame my gayness on the rape, I was “out-of-the-closet” well before this happened). I got drunk one night because I was upset about a break-up, and these friends took advantage. I don’t blame myself, the blame for such a terrible act rests soley on those two friends. But the fact remains that I made a choice to over-drink, putting myself in harm’s way. Like the ad says, I drank to the point where I couldn’t say no.

    I don’t see the ad as blaming the victim at all – I see it as a reminder that we do have some power in preventing others from doing us harm.