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Merry Christmas, here let me spike your drink

Yesterday afternoon I was on twitter. Ostensibly I was searching for inspiration for a content piece I was writing for the work blog. Social media marketing may sound like a fun topic to write about, and it is, but coming up with fresh angles on a topic it appears every person and their dog is writing about can make life difficult.

While I was putting together the bones of an idea, I came across a tweet from the Washington Post about an advertisement released by American department store Bloomingdale’s and I’ll honestly admit my first thought was “fuck off, that can’t possibly be real.”

Turns out it is real. The image I’m talking about is the featured image of this post and even today I’m struggling to understand the mentality of the creative team behind it.

I just can’t picture how a room full of educated professionals thought that advertisement was a good idea. I found myself wondering whether or not the whole point to it was to create outrage to start a discussion on the dangers of sexual assault, but lets be honest. It’s a department store. Starting a social justice campaign about rape is probably not at the forefront of their thinking.

Perhaps you could put it down to a joke gone bad, but again, I think I’m reading too much into the final outcome. I can’t picture how, in any way, anyone on the team – let alone a consensus – decided that this was a killer promotional campaign.

Although to be fair, it’s definitely killed the concept of Bloomingdale’s in my mind.  As an Australian, Bloomingdale’s is famous for it’s childlike wonderful Christmas window displays. I’ve always had the image of it being a prestige brand. Not a supporter of the idea that spiking your friends eggnog for a bit of unconscious sexual assault is standard holiday season fun.

Recent statistics by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show 83% of the reported sexual assaults in Australia were by women, while the age group 19 and under made up over 60% of all reported sexual assaults in the country. With statistics showing only 1 in 6 people report sexual assaults the actual number of victims is huge.

A 2014 study released in the Lancet medical journal said that 16.4% of women aged 15  or older in Australia and New Zealand had been the victim of sexual assault by someone who wasn’t their partner. These included other family members, friends or strangers. The horrific figure compares to a global average of 7.2%.

As Australia faces a growing trend in the sexual victimisation of both women and men – 1 in 20 men aged 15 or older are victims of sexual assault in Australia according to research released by the Centres Against Sexual Assault – it is obvious that the Governments, both State and Federal need to do more to address the issue.

What sort of message do advertisements like the Bloomingdale’s one convey, about a topic that is about power, not sex. Rape itself is not about the sexual act, but the act of power and dominance over someone. Dehumanising the victim and making them bow to a stronger power.

Whether intentional or accidental, the advertisement from Bloomingdale’s effectively says;

Merry Christmas, hope you sleep through your sexual assault this holiday season.”

Rape is not a laughing matter, it is not a topic for selling the latest piece of high cost fashion or sparkly Christmas bauble. Rape can, and does, destroy lives. It can take years to recover and rebuild yourself, if you can do it all.

Rape lasts longer than the attack itself. A person I know who is the victim of a sexual assault once told me that the rape continues long after the person doing it has finished. It continues as they clean their house, or do the shopping. It’s there when a stranger looks at them, when they’re home alone.

Once the rape is finished it is perceived that the healing begins, and while it may do, the effects of that attack may never finish, no matter how hard a person works on it.

As much as we may wish it differently, there will always be those who prey on the person they think is weak enough to beat. It’s not a gender thing, it’s a power thing. And as long as places like Bloomingdale’s give it even a hint of humour or respectability, or “it’s just one of those things,” the conversation derails.

The Governments of Australia, both State and Federal need to introduce real deterrents, although the fact people need to be deterred from attacking someone is an alien concept to me.

I’ve read a lot of things about “respect begins in the home,” and it’s “up to men to not rape.” And while both those things are absolutely true and I don’t argue against them, I don’t think platitudes or cliches will bring about change.

Men who wouldn’t even dream of raping someone, never will. Those who see it as their right, or their power won’t listen to discussions about respect.

The only way to combat it, and frankly that’s what needs to be done, is to introduce tougher sentences for those found guilty of sexual assault and to create a system of support that doesn’t re-victimise the victim.

In the Washington Post article I came across, Sarah Murnen, a psychology professor at Kenyon College in Ohio is quoted as saying the photo is perfect for a lecture on consent:

“It’s sending the message that it is it okay to have sex with people who are incapable of consent,” she said. “These are decisions that should be made consciously and willingly.”

As an Australian male I fail to see how the concept “No means No,” is hard to grasp. No is a two letter word. It’s not difficult. It means, umm No. It’s not ambiguous, it’s not a grey area. It’s a statement of fact. No.

If you respect the decision of someone who says “no, I don’t feel like Pizza for dinner,” then respecting the decision of someone who says “no, I don’t want to have sex with you,” should be a no brainer.

In a 2014 article on The Drum website, originally published on The Conversation, Dr Kristen Diemer, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne and one of the lead researchers and authors on the National Community Attitudes Survey on Violence Against Women said;

To prevent violence, we need to hold perpetrators of violence to account.


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