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Penn. Liquor Control Board Pulls Ad Blaming Women For Being Sexually Assaulted

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board recently pulled a controversial advertisement that warned of the dangers of drinking—but some said it crossed a line by threatening women with being sexually assaulted if they drank.

The ad was part of a $600,000 campaign aimed at curbing excessive drinking and features a woman’s bare legs splayed on what appears to be a bathroom floor, her underwear pulled down around her ankles and bold text: “She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no.”

After backlash, the liquor board offered the following reason for pulling the ad campaign:

We feel very strong, and still do, that when we entered the initial discussion about doing a campaign like this it was important to bring the most difficult conversations about over-consumption of alcohol to the forefront and all of the dangers associated with it—date rape being one of these things. That being said, due to the number of concerns that we heard about that specific ad, and the victims especially that we heard from talking about how the image … made them feel victimized all over again, we felt it was prudent to pull it.

Liquor board spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said the organization is not surprised “at all” by the backlash and that, in spite of the protest, the campaign garnered significant attention about the dangers of drinking.

“If we can prevent one person from taking that next drink,” she said, “then we feel this campaign has been an enormous success.”

While alcohol can play a very dangerous role in sexual assault, threatening women with the possibility of being sexually assaulted if they drink is irresponsible victim-blaming. Further, the ad perpetuates the idea that it’s a woman’s responsibility to say no—and if she doesn’t, then what happens next is her fault. A more sensible ad would convey that the burden to ensure consent is on the woman’s sexual partner.

Witalec admitted that the agency had considered an ad targeting men, but ultimately the PCLB decided the ad they chose was more effective.

Siobhan Brooks, an assistant professor of women's studies at Temple University says the ad stems from the a kind of “she was asking for it” mentality: “If you do drink too much, the message normalized is that date rape will be a natural outcome. It reinforces the ideology that rape is natural for heterosexual men to do towards women.”

The ad normalizes sexual assault, treating it as something women should have known better about, instead of as a violent crime.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board ad is particularly egregious and offensive because it’s easier to get away with sexual assault in Pennsylvania than in any other state in the country—it’s the only state in the country that does not allow expert testimony in rape cases. Juries are not allowed to be educated on the behavior of sexual assault victims and assailants from educated specialists.

Instead, they can only rely on testimony of those involved and their often biased ideas about sexual assault—ill-informed biases perpetrated by ads like these that blame women for their own victimization.

Dahlia Grossman-Heinze is a reporter-blogger for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @salvadordahlia.

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