Does a poster that offers women tips for avoiding sexual assault—tips such as “Do not accept drinks from anyone you don’t know”—assign blame to the wrong people, or is it an effective piece of a broader awareness campaign?
That’s a debate rippling through Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Late last month, Jennifer Stephens, a battery commander in the Ohio National Guard, brought attention to the poster
, saying it contributed to victims’ feeling that they were at fault for being assaulted.
Stephens said such attitudes contribute to the phenomenon of sexual assaults in the military going unreported.
The poster states, in bold text across the top, “Preventing sexual assault is everyone’s duty.”
Col. Cassie Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at the base, is stepping up to defend the poster
. She said the poster is part of a four-prong approach to sexual assault response that includes investigating cases, prevention, survivor support, and reinforcing a culture of respect.
“If this saves one or two people who were never told by their parents when they left home that people can put drugs in their drink—there are people out there who don’t know that,” Col. Barlow told Business Inside
r. “So if this saves one or two people from being assaulted or being a victim of a crime, then we succeed."
The article did not cite other posters or specific elements of the overall campaign.
Anu Bhagwati, the executive director and co-founder of the Service Women's Action Network, called Barlow’s response “classic commanding officer hogwash,” and said that messages like the one in the “everyone’s duty” poster are “incredibly ineffective.” All they do is make victims feel shame, she said.
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Stephens was a tad more diplomatic in her reply to Barlow’s defense of the poster:
Barlow said the base has no plans to change the poster. The Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office approved it and supports it, she said.