Sexual assault is much more than just a women’s issue. Survivors of sexual violence can be male or female, straight or gay, young or old. Anyone can be a survivor. We also know that attackers have the ability to fit a range of descriptors. Despite this reality, sexual assault is still often portrayed as something that happens to women by men within heterosexual relationships, making same-sex and transgender sexual assault invisible.
But thanks to a new campaign by a Canadian sexual assault group, that’s starting to change.
The Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE) in Canada has released a campaign that includes print ads against sexual assault that depict a same-sex assault incident. Specifically, the ad shows a man physically resisting another man with the statement “It’s not sex…when he changes his mind. Sex without ongoing consent=sexual assault.”
Why is this ad important? Throughout history there has been an ongoing battle over what qualifies as sexual assault. Women have struggled with their marital status, clothing, and previous sexual history, all of which have been used to determine whether or not they are a victim in the eyes of the law and society. Slowly but surely, legislation is adjusting to accommodate more and more kinds of sexual assault. One area that has lagged behind in legislation is assault between same-sex partners, often causing law enforcement officials to treat these cases differently and sometimes reducing the legitimacy of same-sex survivor voices. With increased awareness and visibility of same-sex sexual assault by advocates and in the general public, law enforcement officials can work alongside activists to create more comprehensive policies and guidelines.
Educational ads also allow victims to self identify and seek help from service providers and law enforcement. If a person is afraid that they won’t be taken seriously by law enforcement or survivor advocates, they won’t seek help if they need it. Therefore, those who are victims of any type of sexual assault that is not within the stereotypical heterosexual framework may be less likely to feel like their attack is validated by society. They may also feel that they might not receive support when reporting their attack to law enforcement or when seeking emotional support.
I hope to see many more sexual assault awareness campaigns that step outside the heterosexual norms. Props to SAVE for their step towards inclusion of same-sex sexual violence in awareness campaigns! It’s about time we educate society and challenge the assumptions about victimization.