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Relationships Sexual harassment and violence prevention PSAs that jolt

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Sexual harassment and violence prevention PSAs that jolt

When it comes to changing perceptions around sexual harassment and violence, we are inching along, but public education campaigns are now on the front lines of prevention

Some 58 per cent of Ontarians now strongly agree that they have a duty to intervene when they witness sexual harassment, up from just 37 per cent before the province aired a powerful PSA in March called #WhoWillYouHelp.

The bystander campaign reached more than 85 million people worldwide and an Ipsos Reid survey conducted before and after the ad aired showed a significant shift in attitudes, with 21 per cent more respondents now more willing to intervene.

But the survey also revealed that some troubling attitudes persist: Three in 10 Ontarians don't always believe that sex with another person who is severely intoxicated and passing out constitutes sexual assault. And some 37 per cent of Ontarians age 18 to 29 agreed with the statement, "men don't usually intend to force sex on a woman, but sometimes they get too sexually carried away" (that's down from 44 per cent before the ads aired).

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When it comes to changing perceptions around sexual harassment and violence, we are inching along, but public education campaigns are now on the front lines of prevention. At last week's 2015 Summit on Sexual Violence and Harassment, which brought together advocates and academics in Toronto, Premier Kathleen Wynne launched the province's next ad to combat discrimination, workplace harassment and sexual assault. Under the hashtag #ItsNeverOkay, the ad shows a man about to grope someone on a crowded bus, another sexually harassing an employee and a third who puts his car in park, turns to his date and announces, "It's that part of the night where you repay me for dinner."

Aside from # ItsNeverOkay, last week's summit featured several prominent public education campaigns from Canada and around the world that target both students and the public at large. Here, a sampling of the PSAs that jolt:

Julie Lalonde, Ottawa-based co-ordinator for the Draw the Line bystander intervention campaign said she wants to talk to the public about sexual violence "in a way that would be engaging and would provoke discussion – rather than what our sector has traditionally done which is, 'I'm going to depress the living hell out of you with some stats and hope that makes you want to care.' That didn't work, so let's do better."

For her and other advocates, that means offering people tangible methods of intervening in real time. This PSA from the organization documents the toxic effects of workplace sexual harassment: "I love my job but it makes me not want to be here at all," one woman says. It explores the self-blame victims go through and the reasons that people don't step up for their colleagues – and why they should.


The Traçons-les-limites campaign, www.tracons-les-limites.ca Draw the Line's Francophone counterpart, aired this powerful PSA for students on cyberbullying. It shows the profound harm in disseminating explicit photos and videos of sexual partners at school, illustrating how easily friends can deter their friends from hitting send.

From the United States came the high profile " It's On Us" campaign, a White House initiative to fight sexual assault on college campuses and change the culture around sexual violence. The campaign's latest PSA launched in September and featured celebrities like Zoe Saldana and Haim defining consent: "There's one thing you can never have sex without. It's not something you buy, or something you take. …It has to be given to you, freely," they explain.

Earlier this month, It's On Us teamed up with comedy website College Humor for a PSA called "Bear Assault." The spot – which somehow manages to tackle this heavy subject with levity – features five bros watching football as a bear claws its way through a door. The men are terrified but the guy who owns the house remains unfazed: "Oh, that's just a big, angry, hungry bear. Just pretend it's not there," he tells his guests, explaining that the bear will only maim one of them. The ad asked viewers what they would do if a bear killed one in five people, the number of women reportedly sexually assaulted by the time they graduate college.

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From New Zealand came a powerful eight-minute film from the Who Are You? bystander campaign. The film shows a perpetrator isolating his severely drunk victim at a party, later raping her. The ad then runs backward to show how many people – the girl's friend, the bartender, others at the bar and her roommate – could have stepped in at various points in the evening to intercept the attacker, early.

The short film is part of toolkit used by New Zealand educators and the country's hospitality industry, which is training bar staff with it. The ad illustrates the small choices and steps that bystanders can take to help those in trouble, like not serving alcohol to a man foisting it on a young woman who can barely stand, and not letting your friend leave the bar with a stranger when she's in blackout-mode.

What many of these new campaigns have in common is that they go beyond traditional awareness raising.

"We actually don't talk about raising awareness any more because we felt like that was too passive," Sheryl Hann, lead adviser, Quality Programmes and Practice with New Zealand's Ministry of Social Development, told the summit.

"We've been thinking hard about what needs to happen in a community to create change. What gets people mobilized? …We think the magic ingredients are urgency, empathy and knowing what to do. …We found that a lot of people didn't know what to do. They didn't feel they had permission to take any action."

From the campaign website's comes this definition of what an "ethical bystander" does: "Being an ethical bystander is all about doing little things, long before we get to the point of harm. Sexual violence can have an enormous impact on people's lives – not just the victims, but their families, partners and friends. This project asks us to consider 'Who am I' and what would I do?"

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