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Why the NUS is right to criticise the Know Your Limits campaign

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An online petition is gaining thousands of signatures after calling for an 'appalling and victim-blaming' NHS campaign poster to be removed from Home Office website.

The poster, which originally ran in 2006 and has been online for eight years, was part of the ‘Know Your Limits’ campaign and suggested that one in three cases of rape happen when the victim has been drinking. The poster is still available online, and has been spotted on the walls of many NHS hospitals and clinics.

The continued presence of this campaign has led to the launch of a petition addressed to Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and has garnered over 18,000 signatures since it was set up five days ago.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with warning someone of the potential dangers they may face if they get drunk, just as it is right to warn someone to place a lock on their bike if thieves operate in the local area. However, this poster has been poorly executed and skirts very close to the victim blaming line.

But this issue is to do with more than just  a poster from eight years ago. It is about what it represents. The NUS is active in promoting women’s rights and gender equality. This poster isn’t the worst example of victim shaming by any means, but the fact that such a public organisation is making a stand shows a shift in attitudes towards rape and victims of rape.

NUS connect published a statement on its website on  Wednesday that read: "NUS believes it is absolutely unacceptable to target a campaign aiming to reduce levels of rape at potential victims. Whilst it is important that individuals are aware of their own personal safety, they should never be led to believe they are responsible for rape or any kind of sexual assault that they may fall victim to.

"Whilst we support efforts from the NHS and the Home Office to tackle high levels of alcohol consumption, it is clear that this poster campaign completely fails in getting it message across and contributes to a culture that blames victims of rape for something that wasn’t their fault. 100% of rapes happen when someone decides to rape another person and the only way to stop rape is to stop rapists."

We must give the benefit of the doubt to the NHS. It’s safe to assume they wanted to warn people of the dangers of getting drunk, and to keep your wits about you as there are dangerous people out there, which isn’t bad advice. However, that isn’t what they have produced or achieved. The poster in question doesn’t say anything useful; it’s just relying on the implication of the statement, which could easily be misinterpreted as meaning that the victim’s drinking was the cause of her rape - which of course it wasn’t. 

The debate about women, drinking and rape has long been going on, with many people arguing that women should not become drunk as it can lead to rape and that women should conduct their lives in a manner in which would decrease the likelihood of a sexual assault, with USA Today calling alcohol the “number one date rape drug.”

All that is clear from these assessments is that many media outlets and many health professionals are coming dangerously close to blaming the victim for their own attack. It also showcases how far we have yet to go with regards to the inextricable link between misogyny, power and rape culture.

If we want to help protect women and men from sexual assault, we need to rid society of misogyny and move against the source of the problem, not the victim.

Sign the petition here.  

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