Edmonton anti-rape parody posters called appalling and offensive

Posters went up in Edmonton that mimic the well-known "Don't be that guy" anti-sexual assault campaign. (CBC)

At first it looked like an irreverent poke at campaign to educate young men about sexual assault, but it turns out the creators of posters parodying the campaign's central theme had a message of their own to deliver.

The "Don't Be That Guy" campaign was launched several years ago with the message that vulnerable women — drunk, stoned, passed out — are not legitimate targets for sex.

It features a number of hard-hitting posters essentially telling men that they're responsible for their behaviour, and a woman who's had too much to drink should not suddenly treated like a target of opportunity. She's in no condition to consent to sex.

The campaign, supported by a coalition of women's groups and local police, who have credited it with reducing sexual assaults by 10 per cent in Vancouver in 2011, according to a Globe and Mail story last year.

[ Related: Canadian Forces survey asks troops to shed light on sexual assault, harassment ]

But now the program has been hit with a backlash in Edmonton, where it began.

The Edmonton Journal reports posters parodying those of the campaign have started showing up on the University of Alberta campus.

One original poster shows a young woman at a party holding a martini glass above the message "Just because she's drinking doesn't mean she wants sex. Sex without consent = sexual assault."

The faux poster uses the identical picture with this message: "Just because you regret a one-night stand doesn't mean it wasn't consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime."

The Journal said another poster labelled "Don't Be That Girl," takes the campaign message "Just because she's drunk doesn't mean she wants to f**k," and reworks it as "Just you regret your life choices, doesn't mean it's rape."

Another one rips off the campaign's poster message, "Just because you help her home ... doesn't mean you get to help yourself." The parody says "Just because she's easy doesn't mean you shouldn't fear false criminal accusations."

You're probably starting to get the message here.

The University of Alberta professor who helped develop the campaign told the Journal she's troubled by the parodies.

"What’s been done to transform an anti-sexual-assault campaign into a rape-apologist campaign is just deeply offensive," said Lise Gotell, who chairs the university's department of women's and gender studies.

The posters foster the view that women who regret sexual encounters file false reports of sexual assault. In fact, she said, Canada has a low rate of reporting sexual assault and the conviction rate for those that are reported is low.

“What these posters are going to do, when people see them, is play into this myth that there’s a huge problem with false allegations, which we know empirically is wrong," Gotell told the Journal.

"They may in fact discourage people from reporting, because the research also shows that women are very likely to minimize their experiences of sexual assault.”

CBC News reported late Tuesday that a group called Men's Rights Edmonton was claiming responsibility for the parody posters. There was no evidence of that on the group's web site Wednesday.

The coalition that launched the campaign in 2010 plans to meet next week to decide how to respond to the unauthorized posters, Gotell told the Journal.

“My position is that this demands some kind of a legal response. There are clear intellectual property issues,” Gotell said. “When someone has manipulated our images to disseminate such an offensive message, of course, we should respond to this in a very clear way.”

But National Post columnist Robyn Urback said there's something to the parody posters' message.

"It’s shocking, all right," she wrote Wednesday. "And arguably provocative to a fault.

"After all, Men’s Rights Edmonton could have made the same point without making a parody of an existing anti-rape campaign, a move that will rub salt in the wounds of those already sensitive to the issue.

"But despite the tactless presentation, the message remains fair: Sometimes, women falsely accuse men of rape."

[ Related: One in five Canadians think a woman encourages sexual assault when she is drunk ]

Urback said statistics show that between two and four per cent of sexual-assault reports are false, in line with false accusations for other crimes.

"Granted, two per cent may seem like a paltry figure compared to the number of legitimate claims [and the majority that are left unreported], but to those falsely accused, it is no insignificant matter," Urback wrote.

Women's groups reject the idea of questioning a sexual-assault allegation as "victim-blaming," she said.

"The mere question of the legitimacy of a claim, in other words, is illegitimate," Urback contended.

"Indeed, sometimes women do, in fact, allege assault when no actual crime has been committed. The new posters in Edmonton [however crudely] remind us of that."