Singapore’s bizarre anti-groping public service announcement

Lia Grainger
Shine On
January 14, 2013

According to a public service campaign in Singapore, sexual assault can be avoided by “Having someone escort you home when it’s late" and not "walking through secluded areas alone", reports Jezebel.

The ads -- currently gracing the bus shelters of Singapore’s streets --feature a woman’s bottom with a man’s hand reaching out to grab it. The image is accompanied by the ill-advised pun, “Don’t get rubbed the wrong way.” There is also what appears to be an unfortunate pun that potential molesters will receive “Stiff penalties.”

“This ad would not fly in North America,” says Brenda Cossman, the director of University of Toronto’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies.

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Cossman believes this same ad in Canada would receive an immediate social media backlash and the campaign would be pulled.

“It may be that cultural differences mean what won’t wash here, will wash in Singapore.”

At issue is whether this ad is this another unfortunate case of victim blaming? Should the government advertising be framing the problem as the woman’s responsibility to avoid getting harassed? Here in North America, any implication that a woman is to blame for sexual assault causes public uproar.

The birth of the now international Slut Walk was inspired in Toronto, after a police officer’s public remarks that women could avoid assault by "not dressing like sluts" sparked anger and condemnation.

And in the United States, an ad campaign by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was pulled after the public complained it blamed uncaring friends for date rape. The ads insinuated that it is up to a woman’s friends to prevent her from getting drunk and hence vulnerable to assault.

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However, Cossman believes the Singapore ads don’t fall into the same category as the Pennsylvania ads or the comments that inspired the Slut Walk.

“These Singapore ads are more an extension of the ‘blame the victim’ mentality," says Cossman. "They direct attention to what the victim shouldn’t be doing, rather than making the rest of us take responsibility to help or intervene.”

She also finds it problematic that the ads propagate the idea that sexual assault is something that is committed by strangers outside the home, when all too frequently these attacks are committed by someone known to the woman.

“It reinforces the idea that sexual assault is all about stranger rape at night,” says Cossman.

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