The past year has seen plenty of encouraging efforts aimed at ending sexual assault once and for all. Activists, filmmakers and even the U.S. government have protested the perpetuation of this violence, and offered solutions ranging from new campus policies to increased education.
Now, the Ontario government is adding an innovative contribution to the growing movement. In a powerful new PSA, "#WhoWillYouHelp," it's targeting the role of bystanders in stopping assault before it happens.
The PSA, released last week, depicts scenarios in which bystanders could potentially intervene to prevent an assault. "Thanks for keeping your mouth shut," one man tells the viewer, the potential intervener, as he aggressively touches a visibly intoxicated woman.
"Thanks for minding your own business," says another man as he massages a female co-worker, clearly against her will.
"Thanks for not telling my girlfriend," says a teen as he looks at a young woman's suggestive photos.
"Thank for not telling anyone," says another after drugging a woman's drink at a bar.
"When you do nothing, you're helping him," the PSA's narrator says. "But when you do something, you help her."
"Thank for telling the bartender," the woman whose drink was contaminated tells the viewer.
"Thanks for stopping him," says the young woman whose photos were compromised.
"Thank for telling H.R.," the harassed employee says.
"Thanks for getting help," the drunk girl says as her friends help her home.
The #WhoWillYouHelp PSA, impressive in itself, is just one part of a recently announced, multi-pronged plan called "It's Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Violence and Harassment." According to the Ontario government, this campaign "outlines concrete steps to help change attitudes, provide more supports for survivors, and make workplaces and campuses safer and more responsive to complaints about sexual violence and harassment." The government will spend an impressive $41 million over the next three years to implement tactics such as a public education campaign, new health and physical education curricula and updated prosecution models and legislation.
"As a woman, ending sexual violence and harassment is a cause I feel strongly about — and as a leader, it is also one I know is right for Ontario," said Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, in a statement. "Our action plan is an affirmation that everyone in this province deserves dignity, equality and respect, and is a clarion call to all Ontarians to help end misogyny so that everyone can live free from sexual violence and harassment."
This particular PSA joins a growing movement to reposition the fight to end sexual assault as something people can be proactive about. Campaigns like the United States' "It's On Us" and the United Nations' HeForShe focus on preventing assault through education and holding men (who are the overwhelming majority of perpetrators) accountable, rather than asking survivors to seek retroactive justice. Many young men have also recently started their own organizations that target their role in combatting these issues.
But few campaigns, even those led by and/or for men, have specifically targeted bystander intervention, defined by the New York State Department of Health as "the act of feeling empowered and equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively assist in the prevention of sexual violence." Activists have championed the tactic for years, which could have a tangible effect on curbing assault. Better bystander intervention could have been mobilized in the recent case of sexual assault at Vanderbilt University, for example, in which bystanders reported seeing the unconscious survivor carried through the dorm's hallway, but allegedly did not intervene.
It's crucial to recognize, however, that while bystander intervention is important, sexual assault ultimately occurs when a perpetrator violates consent, and any efforts made to address sexual assault must address this violation directly. Furthermore, sexual assault is a complex phenomenon with myriad causes and effects; no single tactic, let alone single PSA, will solve the problem on its own.
It's still encouraging to see such an innovative approach incorporated into a well-funded, seemingly committed plan implemented by governmental officials. Hopefully, other governments will follow in Ontario's footsteps and seriously address how they can put an end to sexual assault.
h/t HuffPost Canada
Correction: March 12, 2015: An earlier version of this article misattributed a statement regarding the PSA to the Canadian government. The Ontario government released the statement, not the Canadian.