A series of unofficial posters advising readers not to be a rapist has appeared at the University of British Columbia following a string of sexual assaults on campus.
In the last few weeks, an unidentified man — described as Caucasian, between 20 and 30 years old, six feet two inches tall, with a thin build and an American accent — has attacked three female students on campus.
The attacks are now under investigation by the RCMP's Major Crime Unit after the third incident on Saturday night, in which the same man accosted a 17-year-old girl and tried to drag her into a wooded area.
Since the attacks, female students have been issued with safety whistles and given multiple safety tips, such as advice not to walk alone. The Safewalk service escorting students across campus has also been ramped up.
By contrast, the posters — posted anonymously — offer tips to the attacker and to others who would consider such a crime:
- "Don't be a creep! Learn how to manage your sex drive."
- "Make consent part of your approach."
- "Learn how to deal with rejection."
- "Recognize that many women are bombarded with sexual interest."
- "If you slip up, and everyone does, learn how to make amends."
- "Don't be a rapist! Someone walking alone is NOT an invitation for you to rape or assault."
'You gotta be blunt'
The appearance of the posters comes a day after CBC News reported that some students were questioning whether the emphasis placed on female students to change their behaviour implied they were to blame for the assaults.
Some members of the campus community, like Ellen Becker, described the message in the posters as "pretty neat" and said women are frequently blamed for attacks.
Third-year economics student Max Rutherford said he thought the posters were trying to put across an important point.
"I think it's really important that they're putting across the message that anyone who is assaulted, it's not their fault in any way whatsoever," he said.
Psychology student Grace Ocampo said she didn't think the posters would have much effect on the person responsible for the assaults.
"I think women should be aware of what's happening in society and taking precautions," she said. "For a woman to be walking alone on campus right now, she should know she shouldn't be doing that."
Third-year English and visual arts student Elysse Bell wasn't convinced by either side of the argument over whether to focus on women as potential victims or try to stop the potential perpetrators.
'These women had every right to be where they were, at whatever time of night. They should be able to do that safely.' - RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen
"I don't really admire the rhetoric on either side of the discussion. I understand what both sides are trying to say, but I don't know that that's being effected appropriately."
A first-year pharmacy student named Jeff, who declined to give his last name, said the campus isn't as safe as he thought it would be.
"It's really blunt but sometimes you gotta be blunt to get the message across," he said.
"This is a world-renowned campus. It's not acceptable that girls can't feel safe walking around on campus at night."
'State of emergency'
Prof. Mary Bryson of the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice said the posters' direct approach make them a good intervention at a community level.
"Victim blaming … puts the onus of responsibility on women for something over which they have very little control, and it doesn't really address the systemic aspects of sexual assault," said Bryson.
Bryson also said she believes there is a state of emergency at UBC and many people she has spoken to on campus are concerned there doesn't seem to be an organized police initiative.
"No one quite understands why there isn't, say, less giving out of parking tickets and a little more active police work, police presence, on the campus," she said.
'Conversation and dialogue'
Anisa Mottahed, manager of UBC's Sexual Assault Support Centre, says she believes the posters are a way for students to try to reclaim a sense of safety on campus, but it might not be the most effective approach.
"One of the posters says, 'Manage your sex drive'. That negates the fact that sexual assault is not about sex. It never is. It's about power and control. So recognizing that piece is also important.
"Generally we don't give tips," she said. "As a feminist service, we like to look at each individual survivor, or victim in these cases, and have a conversation and a dialogue."
Mottahed said safety tips can take us only so far.
"They've taken us to this point we're at now, where we're still within this rape culture that exists," she said.
"Safety tips can imply a sense of victim-blaming, where individuals are taking responsibility for themselves, when we really need to be speaking to the greater population of people and taking care of one another."
'Make educated decisions'
Meanwhile, RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen said police are pouring a lot of resources into the manhunt and have highly-trained investigators working on the case.
"We're doing everything we possibly can to identify a list of suspects and potentially gather enough evidence to secure an arrest," he said.
"The challenges right now are to instill a level of confidence and quell a high level of fear. Certainly people should be concerned about the incidents that we've advised them of."
Thiessen continued to warn that women should be aware of the incidents and take appropriate steps to "lessen the likelihood of being targeted."
However, he also rejected any idea that the onus of responsibility for such attacks should lie with the women assaulted.
"These women had every right to be where they were, conducting the business they were conducting, or going to wherever they were going, at whatever time of night. They should be able to do that safely," he said.
"If women choose to respond to information [about the incidents] in some way, they can do that. If they choose not to, that's alright too. They just need to have as much information as possible to make educated decisions as regards to their safety."
Tips on any of the incidents are being received through the University RCMP at (604) 224-1322 or through Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.