Analysis

5 ads that take on sexual assault and consent

Comments about groping women have made issues of consent and crime reporting front and centre in the U.S. election. CBC Ad Guy Bruce Chambers brings us several recent ads designed to raise awareness of assault and harassment, increase reporting and clarify what constitutes consent.

Sexual assault has become a topic in the U.S. election. Here's how 5 recent ads address the issue

A U.K. ad uses a creation called a Pantosaurus, and a catchy song with lyrics like 'What's in your pants belongs only to you. Your pants cover up your private parts.' (NSPCC/YouTube)

WARNING: This story deals with consent and sexual assault. Videos contain subject matter which may be disturbing.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump's comments about groping women, and accusations against him, have brought issues of consent and sexual assault reporting into the U.S. election.

A number of women have now come forward with their own stories of unwanted advances from the candidate. 

In Canada, not reporting assault at the time of the incident is, sadly, the norm. According to Statistics Canada data, in 2014, only five per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police.

But several recent ads have aimed to raise awareness of assault and harassment, increase reporting and clarify what constitutes consent.

'What's in your pants belongs to you'

In July of this year, the U.K.'s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children put up ads meant to empower children to speak up.

The ad uses a creation called a Pantosaurus, and a catchy song with lyrics like "What's in your pants belongs only to you, your pants cover up your private parts."

The song goes on to say, "Your private parts belong only to you. If someone tries to touch them, tell them 'no'."

The final piece of advice is to tell someone you trust about what happened.

Ontario ad encourages observers to speak up

A 2015 ad from the Government of Ontario encourages passive observers of harassment to speak up.

We see a number of scenes featuring a nightclub, a party, school and the workplace. In each case the person providing the unwanted attention thanks us, the viewer, for not saying anything.

The video has been viewed over seven million times, according to the industry website marketingmag.ca.

'Consent: It's simple as tea'

The Thames Valley Police in Britain decided a cup of tea was the way to provide their message on consent and assault. Their ad says, "Consent: It's simple as tea." 

For those who struggle with the concept of consent, the ad says, just imagine you're making someone a cup of tea.

"Be aware that they might not drink it," the ad says. "And if they don't drink it, then — and this is the important bit — don't make them drink it. Just because you made it doesn't mean you're entitled to watch them drink it."

Video makes point with dancing genitalia

Tea metaphors and indirectness probably wouldn't sit well with a U.S. organization called Project Consent.

Earlier this year, it started running a series of animated ads that are very direct and specific. We see an animated female sex organ dancing with an animated male sex organ. Emboldened by the mutual enjoyment, he touches her, but she protests. He responds with, "My bad."

He backs off and we see the words, "Consent is simple. If it's not yes, it's no." 

Blunt warnings of campus sex assaults

Perhaps the harshest sexual assault message comes from an organization called Don't Accept Rape. In a series of scenes, we see college applicants reading acceptance letters that start out congratulatory. 

But then the letters graphically describe the violent sexual assaults that can happen on campus, and suggest that colleges and universities aren't doing enough to help victims.

At the end, type says, "1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college. If they accept you, don't accept this."

Depending on the target audience, the tone and content of sexual harassment ads can cover a huge range — from lighthearted information to terrifying cautionary tales. 


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio. 

About the Author

Bruce Chambers

Ad Guy

Bruce began his career writing radio commercials for stations in Red Deer, Calgary and Toronto. Then in-house at a national department store, and then ad agencies with campaigns for major national and regional clients. For the past couple of decades, he's been a freelance creative director and copywriter for agencies in Calgary and Victoria. He began his weekly Ad Guy columns on CBC Radio in 2003.