University apologizes for poster after students allege victim-blaming language

Flip the Script poster immediately discontinued after criticism

University apologizes for Flip the Script poster
Supplied by Sarah Smith

The University is apologizing after circulating a poster for a Flip the Script program that students alleged contained victim-blaming language. The poster included a slogan that read, “Girl, you got this. You are capable of resisting sexual violence.”

Developed by Charlene Senn, Canada Research Chair in Sexual Violence, Queen’s University implemented the Flip the Script sexual assault resistance program in 2017 as part of extended research done by Senn. The program is endorsed by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centers.

In an interview, Sarah Smith, a gender studies PhD candidate, told The Journal she was concerned the poster could target women and perpetuate victim-blaming. “Regardless of what the program actually does, what the message is, it’s the same old script,” Smith said.

She said the poster implies it’s a woman’s responsibility to avoid sexual violence. Smith said she thinks the program should be teaching women that experiences of sexual violence are not their fault, but the responsibility of the person who tries to harm them.

However, the poster doesn’t seem to reflect that kind of message, Smith said.

“The biggest worry for us, I think, is that anyone reading that passing by [are] not necessarily going to look into what the program actually does,” she said “I worry that it’s going to reinforce the idea of women needing to take responsibility.”

“A better poster can be developed [that’s] not as individualized and targeted at women,” Smith said. “I think there’s conversation that could be had with the people that run this program.”

In a written statement to The Journal, Barb Lotan, Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Coordinator and campus Flip the Script program trainer, issued an apology.

“We are very sorry for any distress that has been caused,” she stated. “The poster we used was developed by Dr. Senn’s team two years ago based on focus groups with and surveys of women students.”

According to Lotan, poster images and messages were tested based on their ability to capture and convey the values of the program in very few words and to counter the prevailing woman-blaming societal myths about sexual assault.

“The poster that has triggered a negative response was the one favored by a large majority of women students (including survivors) for its empowerment message,” Lotan said.

In response to the negative feedback, Lotan said the use of the poster will be discontinued immediately.


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