Michael Ford

Awareness campaigns can be beneficial

A controversial poster suggesting some women lie about being raped took too strong of an approach in attempting to deliver its message, alienating a portion of its audience, says Toronto criminal lawyer Marcy Segal.

The Edmonton police service recently launched an advertising campaign called “Don’t Be That Guy,” which advises that sex without consent constitutes sexual assault, the Toronto Star reports.

A group called Men’s Rights Edmonton then started their own campaign called “Don’t Be That Girl,” which suggests some women lie about being raped and that rape is overreported, the article says.

The University of Alberta ordered the posters be taken down, the report continues, noting the men’s rights group says the poster was meant to provoke discussion about false accusations and double standards.

“The police need to communicate to the public that sexual assault is not only a crime, but that it is something the police take seriously, as well as the courts,” says Segal. “Women and men should never feel intimidated by the authorities and should speak out against their abuser.”

Posting awareness posters is an important step toward transparency, says Segal.

“The purpose should include reminding people that they are not alone, and that they should find their strength within, with the help of the community,” she says.

“I query whether in this case, the message was too strong and perhaps a more subtle approach would have communicated the purpose, without alienating a certain group,” says Segal. “It appears that the response was equally too strong, with an undertone of anger and resentment, which in turn perpetuates the problem between an offender who chooses to use his/her power to abuse their partner.”

Segal says a more straightforward approach, like simply reminding the public it is an offence to falsely report, may have been more appropriate.

The Edmonton police say their campaign was meant to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward, the Toronto Star reports, noting police say only about one per cent of sexual assaults they investigate are found to have been fabricated.

Segal calls the police response both “inappropriate and inaccurate.”

Statistics on false reporting are skewed by the presumption by most police that if they report it, it must have occurred, she says.

“To suggest that almost all reports are founded implies the police being a witness to the occurrence. Rarely are there witnesses. Only in some occasions there is physical evidence,” says Segal.

“The remaining instances, which are the majority, boils down to her word against his. Why should hers presume to be accurate? It would be impossible to determine the statistics. Both the police and the court and the public need to be aware that just because it was said doesn’t mean it happened.

“The courts are generally perceptive and right on the money. But there will always be wrongful acquittals and convictions. It is the nature of our flawed system because it relies upon the human factor. It would be naive to believe that most people tell the truth, either because they chose to lie or because they are not self aware.”

Segal says educational campaigns can be beneficial, but must be presented appropriately.

“We live in a society where most people are aware of the law and abuse, whether trite or serious, is not tolerated. That alone assists with the checks and balances required to keep the system fair and balanced,” she says. “Campaigns should be designed to educate the public a fair perception and a just solution.”

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