A New Weapon Against Sexual Violence

As a recent graduate, when I look back at my years in university, I realize how much messaging I received around sexual violence – as a student, as a male, and as a residence don. This is an extremely important topic that many of us have experienced or know someone who has. The term “sexual violence” includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, street harassment, relationship violence, child sexual abuse, and stalking (ConsentEd, 2015). Here are some quick stats about sexual violence:

  • Sexual violence affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men (Government of Ontario, 2016)
  • 60% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 17 (Sex Assault.ca, 2014)
  • 6 out of every 100 incidents of sexual assault are reported to police (Sex Assault.ca, 2014)

When we think of social marketing, some of the most common campaigns that come to mind are likely smoking, healthy eating, and being green. However, lots of social marketing is being done around sexual violence too. In this post, I will look at a few sexual violence campaigns and analyze the techniques they used to be effective.

It’s On Us

Today’s largest sexual violence campaign is It’s On Us. If you were watching the Oscars this year (congrats Leo), you may have seen Vice President Joe Biden promoting it during the show. The campaign was launched by President Barack Obama on September 19, 2014 to end sexual assault on college campuses (Somanader, 2014). Here is one of its videos:

This video has a very serious and powerful tone, I almost have goosebumps. The most influential aspect of It’s On Us are the numerous celebrities it uses as endorsements. This includes Zoe Saldana, Joel McHale, and Randy Jackson, to name a few. In addition, many major companies and organizations support It’s On Us including Microsoft, Viacom, and Snapchat. This follows the third rule of social marketing, “Check out the Trend Setters.” By using influential people and organizations, the campaign itself is able to draw greater attention, credibility, and impact.

Ontario Sexual Violence Campaigns

Under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne, the Province of Ontario has been quite progressive in its stance on sexual violence. For example, in 2015, the province revamped it’s sex education curriculum, which hadn’t been previously updated since 1998 (Government of Ontario, 2016). The curriculum includes sections which focus on sexual violence.

In terms of social marketing, there are two commercials the Government of Ontario has run to raise awareness around sexual violence:





The province also funds Draw the Line, which is run by the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres. This campaign uses posters to get it’s message across. Here are a few examples:

(Source: http://www.draw-the-line.ca/resources/index.html)


The common strategy used by the two commercials and these posters is relatability. They put the viewer in a real world scenario with the intention of causing them to contemplate how they would react. Each scenario is quite bone chilling and personally, I find it scary when I think about whether or not I would have the courage to do the right thing. Many of these scenarios at work, school, or the bar can seem quite commonplace, but these campaigns do a good job of distinguishing ordinary situations from actual cases of sexual violence. Although It’s On Us has more star power and reach, I think that the Ontario campaigns do a better job educating people on what sexual violence actually is.

A Common Goal

These are just a few of the many sexual violence campaigns out there. It is important to note that sexual violence cases are most common in universities and colleges. Thus, many post-secondary institutions run their own sexual violence campaigns.

Although sexual violence campaigns may use different techniques to try and engage their audiences as shown in the examples above, all of them are trying to change the social norm around sexual violence. Behaviour change and altering social norms are fundamental goals of social marketing.

Despite the fact that sexual violence is obviously wrong in any form, there are still many parts of society which normalize it (Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre, 2015). Comments some people make like, “I just got raped by that test” or “She was dressed slutty so she was asking for it” are examples of this. Sexual violence campaigns may not completely eradicate the problem, but they are definitely a step in the right direction and are an impressive example of using social marketing to change people’s behaviour. By establishing a social norm where sexual violence is NOT okay in today’s society, people are more likely to understand what sexual violence is and be better equipped to prevent it.

Kris Kolenc

Kris Kolenc just graduated from the Environment & Business Program at the University of Waterloo. Besides sustainability, he is interested in mental health and sex education. He is currently working as a Community Coordinator in a University of Waterloo residence.

Find him on LinkedIn.


Photo Credit: Tanakawho


ConsentEd. (2015). ConsentEd. Retrieved July 21, 2016 from http://www.consented.ca/

Government of Ontario. (2015). Let’s stop sexual harassment and violence. Retrieved July 21, 2016 from https://www.ontario.ca/page/lets-stop-sexual-harassment-violence

Government of Ontario. (2016). Sex education in Ontario. Retrieved July 21, 2016 from https://www.ontario.ca/page/sex-education-ontario

SexAssault.ca. (2014). Sexual assault in Canada. Retrieved December 7, 2015 from

Somanader, T. (2014, September 19). President Obama launches the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on campus. The White House. Retrieved July 21, 2016 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/09/19/president-obama-launches-its-us-campaign-end-sexual-assault-campus

Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre. (2015). What is rape culture?
Retrieved July 21, 2016 from http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/



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