The It’s On Us campaign fails: Can PSAs fight sexual violence?

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama interrupted the Grammy Awards to announce a new initiative to end sexual assault and domestic violence and change the culture around it. He announced the It’s On Us program, a place to pledge to stop any potential sexual assault or domestic violence. He then urged the musicians attending the show to get their fans involved.

This was a huge step forward in addressing the rape culture in the US, and the announcement coming in the middle of the Grammys made the message widely viewed. The It’s On Us website features statements about what rape is and what we as a society have an obligation to do. It urges people to take action in bystander situations and even has a video showing a party with a drunken girl, which tells the viewer that they have the power to prevent anything from happening to her. The video is akin to what we were required to watch before attending Macalester. Following the video is a list of tips for action and clarifications about the nature of sexual assault. It is an incredibly progressive move in that it is attempting to give the entire country a sexual assault and consent training.

While I applaud President Obama for addressing this issue head on, I do wonder if this campaign will have the effect that it needs to have. Will it truly change our culture? Or will it simply appease the activists fighting for this cause? In the weeks after the Grammys I have not heard this mentioned once at Macalester. In fact, when it was airing most people in the room I was in were talking over it, not quite getting the message. I have to wonder whether this is the kind of change we need. Yes, we need to change the culture around consent and rape culture. Yes, we need to stop blaming the victims and survivors. But is this the way to do it? What we really need might not be a website where one can take a pledge and watch a video with celebrities supporting the movement.

What we need is not top-down, it’s bottom-up. We need better sexual education, an education that doesn’t simply teach how to stop an assault and stop victim blaming. We need an education that teaches not to rape. We need an overhaul of the culture and the way to do that is not through a pledge by adults who are most likely already aware of the issues and set in their ways.

We don’t need musicians to tell their fans to make the pledge but rather for the musicians to live that pledge through their art. We need music and entertainment that promotes the idea of consent. We need entertainment that teaches the morality of actively speaking out against sexual assault even when the issue does not directly affect you.

I believe President Obama has taken a large step, but is it the right step? This movement was forgotten the moment it began. It has yet to make a dent into the culture. It reiterated what has been said before and probably only reached the ears of those who are already aware of the problem. The message should have been more focused on changing the entertainment industry, especially since it aired during the Grammys, an event full of artists who have unintentionally and unknowingly promote rape culture with their work. It should have told them to promote healthy relationships through their art; it should have focused more on the problematic Hollywood culture. Those celebrities who pledged should have pledged to fight for better storylines and characters that do not perpetuate this same harmful culture.

President Obama should have focused more on the parents in the audience. He should have told them to educate their children to respect boundaries, to teach them the importance of consent, to make them aware of what rape is and why they must not do it. These are the issues that need to be changed. Yes, it is important to address rape culture, but did he address the wrong elements and thereby take away the impact in changing the culture?