News | Petition to start “alcohol does not equal consent” campaign

Organizers highlight the need to recognize that rape culture exists

Earlier this spring, a petition was launched demanding that the Quebec government make it mandatory for alcohol bottles to have the slogan “alcohol does not equal consent” written on them, as well as having establishments with alcohol permits to display the same slogan at their bars and restrooms.

While the digital version of the petition has 568 signatures, organizers claim that the total number exceeds a thousand if the paper versions are included. In addition, the petition has been endorsed by Québec solidaire Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Manon Massé.

The deadline for the petition is this Friday, July 24.

According to Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, a social work student at McGill and one of the people behind the petition, the idea is to make the message visible and create awareness about the issue of sexual assault.

Souffrant explained to The Daily that the idea came to her and her three friends at the feminist training camp organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ).

“We were talking about society and all kinds of issues that happen in society. We started talking about sexual assault and we quickly realized that we all knew someone [to whom] it has happened,” Souffrant said.

“We need to discuss the issue and try to show that just because a woman drank alcohol [doesn’t mean] that she deserves to be raped.”

According to Mélanie Lemay, an administrator at the Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (CALACS) Estrie, one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual assault over the course of their lifetime. In addition, three in four cases of sexual assault occur when the survivor has alcohol in their bloodstream.

“[Alcohol is] the real rape drug,” Lemay told The Daily.

“People don’t even see what’s the issue about that. […] Because, basically, alcohol has always been seen as something that allows [people] more easily to have sex, due to all the taboos we have around sexuality. […] It’s really disturbing to see that some people see it only as a means to have sexual encounters.”

“This is why we need to discuss the issue and try to show that just because a woman drank alcohol [doesn’t mean] that she deserves to be raped,” Lemay continued.

The organizers say that most of the reactions to the petition were positive, but there were a few negative ones.

“The bad comments that we had were, for instance, ‘Oh, women want us to be responsible when they’re drinking, it’s their fault if they get assaulted.’ But that’s part of rape culture, also,” stated Souffrant.

“It’s really putting the blame on [survivors] rather than on the person who commits the crime. And also, for instance, I was reading [about] the [Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)], and they were talking about sexual assault that was happening in taxis in Montreal, and they were giving all kinds of recommendations for women,” Souffrant continued.

This is referring to when four women in October 2014 reported to the SPVM that they were sexually assaulted in taxis in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. An SPVM spokesperson warned that women should “limit their alcohol consumption and stay in control.” This response was widely criticized as victim-blaming by many organizations, including the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).

“[Survivors] tend to internalize all these ideas and they feel guilty. It’s the only crime where the [survivor] feels guilty and the aggressor feels innocent,” Souffrant concluded.

“We need, first, to admit that there is a rape culture. This is the biggest test, and most people don’t do it, because it’s hard to believe that actually everything’s made up so that women [are not even the owners of their own body],” Lemay said.

She concluded, “I believe that the petition we’re doing is something that’s helping [fight rape culture]. We’ve received a lot of feedback, either positive or negative. So it’s working. People are talking about it,”