A teenage girl goes out to a party, drinks herself silly and has sexual intercourse with a young bloke, in public. Hearing something behind her, she turns around to find that she has an audience. Three party revellers stand by, laughing at the couple. One of them captures the event on digital camera.
This scene is depicted in the Australian Government's recent advertising campaign targeting teenage binge drinking. It is followed by the words: "one in two Australians aged 15-17 who get drunk will do something they regret." The implication is that the young promiscuous woman will regret the drunken incident.
Never mind the fact filming or photographing a person having sex without their consent is a criminal offence. Never mind the fact if that person is below the age of consent then not only is that sexual act considered a crime, but the act of filming it would constitute production of child pornography.
And in 2007, New South Wales introduced laws explicitly stating that if a person of any age is grossly intoxicated (as indicated in the advertisement) then they may not have the capacity to give consent, meaning any ensuing sexual behaviour might be prosecuted as a sexual assault.
Having drunken sex at a party may be a "regrettable" act, but it pales in comparison to the criminal act of unlawfully filming it, particularly if that sexual act involves two intoxicated minors.
This point seems to have been lost on those who created the ad, which sends the message that it is the young woman who has committed the shameful, irresponsible act, not the bloke with the camera. Perhaps if Bill Henson had been the one standing behind the camera, those responsible for vetting the ad would have twigged to the skewed message the ad sends about responsible behaviour.
Instead, the ad shames “loose” women, and utterly fails to reprimand or even comment upon the criminal actions of potential sexual perpetrators. It's hardly appropriate, it's simple slut-bashing.
Legally, there is no difference between a party-goer photographing a drunken girl having public sex, and an elderly pedophile photographing a child performing a sex act in a seedy motel room. Under our law, child pornography isn't just the stuff produced in secret in abandoned warehouses or filthy basements. Perhaps the ad-makers forgot this, perhaps they didn't think of it. Either way, absent mindedness at a Federal Government level is not good enough.
With their own government sending confusing and inconsistent messages about appropriate sexual behaviour, it is little wonder that teenagers these days have such difficulty negotiating the ethical and legal pitfalls associated with new technologies, and with the points at which those technologies intersect with normally private activities like sex.
The problem is not unique to Australia. In America, a recent campaign featured a young woman smoking a marijuana joint. The girl begins to pass out on a couch, and a creepy looking boy comes and slides his hand down her top. She says "no" in a whispered voice, and the scene then fades to black before this slogan appears: "Marijuana lowers your inhibitions".
Got that girls? Instead of telling blokes that sexually assaulting a semi-conscious woman is a crime, the American and Australian governments are pumping millions of dollars into campaigns which tell women who get drunk or stoned that they are asking for trouble. According to feminist author, Jessica Valenti, this is "victim-blaming at its government-funded best".
The other problem with the Australian binge drinking ad is that it presupposes that young women ought to feel shame and regrets over public displays of sexuality. Perhaps for some women, being caught in a compromising position would be deeply humiliating. But the ad reinforces a gross double standard, one that presumes male sexuality is natural, expected and publicly acceptable, while female sexuality is embarrassing, taboo and to be kept private. After all, why is it only the young girl who is depicted as having regrets?
Unfortunately, as moral guardians (and Keepers of the Almighty Hymen), young women are still being shamed, humiliated and punished for exploring their sexuality and partaking in The Sex.
If the government wants to encourage sensible, appropriate behaviour among young people, it might want to first consider the gender sensitivity and ethical appropriateness of its own campaigns.