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It's On Us... To Do What?

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My take on the It's On Us campaign, including SB Nation's involvement in it.

@dz/Vox Media

Trigger warning: This article discusses the topic of sexual assault.

You may have noticed recently that the Silver Seven Sens logo disappeared on the home page, instead replaced with the words "It's On Us". If you're anything like me, you probably hovered your cursor over it to see what it was all about. And you were likely disappointed when the link was simply the S7S homepage. Then, if you're anything like me, you stopped paying further attention, and went about your day.

This is the first problem I have with SB Nation's approach to this campaign. There is no explanation, nowhere to click to find out more. It's simply a slogan, and especially for readers not on an American college campus, the words have no meaning. "It's on us" could be applied to many, many things. On this site, this is the second article that looks at the campaign. Some sites may choose not to address the topic at all, and that's their choice. But the idea that SB Nation would go out of their way to put the slogan on all their sites and then not even leave a single link to an explanation just feels wrong to me. They are being very public about supporting a campaign that they are making needlessly difficult for people to find information about. (If you're interested, here's the SB Nation intro page.)

It's On Us is an American campaign designed to spread awareness about sexual assault. The homepage slogan is "It's on us to stop sexual assault". They also make claims like "It's on us to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported". A very true claim, that's kind of saddening that it even needs to be made.

The bigger problem I have is that if you scan SB Nation, you'll find that 'It's on us' isn't really a value you'll find reflected here. The video talks about how it's on us to avoid non-inclusive language. I have been shocked many times going to other blogs, only to discover some of the offensive language used in the articles, never mind the comments. I'd like to think that S7S fosters a community for Sens fans that is inclusive to all. I know that hasn't always been the case in online sports, and definitely still isn't. I don't see how SB Nation can proclaim that "It's on us" when there is no policing of blogs. I can't help but think that it cheapens the campaign a lot if the "It's on us" banner flies over an article with sexist language.

I also have some issues with the slogan itself. I agree that it is important to contribute to an environment in which sexual assault is taken seriously. A quick scan of the stats will tell you that. It is estimated that every 17 minutes in Canada, a rape occurs. Only about 1% of all Canadian date rapes are reported to the police. People expect to be ignored, even though the rate of fake sexual assault reporting is only approximately 2% according to the US Justice Department. This is in line with other claims of violent crime, but people don't doubt other victims nearly as much.

The problem I have is that a lot of it is not on us. At least not as a collective. It is on individuals to not commit sexual assault, just like any other crime. Probably my favourite anti-rape poster ever is shown here below:

The burden of any crime is not on the victim, and the "It's On Us" campaign nails that. It's also not on the bystanders, and this project misses that point completely. If you see a sexual assault underway, you probably shouldn't act like nothing's going on. Calling the police, for example, might be a helpful choice. But if you weren't there to intervene, it's not on you. It's on the criminal. And even if you are there to intervene, the perpetrator has still committed a crime.

The big problem I have with something like this is that it seems to simplify the issue: "Take a stand and become a hero by saying it's on you." That doesn't make you a hero, it makes you a decent human being. Saying that people have a right to a life without sexual assault isn't noble, it's the bare minimum. The SB Nation intro article talks about how this is an issue that affects men too, since one out of every sixteen American college men are sexually assaulted. I'd counter by saying that it's an issue that affects men because it affects people. If as a man, you need men to be sexually assaulted to care that people are sexually assaulted, you should question yourself.

I am a white, cis, non-gender-fluid, middle-class male. I recognize that I come with a lot of natural privileges. I can write about sports, and nobody questions me the way women or racial minorities get questioned or mocked or threatened or worse. The fact that a female sportscaster gets even one rape threat in her lifetime sickens me. I think it should sicken everybody. The fact that it's near commonplace should be enough to convince everyone that the culture we live in needs to change.

This isn't to say there isn't benefit in "It's On Us". My hope is that a few people reading a sports blog somewhere stumble upon the campaign, listen to some messages, and then realize how much things need to change. I just think that the discussion needs to go much further than it will if this campaign is taken at face value.

It's on us to stop sexual assault by not committing it. It's on us to create a more inclusive environment. And it's on us to further the dialogue when someone's attempt to raise awareness about sexual assault falls short.