I first heard the radio advert at 11pm at night, driving home from a dinner in Joburg. The roads are eerily quiet and wet with rain. Although I do not drink, as a woman driving alone, I take every back road I know to avoid another terrifying interaction with the Metro Police. At every red traffic light, my breathing quickens as I check obsessively around me for a dark silhouette and the rapid smashing of a brick through my window. I am no more paranoid than the average woman, I have just learnt from experience.
The advert plays in between frantic dance mixes on 5fm. Its intention is a noble one: shock drunk drivers into realising the consequences of their actions while they are driving on a night out. The horrific accidents and rising death toll on the roads are evidence that we need less of them on the roads. Somehow, we need to get them to listen.
However, my issue is the content. There are two versions of the radio ad: one for men and one for women. In the men’s advert, a scenario is played out where a man drinks too much, gets pulled over, arrested and driven to jail by the cops. This is a chilling consequence for any gender.
The women’s advert uses a different tactic. In this scenario, the drunken woman crashes he car and is picked up by a tow truck driver. The woman asks the driver how much she needs to pay him. He replies that he doesn’t want money, but has another idea.
If we look at the adverts side by side, what this campaign is suggesting is that the consequence for a man drinking is prison, and for a woman, it’s sexual assault.
Now I know drinking and driving is wrong, and I am aware that being drunk makes you more vulnerable. But surely, in today’s current environment of sexual violence in South Africa, we as women do not need another rape threat?
The suggestion in this advert is that if a man drinks and drives, he ‘pays’ by going to prison. However, if a woman drinks and drives, she ‘pays’ by being sexually assaulted. This reinforces the toxic notion in our society that if a woman has been drinking and is a victim of sexual violence she is complicit in some way.
I have come across countless women in my peer group who have not reported sexual violence because they were drinking at the time or perhaps even agreed to some form of physical contact with their attacker. When things went too far and their cries of ‘no’ went unheard, they felt they had no right to even mention what happened. They took it on as their own fault.
The Australian Transport Accident Commission ran a now world-famous advert which shows the horrifying consequences of drinking and driving. These consequences included death, disfigurement and the tragedy of watching how families can be torn apart in a matter of seconds. This is shocking enough. In a country where women already live in a state of fear, where rape and violence is a daily threat, there is no need for it to be waved in our faces as a consequence of our poor decisions. Sexual violence is a sickness that rests solely on the man taking advantage of a situation in which a woman is vulnerable. It is not a slap on the wrist for drinking and driving.