April 12 2017
Since 2014, New York City’s Department of Health has paid for a series of subway posters informing straphangers that “Just One More Drink CAN Hurt.” But critics have taken issue with its latest poster, which features a woman passed out on a train with her purse precariously perched beside her, suggesting it is “victim blaming.”
Mic called the ad “a textbook case of victim blaming.” Its hot take continued: “Instead of warning people not to commit assault or thievery, it warns women not to drink so much lest they put themselves at risk of being attacked or robbed.”
The Village Voice noted that other ads in the series depict men—but as instigators of dangerous situations. In the posters, they’re on the verge of starting a fight or running into traffic. But the ad featuring the woman shows her in a passive situation.
“The woman is not at risk because she’s acting violently or thoughtlessly, but because she is vulnerable,” the Village Voice said. “As a woman, I look at this ad and know without hesitation the conclusion it’s meant to elicit. I assume the message is conveyed with equal clarity to men, which is alarming: a public service announcement issued by the Health Department is actively encouraging New Yorkers to view women as helpless victims. Absent her usual armature of wariness, it affirms, this woman is ripe for the taking.”
The Village Voice did, at least, get the city’s side of the story. Police department statistics show that half of subway crimes involved passengers who’d fallen asleep. And a Department of Health spokeswoman said the ad was meant to highlight that “excessive drinking can result in someone passing out and being vulnerable to having valuables taken—and ending up in Coney Island when your stop was at Delancey.” Tough to argue with that.
But such reminders to keep heads on a swivel are unwelcome—because “where do we draw the line” for women, the Village Voice asks. It suggests this ad is actually slippery slope to telling women not to wear tight clothes, either.
Of course, we’re skeptical that any New Yorker is going to cut back on drinking solely on the persuasive merits of a corny city-funded PSA. Then again, we’re also skeptical of the idea that the city or its educators can simply teach people that it’s wrong to commit crimes—we’re pretty sure criminals know that, and choose to do the wrong thing anyway.
Obviously, culpability for a crime always lies with the criminal alone. But exercising caution doesn’t mean the bad guys have won, nor does it shift blame to innocents who failed to mitigate risk. To avoid “victim blaming,” the left insists on portraying a world that doesn’t exist.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.