by Jarrah Hodge
Some friends in a Facebook networking group I’m involved with drew my attention to a new campaign from the BC Centre for Disease Control that tries to promote the HPV vaccine. I was interested because I’ve done a lot of volunteering on cervical cancer screening awareness.
The campaign consists of several shareable images with facts and stats about the vaccine and how you get it (if you are a woman born between 1991 and 1993 in BC) but this one particular graphic (above, left) really got my goat and I dashed off the following email to the BCCDC, who luckily, responded and acted right away:
To Whom it May Concern:
I just came across your graphic with the caption “HPV Doesn’t Care if You Said ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Get Immunized.” and I was both shocked and dismayed. I’m very supportive of raising awareness of HPV and giving people information about preventative measures like the HPV vaccine but I think it showed astoundingly poor taste and overwhelming insensitivity to bring the spectre of rape into your campaign. The message that women should get the HPV vaccine because they might get raped plays into a culture of fear of rape that most women in BC live in today. It contributes to the idea that rape is something that is almost inevitable and that women’s only protection is to modify her own behaviours. Imagine a woman who has been raped and contracted HPV: the message would feel very much like victim-blaming.
The majority of the other graphics you put out as part of the campaign show what I think is a more productive approach: talking to women and empowering them to learn the facts about cervical cancer and take control over their own health. My only other feedback is that I would like to see more links to cervical cancer information for women who fall outside the eligibility for immunization or who already have HPV. The “Don’t Get Cancer” tagline might be catchy but it’s a little simplistic.
I urge you to reconsider the “HPV Doesn’t Care if You Said ‘Yes’ or ‘No'” graphic and to remove it from your campaign.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and consider these issues,
I was relieved when almost immediately I received a reply from a Content Strategist at BCCDC saying: “Sorry you were upset. We were in the process of taking it down just as I got your email.”
So the problem is resolved, but I did want to share with you what happened because it shows that these kinds of ads can get approved without someone cluing in that they contribute to rape culture. It also shows that it’s worth speaking up when things like this come out – and they are far too common.
Thanks to the BCCDC for taking swift action to remedy the situation. It was the right thing to do!