Colleges are a place that young people go to grow, learn and experience life with the freedom that no other chapters in their lives will allow. But increasingly, colleges are becoming a hub for sexual violence, where assault cases are underreported and underestimated, and its survivors left dealing with the scars of sexual violence with meager support, if at all.
In an unsettling series of advertisements released during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, the staggering realities of campus sexual assault is juxtaposed against the unbridled joy of students opening their college acceptance letters.
Created by advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P) and production company PRETTYBIRD, the ads mirror the ecstatic homemade reaction videos on Youtube of teenagers receiving their acceptance letters.
"Prepare for a challenging year ahead..." one overwhelmed young woman reads, "which includes losing your virginity to a rapist."
The dark twist comes without warning, and the teens read them out loud with the same breathless excitement that is meant to highlight the disregard with which many colleges handle sexual assault cases on their campuses.
"As the excited new student begins to read their letter aloud, woven into the copy are the truths behind each of the colleges that have been exposed," Meredith Vellines of GS&P told A Plus.
The campaign includes print ads in Harvard Crimson and USA Today, as well as a partnership with the Ultraviolet encouraging students to share their stories on social media under the hashtag #DontAcceptRape.
"The first six weeks of college is the period when freshmen have the highest likelihood of being raped. So we timed our campaign to raise awareness at the earliest point when college becomes a reality—the time when incoming freshmen receive their acceptance letters," executive creative director at GS&P Margaret Johnson told A Plus. "The cover-ups are just as unacceptable as the attacks, and the campaign aims to hold these colleges accountable."
The sexual assault epidemic on college campuses has sparked an ongoing discussion over how higher institutions across the country deal with sexual violence. Many survivors have spoken up about the dismissive and often indifferent attitudes they encountered while reporting their assaults and trying to hold perpetrators accountable.
Today, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted on campus.
Johnson noted that inspiration for the campaign came from The Hunting Ground, the documentary about campus sexual assault whose soundtrack featured Lady Gaga's 'Til It Happens To You track.
"One point of the campaign is to make students aware of the environment they are walking into, but another is to bring parents and alumni into the conversation," Vellines added. "They hold the purse strings and intimately have the biggest say in how the schools treat their kids."