I think it all boils down to how you interpret the message. If you think that the poster is saying it's the woman's fault she got raped because she'd been drinking then of course it's offensive.
Part of the problem is the message's ambiguity--it can be interpreted as blaming a victim for her own rape. And, if looked at that way, the NHS message on binge-drinking in that poster is contra to its own message regarding rape and rape victims, which states that only the perpetrator, and not the victim, is to blame for a rape.
That sort of controversy also obscures the purpose of the poster, which is to try to control binge-drinking, not decrease rape, since discussion veers off into rape issues and not the general adverse effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
Since the use of this poster was discontinued in 2007, but it is still being displayed in some locations, I really don't understand why the NHS just doesn't remove those remaining posters since many people are finding them offensive now. What's the point of leaving them up? Why continue to generate controversy that actually detracts from the poster's real intent regarding binge-drinking?
Drinking isn't a problem, binge drinking is. In many towns across the UK on a Friday and Saturday night you can see young people considerably the worse for wear. It's not just sexual assaults that are a problem, violence and drink related illnesses are another consequence, some people are getting cirrhosis of the liver in their late 20s/early 30s.
The same is true in the U.S. Repeated or regular excessive drinking--binge-drinking to the point of intoxication-- is alcohol abuse
. And it is prevalent in the 18-24 year age group, and that alcohol abuse
can carry significant health and functioning risks, and increased risks of injury/harm to self and others, and risk of addiction.
For some reason, too many people want to focus on rape or "drunken sex" rather than the often contributory problem of alcohol abuse
and they regard the binge-drinking in the 18-24 year age group as normal and acceptable. Why is regular reliance on excessive drug use--and alcohol is definitely a drug--considered acceptable or normal? Even if engaged in only on weekends, episodic binge-drinking is still alcohol abuse
and could be regarded as an alcohol abuse disorder. Why are so many young people drinking to get drunk?
Despite the 21 year-old drinking age law, large numbers of young people under 21 are drinking, and often they are drinking heavily.
◾18-20 year olds experienced a 56% increase in binge drinking between 1993 and 2001.
◾More than 90% of all alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is consumed during binge drinking.
◾College students experienced a nearly 10% increase in the rate of drinking to get drunk between 1993 and 2001, which corresponded to an increase in consequences like injuries and assaults, and treatment for alcohol overdose.
These alarming rates have serious and even life-threatening implications for young people and the rest of society
◾Over 1,000 lives of 18-24 year-olds are lost annually to alcohol off the highways, a figure that has been increasing since 1998.
◾Approximately one in six teenagers has experienced ‘black out’ spells where they could not remember what happened the previous evening as a result of heavy alcohol use.
◾Among college students specifically, alcohol annually contributes to some 1,700 deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault.
◾Sixty percent of the deaths that occur as a result of underage drinking happen off the highways.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wrote in their fact sheet titled "Underage Drinking" on report.nih.gov (accessed Oct. 14, 2011):
"Alcohol is the drug of choice among America's adolescents, used by more young people than tobacco or illicit drugs... [T]here are 10.1 million underage drinkers in the United States... 39% of current 8th graders, 58% of 10th graders, 72% of 12th graders, and 85% of college students have tried alcohol.
Particularly worrisome among adolescents is the high prevalence of binge drinking... Underage drinkers consume, on average, 4 to 5 drinks per occasion about 5 times a month. By comparison, drinkers age 26 and older consume 2 to 3 drinks per occasion, about 9 times a month. Underage drinking is a leading contributor to death from injuries, which are the main cause of death for people under age 21. Each year, approximately 5,000 persons under the age of 21 die from causes related to underage drinking. These deaths include about 1,600 homicides and 300 suicides.
Alcohol also plays a significant role in risky sexual behavior and increases the risk of physical and sexual assault. Among college students under age 21, 50,000 experience alcohol-related date rape, and 43,000 are injured by another student who has been drinking."
I would commend the NHS campaign against excessive/binge drinking. It's an important public health measure. But I also think that it is time for that old poster to be taken down, wherever it is still displayed, because right now, it seems to be generating controversy that detracts and distracts from its intended message, which has to do with alcohol abuse, and not the crime of rape, and because it actually contradicts the NHS position on not blaming rape victims for their own assaults.