07/28/2014 02:01 EDT | Updated 07/28/2014 03:59 EDT

Victim-Shaming TransLink Ad Will Be Changed After Complaints

Anoushka Ratnarajah

A Vancouver public transit ad that was supposed to raise awareness about reporting sex assaults will be changed after several complaints that it shamed victims instead.

The ad, which went up last week, reads: "If it doesn't feel right, then it's wrong. Not reporting sexual assault is the real shame."

It's part of a campaign to encourage victims or witnesses of sexual harassment on trains, buses or transit platforms to report it using TransLink's text message system.

But the Transit Police, which spearheaded the campaign, has received several angry complaints.

"When I saw the ad my initial reaction was shock and anger. Such obvious victim shaming was infuriating and very triggering to see it on my morning commute," Vancouver artist Anoushka Ratnarajah wrote to The Huffington Post B.C. in an email.

"Sending the message that not reporting an assault is worse than the actual assault definitely doesn't inspire faith in the police. There are a lot of reasons survivors don't report assaults and shame is a big one."

Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said it became aware of the concerns on Sunday, including a complaint from a gay man who felt the ad blamed victims.

Ratnarajah pointed out: "One in four women experience sexual assault in their lifetime. And that's only accounting for one gender. I can't imagine how many survivors of sexual violence of all genders ride the bus or the train every day and have to see something so hurtful."

Ratnarajah said she's been stared at, touched and verbally harassed repeatedly on transit, which she uses almost every day.

Drennan said the ads will be taken down over the next three days and replaced with a message that's approved by the Transit Police Chief's Community Council, which includes women's rights groups.

"Our intention was never to put the blame in any way on the victim, but rather to say that we believe it's such a shame that suspects in those sex offences get away with it due to it not being reported. That's the real shame," said Drennan in an interview with HuffPost B.C.

"We completely understand in hindsight where they're coming from," she said. "We apologize to anybody who was offended by the message."

As of April 7, there were 49 reported sexual offences on transit this year. Many incidents are also documented on the blog Harassment on TransLink. But Transit Police suspect more incidents of unwanted advances (from verbal to physical) happen than are reported.

(H/T Ms. Magazine)

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