Missoula groups launch new campaign on affirmative sexual consent

One month after a new state law went into effect changing the definition of consent, an equally new campaign will hit the local airwaves, looking to normalize conversations regarding sexual consent.

Missoula City-County Relationship Violence Services crafted the “Make Consent Explicit” campaign in partnership with a local marketing firm. The program joins the “Make Your Move!” campaign produced last year by a coalition of victim service agencies.

“We’ve been doing sexual violence prevention work in Missoula for the past five years,” said Rebecca Pettit, a founding member of Make Your Move! “We kept hearing over and over from young people and adults that the idea of actually talking about sexual consent prior to sexual activity seemed like a very unsexy legal contract and would ‘kill the mood.’”

In an effort to step beyond that perception, the campaign takes a light-hearted approach to an otherwise serious social topic.

According to Relationship Violence Services, research suggests that people are more likely to engage in tough topics when humor is involved, and when such topics promote healthy behavior. In other words, they believe marketing is more effective when it appeals to an audience’s personal interests – sex being one of them.

“We did marketing research, reviewed existing sexual violence prevention campaigns and the academic literature on consent and sexual assault,” said Brenna Merrill, a prevention specialist with Relationship Violence Services. “We also worked with campuses across Montana to conduct multiple focus groups. The group overhauled the marketing messages several times to ensure they resonated with audiences.”

Make Your Move! previously released a nationally acclaimed marketing campaign promoting bystander intervention. The campaign was reproduced in more than 26 cities across the U.S., along with Spain, Sri Lanka and Canada.

The new Make Consent Explicit campaign includes one movie advertisement, two radio spots and seven posters. It’s scheduled to launch this week before expanding to a number of media channels.

“We think this campaign will help make our community healthier and safer,” said Shantelle Gaynor, the department manager at Relationship Violence Services. “When verbally asking for consent becomes a normal part of sexual intimacy, we think we’ll see a corresponding reduction in sexual violence.”

Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a bill changing the definition of consent to include “words or overt actions indicating a freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.” A lack of consent through such words “or conduct” means there is no consent, the law adds.

“A consent definition that does not solely rely upon the use of physical force is a crucial step in recognizing the reality of sexual violence and in our justice system responding appropriately,” said Robin Turner, the public policy and legal director at Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.