NHS rape poster
Over 65,000 people have signed a petition calling for the removal of the posterNHS

Over 65,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to ban a British alcohol awareness poster that shifts the blame on to rape victims if they drink too much.

The Home Office-sponsored poster, which features the image of a distraught rape victim, claims "one in three reported rapes happen when the victim has been drinking".

The campaign, which has been running since 2006 as part of the NHS's "Know Your Limits" campaign, is designed to crackdown on binge-drinking. But instead, the focus is firmly on rape - and specifically, shifting the blame on to the victim.

There is no doubt that the poster, which has appeared in surgeries and clinics across the UK, sends out a harmful message about sexual assault.

It implies that had the victims of the reported rapes not been drunk, they would not have been attacked - a false argument that switches the blame on to the victim, along the same lines as the argument that dressing provocatively is "asking" to be raped.

Ironically, the poster goes directly against the NHS's own guidelines on seeking help for sexual assault. "If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn't your fault," it states.

"It doesn't matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator."

This poster, however, suggests otherwise. Yet the NHS has refused to apologise for it and "doesn't see what the problem is".

While shocking, this view is hardly unusual. Last year, figures released from the Office of National Statistics revealed that one in 12 people believed rape victims are to blame if they were drunk or under the influence of drugs. A similar proportion said victims were to be held responsible if they were attacked by someone they had been "flirting heavily" with.

There is no greater proof of society's warped view of sexual assault than this. It means women and men who have been raped fear coming forward about their attack in case they are blamed.

Instead of listening to the victim, we lambast them about their life choices leading up to the rape.

What were you wearing? Were you flirting with the attacker? Were you drunk? It is no wonder that of the 85,000 women raped every year in England and Wales, only 15% report it to the police.

It is partly because of this victim-blaming that the majority of attackers face no retribution for raping a woman, providing them with a sense of impunity. But even in cases where the victim is brought to justice, attackers are still excused.

In June at Hull Crown Court, a man was found guilty of raping a 24-year-old woman while she was unconscious.

The judge, after delivering the verdict, said: "It's sad to see a man of generally good character in the dock for such a serious offence. I do not regard you as a classic rapist.

"I do not think you are a danger to strangers. You are not the type who goes searching for a woman to rape. This was a case where you just lost control of normal restraint."

There is no such thing as a "classic rapist", because the majority of rapists already know their victims. Many women are attacked in their own homes. And suggesting that men need to consciously restrain themselves from raping passed out women is incomprehensible.

But the case highlights the misunderstanding around sexual assault. By victim-blaming, we are ignoring the underlying reasons why rapists attack.

It is a statement of power, a sense of entitlement to our bodies; part of an engrained culture of subordinating and dehumanising the victim, no matter whether they are female or male.

Attacking is always the decision of the rapist and if we want to increase reported rapes and improve the conviction rate, we would do well to remember this.