HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's minister of labour and advanced education is standing by an ad campaign that critics say doesn't send the right message about sexual assault and consent.
Marilyn More said Thursday that while the two ads might be jarring and not appeal to everyone, they were shown in focus groups to be effective with their target audience of teenage boys and young men between the ages of 16 and 25.
"They told us this is the kind of campaign they would respond to, (that) it made a difference in how they thought about consent for sexual activity," she said.
"Quite frankly, I don't think there is a perfect ad campaign that means the same to everyone in this province but we had to start somewhere."
The ads are intended to educate young men about consent and sexual activity. Large print in one ad states "Do Me," but has smaller printing that completes the message by stating: "Do Me a Favour and Leave."
The other has bold print that says "Take Me," with the full message saying: "Take Your Hands Off Me."
But since the ads have gone up, some young women and groups that work with victims of sexual violence have complained in media reports that they don't explain clearly enough that consent from someone who has been drinking or taking drugs does not qualify as true consent for sex.
One young woman who participated in a meeting with More in June to view the ads is reported to have told the minister she didn't think the ads should run because they didn't effectively address the issue of consent. She reportedly said More assured her they would not run.
But More said Thursday that the concerns prompted her team to do more research and conduct the focus groups. In the end, she said the results led to her decision to proceed with the two ads.
"When I heard other information, particularly from young men who we want to impact that that is the way to go, we tweaked the campaign and we pulled one of the ads completely," she said.
"I fully stand behind the marketing campaign."
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under freedom of information legislation show that participants in the June focus groups found the main messages of the ads were "clearly communicated and understood."
The ad testing, done by Corporate Research Associates on behalf of Communications Nova Scotia, also found that there was confusion among some of the 50 men about what constitutes consent, particularly when it involves people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Some also didn't know the age of consent, making the research company suggest that that information be part of the ad campaign.
More said she is recommending additional ad campaigns to address other issues with other age groups.
"But we felt we actually were beginning to see a bit of a public health crisis or issue here and we needed to start immediately," she said.
She said she has scheduled another meeting next week with some of the women who have expressed concerns to explain why she proceeded with the ads.
The campaign came after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, who was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt in April. Her family says the 17-year-old girl was bullied after a digital photograph of her allegedly being sexually assaulted in November 2011 was distributed around her school.