Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Anti-rape campaigns, men and offence

*trigger warning*

Note: this post is about victim blaming. I tend to talk about male rapists and women victims and survivors. This is not to silence or ignore that men are victims and survivors of rape and sexual violence too. It is just because that the safety campaigns are focused on women and issues around victim blaming are generally focused on women's behaviour.

Don’t drink. Don’t walk by yourself. Use the buddy system. Carry a whistle or an alarm.

Every woman reading this post will know what I’m talking about. This is the standard advice issued to women every Christmas, every time certain crimes are committed near to where we live.

How refreshing then, that Scotland has decided to direct this advise to someone else. To men.

The latest rape prevention campaign from Scotland has done what feminists have been campaigning for and arguing for, for a long, long time. They have decided to focus their attention on the cause of rape rather than the victims. And the cause is, of course, men who choose to rape. 

Compare the Scottish poster to this one from Wales. South Wales Police say this is an old poster (2 years I think?) but it is still being used in venues across the area. 

This is the more familiar message. Women, we’re told. Watch your step. You could be a victim, especially if you drink alcohol. It’s up to you to make sure you’re not vulnerable to rape. It’s up to you to make sure you don’t ‘put yourself in the position’ where you might be raped. The message is ‘don’t be a victim’. But the message really should be ‘don’t be a rapist’.

There are so many reasons why campaigns like this Welsh poster cause harm to women. Here are just a few.

One, by telling women that they are responsible for preventing rape by changing their own behaviour, we are creating a culture of blame. If we are ‘warned’ that we’re more likely to be raped when drunk, surely we’re more likely to blame ourselves for the violence committed against us if it has happened when drunk. The same goes for wearing a short skirt, knowing the attacker, having a relationship or friendship with the rapist, taking drugs etc etc. Of course there are reasons not to get drunk or take drugs, such as your liver and your brain, but this is not one of them.

Two, when you create this idea that a woman is responsible for not being raped, and is therefore blamed because her behaviour is seen as ‘causing’ the rape, you end up with women reluctant to report violence to the police. If we can’t trust that we will be believed and listened to, that we won’t be blamed, then how can we have the confidence to go to the police and tell them what happened to us? How can we trust that the court, the jury, the CPS won’t look at the victim-blaming advice dished out to women, and think that we should have taken steps to prevent rape?

Three, the advice is utter BS anyway. Women are raped when they are sober, when they are drunk, when they are wearing trousers, when they are wearing skirts, when they are young, when they are old, when they are walking home on their own at night, when they are in their homes, when they are in their workplace, by strangers and by people they know. Because of this, there is no preventative advice that is given to women on earth that will actually stop someone who has chosen to rape from raping.

This culture of blame is part of rape culture. It is the belief that women are responsible for the violence committed against them, and that they should feel shame for the violence committed against them. Rape culture means that women and girls can and will be held responsible for their rape, if they break a set of invisible rules that serve to exonerate the rapist and blame the victim.

When Jo Yeates was murdered in December last year, Avon and Somerset police issued safety advice for women urging them to not walk home alone in the dark. BFN quickly got on the case, getting in touch with the force regarding how the safety advice was inappropriate (http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/01/bfn-response-to-polices-warnings-re.html) and met with the police to discuss how they could amend the advice. My colleague asked them whether they would consider changing their anti-rape campaigns so that they addressed men rather than women. The police explained that they couldn’t, because men would find that campaign offensive.

Because men would find that campaign offensive.

Never mind that women find it offensive to be told to police their own behaviour because some men choose to rape. Never mind the fact that victim blaming campaigns have a serious impact on women’s confidence in the judicial system, add to women’s trauma and prevent justice for victims of rape and sexual violence. Never mind any of that.

Because men find being told not to rape offensive.

The reason, of course, why men find campaigns that refuse to victim blame, and instead focus on the perpetrators of crime, offensive is because they believe that they are somehow being told that they are likely to be rapists when they’re not.

But this argument just doesn’t stand up for so many reasons. Firstly, there are plenty of campaigns that target the perpetrators of crime. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t steal. Don’t assault our staff. Don’t speed in residential areas. I don’t do any of those things and I don’t find a campaign that tells people not to do those things offensive. I find being told to ‘let your hair down, not your guard’ pretty offensive though. I find being told that it is up to me to not be a victim of crime very offensive.

Secondly, campaigns that tell men not to rape are not saying that all men are rapists. It’s not saying that all men are potential rapists. It’s telling men who choose to rape that if they make that choice, then they will be brought to justice. That the system won’t be blaming the victim for any longer, they’ll be blaming the rapist. It’s telling the person who chooses to rape that they are responsible for committing a violent crime – not the alcohol, not the skirt, not the victim.

If you find a campaign that targets the perpetrators of a violent and destructive crime offensive, then guess what? The problem is with you. Why are you so defensive? Why do you ignore the vital message (don’t rape and if you do, you will go to prison) and instead twist it into a ‘I’ve never raped anyone and never would how DARE you!’. I would advise taking a look at yourself and asking yourself why you find that offensive, and then ask yourself whether you would find it more offensive to be told:

‘don’t go outside. And if you do go outside, it is your fault if something bad happens to you’.

Don’t you think an effective curfew against women is a bit more offensive than a campaign to tackle the causes of a violent crime?

The final part of this blogpost will try and deal with some of the inevitable comments and excuses that this kind of discussion attracts.

1.     But campaigns that talk to men ‘tar all men with the same brush’
No they don’t. They say to some men that choose to rape that if they do so, they will be held responsible for the violence they have committed, not the victim. Just like a ‘don’t drink and drive’ campaign doesn’t offend me as a non-driver, an anti rape campaign should have no cause to offend men who don’t choose to rape people.

2.     It’s right to warn women to take precautions. If I left my car door open and was burgled…
A popular one this. So remember, women are not cars. We’re not houses. We’re not mobile phones or wallets or any other fancy goods. We are human beings. You cannot compare rape with stealing a car. Women do not leave ourselves ‘unlocked’ and vulnerable by living our lives – walking home from work, having a partner, living in a house, going to work or school or uni, having a drink, wearing clothes, knowing people. Unfortunately, there are not any precautions women can take to not be raped, because rapes are caused by rapists, not by women’s actions.

3.     Well, if women go out and get drunk and wear short skirts, they are vulnerable.
If women go out and get drunk and wear short skirts, then they are vulnerable to hangovers and cold knees. They are not vulnerable to being raped because the only cause of rape is a rapist.

4.     If I went out and got drunk and my wallet was stolen…
As per above, women are not wallets. And if you went out and got drunk, the police wouldn’t refuse to take your case forward because your drunken-ness meant you caused your wallet to be stolen. A jury wouldn’t tut at you and say that it was your own fault, and refuse to convict the thief. And women aren’t wallets.

So, in conclusion. Well done Scotland to running a campaign that says victim blaming is not acceptable. Ever. If you think a campaign that targets men is offensive, then ask yourself a few questions. And don’t compare women to wallets.


Roisin Muldoon said...

Thanks, this is really thoughtfully written. Especially your point about women not being wallets. Locking your car is a reasonable precaution to take against car theft - not that you're responsible for the theft if it happens. But staying indoors, never drinking, not going anywhere, not living your life? This is not a precaution - this is placing the burden solely on women when the blame lies solely with the rapist.

This kind of campaign also ignores that the vast majority of rapes happen where the rapist is known to the woman - a partner, husband, family member, acquiantance. Even if a woman COULD somehow circumvent rape - how would she do so in this case?

Furthermore, the Welsh poster may not be inaccurate when it reports the instances of alcohol being related to rape, but again - men aren't being told not to get drunk and go out and rape!

Dru Marland said...

My daughter brought home a leaflet from school, back in 2008, at the time that there was a spate of sex attacks around Clifton. The leaflet was part of a campaign by Avon & Somerset police, and was titled 'R U asking 4 it?'... she was 11 years old...

I'm is a ninja said...

Excellent article! I'm always intrigued when I see an opinion piece of this nature in an online publication or newspaper. The comments tend to develop into a flame war where people who believe that women should not be held to account for violent sexual crimes are branded as 'hairy feminists'. I think the subject of rape makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, as it should. There are some doors people prefer to leave locked.

sian and crooked rib said...

thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments.

Jon Hanna said...

I'm a man. Since I've somehow managed to go for a couple of decades of being physically capable of rape without doing so, I'm presumably the sort of man the police are concerned about offending.
Well no, I don't. I find the blame the victim approach offensive, not just as a male survivor (I found it offensive long before I was myself attacked), nor just as someone concerned with justice, with the freedom of us all to express our sexualities on our own terms without it being seen as justifying rape or assault, nor just as someone who has many women and girls in his life that he would like to see safe.
I also find offensive the idea that not raping is somehow so difficult for us men thiat putting the responsibility where it belongs somehow puts some unfair pressure on us.
It doesn't. It's really easy to not rape, and does of us who don't have nothing to lose from increased pressure being put on those who do, and much to gain. Maybe some men don't want to be part of your rape-culture, Constable!


Image Rape Crisis Scotland uses is ambiguous because it looks as though the female is actually agreeing to rape by smiling! Remember filmed male sexual violence of women aka pornography commonly shows women smiling whilst the man/men is/are subjecting them to sexual torture and/or rape.

Logically given male supremacy blames women for male violence against women this means whenever a male is subjected to violence from another the victimised male is responsible not the male perpetrator. Try telling the male victim 'you caused this male to rob you/steal your wallet/burgle your house/steal your car and therefore no crime was committed!' There would be a mass hysterical reaction from men because holding them accountable for crimes committed against them is 'man-hating.'

By the way the numbers of women and girls who are subjected to male sexual violence vastly outweighs the numbers of adult males who are subjected to sexual violence. The two are not symmetrical they are asymmetrical and furthermore it is predominantly boys men target to subject to sexual violence not adult men. When boys reach adulthood they are accorded male autonomy and male rights but when girls reach female adulthood they are never accorded human dignity and human rights. Instead they continue to be perceived as men's sexual prey.

Why? Because we live in a male supremacist system and this means men define what is and is not rape and men claim women are always responsible for causing (sic) men to subject them to violence. Excellent way of hiding male accountability.

sian and crooked rib said...

Jon, well said, and thank you for your comment.

Richard Brennan said...

Seconding Jon's comment. I think the first poster (by thisisnotaninvitationtorape.co.uk). is clever and likely to have some effect on the target audience. As a man, I don't find it offensive at all. What I do find offensive is campagins like 2, implying the victim is the one that should change his or her behaviour.

A xx said...

Hi, This might not interest you, but your poster has raised an incredible amount of interest and discussion on a transgender site called tvchix. Lots of thoughts. Perhaps you might like to see the discussion and the (very) diverse reactions it has raised.

Kind Regards,



sian and crooked rib said...

Cool will take a look. Should make it clear tho, it is not my poster, but was created by Scottish anti rape campaigners.

debbora said...

Excellent, eloquent and thoughtful post. For as long as campaigns continue to focus on the victim's choices and behaviour I will continue to be angry and sad. The Scottish poster is one way forward, and we need to be confronted (both men and women) on a daily basis with the fact that the victim did not cause her/himself to be raped. The pain and humiliation of rape, coupled with the fear that you were somehow responsible, is something that no individual should ever have to experience. Unfortunately we do, and it is so ingrained in the way we think about sexual violence that self doubt creeps up on even the strongest of us from time to time. The idea that rape is never justified must continue to be reinforced; publicly, clearly, aggressively. Thank you for highlighting this.