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.
Even if that child is 12 years old: http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/07/daily-mail-justice-and-child-protection.html
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.