Wednesday, 2 January 2013

I'm done being polite on victim blaming

Trigger warning
This post talks about rape, victim blaming and includes a triggering image of a dramatised assault

I’ve tried to write calm, informed and thoughtful posts on victim blaming anti rape ads. I’ve critiqued calmly and politely journalists who have made victim blaming comments. I’ve done this because when I have let the anger out, let my sheer, utterly despairing rage and anger out, I’ve been accused of being hysterical and irrational. Emotional. 

Well, I don’t care any more. I am angry and I am emotional. That doesn’t make me irrational by the way. It just is my only valid response to a culture that tells me every single fucking day that women and girls are responsible for the violence committed against them. 

Today, Stavvers tweeted an anti drink/rape campaign from Thames Valley Police. This is after a police officer tweeted a warning to girls not to get too drunk and become a victim on NYE. This is after a campaign on domestic abuse warned women not to be a victim this Christmas. This is after year after year of the same conversation as to why it is not ok to tell women not to be victims when we don’t tell men not to rape.

Here’s the poster:

The line is:
Her mum bought her the cider

The image shows a girl being attacked by a man. Her face is pixelated but you can still tell she looks distressed. 

The copy then proceeds to explain the law on buying minors alcohol.

This poster is not ok. In the first place, it is not ok to use women’s bodies to give a message about drinking laws. It is not ok to use a triggering image of a girl being assaulted. It is not ok to portray a girl being assaulted and then explain that image by talking about alcohol. 

If a mother buys her daughter a cider, and then a man chooses to commit rape, then the only person at fault is the man who chooses to rape. Women drinking alcohol does not cause rape. The presence of a rapist causes rape. 

According to the most reliable statistics from the BCS, 80,000 women are raped each year in the UK. None of these rapes were caused by a mother buying her daughter cider. Every single one of those rapes was caused by a rapist. 

I have had enough! I have had enough where every day women and girls are told not to live their lives because of the actions of some violent men. Of course, I am not advocating buying alcohol for minors – which is a TOTALLY separate issue – but I am advocating that we stop framing rape as something caused by the behaviour of women and girls. 

It simply wouldn’t happen the other way around, would it? You wouldn’t see a picture of a young man in the dock being read a rape sentence, with the line ‘His dad bought him the cider’.

Telling women not to get raped does nothing, absolutely nothing to reduce the number of rapes. It is the most lazy, the most stupid, the most sexist way to campaign on reducing this crime. All it requires is a poster propping up rape culture. It doesn’t require better sex education, it doesn’t require better understanding of consent (which might actually involve campaigns aimed at men!), it doesn’t require improved and sustained training for the police and CPS to better handle rape cases, it doesn’t require better funding for rape crisis. All of those things can and will have an impact on reducing the number of rapes. 

But another triggering image alongside a message blaming women? I can promise you that will have no impact on ending rape. Instead it just enforces rape culture where rape is seen as some kind of natural hazard that women should take steps, life-restricting steps, to avoid. 

I had a quick look on the thread beneath Emer O’Toole’s (problematic) piece on rape in India. So many male commenters filled the thread with outrage at the implication that rape isn’t taken seriously in the UK. They missed the point. On the surface of course rape is taken seriously. One of the reasons it IS taken seriously by men like Keir Starmer is thanks to the tireless work of feminist campaigners. Of course no-one outside of Unilad is going to say they’re pro rape! (Unilad wrote an article in Jan 2012 about because the rape reporting rate is so low, it offers “pretty good odds”). But what this Thames Valley poster, and all the posters before it, what the 2005 Amnesty survey showed, what Galloway’s comments and Savile-gate and the Sapphire scandal and Rochdale and Assange and Ched Evans and all of it shows is that on a day-to-day, cultural level, we don’t really take rape seriously. We know it’s bad, but we still make excuses for it, we still try and minimise it, we still refuse to face the fact that some men choose to rape. Instead we demand to know how women cause rape. 

I don’t know how much more of it I can take. 2012 was a master class in victim blaming. There were of course great steps – for example the above-mentioned Starmer’s commitment to making sure VAWG is taken more seriously. But conversation after conversation around rape still seems to centre around ‘yes…but…she did do X’. 

Throughout the year, I’ve heard women say in relation to some of the VAWG media headlines: ‘that happened to me’. They say that, as the overwhelming cultural narrative tries to deny the fact that these crimes are rape at all. I don’t think Thames Valley have even considered the possibility of a girl seeing that poster and saying ‘that happened to me’. And how that poster would make her feel. How that poster might make her feel she or her mum was to blame. How that poster might stop her reporting a terrible crime. And perhaps the person who perpetrated that crime might see the poster, and think it exonerates his actions. 

Did they think about that?

Rape Crisis Number: 0808 802 9999

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