Thursday, 21 November 2013

Bristol anti-rape campaign says there are no excuses for rape

This morning I woke up to be greeted by Safer Bristol’s new anti-rape campaign.

And what a wake-up it was! Gone are the ‘let your hair down, not your guard’ posters that told women to live in a climate of fear. Instead, the campaign boldly states that there are ‘no excuses for rape’.  Finally, we have a safety campaign that focuses on the perpetrators, not the victims, of rape. 

This campaign marks a real sea change from the days when my Bristol Feminist Network colleague was told by the police that they couldn’t run a safety campaign focused on perpetrators as it would be ‘offensive to men’. Now we are seeing really positive leadership in Bristol, with the council, Safer Bristol, Operation Bluestone, the PCC Sue Mountstevens and Avon and Somerset police working together to promote the message that a woman is never to blame for the violence committed against her. 

The posters warn that a woman’s drinking is not an excuse to rape her. 

That being married to a woman is not an excuse to rape her.

That a woman consenting to kissing is not automatically consenting to sex.

That how a woman dresses is not an excuse to rape her. 

The campaign includes a booklet on rape myths, produced with the contribution of the amazing women of Bristol Fawcett.

This campaign is important. It sends out a message loud and clear that there are no excuses for rape. Rape is always and only the fault of the rapist. 

But posters are just the start. Now we need to follow through with what this campaign promises. 

We need to make sure that women feel supported to go to the police and report. In a week where we discovered that police forces are persuading women to withdraw allegations, and marking allegations as ‘no crime’, we need to give women the confidence that if they report rape, they will be listened to and believed. 

We then need to make sure the message that there are no excuses for rape is heard throughout the criminal justice system – by the CPS, by lawyers, by judges and by jurors. We need to make sure the message is heard by our media, who still publish victim-blaming editorials. And we need to make sure the message is heard by every single member of the public. After all, we all live in a rape culture that blames women for the violence committed against them. 

Today, only 15% of rapes are reported and only 6.5% of reports end in a conviction. A campaign like this can have a real impact in improving those numbers. But it needs to be more than words. We need to see the promises made in this campaign – the promise to believe women – followed through at every level.  

This morning, I was on BBC Radio Bristol discussing the importance of this campaign in tackling rape myths and supporting women to report rape. A member of the public called in to say he thought that women provoked men to rape by the clothes they wear. 

Now, I have a better opinion of men than that. I know that women’s behaviour doesn’t provoke men to rape. If it did, then every man who was ever in the same space as a woman is a potential rapist. I don’t believe every man could be 'provoked' into being a rapist, like this guy seemed to. Because I know that rape is not a ‘natural hazard’ that ‘just happens’ because women exist in the same universe as men. I know that rape is something a rapist chooses to do, because he can. And because he knows he is likely to get away with it. 

These posters have a real chance to challenge the persistent belief that women’s behaviour causes rape, because rape is something that men just  “do”. It can do it in a way that safety advice focusing on women’s actions never could. By bringing the rapist’s attitudes and actions into the picture, the campaign challenges the belief that rape is something that only women can prevent. It refuses to pander to the idea that preventing rape is women’s responsibility, that it is our responsibility to stop rape by restricting our freedoms and modifying our behaviour. These posters have a real opportunity to challenge attitudes, to encourage reporting and to change minds about who holds responsibility for violence against women and girls. It’s not going to change everything tomorrow. But it’s a beginning. 

I think it’s important to recognise that we would not be seeing this campaign if it wasn’t for years of feminist campaigning against rape culture in Bristol. That’s why I want to take today as an opportunity to thank every feminist voice in Bristol who has campaigned and lobbied for this change in safety strategy. I want to thank every voice that has argued against the message that women should ‘let their hair down, not their guard’. Because it’s those voices that began this change. And I want to thank Safer Bristol for responding, and for Operation Bluestone, and A&S Police and the PCC for supporting that response. This is a positive change that could have a really positive impact. 

And all those men who told me I was wrong to criticise gendered safety advice? This proves it was never just me saying it. 

Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999 

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