Friday, 10 April 2015

RESIST! A response to another victim blaming poster campaign

UPDATE! Sussex Police has announced they will be withdrawing this campaign

Still worth reading the post though, coz, you know, I wrote it! 

Slow handclap to Sussex police whose latest safety campaign falls back on the nice and easy trope of telling women that it’s up to us to prevent sexual assault. 

Yes that’s right ladies! Don’t expect rapists to take responsibility for their actions. Do you notice how perpetrators aren't even mentioned in the campaign? Don’t expect the police to talk to a male audience about why it’s not okay to rape and sexually assault women. That’s a bit complicated. That might be offensive to men, who might call out NOT ALL MEN! Far easier to repeat the decades-old message. Far easier to tell women that they should change their behaviour and curtail their freedoms. After all, what else can women expect? We’re used to hearing it’s up to us to prevent sexual assault. If we just behave differently, these posters tell us. If we just don’t expect the same freedom of movement as men do, these posters tell us. Then you will be safe, they tell us. 

Of course, on a night out, I’m generally not the most vulnerable of my mates. After all, I’m a woman. I’m relatively safe walking on the streets. My male friends – they’re statistically more likely to get assaulted by other men when they’re out and about. I’m statistically unsafe at home or at work or at college. 

I’m sick of it. I am so sick of these campaigns that treat rape and sexual assault as some kind of natural hazard that women need to take steps to avoid. I’m sick of the campaigns that blame mums for ‘buying the cider’ for their daughters. I’m sick of campaigns that tell women that being raped is something they might “regret”. I’m sick of campaigns that blame women for getting in the wrong kind of cab, and police forces that refuse to believe women who are raped in the ‘right’ kind of cab. I’m sick of campaigns warning women to let their hair down but not their guard, campaigns that warn women not to be a victim. I’m sick of being compared to a wallet and a laptop and an open window – as though when I leave the house I’m leaving my vagina unlocked. I’m sick of it. 

The campaign cheerfully informs us that ‘many sexual assaults can be prevented”. 

Presumably if we women just follow the advice. Presumably if we never walk home alone, never leave anyone behind – plus all the other safety advice we have stowed in our mind, the advice about not getting drunk; about not wearing a short skirt; about not talking to men (but don’t be unfriendly! Don’t be rude! Be nice and accommodating always but if anything happens to you we’ll still say you led him on, you bitch!); about carrying keys between our fingers; about taking massive detours to avoid poorly lit areas; about pretending to talk on our phone…You know. All the things that every woman does and has done since she was old enough to realise that public space doesn’t belong to her, and that she needs to change her behaviour to keep herself safe. 

No. I don’t accept this. I don’t accept this unambitious “many”

All sexual assaults can be prevented. But not when we tell women to change their behaviour. They can be prevented when we tell rapists not to rape. 

Campaigns like this one do three very simple things. 

Firstly, they prop up victim blaming attitudes. 

Secondly, they give a false impression of the “causes” of sexual violence. 

Thirdly, they reassure rapists. 

Let’s take that first point. By insistently telling women that if they just follow steps to “avoid” being raped, we are telling women who are raped under those circumstances that they are somehow to blame. “We warned you,” the posters say, “and you didn’t listen. You have to take responsibility for that.”

We are in a crisis of sexual violence in the UK. Every year there are close to half a million sexual assaults, of which around 95,000 are rapes. And yet, we have a 15% reporting rate and, of that 15%, a conviction rate of 6.5%. Victim blaming attitudes, and disbelief of victims, is one of the things keeping reporting rates and conviction rates low. 

Posters like this have an impact on women seeking and winning justice. That matters. Today, most rapists walk away. They get away with it. And many get away with it safe in the knowledge that people will blame their victim. That’s the reality today. And it’s not okay.  

On to the second point. We know that most rape and sexual violence happens to women and girls in the home. As I mentioned above, men are more likely to be attacked by men on the street. Campaigns like this don’t help bust the myths that surround rape and rape victims. 

But more than that, these campaigns lead women on. They tell women that if we just follow the warnings, if we just stick to the rules, then we’ll be safe. If we don’t walk home alone, if we restrict our freedom, if we don’t wear what we want and be who we want, then we’ll be ok. 

It’s not true. Why? Because being out on the street, drinking, short skirts, flirting, skinny jeans, having a boyfriend, talking to a man, getting in a minicab, walking home alone – none of these things cause rape. The ONLY THING THAT CAUSES RAPE IS A MAN CHOOSING TO RAPE. 

That’s the truth of it. 

Which brings me to the third point. Campaigns like this reassure rapists. It tells them that this is how rape happens. It tells them that if women do x,y and z, then the woman is to blame for the violence committed against them. 

Research, quoted in Glosswitch’s article in the New Statesman, states: 

cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely

Glosswitch goes on to say that:

A woman can only make herself vulnerable if others have already learned to see her as potential prey.”

That’s the message these campaigns send out. These campaigns prop up the rape myths that prevent women getting justice, and reassure rapists that they are not to blame for the violence they commit. 

So, once again, here’s a slow handclap to Sussex police. Thanks for once again telling women to adapt to fit around the behaviour of the men who choose to be violent. Thanks for once again telling us that freedom isn’t for us. 

Actually, fuck that. Back to Glosswitch:

We must resist and claim the space that is ours.”

So here’s my call to arms. Let’s reclaim the space that is ours. We will not be chased from public space. We will not be denied our freedom because of the actions of some men. We will resist! 

Sign June’s petition and RESIST! 

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