Thursday, 17 October 2013

Safety advice and victim blaming - an open letter to my local police force

I’m sorry to have to be having this conversation again. I really am. I thought, after our Reclaim the Night marches, BFN’s good relationship with Operation Bluestone and my BFN colleague meeting with you after the Jo Yeates murder to talk about safety advice, that you’d got it. That you understood that it wasn’t ok, in the wake of male violence, to respond by policing women’s behaviour. That you had listened to us, and to Bristol Fawcett, and agreed with us that, when a man is deliberately attacking women, we shouldn’t respond by restricting women’s freedom. 

So I was really, truly disappointed to read the following in local newspaper, The Post: 

 “Urging women in particular to be vigilant when out at night, Mr Haskins [Senior investigation officer] advised them not to walk home alone if possible, to stick to well-lit areas, always let friends and family know where they are and to remember that drinking alcohol can make them vulnerable.”

Avon and Somerset Police, I work near where the assault happened. If I have to work late, how should I get home? Should I spend my money on a cab? Should I sleep in my office? Perhaps I should not go to work at all? 

It is not good enough to tell women not to live their lives, not to do the things they need or want to do, because a man is choosing to assault women. It is not ok to tell women to live in fear, to be watching their back, to restrict their freedom, because a violent man has chosen to attack women. Women – we have to walk around. We have to go to work, go to school, go to uni, and visit friends or family. Our lives shouldn’t have to stop because of the actions of violent men. You should not expect us to put our lives on hold because of violent men. 

Alcohol. You mention alcohol. And how it makes women vulnerable. 

Drinking alcohol makes women vulnerable to hangovers and perhaps some regretted text messages. Alcohol does not make a woman vulnerable to sexual assault. The only thing that makes a woman vulnerable to sexual assault is the presence of a violent man. 

I was sexually assaulted on a bus at 9am. Not as seriously as this young woman, but it happened. I was stone cold sober, in a well-lit area, sitting on a bus. I wasn’t walking. I wasn’t in the dark. I wasn’t drinking. And I was assaulted. Why? Because walking, drinking and darkness do not cause sexual assault. Men who abuse women cause sexual assault. 

It’s so easy, isn’t it? It’s so easy to tell women to lock themselves away, stay hidden. 

My BFN colleague once asked you why you didn’t have a safety campaign targeting men. You told us ‘because men find it offensive’. 

I find it offensive to be told to police my own actions and restrict my own freedoms because of the actions of violent men. I find it offensive that if anything happened to me as I walk home from work, your safety warnings will have groomed people to believe I was somehow to blame. I find it offensive that people would ask why I was walking home, not why he feels he has the male entitlement over women’s bodies. 

When a man sexually assaults women – both at home and in public places – please, I beg of you, focus on men. Focus on their behaviour. Because in every single situation, the only cause of sexual assault is the man who chooses to be violent. 

I know you know this. I know because Operation Bluestone has done fantastic work in tackling victim blaming narratives, in bringing perpetrators to account – in doing everything right. I’ve collaborated with Operation Bluestone on campaigns and I know they do really good work. That knowledge is one reason why I’m so disappointed. So hurt.

But I also know that it’s easy. It’s easy to tell women not to go out, not to drink, not to walk home in the dark. It’s far easier to offend women than it is to risk offending men. It’s far easier to restrict women’s freedoms, than to try and show the public that we live in a society where there are nearly 500,000 sexual assaults every year, that nearly half a million men in our society are assaulting, attacking and raping women. 

It’s those men we need to be talking to. It’s the society that excuses them, allows them, and victim blames that we need to be talking to. 

Don’t tell women not to live freely. Don’t tell us that we can’t expect the right to freedom of movement. Don’t tell us not to live our lives, because a man is choosing to attack women. Tackle the causes of violence and stop offering ‘advice’ that fuels a victim blaming rape culture.

Thank you. 

Bristol Rape Crisis0808 801 0456

No comments: