Lots of potential, but not sitting right with me.

Here’s an article from the BBC entitled “Police team up for rape campaign”. I am doubtless not the only one to have read enough articles with similar titles to now be approaching this one with trepidation.

One would hope that an article with such a title would be about police putting together an anti-sexual violence squad, educating police about treating survivors appropriately or something of that nature. (And, according to the West Mercia police website, they are improving services with dedicated specialist officers and such.) Instead, all we learn from the article is that several police forces (Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria) in England’s North East are running a campaign that ‘reminds people how alcohol can affect judgement’. Det Supt Steve Wade wants ‘men and women to think about how much they are drinking before they put themselves at risk’. Right, because it’s not rapists that put people at risk of rape, and it’s not problematic to put the focus on the actions of potential victims rather than that of rapists…?

The victim blaming vibe seems to be more intense in the article than in the campaign itself – that’s the dynamic in a couple of media reports I’ve found – which emphasises support and services for survivors as well as self-protection measures. The Short word, long sentence campaign website (the videos may be triggering) features an outline of police procedure and has ‘You did not ask to be raped. The blame is entirely the perpetrators’ right on the front page. That said, it would be nice to have a rape prevention campaign with a primary focus on changing the behaviour of rapists and potential rapists in conjunction with an excellent support system for survivors.

Moving back to the article, we get this: ‘Police also stress that rape is more likely to happen between people who know each other.’ As best I can tell, from taking a look at the Northumbria police website, that’s taken from a quote by Durham Detective Superintendent Andy Reddick: ‘it is much more likely to happen between people who know each other, either in a domestic situation or between people who’ve met socialising’. I’m hoping the former quote was just ambiguous reportage from BBC Writer Without a Byline rather than an indication that multiple people in these police forces term rape something that happens ‘between people’. Because that phrasing disturbs me. To me, it makes rape sound like something each participant has an active role in bringing about, some kind of equitability. Rape does not happen ‘between people,’ like an argument or a misunderstanding, something for which the blame might be shared; rape is violence committed by one person against another. And this just serves to take the focus off the substance of the sentence, which is knocking down the myth that stranger rape is the most common type of rape. It’s not so much the ‘clear message that if someone does not consent to sex then it is rape’ the campaign is aiming for.

The campaign is running for six weeks, over the holiday period. I hope it does a lot of good, even with the mixed messages as furthered by the BBC article and those like it. And campaigns against sexual violence, as well as the media getting the messages out there, ought to do better than mixed messages, as there’s enough of that in the world already.


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About Chally

Chally is a student by day, a freelance writer by night, a scary, scary feminist all the time, and a voracious reader whenever she has a spare moment. She also blogs at Zero at the Bone. Full bio here.
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17 Responses to Lots of potential, but not sitting right with me.

  1. I suppose it’s a start and I suppose it has to begin somewhere. Still, there’s a skeptical part of me who wonders if true rape prevention advanced by law enforcement anywhere is a pipe dream.

  2. L says:

    “Police team up for rape campaign”.

    … so this isn’t a substantive critique, but shouldn’t we expect the police to be teaming up for ANTI-rape campaigns?

  3. Bitter Scribe says:

    The most obnoxious such effort I ever heard of was a program at some college (forget which one) where campus cops would drive up to a woman walking alone on an empty street and hand her a card that read something like, “IF I WERE A RAPIST, YOU’D BE IN TROUBLE.” They finally came to what few senses they had when the women they were trying to “help” started complaining about being intimidated.

  4. leah says:

    Like L, I also found the title cringe-inducing.

  5. Lesley says:

    I have lived for some years in the UK and there is a context here you have to understand. Only about 4% of sex. assault complaints end in prosecution — there have to be witnesses and there is a strong culture of complacency about “choice” to have sex that prevents rape kits from being admissible as evidence. Attempts to reform the legal recourse have led no where so the next best thing is to help people protect themselves in a very pro-drunkenness society.

  6. Lesley says:

    Just to clarify, there is a grey line between having aggressive sex by choice and being raped in many social circles. People of both sexes here really play up the idea of regret-turned-rape-complaint.

  7. cim says:

    I live in County Durham – there have been a few adverts from this campaign on the buses. So far the only type I’ve seen have been of the form “Rape: short word, long sentence / no consent, no sex” and definitely directed at men. The “long sentence” bit would be more convincing if the conviction rate was higher, if the sentences were actually long, or if the local police force didn’t fail to properly record a significant proportion of the rapes reported to it. (and, of course, if there was any real education in other contexts about what “consent” meant, which is something else the UK does badly)

  8. Politicalguineapig says:

    Comrade Kevin: I totally agree. If I were raped, the last thing I would do is expect help from law enforcement. I’d rather be put on trial for murder then testify as a rape survivor.

  9. Yonmei says:

    Four years ago Amnesty International published a report on attitudes to rape in the UK that found evidence that a large proportion of people believe that a woman who is raped is wholly or partly to blame if she got drunk, behaved flirtatiously, or wore revealing clothing.

    Shortly afterwards, the report’s point was proved by a case in which the judge instructed the jury to find the man not guilty, because although he had (Rúairi Dougal, then a student at Cardiff, like the woman he raped) admitted that he had (in his part-time role as a security guard) accepted responsibility for a young woman who was drunk and incapable, to walk her safely home, and had then had sex with her in the corridor outside her room, he claimed she’d consented … and she admitted under oath that she was so drunk she couldn’t remember. (On campus, apparently Ruari Dougal was well-liked and regarded as a decent bloke, while the woman he raped was regarded as a liar and an attention-seeker.) So the judge directed the jury to acquit, because in the judge’s world, if a woman was too drunk to remember having been raped, that means it can’t have been rape – even if the man who did it admits he had sex with someone for whom he had a duty of care, who was too drunk to give meaningful consent. Ruari Dougal was a high-publicity example of what’s wrong with rape law in the UK.

    Lesley is right: a campaign against rape has got to take account of the thinking that “a woman too drunk to resist has consented” that not only will be held by rapists, rapist’s best buddies, and clueless guys, but by a large proportion of the survivors of rape, too.

    I found some quite surprising and awful responses to my journal posts, four years ago, from people I’d known and liked, asserting that yes, sure, everyone knew that for a woman, drinking in public was high-risk and that it was anti-sex and anti-freedom to say that a person can be too drunk to give meaningful consent and that anyone who then has sex with that person is committing sexual assault/rape.

  10. Han says:

    Off topic, but I think worth sharing:
    When I studied in Scotland last year, I really liked seeing the images from the This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me campaign (http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/) around the town because they put so much emphasis on NOT blaming the victim.

  11. Evrybdy44 says:

    Even mentioning that women need to be careful of how much they drink and so on is horrible. I hate it too. What I think I hate the most about it is that I get why it’s being said. There is nothing a person could possibly do(drunk or otherwise) to “ask” to be raped, but for better or worse the idea that thinking about the situations a person puts themselves in isn’t a bad idea. It shouldn’t be necessary and the bulk of any focus should be on changing rapist behaviour and not that of a victim or potential victim.

  12. james says:

    May I make a suggestion? What actual evidence is there that there’s a spike in rape over the holiday period? Everything I can find says the reverse – that there’s a peak in July and a low point in December.

    The main issue here is that the police just don’t like people getting drunk. In most places over the Christmas drinking season there are very few on duty police officers to deal with large numbers of drunk people in a very precariously balanced public order situation.

    I don’t think the alcohol thing is motivated by victim blaming as such, they’re just looking out for themselves. It’s a bit like on feminist blogs people will use even the most marginal topics as excuses to talk about stuff like rape and abortion that they care passionately about. That’s like what alcohol is for the police. They know come Thursday evening they’re going to be outnumbered 2000:1 by people who are absolutely tanked. They’re just gonna take any opportunity to warn people off drinking. I think they’re basically using rape as a tool to run an anti-alcohol campaign.

  13. UnFit says:

    Um, james, while there might be a truth to what you’re saying, that doesn’t make it any better, does it? That would be kind of saying victim-blaming is okay as long as it’s used to a good end?

    And Han, I love that campaign, especially the wedding picture.

  14. Alara Rogers says:

    Um, james, while there might be a truth to what you’re saying, that doesn’t make it any better, does it? That would be kind of saying victim-blaming is okay as long as it’s used to a good end?

    Maybe I misread james’ post, but I got the impression he’s saying it’s worse — that they’re hijacking “concern for women’s safety” to push “don’t drink” for their own purposes. I mean, at the very least victim-blaming attempts to stop rape are sincerely aimed at stopping rape, but rape-victim-blaming attempts to stop people from *drinking* are taking something as serious and devastating as rape and using it as an excuse to push an agenda against drinking, which is kind of like arguing against murder because dead bodies carry disease and smell bad.

  15. DPirate says:

    How would it go over if they left women out entirely? If instead they told all men that they were potential rapists if they had too much (enough?) to drink? That ought to satisfy your complaint but would lead to greater trouble for the police.

    I have no statistics, but I expect that alcohol is a factor in rape occurence, and remains so whether the man, the woman, or both have been drinking. If so, then this police campaign is simply correct.

  16. Chally says:

    It wouldn’t satisfy my complaint at all… because I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell people of whatever gender that they’re potential rapists as part of an anti-rape campaign. I’m saying the focus of an anti-rape campaign should be to, you know, prevent rape, part of which involves telling people not to rape, and support survivors.

    Yep, alcohol is a factor in rape occurance. You know what? Plenty of rapes occur with no alcohol involved. When someone who has been raped has been drinking, other people regularly take that as evidence they are to blame. The same goes for wearing tight clothes, being out at night, walking alone, etc. But you know what? People who don’t do any of those things are raped, too. The one thing all rapes have in common? Is a rapist. Focussing on the behaviours of the people who are raped is ridiculous, because it is all about the behaviour of the rapist. See Melissa McEwan for more on this.

    ETA another link.

  17. DPirate says:

    I understand your objections. Was going to say something else but after further thought I will just say that your efforts and those of Shakesville and the like are probably effective in changing the predominant culture in a beneficial way.

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