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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