Rape: West Mercia Police stand by victim blaming campaign
On 13th July West Mercia Police launched a new campaign aimed at reducing serious sexual crime by getting young people on a night out to think about their safety, particularly in terms of the amount of alcohol they consume.
Detective inspector Callie Bradley from the force’s Public Protection Unit commented:
“Research shows young people aged between 13 and 24 are most likely to become victims of a serious sexual offence between 9pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights and that the number of rapes and serious sexual offences increase between June and August.
“This campaign aims to tackle that issue and that is why we are putting more officers on our streets over the next three weekends.”
The West Mercia Police force covers a large area of England, including Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Worcestershire. and the campaign included the provision of extra officers who were tasked with talking to young people as they left clubs, bars and fast foot outlets in relevant town centres during a 3-week period.
So far so good.
BUT the accompanying campaign poster aimed at women (see above) fell into the usual trap of victim blaming through its ‘if you get drunk, it is your fault if you are raped’ narrative.
The campaign was also criticised for a sentence on the ‘male’ poster, which stated that ‘if someone has sex with someone against their will, it could be against the law’ when having sex with someone against their will IS against the law.
The most virulent criticism came from the Worcestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (WRSASC) with spokesperson Jocelyn Anderson stating:
“It’s not alcohol that causes rape, although it’s a vulnerability factor, it’s rapists that cause rape.”
As a result of the criticism, West Mercia Police apologised, with detective superintendent Ivan Powell stating: “If the campaign has caused distress, that was not our aim and I will apologise for that.
“This was not about blaming victims but putting information out to help.”
For WRSASC’s Anderson one of the main problems of this campaign is the lack of consultation. This seems astonishing in view of the fact that any one of the many rape and sexual abuse centres throughout the UK could have contributed valuable information and experience that could have informed the campaign.
But even more astonishing is that West Mercia Police backtracked on its apology with a force spokesperson stating:
“We haven’t apologised for the campaign.
“Our officer was asked to comment on local radio on the opinion of a rape victim who said that she was disappointed with the campaign and she didn’t like it. He said we apologise if that’s how it made her feel and that wasn’t our intention.
“He was making an apology to one woman but that has been turned into police apologising for the campaign. We have had criticisim from a few people but we have also had quite a lot of support from other people who think it’s a good campaign.”
A more detailed outline of the whole shambles is available from the F-Word.
Meanwhile, this ignoring of the real reason why women get raped – that rapists rape them – is getting old.
West Mercia Police, with the best of intentions, has created another brick in the wall of rape culture denial: not only is this reprehensible, but it is completely unnecessary.
Contrast this with the Scottish ‘This is not an invitation to rape me‘ campaign poster (below) where the situation regarding rape and drinking is made completely clear and does not, at any point, blame women.
With this kind of campaign available for reference and the willingness of rape crisis centres all over the UK to get involed with campaigns, the West Mercia Police has no excuse for producing such an outdated, and frankly wrong, campaign of its own.
Please give West Mercia Police your feedback here.