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Another dire anti-rape poster

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230787_10151403444973377_1103587643_nNew campaign poster emphasises victim responsible for avoiding being a rape victim.

Warwickshire police’s new posters, which have appeared over the past few weeks, list six precautions people should take to avoid being raped.

And they include: ‘don’t drink to excess’, ‘don’t accept a drink from strangers’ and ‘on medication, be aware of what you drink’.

The campaign has been highlighted for reinforcing  a victim-blaming mythology.

For, as Di Whitfield, from Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC), told WVoN: “The only person who can ever be held responsible for an incident of sexual violence is the person who commits the crime.

And she continued: “This campaign avoids facing the reality that the cause of rape is not the circumstances in which it takes place but solely the actions and intent of perpetrators.”

The campaign also reinforces the idea that rapists are strangers to the victim, when, statistically speaking, women are significantly more likely to be raped by someone already known to them.

Sadly this is by no means the first time a local authority has got it wrong when it comes to ‘rape prevention’ campaigns.

All too frequently advice is handed out to ‘potential victims’, telling them how they should change their behaviour to stay safe.

Last year West Mercia was criticised for a poster which urged women not to ‘let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret’, suggesting if they didn’t drink they could avoid rape.

South Wales police had a similar campaign telling women ‘Don’t be a victim, drink sensibly’, and Thames Valley Police ran a series of posters where alcohol consumption by the victim was stressed as a key component in the incidence of rape.

These messages sit neatly within broader societal messages, continually repeated – in the media, from police authorities, in court rooms and from perpetrators – that a victim of rape is somehow to blame for what has happened to them.

Whether it is because she or he was too drunk, was wearing something determined to be ‘provocative’, or had already had sex with the perpetrator.

Encouragingly, however, among these victim-centric messages we are beginning to see some organisations getting it right.

Lothian and Borders Police’s new ‘We Can Stop It’ campaign is one brilliant example, which aims its messages at potential perpetrators, rather than potential victims.

This campaign, and others like it, focus on stressing the meaning of – and need for – consent.

Rape Crisis Scotland has been praised for the Stop Rape campaign, with its ’10 Top Tips to End Rape’, which eloquently turn several popular victim-blaming myths on their head and challenge potential perpetrators, telling the perpetrators  what they should not do.

For example: ‘Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks’; ‘Don’t forget it’s not sex with someone who’s asleep or unconscious – it’s rape!’ and ‘Don’t forget: honesty is the best policy’.

This last one continues: ‘If you have every intention of having sex later on with the woman you’re dating regardless of how she feels about it, tell her directly that there is every chance you will rape her.

“If you don’t communicate your intentions, she may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her and feel inadvertently safe.”

In Warwickshire, in contrast to the police’s new ad, students from Warwick University’s Anti-Sexism Society (WASS) implemented a postcard campaign, with the focus on ‘enthusiastic consent’.

The postcards featured the message ‘yes, yes, Oh YES… Always get enthusiastic consent’ and ‘Sex without consent is rape. Is the person you’re going home with too drunk to consent? Make sure you’re both into it before you get into it!’

Sophie Rees from WASS said: “We decided last year that we wanted to run a campaign that raised the issue of sexual consent in a way that might stick in the minds of young students and generate conversation about what consent is.

“Raising the point that it is not always possible to consent to sex while heavily under the influence of alcohol or drugs is, we feel, relevant to the student population, particularly at this time of year when people are in a new environment, one often fuelled by alcohol.

“It was really important to us to make sure the campaign stayed away from any form of victim-blaming and focused on the responsibility of the person with power, rather than on the victim.

“We hope that our campaign will make people think twice about having sex with someone who is too drunk to consent.”

CRASAC, who will be contacting Warwickshire Police about their campaign, said: “We hope Warwickshire Police engage with their local sexual violence specialist providers to ensure their future campaigns are more effective at targeting perpetrators of rape and do not fall into the trap of feeding the victim-blaming myths that are embedded in our society.”

  1. Gaboushka says:

    There are actions every woman can take to avoid finding herself in a situation that she is powerless to control. This campaign from Warwickshire police sounds like pretty sensible advice to me. It is a separate idea to the ridiculous assertion that we shouldn’t tempt potential rapists by wearing low-cut tops etc. This is about preserving self-awareness and instinct to give ourselves the best chance of identifying potentially dangerous situations.

  2. Yes, I used to think like this too. Our cultural conditioning has worked well on most free thinking individuals.

    We should all take care and make efforts to protect ourselves from the sorts of things that we cannot prevent. Wearing sensible shoes to avoid slipping in the ice, looking both ways before stepping out of a blind spot, not leaving lighted candles unattended.

    But, no, a woman shouldn’t have to take care to protect herself against the violent and agressive actions of another human being. There is no *need* for a man to rape a woman. There is no circumstance where a man cannot stop himself. There is no excuse for the behaviour.

    As long as we require women to ‘protect’ themselves, we play along with the ridiculous myth that rapists are in some way not responsible for their actions.

    It really is time to stop playing that game and fight for a woman’s right to walk through life wearing what she damn well pleases with only the need to fear the cold, wet or an occasional twisted ankle!

  3. I couldn’t agree more Jem.
    Incidentally South Wales police have just launched this stupid campaign with the cardiff Student’s Union http://www.walesonline.co.uk/cardiffonline/cardiff-news/2013/03/04/drunk-students-found-stumbling-in-cardiff-to-be-tagged-with-wristbands-91466-32918914/#ixzz2MZ73Okq0 which suggests they have learned little from the last time they promoted victim blaming.

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