A tale of two rape prevention campaigns
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Here is the poster for Rape Crisis Scotland's new campaign, "Stop Rape!"
As the organisation's website says:
"Rape Crisis Scotland has adapted an apt and popular revision of the traditional approach to rape prevention in a new poster and postcard campaign. We hope this will help to reverse the popular trend of focusing rape prevention messages on women and instead transfer these towards more appropriate recipients - potential perpetrators."
You can click here to read the list of "top 10 tips to end rape", which include "Don't put drugs in women's drinks" and "Don't forget: it's not sex with someone who's asleep or unconscious - it's RAPE!"
Here is a poster produced by South Wales Police, spotted in Swansea today by the eagle-eyed and subsequently enraged @welshfeminist. "Don't be a victim," it urges women, adding that "alcohol features in two thirds of all rapes".
It seems that every winter brings a fresh crop of anti-rape campaigns from the police or local authorities. It's the dark evenings, deserted streets - and the festive season with its "high spirits" and partying that sets them off. And every winter, you can guarantee that at least one of these campaigns will find new, catchy, and creative ways of victim-blaming.
In 2009 we had the Association of Chief Police Officers telling women to "Let your hair down, not your guard". The campaign's poster aimed at men, on the other hand, said "Rape: short word, long sentence". But when the media got hold of the story, the focus, as usual, was firmly on the fairer sex. "Women hitting the town for Christmas drinks are being warned not to make themselves easy prey for rapists," said Sky News, while the Metro's story told us that "Women heading out for Christmas drinks have been warned not to make themselves easy prey for rapists". It's telling that I haven't managed to find a standfirst explaining that "Men have been warned to think about the consequences of committing rape this festive season".
I'm sure you can think of similar campaigns. Another that came to mind for me was TfL's campaign, also from 2009, warning women of the consequences of getting into unlicensed taxis.
I love Rape Crisis Scotland because they make it their mission to challenge victim-blaming culture through in everything they do, including the brilliant Not Ever campaign. And this new campaign is a great example of how all the old lines used against those who have been raped can - and should - be turned around so that they place the blame firmly where it should really lie. I've read a few discussions on the campaign this week and among all the support there's been a smattering of voices claiming that it's "extreme", "patronizing" and "anti-men". Of course the wording sounds a bit patronizing - as is explained, it's reversing the usual, thoroughly patronizing messages that women have to put up with from other campaigns. You think telling women to be careful about how they dress, where they go and who they talk to isn't patronizing?
Actually, a lot of people don't, because it's what we're used to. As women, we need to be "warned" and "encouraged to stay safe" because that's just how it's done. And so we've ended up with a situation where some people feel "uncomfortable" about campaigns targeting perpetrators because it seems, well, you know, a bit harsh and unfair.
I noticed that Rape Crisis Scotland have promoted the Welsh Government's "Stop the Blame" campaign from Christmas 2010, which used traditional victim-blaming excuses - alcohol, clothing, flirting, being in a relationship with the perpetrator - to emphasize that it's time to put the onus on those who rape to stop. Clearly South Wales Police missed the memo. Discussing alcohol could have been a good opportunity to turn the message around because I'm sure that it's a pretty major factor in the choices rapists make. But alas!
"Don't be a victim" is such a negative slogan. It implies shame; it implies that the matter is probably more trivial than the person who has been raped thinks. It encourages people to think of themselves as having done something wrong. I would say that it certainly gives out a message that could discourage people from reporting a rape, something that's already a huge problem due to the current level of victim-blaming exhibited by these campaigns, by the media and consequently, by the public.
When will the police take notice?