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?


gherkingirl said...

I have no faith whatsoever that South Wales Police will learn any lessons.

They headhunted and hired one of the offices who destroyed paperwork, lied and hid evidence on my rape case in London, declining to issue the punishment the Met awarded him when I complained. SWP felt it would be bad for 'morale' and promptly promoted him to the Sex Crimes Unit.

It's of no advantage for this force or any other to encourage a balanced discourse of rape and give victims a reason to come forward. They'd have to get off their arse and do their job if that happened and that's the last thing the police want to do in the case of rape.

I don't believe things will change until the police are forced to discipline themselves better, answer questions on how some of them have a 1.3% conviction rate for rape, get more involved with SARCs and rape prevention education and develop better rapport with the CPS. Until then, it's business as usual and rapists get away with it and victims get the blame.

Hannah Mudge said...

I was thinking that I'd seen a tweet today about SWP's appalling track record on rape cases and then of course there's their equally appalling track record with domestic violence...

It's despicable that you had to deal with that and clearly you won't be the only one. Things need to change. I wish they'd get more involved with decent rape prevention education and actually *do something* about current conviction rates. At the moment it always seems like it's just too much hassle for them.

Akela said...

I agree and I disagree.

You are right, there needs to be a firm focus on the culprits. Rape is wrong, in all circumstances, there are no justifications. You can't rape in self defence or rape back what is yours or rape to protect your family. It is just wrong.

However I think that it is wrong to think that these campaigns is solely an anti women thing. With most crime there is very much a focus on what the victim can do to prevent it. From an early age I guess you got told to lock up your bike with a sturdy lock and get it stamped. You hear it off your parents, at school, on the tv etc. But how often have you seen a campaign saying "don't steal bikes!" Rarely.

Similarly our local PCSO has distributed smart water to all the houses on our estate together with window stickers to say its being used. No campaign saying "don't break into houses and walk out with other people's stuff though".

Now of course it would be in grossly poor taste to to equate having your bike pinched with being raped and I hope we've seen enough of each on t'interweb for you to know that I would mean no such thing. The point I am making though is that these campaigns are not simply part of culture that blames women for rape, although they are no doubt in part a reflection of that element of society that still does, but also part of a wider victim blaming mentality.

Elly said...

I don't like either campaign to be honest. I think the Scottish one is demonising men and treating all men as potential rapists. It also treats women as always the victims of sexual assault, never men.

And telling people to 'not rape' - however tongue in cheek is ridiculous.

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