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Anti-rape posters in Oxford blame the victims

Publicly funded anti-rape campaigns centred around victim-blaming are nothing new. They have already been run by several police forces, notably West Mercia, whose ‘Don’t be a victim’ posters warning not to ‘let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret’ by getting so drunk that their night ends in ‘regretful sex or even rape’ attracted outcry from rape and sexual abuse groups. West Mercia police recently apologised and pulled the campaign, but this hasn’t stopped Thames Valley Police from distributing similar posters, which have been seen in St. Aldate’s Police Station and around the university. One poster found on a staircase in an Oxford college says ‘1 in 3 rapes happens when the victim has been drinking’, alongside a photo of a woman in distress. The poster in the police station is dominated by a photo of an under-18 being pinned down by a man, under the slogan ‘Her mum bought her the cider’. Both posters say ‘Know Your Limits’.

 

The idea that there’s anything a victim can do to ‘avoid’ a crime in which they are forced into sex is completely illogical. Whether the victim has been drinking is irrelevant. ‘Don’t get so drunk somebody else does something you’ll regret’ is not your average campaign slogan for any other crime. The responsibility for forcing one’s penis into a woman’s vagina, anus or mouth lies solely with the person who chooses that action. Rape is not a natural hazard which we can avoid by not drinking. Women are raped when they are drunk, sober, wearing mini-skirts, wearing jeans and a hoodie; women are raped outdoors, indoors, when they are awake, when they are asleep.

 

The indisputable message of these posters is that women who are raped when they have been drinking are responsible for letting themselves become victims and making themselves vulnerable. It is this culture of blaming the victims which means that the majority of women do not report their rapes, as a Mumsnet survey found in March 2012. It is no coincidence that the attrition rate for reported rapes is estimated at only 13%. In the context of our society and the way in which it treats women who are rape victims, this kind of poster is completely unacceptable.

 

There are sensible and effective anti-rape strategies out there, such as Thames Valley Police’s ‘Don’t Cross The Line’ campaign, which urged men to abandon their belief that ‘I can’t be a rapist, I don’t lurk in dark alleys’, and the Welsh government’s 2010 ‘Stop the Blame’ Campaign. Lambeth Council’s ‘Do You Know The Difference?’ project stresses that ‘a woman saying yes to a drink doesn’t mean yes to sex’ and places the responsibility on men ‘to make sure that she consents and agrees to sex’ concluding that ‘If you don’t, then it’s rape.’ Rape Crisis Scotland reversed the trend of targeting rape prevention messages at women by producing a list of tips to end rape aimed at potential perpetrators, similar to the ‘We Can Stop It’ campaign of Lothian and Borders Police.

 

These campaigns may seem patronising, but is telling women to be careful about how they dress, where they go, and who they talk to in order to stop someone else committing a crime against them any less patronising? They may be stating what seems like the obvious, but that’s because potential rapists need the obvious spelling out to them. Rape is entirely the fault of the perpetrator. By contrast, the posters produced by Thames Valley Police and distributed across Oxford place the responsibility on the victim. The misleading and woolly assertion that ‘1 in 3 rapes happens when the victim has been drinking’ misses the point that three in three rapes could be prevented by the rapist.

 

This campaign needs to be pulled as soon as possible. It does nothing but place the blame on the victims and their families when it should be placed squarely on the attacker. Rape is rape. It is not excusable. It is caused by rapists and structural misogyny, not by victims and their taste in clothing or drinking habits. If we want to bring rapists to justice, we need to stop placing barriers in front of women who already feel afraid to report rapes because they think it was their fault or that they will not be taken seriously.




'Anti-rape posters in Oxford blame the victims' have 13 comments

  1. 23/10/2012 @ 09:14 Tony OX3

    If you can get a pic of the Oxford poster I suggest you ask the prospective PCC candidates for their reactions (4 of them are on twitter). http://tonyox3.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/pcc-elections.html

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  2. 23/10/2012 @ 15:55 Alice Nutting

    I did manage to take pictures of both posters – unfortunately, due to a communication error, they haven’t been uploaded next to this article and this will hopefully be resolved soon. Thanks for the suggestion, it’s a good idea.

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  3. 26/10/2012 @ 00:01 Andy

    “The idea that there’s anything a victim can do to ‘avoid’ a crime in which they are forced into sex is completely illogical.”

    Whilst I appreciate where you are coming from, you seem to be being deliberately naive here.
    If I choose to walk down Cowley Road at 3 in the morning after a spate of recent muggings, then I am intrinsically putting myself at risk. It is not my fault if I get mugged, it is the muggers, but I could still make a more intelligent decision to keep myself safe and would not feel patronised if someone suggested it wasn’t a good idea.

    By all means argue that there may be more effective strategies that will reduce incidents of rape, but don’t start suggesting that “Don’t get completely wasted and out of control” is a bad message for anyone…

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  4. 28/10/2012 @ 01:06 Alice Nutting

    No one can truly be safe if there are still people out there who will commit crimes against them. Women are raped at all times of day in all kinds of clothing by all kinds of people. They shouldn’t be confined to their homes after a certain time because men apparently cannot control their sexual urges. To quote one of my favourite blog posts, ‘On claiming to be a stupid man who doesn’t know anything':

    “It’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more than that.”

    Putting the onus on the victims often has a damaging psychological impact which affects their view of themselves and often whether they report their crimes at all. Most importantly, it does nothing to stop men from going out there in search of women to rape. That should not be classed as an inevitability.

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  5. 28/10/2012 @ 23:46 Jane

    Outrageous. Women pay taxes. We should expect to use the streets and public areas without the threat of violence or harassment. Stop telling me I have to plan my life around the possibility that some dude is going to attack me. Do men have to think like that? No, the world is their playground. Get the rapists, harassers and women-haters off the streets, out of our colleges, out of our workplaces. Put them in jail so innocent women can have their freedom.

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  6. 30/10/2012 @ 18:21 Outraged

    This is totally unacceptable. Here’s another example of blatant victim-blaming by our very own police force (the cheek):

    http://content.met.police.uk/Campaign/streetrobbery

    Only when the Met’s posters target muggers rather than victims, and crucially point out that three out of three thefts can be prevented by thieves, can we sleep easy.

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  7. 31/10/2012 @ 07:14 Anonymous

    “Stop telling me I have to plan my life around the possibility that some dude is going to attack me. Do men have to think like that?”

    Of course they do. Maybe not down Cowley Road, but perhaps around Blackbird Leys.

    Would that we all lived in privileged safety. We can work for that, but, in the interim, most adults see the sense in doing what they can to avoid being a victim.

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  8. 31/10/2012 @ 20:16 Adam

    “Stop telling me I have to plan my life around the possibility that some dude is going to attack me. Do men have to think like that? No, the world is their playground.”

    Do you really believe this?
    I have found it quite difficult to find accurate data but what I did find suggested men were at least 3 times as likely to be murdered as women.
    I couldn’t find any violent assault statistics but from experience, I would be surprised if you were to claim that the majority of victims were women.
    And just before you try claiming that “Well, it’s men who are committing those crimes”, that doesn’t make it any easier for the average innocent man.
    Such a polarising viewpoint such as yours does absolutely nothing to engender positive change and simply misrepresents the situation to suit your own agenda.

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  9. 03/11/2012 @ 10:35 Sarah

    @Andy

    “If I choose to walk down Cowley Road at 3 in the morning after a spate of recent muggings, then I am intrinsically putting myself at risk.”

    And warning youth temporarily avoid an area until the culprits are caught is not comparable to warning women to never drink, dress a certain way, flirt, have sex lives or otherwise exercise their civil rights.

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  10. 03/11/2012 @ 10:36 Sarah

    How about an anti race hate campaign based on the premise that certain races shouldn’t drink?

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  11. 03/11/2012 @ 16:51 Andy

    @Sarah

    “And warning youth temporarily avoid an area until the culprits are caught is not comparable to warning women to never drink, dress a certain way, flirt, have sex lives or otherwise exercise their civil rights.”

    Congratulations for successfully ignoring the point and instead responding to a claim I never made.
    The closest you got was the brief reference to drink, and within that you seem to have somehow still extracted something that was never implied.
    Given the mentioned tagline of “Know your limits”, I would stick by suggesting that this is a valid message; not only for young women at risk of rape but for anyone who is going to be putting themselves at risk unneccessarily by getting wasted.
    It may come as a shock but I generally don’t think it is a good idea for anyone (yes, that does include us men for whom supposedly “the world is our playground”) to get drunk to the extent where they cannot look out for themselves, particularly when in situations where this will put them in danger.

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  12. 03/11/2012 @ 17:05 Adam

    @Sarah
    No, it isn’t comparable to warning women to “never drink, dress a certain way, flirt or have sex lives”. But that’s not what the campaign does. My interpretation of the message is simply that it’s inadvisable for women to drink to the point of semi-unconsciousness because it makes them vulnerable to attack. The sad fact is that there are many potential victims of rape who can avoid it by taking reasonable steps to protect themselves. They shouldn’t have to take such steps, but would you rather those women get raped? The police and the public have to deal with the world as it is, not as it should be. That means men and women should avoid placing themselves in a dangerous situation.

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  13. 06/11/2012 @ 17:30 Slavomira Valachova

    Sarah [@ 10.35] and Andy [@ 16.51]

    You’re BOTH right; your views are not mutually exclusive. Yes Sarah; we women have the right to drink. And yes Andy; we shouldn’t drink to the point of being wasted – and I agree, nor should men; it’s unbecoming and disrespectable, regardless of gender.

    Victim blaming is a method for a society* to abscond itself from both 1) solving a problem; and 2) any guilt it may otherwise feel from such neglect of duty.

    * Or any other appropriate noun. E.g. “poilce force”.

    And victim blaming is currently rearing it’s ugly head in many insidious manifestations. See any edition of the popular press. Welfare cuts against the sick and disabled are a prime – but far from exclusive – example.

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