Anti-rape campaigns: “Hey women, stop getting so drunk”
Anti-rape campaigns which focus solely on women’s behaviour are nothing new: previous publicly-funded campaigns have told women ‘Don’t be a victim’ and ‘Let down your hair, not your guard’.
So there is at least some difference between West Mercia police’s anti-rape campaign and the usual choice of tactics, and that’s that their posters aren’t solely at a female audience. Instead they have posters warning both men and women 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’. Should we at least be thankful that West Mercia police (and Hertfordshire police, who also used this campaign during Christmas 2011) are acknowledging that rape does involve men, rather than following the baffling trend of treating sexual violence as a ‘women’s issue’?
The outpouring of disgusted comments on Twitter imply a blunt NO. The notion that there’s anything a victim of rape – a crime in which a person is forced into sex – can do to ‘avoid’ sexual violation is mind-bogglingly illogical. Yet this dual-gender campaign implies that responsibility for preventing rape is something that divides 50/50 between the sexes. Our culture and our justice system still often endorse this belief, which is why it is no surprise that our conviction rate for rape remains pitifully low. Whether both, neither or one of the parties involved has been drinking is irrelevant – 100% of the responsibility for forcing one’s penis into a woman’s vagina, anus or mouth lies with the man who chooses those actions. It seems so simple, yet even those meant to be protecting women and getting rapists off our streets seem unable to grasp it. And so we find ourselves in this culture of victim-blaming.
That’s why the conflation of ‘regretful sex’ with rape is problematic – because too many people already think that’s all rape really is. Put the two phrases together in a campaign to point out that rape is wrong, evil and illegal and you immediately muddy the waters. A far-too-large swathe of our society still believe that women only make accusations of sexual assault to cover up shame over having slept with someone in a drunken haze, and these posters reinforce that heinous misperception.
This has similar application when we consider the message being sent out to men. If we imply rape is just a ‘drunken mistake’, we deny that rape is a deliberate (and in many cases, especially drug rape, calculated) violation of another person’s body. Believing that rape is just ‘sex that got out of control’ is a commonly-spouted myth designed to remove responsibility from the men who commit it. So let’s be clear – rape is not something ‘men just do’ because they’ve had one over the 8, and to imply otherwise is to both deny the seriousness of rape and to excuse the act as an inevitable result of ‘uncontrollable’ male sexuality.
While I can appreciate that the police are trying to appeal to inevitable self-interest by telling men “you could lose your job and be placed on the sex offenders register” if they do not get consent from a sexual partner, it just comes off as utterly trivialising. We should not be at a point where we need to give carrot-and-stick incentives to men ‘not to rape’ –we should be working toward a society where committing rape is viewed with such hostility and punished with such harshness that the very prospect of being a rapist should fill men with disgust and fear, not just the potential consequences for their jobs and reputations. Anyway, the way things stand, few rapists ever have to worry about either of these things, since the majority of victims doesn’t even report being raped. And why don’t victims come forward? Well, perhaps it’s because their local police force is sending out the message that first question a rape victim will be asked is ‘how much had you been drinking?’.
Sensible anti-rape campaigns are possible – Thames Valley Police produced an excellent ‘Don’t Cross The Line’ campaign which crucially acknowledged that most rapes take place between people who know each other, and urged men to abandon their belief that ‘I can’t be a rapist, I don’t lurk in dark alleys’. Lambeth Council also did a great job with their Do You Know The Difference campaign, telling men that “a woman saying yes to a drink doesn’t mean yes to sex”, and putting the onus squarely on men “ to make sure that she consents and agrees to sex. If you don’t, then it’s rape.” If some of our police forces can grasp this simple equation, why are West Mercia lagging behind in such a dangerous way?Tagged in: anti-rape campaign, rape, sexual violence, victim blaming, West Mercia police
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