I was horrified to hear this afternoon that Sussex Police are launching a campaign to encourage women to stay together to avoid the possibility of rape and sexual assault.This is what they tweeted last week:
Friends who play together, stay together. On a night out don’t let your mates leave with a stranger or go off alone. pic.twitter.com/U3Hk3QCndu
— Sussex Police (@sussex_police) March 31, 2015
So, now your friends come above the perpetrator of any crime when there’s blame to be handed out.
Looking a bit further afield, I found the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Be Smart campaign, which is even worse. Three quarters of the page is taken up with advice for women like:
Would you go alone into a stranger’s house at 11am in the morning? No? So why do it at 2am drunk? Arrange to meet new acquaintances when sober.
It’s the sort of victim blaming nonsense that is counter-productive. Going to someone’s house is not a crime. Raping somebody is against the law. If you had been raped, how likely would you be to report what had happened to you if you thought you might be judged and blamed for the crime that you had been subjected to?
To add insult to injury, as an afterthought, there’s an “and for guys” bit at the bottom of the page, reminding them that “rape convictions last forever.” The effects of being rape are pretty much a life sentence, too, you know.
I don’t often have a good word to say about Police Scotland, well, at least, not their senior management. However, they have a seriously good record on this issue. That’s because they work together with organisations like Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland and the White Ribbon Alliance. Their We can stop it rape awareness campaign is much more thoughtful and their rape prevention advice has sensible advice like this:
2. Respect your sexual partner …
Listen to the other person and treat them with respect – effective communication is key to healthy sexual relationships. It’s important to talk to your partner and listen to their wishes.
Any kind of sexual act must be consensual – both partners should agree to it and be happy with it.
3. Question your own attitudes …
Consider the messages you hear about how men should act and think about your own actions, attitudes and behaviours.
Understand that behaviour, such as pub chat about a woman ‘asking for it’ because of what she is wearing, can perpetuate harmful attitudes towards sexism and sexual violence.
Work towards positively changing attitudes. Choose what kind of guy you want to be.
Other good campaigns in Scotland include the “This is not an invitation to rape me” site and the excellent Not Ever video, both produced by Rape Crisis Scotland. It’s about challenging the victim blaming culture that’s out there.
The Greater Manchester Police also followed this approach with their #noconsentnosex law.
What do we need to do to get this sort of practice adopted by all police forces?
Liberal Democrat Women, told me tonight:
The idea that any rape victim is to blame for the actions of their rapist is not just wrong, it’s irresponsible: it reduces victims’ confidence in a system where most rapes and sexual assaults already go unreported. Sussex Police, and any other police force that considers these tactics, needs to remember that going out alone isn’t a crime: rape is.
With Lynne Featherstone as the Coalition’s Minister responsibility for tackling violence against women, much progress was made. The Girl Summit and Sexual Violence Summits last year brought the fight to the global stage. Initiatives like Clare’s Law which enable women to find out if a potential partner has a history of domestic violence are also helpful.
There is so much more to be done, though, particularly where tackling issues of sexual consent and rape are concerned. Comprehensive, mandatory sex education must be implemented and the underlying culture that teaches young men that women are mere receptacles and playthings must be properly challenged. All public bodies must be very careful about the messages they send out and any attitudes which seek to blame women for the crimes committed against them should not be tolerated.
This is another good reason to have the Liberal Democrats back in government. Jo and Lynne Featherstone have done a great deal to challenge the sort of casual sexism that pervades our society. They’ve upset the gutter press but they wouldn’t be doing their jobs properly if they hadn’t. We need them back in there for another five years.