Friday, 25 November 2011

KNOW THE DIFFERENCE?

There are times that victim blaming feels like a national sport. Look at any article about rape or sexual assault in any newspaper and even if it isn't at Daily Mail standards, there's almost always an undercurrent of it. Look at the language used. You'll note that often a rape victim is an unmarried mother or a single woman, yet I don't recall ever gleaning the marital status of a male robbery victim from an article. Descriptions of what she was doing or what time of night or day it was add a salacious tone that often lifts it from simple police inquiry for witnesses to morality tale. It's the little comments about her clothes or her routine that are commonplace in sex crimes reports, but would jar if the paper told us what electrical goods or amount of money or type of bank card a man was mugged for.

But it isn't just the papers who do this. Read, if you dare, any thread on Comment is Free on the Guardian or the Daily Mail site about rape and about 80% suggest that if she hadn't been wearing that/doing this/ female/alive and had her vagina unpadlocked while not locked in a cupboard only she had the key for, then she must share some culpability for her attack. This is often dressed up as 'concern trolling' where said opinonated commenter publishes their view because they're just worried wearing a short skirt will end badly for womenhood. It's a convenient smokescreen though for trotting out all the ways that they feel women are ultimately more responsible for rape than the men who commit it. Without fail, these beliefs drip with misogyny and tie themselves in knots to try and justify why women doing legal and normal things in their lives are definitely worse than men committing an illegal act. Hang around long enough and you'll hit the clothing/alcohol/out after dark trifecta that shows the person commenting knows nothing about rape and probably believes it never occurs in countries like Saudi Arabia which to their mind sensibly ban alcohol, enforce burkas and have magically elimanated rape to the point where they can be sure they're stoning the woman to death for the right reason....

Victim blaming and rape myths tend to be a year round chorus to leading your life, but it picks up a notch every Christmas. Police forces, Transport for London, local councils and other public bodies get a free reign to indulge their belief that after a night out men are blameless happy go lucky fools who constantly have the problem of not being able to contain their pesky penises and falling into the drunken/not well enough covered or simply all too tempting Hungry Hippo style vaginas of those modern day Eves they've been socialising with. We are bombarded with expensive campaigns telling us women what we should or shouldn't do to avoid being raped. We must watch our drinks like hawks, spending money on special bottle stoppers, lip glosses and portable CSI labs to test for roofies. We must do everything in pairs as if we are partying in Noah's Ark. We must keep extra money in our shoe to afford a cab, but then carry extra shoes to make sure we aren't vulnerable in our heels, leaving our tiny lady brains wondering which of our four feet contains the magic cash and taking our attention away from the exact level of flirtatiousness and friendliness we must be displaying at all times around men so as not to give incorrect impressions. We should have nightclub bouncers learn a trick from headmistresses and have us kneel down upon entry to check our skirts touch our knees or issue us with a regulation shroud to protect us. And while we all know we mustn't have sexual contact with anyone because consent isn't really a time by time thing, but something that covers you for life. Instead we should be spending all evening considering how we get home. Should we try and renact one of those highly triggering TfL posters about illegal mini cabs or take a black cab and hope there aren't any more John Worboys out here? (This is actually a trick question. We shouldn't have been out in the first place so no matter which way you get home, you're in the wrong, silly!)

The appalling rate of attrition at police level, policy of 'no criming' rape allegations, lack of medical provisions for victims, bias amongst the police, judiciary or juries, stigma against victims, low levels of remand for those charged with rape and the reactions of trauma after assault that all help lead to the woefully low rape conviction rate of 6.7% in the UK don't tend to get a glossy poster campaign. These are expensive things to change and require a huge amount of effort and engagement from people who feel they would have to work harder and not get their own way like they've been used to. The willingness really doesn't seem to there when you read South Wales Police suggest it'd be offensive to men to ask some of them not to rape over the festive period, but refuse to see the disconnect that it's offensive (and patronising) to ask all women not to get raped. But then again, this is the force who hired the officer who deliberately destroyed the paperwork and evidence that allowed my second rapist to go free and said it would be unfair to punish him for something he did at a previous force, promoting him to Sex Crimes instead, so I'm not sure what I was expecting...

Well, a little something like the initative from my own council. For the second year running, Lambeth Council are promoting their 'Know the Difference' campaign this Christmas, making the valid point that not all men rape, but that all rapes involve a rapist and most of those rapes are by men. They've come up with a campaign that puts the onus on men not to rape, but that speaks across the lines of sexual assault to recognise it isn't always a heterosexual crime. But more to the point, they've identified the crucial fact. Rape is not for the victim to prevent, it's for the perpetrator to stop it happening. Nothing about this campaign is about victim blaming. It's about speaking to everyone, especially perpetrators and seeking to clarify the laws and morals that keep people safe. They show the fine line between harrassment and sexual assault and underline everything with the need for informed and enthusiastic consent, all delivered with a reminder of the law and options for victims. Nothing is about forbidding a good time, but about making sure everyone is participating equally.

As long as Lambeth Sapphire have upped their game since I dealt with them and aren't still leaving victims abandoned and scared, then I just can't fault this campaign. Informative, clear, clever and without the merest hint of scolding toward women, it proves to me that there's no excuse for the usual victim blaming cliches. It was widely displayed in Lambeth Tube stations, borough wide buses, bars, clubs, restaurants and prominent billboards last year and I presume this year will be the same. I've been trying to find out if the borough's above average reporting rate last year was because this non-judgemental campaign made victims feel more able to come forward or whether we really do have a big problem with sexual violence in the area, but I might leave the details til after Christmas and just enjoy living and socialising in Lambeth like a normal, non traumatised woman. Being told rape isn't my fault in a campaign like this makes it easier for me to believe it the rest of the year too. Maybe it'll also help me reclaim Christmas as a time to have fun, not be repeatedly triggered? Either way, I'm even more grateful than usual to live in Lambeth right now...

3 comments:

  1. Despite having never been raped, I found the cab driver posters too upsetting to look at. I can't start to imagine how a person who has been assaulted would feel about them.

    Props to Lambeth council for doing this and hopefully other councils will understand the benefits and follow suit.

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  2. Elly, I should probably give TfL some props for taking the trigger warnings on board and adjusting their campaign to be less terrifying and non gender specific when alerted to how it was coming across.

    I do think the tide is turning. Most of the victim blaming campaigns I linked to are from 2009 or earlier. There's also this awesome one from Rape Crisis Scotland that I love http://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/news/rape-crisis-scotland-launches-new-postcard/

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  3. Great post!

    You are so right about victim blaming. Did you happen to see Eamon Holmes interview a woman on This Morning who was raped and said at the end something along the lines of 'I hope you take taxis now' as she had walked home after a night out... Shocking! Lady walks home at night. On her own! was definitely asking for it!

    /sarcasm

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