Every now and then there is a shit-storm in my corner of Twitter with police campaigns such as this or this which apparently “attempt to show potential victims how to avoid becoming vulnerable”. And what’s wrong with that? Is the fairly regular response that us Feminists are confronted with. Why wouldn’t we want women to be reminded of the risks to their safety and how best to protect themselves? If a woman gets so drunk she is the victim of a crime then she ought to be told not to get so drunk… No, wait… That already sounds wrong doesn’t it?
Because those campaigns, and all others like them, are products of Rape Culture. (If you aren’t sure what Rape Culture is, go here and read LifeLoveLauren’s brilliant post which explains it all.)
Rape Culture says that women should avoid being raped, not that men shouldn’t rape (I know that men get raped too, that’s also woefully under-reported/supported but these campaigns are aimed at women and that’s what I’m discussing). The implication of these campaigns is that somehow women can avoid being raped. These campaigns only serve to reinforce the message that rape victims could have done something differently and therefore prevented their rape.
The media buys into Rape Culture in a big way, making false rape claims front page news, despite the fact that there are only a tiny number of false claims made. I typed “jail false rape claim” into Yahoo and got 244,000 results. When I changed to search to “jail false theft claim” the first story was “Surrey Woman jailed for false rape claim” – I am not making that up, go to Yahoo and try it. Even in a piece about a horrific attack in which a man posed as a “good Samaritan” to help his victim home, Rape Culture means that the journalist has to repeatedly point out that the woman was drunk and precisely how drunk she was. She might have lied, she was probably drunk, she should have known better… All of this wrongly focuses attention on the victim instead of the behaviour of the perpetrator. This should not happen in a society where the law is clear that sex without consent is rape.
If you go through my list of all the things that will stop you being harassed, the same is essentially true of being raped. There is no way a woman can protect herself from being raped because it can just as easily be the caring friend who walks you home as it is the stranger who picks you up in a bar. More than 80% of rapes are carried out by someone the survivor knows; and yet we don’t see advertising campaigns encouraging women to go out and talk to as many strangers as possible. Because it is easier, more palatable for society, to buy into the myth that women get raped by scary men in ski-masks who stalk their prey down dark alleyways.
All that I have said above is true and is the argument that we (the Feminist Borg) regularly roll out when challenged about why we object to campaigns which aim to protect women. But there is a major point that I think we have all missed while arguing round in circles about victim blaming and “grey areas”; women are already scared of being raped. In an (admittedly unscientific) survey of female acquaintances, I didn’t find one who hadn’t at some point been scared of being raped; regardless of whether or not she was a survivor.
When a women talks about how she felt when a man on a bike followed her (@weekwoman) she is talking about how scared she was of being raped; not how scared she was of having her Blackberry stolen. If I get off a bus late at night and a man is walking behind me, I’m not thinking about my handbag, I am thinking of how fast I can run to my front door to avoid being raped.
I do not spend my journey home worrying that my flat might have been burgled, you know why? Because it’s fundamentally not the same thing. I have been burgled and I have been sexually assaulted. One of these crimes was reported to the police, one wasn’t. After one of these crimes the friends/family who knew rallied round and supported me, after the other, the friends who knew were disappointed that I hadn’t gone further, they certainly didn’t register that a crime had been perpetrated. One of these crimes has left me feeling guilty, ashamed and violated for more than 20 years, it can come at me from nowhere and reduce me to a tearful wreck; a part of me still believes it was my fault. The other meant I had to replace some CD’s.
Talking to the women in my life I have heard stories of dates going wrong, the horrors of the night bus, incidents in car parks, visiting friends, walking in parks and many more; all of which are linked by the woman’s fear that she is in a position where she could be raped. This is something that women genuinely fear and I’m not sure that men fully understand this; I have recently had this conversation with a male friend and I think he was genuinely shocked to hear it. So let me repeat it…
Women fear rape, all the time. It preys on our minds in a way that it really shouldn’t.
Spending millions of pounds on campaigns that remind women of the dangers of rape are a waste of resource. We’re already scared, we’re already far too aware of the dangers and it’s not stopping ¼ of women being the victims of sexual violence.
You know who isn’t scared about rape? Rapists.
You know who should be more scared about rape? Rapists.
You know why they aren’t?
Because 97% of rapists will never see prison
Because people talk about “grey areas” and not the importance of enthusiastic consent
Because a drunk women is seen as being somehow culpable
Because if a woman doesn’t fight back it doesn’t count
There have been campaigns recently that focus on the behaviour of the potential rapist and challenge the way that men think about sex and consent. That’s the message that we (the Feminist Borg) want to be pushed more, that’s where I believe resources ought to be focused. Telling men about the importance of enthusiastic and informed consent and challenging their behaviour is the only thing that will reduce the number of rapes and also give the victims more strength to come forward.
So today, I ask all of the newly appointed Police Commissioners, to use their powers for good. Stand up for the 25% of women who will be the victims of sexual violence in their lifetime and turn the spotlight on the perpetrators. Sign off budgets for campaigns aimed at rapists, sign off budgets for specialist units who are properly trained to support rape victims and put pressure on the CPS to take rape seriously and apply zero tolerance policies to sexual violence. Apply the concept of #Ibelieveher and change this dangerous, all pervasive culture that harms us all.