Opinion: “Victim-blaming” 101: why sexual assault is different to other crimes

Sussex Police has produced a campaign poster encouraging women to stick together on a night out to reduce their chances of sexual assault. There are so many ways this poster is stupid: it perpetuates the myth of stranger rape as the only “real rape” (an idea which helps acquaintance rapists get away with it over and over again), it ignores male victims of rape, and it suggests women should fear sexual assault more than they value their sexual liberty.

But there’s only one issue I want to address now. On Monday, Caron Lindsay called the poster “victim-blaming”: she was right, and it’s worth explaining why victim-blaming is so much more harmful in cases of sexual assault than other forms of crime.

Sexual motives are unpredictable

Campaigns for preventative action work fine when the motives behind a crime are predictable. Economic crimes like theft are the easiest, because all thieves – from Ponzi scheme managers down to Primark shoplifters – do the same cost-benefit analysis. High value + accessibility + low likelihood of discovery = a good target. That’s why it is a predictably bad idea to leave your wallet on the back seat of your unlocked car at night in a bad neighbourhood.

But sexual crimes aren’t that easy to predict. If the internet has one lesson for the world, it is that everything is a turn-on to someone. That’s why saying “don’t wear a short skirt” is different to “don’t leave your back window ajar”: because the rapist in the room this evening might not be a leg man; he might be into boobs or bob haircuts or even burkhas for all Sussex Police can predict.

In fact, given that sexual assault is usually about control – not really about sex at all – what turns him on might be the fact that all of the women in the room won’t talk to strangers because they’re too scared to do anything else.

Campaigns like this one lie to the public when they suggest the ways to reduce sexual assault are simple, predictable and within the control of the women (never men) who are potential victims. This puts all the fault on the shoulders of victims – adding guilt to the already heavy burden they are carrying – and makes it easier for the police, juries and society at large to shrug off any responsibility, because “she was warned”.

Sexual assault involves discussions of consent

If someone punches you outside the pub, or smashes your back window and steals your TV, you don’t gain anything. It’s in the name that physical harm, or property damage or loss are negatives; things that you would never consent to. Nobody is going to take the mugger who breaks your nose literally when he says you were “asking for it”.

Obviously, sex is different: it is normally fun, enjoyable, a literal act of love, and you can consent to it.
This is the other problem with “victim-blaming” in sexual assault cases, because when we say “blaming” often what we mean, and what victims hear, is “disbelieving”. Since you can consent to sex, if you do something which suggests you might have consented – like go to stranger’s house at 2am without your friends – then it becomes more difficult to prove that you didn’t consent to the sex itself.

The police have a long and chequered past when it comes to disbelieving sexual assault victims. Given that, a police campaign that even hints that it is the victim’s, or in this case their friends’, fault – morally if not legally – if something happens to them, fuels the belief that you won’t be taken seriously, and undermines victims’ already shaky trust in the police.

If you want a society free from rape, stop telling women to stick together, and start telling victims you’ll treat them seriously and rapists not to rape.

* Alice Thomas is a member of the Federal Board and leads the FB working group on the disciplinary procedures. She is a solicitor based in Southwark who joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since.

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46 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '15 - 11:19am

    I agree the Sussex Police campaign was victim blaming, as I argued at the time. If I were a woman and saw one of those posters I would have felt like ripping it down. It wasn’t even advice, it was targeted at women and ordering them how to behave.

    That said, people get worried that they are not allowed to tell their daughters safety advice without being accused of victim blaming, so do we need to be careful in this regard as well.

    On the specifics of your article: I agree the feeling of “well they were warned” is a problem and it should be the rapists getting warned.

  • Robin McGhee 9th Apr '15 - 11:22am

    Completely right Alice. This is why we need a really good programme of education in consent in schools.

  • High value + accessibility + low likelihood of discovery = a good target […] But sexual crimes aren’t that easy to predict.

    Surely they are?

    The factors a rapist considers when deciding to rape are, surely, accessibility (can they physically get access to the person they want to rape?) and likelihood of discovery (can they make it so the victim doesn’t know who they are? If not, is there anyone else around who might contradict their version of events?).

    The onyl factor you’ve suggested is different is ‘high value’ because, you claim, ‘value’ in the case of rape varies form perpetrator to perpetrator according to their sexual preferences, but ‘value’ for other crimes is fixed.

    Well, even if that’s true (and I doubt it’s that simple: the decision to steal something is not always based on the intrinsic value of the target, but may be based on purely personal value to the thief (‘I like the look of that, I’ll have it’ as opposed to ‘I can fence that for £X, I’ll have it) that’s only one of the three.

    In order to rape someone a rapist needs

    (a) to want to rape them
    (b) access to them; and
    (c) to think they can get away with it.

    Given there’s nothing we can do about (a) because rapists exist and are out there wanting to rape people, trying to reduce the number of rapes by limiting the access rapists have to targets (ie, keeping away from people who might be rapists, such as men who hang around in bars looking for drunk girls), and by making sure they know that they can’t get away with it (eg by making sure there are always witnesses around who if necessary can corroborate the victim’s story, and might even be able to physically stop the rape form happening) is perfectly sensible.

  • Oh, of course clearly also a huge part of (c) is making sure that rapes are investigated properly and are, when discovered, punished severely. That is the police’s job and if they are failing at it then they need to be made to succeed.

    They shouldn’t be able to push responsibility off onto the victims by saying, ‘well, they didn’t listen to the advice, so we won’t bother investigating. Just like even if someone leaves their door open and are burgled, a crime has been committed and must be investigated even if they person failed to follow all the advice. The criminal is the sole one responsible for the crime as they are the one who chose to commit it, not the victim.

    So if this advice is an attempt to reduce the incidence of rape by reducing rapists’ access to their victims in circumstances where they might get away with it, then good for it.

    However if it is used as an excuse for the police to reduce the effort they put into investigating what is a heinous crime every time it occurs, whether the victim followed all the advice perfectly or disobeyed every single bit of advice, that is clearly not okay and any police force failing in its duty to find and punish criminals by doing that must be made to get with the programme.

  • Alice Thomas 9th Apr '15 - 12:40pm

    Dav – your comment, like the poster, assumes that rapists are strangers, waiting for an unknown woman who takes their fancy. In fact the majority of sexual attackers know their victim to some extent, and didn’t get to know them purely for the purposes of attacking them (that is what “acquaintance rape” refers to – being attacked by someone who is within your regular social circle). These people usually get away with it not because the victim doesn’t know who they are so they can’t be identified, but because the victim is too scared to report because (a) they fear social pressure from friends who don’t want to believe they know a man capable of sexual assault, or (b) they fear the attacker will come back into their life again (especially if the conviction is unsuccessful, which they usually are) or (c) noone will believe they didn’t consent if they had a friendly relationship with that person before the incident.

    Knowing that, the only advice that would actually control “access” as you call it is to avoid friendships between genders – which is both completely impractical, and does a massive injustice to the great majority of men who aren’t considering assault.

  • Why not teach girls self defence? Twenty or so years ago there was story about a retired Don who had taught French. She was attacked by three thugs, one was thrown down some steps, another kicked in the groin and the third hit with a knife hand blow to the the throat. The lady had been taught unarmed combat by Fairbairn when she was in the SOE. She never carried on with martial arts after her training but said it was so effective it came back when it was needed.

    Wing Chung was created by a Buddhist Nun trained in Shaolin Martial Arts for a woman.

    Why not teach women self defence so when they say no, they can back it up with something which is effective?

  • Dav – your comment, like the poster, assumes that rapists are strangers, waiting for an unknown woman who takes their fancy

    It assumes that some rapists are strangers, waiting for an unknown woman who takes their fancy. And it outlines ways to avoid getting raped by these rapists.

    Clearly that doesn’t reduce the risks of being raped to 0%; but it reduces it somewhat, doesn’t it? And isn’t any reduction in the chance of being raped a good thing?

    Knowing that, the only advice that would actually control “access” as you call it is to avoid friendships between genders – which is both completely impractical, and does a massive injustice to the great majority of men who aren’t considering assault

    No; the advice to reduce access there would be, ‘don’t be alone with someone until you know them well enough to be sure they aren’t going to rape you’.

    You can quite easily cultivate friendships in group or public settings, and not be alone with someone until you know them well enough to trust they won’t harm you if given the chance.

  • Alice Thomas 9th Apr '15 - 1:26pm

    Charlie – I have no objection to women learning self-defence, which is not the subject of this article. I would object if the police had a campaign that implied sexual assaults could be avoided if only the victim had learnt self-defence because this is the same sort of simplifying, and victim-blaming, as the poster above.

    Eddie – the police are in a different position to parents in terms of their reputation for a lack of trust in victims, as explained in the article.

    Dav – again, you are assuming both that there is a single kind of man capable of sexual assault – someone with a “rapist mindset” – and that such a mindset would be obvious from interacting with them. Given the number of rapes and assaults committed and experienced by people of all backgrounds and life experiences, that simply isn’t plausible. All it does is perpetuate the myth that all rapes are committed by monsters, and if you appear to be “nice guy” you cannot have committed rape, which again helps acquaintance rapists get away with it.

  • Alice Thomas
    By learning self defence one is reducing the risk of being a victim. If a sailor goes into a rough dockside bar and cannot defend themselves then they are increasing the risk of being attacked. It is not blaming the victim but taking risk reduction methods. It is the advice I would give to anyone who travels: learn self defence, watch out for micky finns in drinks and honeypot traps.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '15 - 1:50pm

    I know Alice, but I was talking about the debate as a whole and concerns that even women have raised over the phrase victim blaming.

    I’m not getting into a big debate about it. I strongly criticised the poster and said nothing wrong.

  • Good article.

  • This is why we need a really good programme of education in consent in schools

    What good would that do? A rapist by definition is someone who doesn’t care whether their victim consents or not.

    How will educating them about something they don’t care about help?

    again, you are assuming both that there is a single kind of man capable of sexual assault

    Well, they do all have one thing in common, which is that they are capable of this heinous crime which the vast majority of men would never even dream of committing.

    All it does is perpetuate the myth that all rapes are committed by monsters, and if you appear to be “nice guy” you cannot have committed rape, which again helps acquaintance rapists get away with it

    Surely everyone is aware that there are monsters who are on the surface charming, and who con people into thinking they are ‘nice guys’ in order to carry out their crimes?

    After all isn’t that why the saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ was coined?

  • Alice Thomas 9th Apr '15 - 4:01pm

    Dav – I am not sure how your comment that women should “not be alone with someone until you know them well enough to trust they won’t harm you” works with your comment that “everyone is aware that there are monsters who are on the surface charming” who “con people into thinking they are ‘nice guys’ in order to carry out their crimes”. The implication of this statement is that women should never be alone with a man because you would never know what they might do.

    In fact, this is exactly the “nice guy” myth. Rapists are like ordinary people most of the time. I am not arguing that the crime isn’t heinous – it is – but the person who commits it won’t normally act out this behaviour the rest of the time. In fact, they are usually perfectly functional, useful members of society, as we know from sex abuse and rape scandals involving famous figures like politicians, tv stars and footballers. The myth that all rapists are monsters allows these people – who are too “normal” to be rapists – to get away with it, often repeatedly.

    Similarly, rapists are not immutably evil individuals; they are people whose behaviour can be changed or avoided altogether through various routes, including early intervention at schools, so consent education is a very important step towards that.

  • Hi Alice – interesting piece and a complex issue. There is a theory in behavioural psychology known (grandly) as “just world hypothesis” that i think may be is instructive here. We frequently (semi-consciously) apportion blame to those who have been unlucky victims in stochastic incidents, because it is in our rational interest to view the world as meritocratic to maintain our own sense of purpose and happiness. A classic example of the moment imho is the Police and public attitude to cyclists’ deaths.. which is overwhelmingly an issue of blind – spots at junctions, but is misinterpreted as matter of cyclists wilfully taking risks by riding through red lights.

    With this in mind, I think there probably is often a similar attitude to the victims of male rape, as ‘having deserved it’- it is just this is even more stigmatised so (as you say) it is barely acknowledged.

    That said, amongst a mix of thoughts, perhaps there is a male-centric bias in the Police that is rooted in sexual insecurity, that exaggerates this unfair attitude in a way we’d frequently rightly classify as ‘sexist’. Nonetheless, I think there is another unfair another motive for blaming ‘pretty’ as well as ‘handsome’ victims of rape- jealousy and schadenfreude…the under-acknowledged dark bias many people have of exaggerating the happiness of those who seem more so than ourselves..and then wanting to finish that perceived gulf.. but i don’t think that particular impulse is an issue of gender..

  • There are so many ways this poster is stupid: it perpetuates the myth of stranger rape as the only “real rape” (an idea which helps acquaintance rapists get away with it over and over again), it ignores male victims of rape, and it suggests women should fear sexual assault more than they value their sexual liberty.

    This is a poster – intended to be noticed primarily by people in nightclub toilets in the early hours of the morning – which contains a single picture of two happy looking women, and forty words.

    Reading the criticisms, it’s extraordinary (a) how many different messages this single poster manages to convey, all of them bad apparently, and (b) how many extra messages the poster should be conveying, but isn’t – even though, as I said, it’s a single poster and its aim is to catch the eye of people who are a little worse for wear during a heavy night out.

    An example of (a) is your claim that the poster “perpetuates the myth of stranger rape as the only ‘real rape'”. The first thing to point out is that the poster doesn’t even mention or depict rape. But really, you’re just imagining a message that isn’t there. Most of the messages claimed for the poster are not there, and I suspect (but cannot prove) most people would not imagine them to be.

    As for (b), you and a lot of the critics on the other thread seem unhappy that the poster fails to acknowledge other kinds of rape. This is an odd argument. Sussex Police’s campaign (of which this image is going to be a tiny part) is specifically targeting sexual assaults that occur on the streets, or in pubs and clubs, at night. It’s not trying to be a general anti-rape campaign, and why should it? Crime prevention campaigns such as this often concentrate on one specific subset of crime rather than trying to do everything in one go. (In recent years, for instance, there have been powerful campaigns against sexual abuse within families – nobody complained that this ignored other kinds of sexual abuse).

    As for the bit about short skirts… where are you getting that from? It’s not even hinted at in the poster.

    This puts all the fault on the shoulders of victims – adding guilt to the already heavy burden they are carrying – and makes it easier for the police, juries and society at large to shrug off any responsibility, because ‘she was warned’.

    I can assure you that Sussex Police do take assaults very seriously, even when the victim is out on her own at night. Here’s one example they have publicised heavily in recent weeks :-

    http://www.sussex.police.uk/whats-happening/latest/news-stories/2015/03/05/police-investigate-sexual-assault-in-chichester

  • Philip Thomas 9th Apr '15 - 7:25pm

    Rape is often committed by the partner or spouse of the victim. Presumably the decision to get married/enter a long-term relationship included the calculation that the victim’s betrothed would not rape him.

    As for the idea that education about consent is useless, some men. who are not intentional rapists genuinely do not understand basic concepts around consent. Education can help them. And making clear the criminal penalties could deter others.

  • A Social Liberal 9th Apr '15 - 8:21pm

    If the Neighbourhood Watch is a form of victim blaming then I will accept that the strategy suggested by the police is, in its turn, blaming the victim. Similarly if Pubwatch is victim blaming, if Farmwatch is victim blaming then I will accept the arguement above is. However, of course, none of the above are, any more than the strategy of covering drinks with ones hand is, or watching your friends drink whilst she visits the toilet.

    Yes stranger/date rape is only suffered by a minority of rape victims, but that doesn’t mean that the strategy suggested by the police is wrong, or that they were wrong to voice that strategy. It is simply that – a strategy to combat stranger/date rape.

  • Has any one actually spoken to Sussex Police about the campaign?
    It would not surprise me to find out that this poster is simply one of a whole series, each with a different target audience and message…

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 12:01am

    Stuart – even if I accepted that a poster cannot convey multiple messages and messages other than those intended by the creator or directly spelt out into the slogan (which I don’t), the choice of campaign message is still flawed for the reasons set out in the article. It is not, as you say, “targeting sexual assault on the streets” but targeting victims and suggesting they can predict and prevent their own assaults, which as stated they cannot.

    The statement about short skirts, like most of the examples in the article, was to help illustrate the theory of why victim blaming is harmful. It was not taken from the poster and I never suggested it was.

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 12:12am

    A Social Liberal – as the article explains, preventative strategies wok much better with predictable crimes like property damage, and this is what Neighbourhood Watch aims to do. As the article also explains, preventative strategies don’t work for sexual assault because it’s not predictable: all they do is create the myth that victims can prevent their assault, which leaves victims feeling like they’ve failed and others judging them if they did not take all possible precautionary measure.

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 12:13am

    Roland – I hope there are other more positive posters in the campaign (although I have looked on Sussex Police’s website and couldn’t find them). That wouldn’t change the flaws in this one.

  • Alice Thomas

    Not trying to be nasty, but have you ever considered that you are wrong and that advising young women on a night out to look out for each other is not such a bad idea. On the thread where Caron started the discussion- at a guess – I would say 80 or 90% thought the poster was a good idea. The poster was also discussed in the Daily Mail and in their comments section – again at a guess – the same percentage (out of about 400 comments) thought it was a good commonsense poster. Now what would you suggest the police do? Use the poster that seems to have massive support among the public, or listen to the 10 or 20% that think it’s stupid.

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 7:48am

    Malc – Any rational person considers they might be wrong. Neither commentators on this site or in the comment thread of the Daily Mail are representative of “massive support from the public”, in terms of actual numbers and because of self-selection bias.

  • Iain Roberts 10th Apr '15 - 7:59am
  • Alice

    You started off with some sensible underlying assumptions but have veered away from them in the comments.

    I would start by pointing out that these campaigns are more than likely to be useless as even good advice which is just stated on a poster would have too be better delivered than this to cut through with most people.

    You challenges to Dav though don’t stand up to scrutiny, you make assumptions that I cannot see a basis for. For example Dav doesn’t suggest that the posters are trying to address all rapes so pointing out that it is unlikely to affect acquaintance rape is irrelevant.

    This brings me on to the point Dav made here and on the earlier post by Caron, rapists do not all look the same they do not all act the same but they all have one thing in common, something in their character makes them willing to rape someone. This is a very rare characteristic and hard to identity. Dav doesn’t suggest any more than this so comments about “nice guy myth” is missing the point.

  • Which brings me on to your point:

    “they are people whose behaviour can be […] avoided altogether through various routes, including early intervention at schools, so consent education is a very important step towards that.”

    which echos Philip Thomas’s point:

    “As for the idea that education about consent is useless, some men. who are not intentional rapists genuinely do not understand basic concepts around consent.”

    The “education is a cure for every thing” line.

    I have noticed this suggestion that rapists are just people who don’t realise it isn’t ok to rape. Rapists know what they are doing is wrong but carry on regardless. It reminds me of the Brendan O’Neill article following the cancellation of a debate in Oxford on abortion:

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9376232/free-speech-is-so-last-century-todays-students-want-the-right-to-be-comfortable/

    “[..]at […] Cambridge, I was circled by Stepfords [students] after taking part in a debate on faith schools. It wasn’t my defence of parents’ rights to send their children to religious schools they wanted to harangue me for — much as they loathed that liberal position — it was my suggestion, made in this magazine and elsewhere, that ‘lad culture’ doesn’t turn men into rapists. Their mechanical minds seemed incapable of computing that someone would say such a thing.

    Their eyes glazed with moral certainty, they explained to me at length that culture warps minds and shapes behaviour and that is why it is right for students to strive to keep such wicked, misogynistic stuff as the Sun newspaper and sexist pop music off campus. ‘We have the right to feel comfortable,’ they all said, like a mantra. One — a bloke — said that the compulsory sexual consent classes recently introduced for freshers at Cambridge, to teach what is and what isn’t rape, were a great idea because they might weed out ‘pre-rapists’: men who haven’t raped anyone but might. The others nodded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pre-rapists! Had any of them read Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novella about a wicked world that hunts down and punishes pre-criminals, I asked? None had.”

    It is as if people see rapists as a sort of character that would be played by Owen Wilson in some kind of warped rom-com where he suddenly goes “dude, I never realised when she said no that that was what it meant. I’ll stop ding that now” that is clearly a ridiculous situation but the point is that consent is not a difficult concept, it is not a lack of understanding that is the issue.

    Those who “genuinely do not understand basic concepts around consent” are going to be those so young they should be under the age of criminal responsibility or with sufficient special needs they wouldn’t be able to face trial due to capability. None of that is to say people’s behaviour can’t be changed but it is not just a matter of informing them that what they have been doing is wrong.

  • Alice Thomas

    You have to accept that just as you find the poster “stupid in so many ways” many people have completely different opinions. I just hope Sussex police don’t pull the campaign because of criticism from what appears to be a small minority.

    Iain Roberts

    Another great poster, this time by the Manchester police. Well done to them.

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 11:14am

    PSI – consent education is not the subject of this article, but if is worth pointing out that there is a subtle difference between Phil’s point and mine (both of which I believe are correct). Phil is talking about the small number of people who genuinely do not understand the line between flirting or suggestive behaviour and active consent. Those people and the women they interact with gain from them receiving consent education.

    My point was that a culture in which myths around high levels of “accidental” rape persist makes it easier for rapists who intend to rape to get away with it by claiming misunderstanding. If everyone receives consent education that changes mindsets so we expect active consent, people are more likely to intervene where behaviour is inappropriate (like asking “mate do you think she’s too drunk to consent?”) and to believe victims when they say did not consent, which is good for victims and makes life harder for rapists.

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 11:19am

    Malc – as you say we disagree and I hope they do pull it, because it perpetuates harmful and inaccurate ideas as set out in the article.

  • Well I suspect that there is a small team of people associated with Sussex police who are toasting a successful campaign!

    It would seem that thanks to the indignant outrage of some, this locally focused (to the Sussex police area) campaign intended to raise awareness of “sexual assault”, (ie. it covers a much large range of offences against the person than simply rape) and to get people thinking about what positive actions they can take to reduce risk, has received national press coverage and debate. Regardless of what some may think of the actual poster, as an awareness raising campaign it has been very very successful! Whereas other campaigns, that seem to meet with approval from some, such as the one being conducted by the Manchester Police, have garnered little publicity.

    I anticipate Sussex Police will commission further work from the team behind this campaign!

  • Roland

    “I anticipate Sussex Police will commission further work from the team behind this campaign!”

    Lets hope so because it would be a shame if they were pulled because of the complaints of a few. Although as you point out the “indignant outrage” of some has helped awareness of the campaign which is good. I also think the Manchester police poster was excellent and hopefully they will carry on the good work.

  • Malcolm
    You think 80 to 90% of people on the previous thread thought the poster was a good idea. From my perspective that would be 80 to 90% of the men who responded. This poster is aimed at young women but it hasn’t gone down well with young female Lib Dems. Why don’t you listen to them?

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 7:10pm

    Update: the poster has now been pulled.

  • @Alice
    “The statement about short skirts, like most of the examples in the article, was to help illustrate the theory of why victim blaming is harmful. It was not taken from the poster and I never suggested it was.”

    So why did you mention Sussex police in that context?

    I think it’s a shame the poster has been pulled, because in the absence of any proof that it was sending out all those harmful “hidden messages”, it could have actually done a little bit of good. Most of the critics seem to have no problem with parents giving their children the same advice. Alas, some young people are not fortunate enough to have parents who give them good advice – and even if they are, those parents are not going to be around to dole out such advice in a nightclub at 3am. That’s all the poster was trying to do.

  • Philip Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 8:10pm

    @Psi
    I was trying to avoid saying this, but the reason I know there are men who do not understand basic concepts around consent is because some of them were my fellow law students! Once they had taken the relevant bit of the Criminal Law course, they understood- but you should have heard their understanding beforehand (E.g. one of them thought you could wait 5 minutes before withdrawing after the woman has indicated she no longer wishes to continue)!

    Not everyone gets to study Criminal law, so basic education around consent is important

  • Alice Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 8:13pm

    Stuart – as explained in the article the problem is (a) the advice is not actually helpful because it gives a false impression of the likelihood of stranger rape and your ability to prevent it as a victim and (b) it is particularly inappropriate for the police to give e this advice because it can actually harm their already poor reputation for believing victims.

  • @Alice
    (a) Do you actually have any figures to back that assertion up? Intuitively, people expect to be safer in numbers. When I browsed through some of the reports of sexual assaults on the Sussex Police website the other day when this all blew up, it was striking how many of them referred to lone women. Perhaps the police know a little bit more about what they’re talking about than you give them credit for?

    I’m not trying to catch you out here in any way. I’m the parent of a teenage girl myself and the advice on the poster is part of the advice I would want to give her. So I genuinely want to know whether it is the right advice or not.

    (b) Do the police have such a poor reputation these days? Obviously this would have been the case 40 or 30 years ago, but I thought they had taken massive strides forward on this. When a friend of mine once reported (falsely, as it turned out) that she had been raped, she was treated very well by the police, and this was nearly twenty years ago.

    I don’t think Sussex Police have a problem with disbelieving victims, judging by all the appeals for information on their website I referred to (have you read any of them?). If, heaven forbid, my daughter was ever assaulted, I’d be much more worried about the treatment she’d be likely to get from the defence lawyers in court than her treatment by the police.

    A year or two back there was a terrible case (doubtless not the only one) of a victim being driven to suicide by the appalling ordeal she went through in court. That didn’t arouse anything like the on-line outrage this poster has.

  • Jonathan Brown 10th Apr '15 - 11:14pm

    Another very good article Alice, and one that has changed my view.

    I hadn’t paid much attention to the debate but when I saw the poster (in articles about the poster) I didn’t think much more than ‘it’s a big negative but I suppose it’s just trying to warn people to be careful and look out for each other’. I think it _was_ just trying to warn people to be careful and look out for each other, but I think you’re right – it is important to challenge the assumptions people have about rape. And for all its good intentions, the poster probably only reinforces them.

    And as Sue S says – we really ought to listen to what the people affected by policies or issues have to say. In this case, the young women the posters were aimed at.

  • Stephen Walpole 11th Apr '15 - 12:03am

    Alice

    I do not accept that the strategy of a group of friends all leaving together will not go a long way to prevent stranger rape. As for blamng the victim – I accept that it will happen, but the type of person who does so will fnd a reason to find fault with the victims actions no matter what happens.

    Charlie – your take on who gets attacked in rough pubs is just silly. I served for nearly a decade and during that time have seen hard men laid low just as often as the quiet. You can never tell in advance who might be assaulted any more than you can tell who might visit violence on you or your mates.

    Likewise your assertion that teaching women self defence will prevent rape. There is much more to getting a person to a level where they can hurt another at will than teaching a few moves. Not least that person has to learn to switch to aggression in a moment and then leave that aggression behind. The only way to ignore the fear and dread of danger is to be familiar with that danger, be comfortable in the environment and that means experiencing that fear often. Then there is the pain factor – in order to learn to be able to access the aggression in the face of pain they have to experience that pain often.

    After all that, you still have to have the will to use violence. In the US many people who have arms and access them when facing intruders are killed with their own weapons because they haven’t got it in them to hurt another person.

  • Alice

    You are right that consent education is not the topic but both Philip and yourself raised it. There is a cross over issue here.

    “My point was that a culture in which myths around high levels of “accidental” rape persist makes it easier for rapists who intend to rape to get away with it by claiming misunderstanding.”

    My concern is your arguments are muddying the water. Consent is not a difficult concept (I’ll address Philip’s point separately) the point is that no one should be suggesting there are any excuses and these arguments open up wiggle room.

    I have avoided discussing the “direct” posters as those are a much wider discussion, but in respect of the “advice to friends” posters You are stretching to reach your conclusions.

    Rape as you point out takes many forms but the poster is looking at only one aspect. Most crimes have many varients a campaign about one varient doesn’t deny the other types. A campaign about handbags left in cars doesn’t deny the crimes of people stealing vehicles to commit other crimes, theft of cars for parts, breaking into work vans for tools etc.

    The poster does include two women but in my experience single sex groups going out are often the minority, most groups are mixed so advice to look out for friends is advice across the board.

    As Stephen Worpole points out those who would engage in victim blaming will do so regardless. Stating that people do so because the police ran a campaign about friends sticking together again excuses this inexcuseable behaviour.

    A bit less “understanding” shown to rapists and thaose who look to blame victims would be a far mor sensible responce to your approach of defusing responsibility across lack of understanding, information campaigns etc. People are responsible for there actions and should be expected to be treated as such.

  • Philip Thomas

    I’ll start by saying that your fellow students probably shouldn’t have been on a law course if there reasoning ability was really that limited.

    If any of your fellow students had acted on these “misunderstandings” they should be in prison. It sounds to me like an odd individual who has concocted a contorted “misunderstanding” to answer any difficult questions should they have their bahaviour challenged. Did they equally assume if they broke down in the country and were allowed to use a farmer’s phone to call the AA that there was a length of time they were “entitled” to stay in the farmers house after being asked to leave? Were there limits on how the farmer would be allowed to remove them. What was the basis of 5 minutes not 1 minute or 15?

    It takes seconds to realise that those ideas are rediculous and cannot be written withe real world in mind. I would suggest your fellow students were describing the leeway they wanted to be entitled to rather than what they actually believed existed.

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr '15 - 4:41pm

    @Psi
    People can have very stupid beliefs. About 15% of the country is apparently voting UKIP in this election, for example.

  • It is very clear from the comment threads on high profile rape cases that there is a significant number of men who do need educating about consent.

  • Philip

    I don’t think your example applies . I may disagree with people voting UKIP but I think the vast majority would think they got what they voted for if UKIP held some kind of power and they got a refurendum on EU membership with their elected representatives using their elected status to campaign to leave.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 10:13pm

    @Psi
    You miss the point. If UKIP voters were rational and wanted to ensure a referendum on Europe, they wouldn’t vote for UKIP!

  • Well you missed my point. So we are going to take a few turns over this.

    There are many reasons people vote UKIP:
    They want a Refurendum on the EU (UKIP will definitely vote for that, the Tories aren’t trusted by many Anti-EUers);
    They want to express a socially conservative position (none of the mainstream parties offer that);
    They want to turn the clock back to 1950 (not going to happen but UKIP will at least try, traditional colours of trains…)
    I could go on but they are too depressing.

    My point is that if someone votes UKIP (and if any get elected) it would be unreasonable for them to claim they didn’t know that said representative would vote for a referendum and then campaign for leaving.

    Equally it is unreasonable for someone who commits rape (whatever their claimed misunderstanding of the law) to claim they should not be tried and go to prison.

    How much sympathy would a UKIP voter get in a pub from someone if they moaned that the party campaigned to leave the EU, about as much as a rapist is entitled to for claiming they didn’t understand that they weren’t allowed to rape people.

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