Policing blame: Calls for the immediate withdrawal of West Mercia Police's anti-rape campaign

by Philippa Willitts // 27 July 2012, 13:28

Tags: police, rape, rape prevention advice, victim-blaming, west mercia

wmp__1337180159_Dont_let_a_night_full_of_promi.jpg Another day, another victim-blaming campaign. This time, it comes from West Mercia police, who have created alcohol-related warnings in a campaign called Safe Night Out, featuring a poster aimed at men, and one aimed at women.

Amid an outcry accusing the police force of victim-blaming, Jocelyn Anderson from the West Mercia Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre has come forward to complain about the lack of consultation with any groups who work with survivors of sexual violence. She is angry about the messages the campaign sends out, saying, "it's just wrong". What's more, because WMRSASC are listed on the police website, they fear that people will associate them with the campaign.

The poster aimed at women says, "Don't let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret". The top of the poster has an image of a woman smiling in a nightclub, while on the bottom half she is collapsed in a heap on the floor. The sub heading is, "Drink sensibly. Get home safely".

On their website, the text which accompanies the poster says, "Did you know, if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex, or even rape?" This is quite an astounding statement! It equates "regretful" sex with rape, suggesting the two are on a continuum. Having sex that you regret when you're drunk is not fun, but it is not a police matter and it has nothing to do with assault.

Rape, on the other hand, is a crime committed against a person, the full responsibility for which is with the perpetrator. The poster warning against "a morning full of regret" may apply to "regretful sex", but again this is simply not a police matter and does not relate to assault.

Jocelyn Anderson expressed to me her anger and dismay at the campaign. Its victim-blaming nature and provocative imagery misrepresents what rape actually is and where the blame should lie. Jocelyn explained that she had no idea why West Mercia police had not consulted her organisation, or other similar organisations in the area. They had worked together previously and she is very keen to work closely with them again in order to create a more accurate anti-rape campaign. She used the Scottish campaign, This is Not an Invitation to Rape Me, as an example of one which had been successful and relevant.

wmp__1341499994_men-assault.jpg The poster aimed at men is similarly problematic. While you it is refreshing to see a campaign warning perpetrators not to commit rape, this one is misguided and inaccurate. The caption is the same as on the poster aimed at women: "Don't let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret". West Mercia police warn men that they should not commit sexual assault because they, "could lose [their] job and be placed on the sex offenders register". Not because it's wrong. No, you just might lose your job. They also, confusingly, state that "if someone has not given their consent to sex or touching, you could be breaking the law". As Jocelyn pointed out, if someone has not given their consent you are breaking the law. This should not be a grey area.

Rather than appealing to basic morals, ethics and respect, the campaign aimed at men appears to be focused on safeguarding men's jobs and avoiding the sex offenders register. It provides no sense of where the responsibility for assault lies.

One of the explanations given to Jocelyn by West Mercia police was that the focus on advising women against drinking too much was, in part, to act as a prompt to police officers so that if they came across a woman who was incapacitated through alcohol, they should try to find her friends or get medical help. As Jocelyn pointed out, this should already happen! If a police officer comes across a woman who has collapsed bought is incapable of looking after herself, they should not need a reminder to do get her to safety. Tagging it on to an anti-rape campaign serves no purpose other than to stigmatise rape victims who were drunk when they were assaulted.

As always, the only responsibility for sexual assault is with the perpetrator. It is possible to do these campaigns well, but this one is a clear example of how damaging they can turn out to be when they are created without proper consultation.

Complaints against the campaign came from every angle when I asked for feedback from our Twitter account.

Jocelyn Anderson is calling for West Mercia police to withdraw this campaign immediately and to work with her and other survivors' organisations within the area to create a campaign which is ethical, effective and appropriate. I support Jocelyn's call for the withdrawal of the campaign, and for a new one to take its place which blames nobody other than perpetrators, which removes any suggested link between women regretting sex and women being raped, and which makes clear the very real wrongs - and consequences - of committing sexual assault.

If you want to contact West Mercia police, you can do so here. Comments on this post which offer support for the campaign to be withdrawn and a new one created, with consultation, will also be passed on to West Mercia Police.

Further Information and Support:
Rape Crisis Ireland have created a factsheet on Alcohol consumption and victim blaming.

If you are in the West Mercia area and you need support, you can contact wmrsasc on 01905 724514 (Worcestershire) or 0870 2422230 (Herefordshire). If you are not in that area, you can call the National Helpline on 0808 802 9999.

Comments From You

Louise McCudden // Posted 27 July 2012 at 13:48

Amazing blog on this "it's not victim-blaming it's just common sense" rubbish over on Glosswitch's blog by the way.

To the effect of "false accusations against men are terrible. To prevent them happening, guys, why not just not have sex? Just don't do it. Stay indoors. Don't flirt, don't go out drinking, don't dance with girls in clubs, and definitely don't go round having one night stands. It's just common sense that this stuff can lead to false accusations of rape."

Class.

throughthetrees // Posted 27 July 2012 at 14:09

Personally I think until men can learn to behave and to treat women like they are human they should have a curfew and women should have far more spaces that are closed to men

Shadow // Posted 27 July 2012 at 21:47

I have just sent an email to West Mercia Police demanding that this misogynistic women-blaming campaign be immediately withdrawn. I provided the reasons and evidence why this campaign once again excuses/minimalises male accountability and condones/promotes blaming women for men's choice in deciding to commit male sexual violence against women and/or to rape women.

I am appalled that West Mercia Police believes Male Supremacist lies that women are always responsible for curtailing sexually predatory males from targetting them. West Mercia Police has a duty to thoroughly investigate all cases of male sexual violence committed against women but this misogynistic campaign will inform women living within West Mercia's region that the Police believe any woman who consumes alcohol and is subsequently targetted by a sexually predatory male is to blame not the sexually predatory male. Note too sexually predatory males commonly do not walk around with horns on their heads; rather they are that 'nice respectable male work colleague;' 'the boyfriend who is so nice and respectful to his girlfriend; the male neighbour. Even that male stranger who walked over to the young woman sitting in a bar and engaged her in conversation - he too can be a male sexual predator and he relies on women being polite whenever a male stranger engages them in conversation because to him that will be evidence he 'is acquainted with the woman so therefore he could not have raped her!'

I also suggested West Mercia Police have a new campaign informing women and men that it is their responsibility not to be subjected to physical assault/theft/fraud etc. because the perpetrator(s) noticed the victim(s) did not take sufficient precautions to ensure their possesions/safety was secure so therefore the victim(s) are to blame not the criminals.

LauraB // Posted 28 July 2012 at 11:22

It's a shockingly bad campaign isn't it. I especially detest the, 'if someone has not given their consent... you could be breaking the law' bit. If the police don't understand the law what fucking hope is there.

Thank you for drawing our attention to this. I've sent an email to West Mercia telling them about the night that I'd followed all of their advice to the letter and was then raped by the person I had trusted to get me home safely.

I really thought it was my fault for years after I was raped, it wasn't a stranger in a street, it was a guy I had started seeing who wouldn't stop when I told him to and then I froze. So it took me ages to see it as what it was, actual rape, because it didn't fit the common myth, I'd said no clearly but I didn't fight him off. I had internalised the evilness that is victim-blame culture and so I blamed myself for leading him on... I carried on seeing him and it wasn't the only time he hurt me. Even my dad, when I spoke to him about it much later, said, 'it must be hard for boys to read signals sometimes' and I felt so let down. My Mum (very devout right-wing christian) suggested that we were married in god's eyes now and (get this) stayed in touch with him after I had managed to split up with him finally.

That is victim-blaming. If there was less emphasis on what girls should do to stay safe (when in reality there is pretty much nothing you can do apart from never be in the presence of any other human being) and more emphasis on teaching men not to rape, on blaming rapists and saying that it is *their* fault that they choose to rape, perhaps my parents wouldn't have let me down so spectacularly.

And the police - I did go to them and explained he had been sexually violent but it wasn't really rape (whilst I was still denying it to myself) and they didn't educate me about what rape is, they let me leave still believing I hadn't been raped, and they advised me not to press charges about his violence because I had little chance of winning and I'd be made to look bad during the case.

I think the police aren't the best people to be trying to educate the public about rape. They need to be educated themselves first.



Philippa Willitts // Posted 28 July 2012 at 19:23

@LauraB,

Thanks for your comment, and for contacting West Mercia Police too.

I'm so sorry that that happened, and that the people around you - including the police - did not treat it with the seriousness it deserved, and didn't offer you the support and help you needed. Many women and girls do not immediately recognise that they have been raped, and I think this can make us question ourselves even more. Self-blame is awful, and when others also appear to put the blame on us - or at least not on the perpetrator - this is just reinforced.

Clodia // Posted 28 July 2012 at 20:26

Well what else could we expect from the police, with their institutionalised misogyny, prejudice and hatred of anything out of the patriarchal ordinary?

Any woman who is assaulted, raped, harassed or otherwise acted against by men , in the mindset of the police, has somehow "asked for it". This belief underlies all their claims to be proactive in "protecting" women. when women are assaulted, the police advise them "against going out alone". Why not round up and curfew the men who assault, rape, harass?
Why should women, as victims, take the blame? Because we live to some extent in a police state, and that means a patriarchal, misogynist state.

Natalie // Posted 04 August 2012 at 21:51

I'm a survivor and have personally experienced horrific bullying and victim blaming following my assault. (In New Orleans, Louisiana,USA.) I knew my attacker and was totally caught off guard when I was assaulted. The police in New Orleans were anything but helpful and I am saddened how common it is to victim blame.

I am offended by the "Safe night out" campaign poorly executed by the West Mercia police. Shame on them. Clearly all they managed to do was blame victims and ill advise men about consent and what that truly means. "Whatever I wear wherever I go, yes means yes and no means, no." (saying from the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault t-shirt that I proudly wear)

I'm drafting an email to submit to the West Mercia police department to assist Jocelyn Anderson in the demand for removal of this disgusting campaign. I anticipate (and will be praying for) a suitable campaign to takes its place.
This issue is global and I believe more focus needs to be on teaching people not to rape instead of ignorantly telling women not to get raped.
Thank you F-word for being here.

~~Natalie
Survivor, Thriver, Advocate

Alex Wood // Posted 05 August 2012 at 00:06

I agree this campaign should be pulled. It's far too biased.

Natalie // Posted 06 August 2012 at 17:40

I made a comment a few days ago (still waiting for it to be 'approved" on here).

I wanted to follow up and share the response I received from my email to the West Merica Police regarding the email I sent them to remove their Safe Night Out campaign.
Here is their reply:

'Dear Natalie,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us and express your concerns regarding our recent Safe Night Out campaign.

West Mercia Police takes allegations of rape and sexual assault very seriously and we categorically do not believe victims are to blame.

The campaign (which was developed by another police force but in consultation with a number of victim support organisations) has now ended but the feedback we have received will be used to help evaluate it and to develop future campaigns.

Thank you again for your feedback and frankness.'

Anita // Posted 11 August 2012 at 20:57

thank you for the link to the scottish site. excellently worded. why isn't that campaign being used nationwide?

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