Sunbathers on Brighton beach. Photo: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images
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Sussex police’s victim-blaming anti-rape campaign: why is it victims, not rapists, that must change their behaviour?

Decades after the first Reclaim the Night march, we are still wondering: why is it always women who are told they have to modify their behaviour in order to stay safe?

“Which one of your mates is most vulnerable on a night out?” asks the poster from Sussex police’s latest sexual violence prevention campaign. If you want an honest answer, it’ll be the male one. Most victims of violent crime taking place outside the home are male (women, on the other hand, are more at risk in a domestic environment). The safest thing for everyone might be for men to stay indoors (I suggest they do some ironing) while women go out on the lash.

And yet this doesn’t seem to be where Sussex police are taking their campaign. Instead, almost 38 years after the first UK Reclaim the Night march made the glaringly obvious point that the threat of male violence must not limit women’s freedom of movement, it’s still being suggested that women are the ones who should be on their guard. The image from the poster shows two young women, all dressed up, taking selfies and cheerily oblivious – oblivious! – to the dangers that lurk around them. “Many sexual assaults could be prevented,” the poster solemnly informs us. “Stick together and don’t let your friend leave with a stranger or go off on their own.” Danger is all around us! Especially at home and/or with people you know, but you only need worry about it when you’re actually out enjoying yourselves! Got that, ladies?

Chief Inspector Katy Woolford has defended the poster from charges of victim blaming, arguing that “it is vital to be aware of vulnerability so that steps can be taken to guard against it”. This is, as we know, the story of women’s lives. It’s not that we’re insufficiently aware of our own vulnerabilities; on the contrary, we’re all crushed by the constant reminders of how vulnerable we are. From early childhood we’re taught to be fearful of the wolf that lurks in the shadows. We’re reminded not to stray too far from the forest path or else we’ll get eaten up. We grow older, watching films and reading stories in which the rape and mutilation of women serve as common plot devices. We are told to think of ourselves as laptops, as unlocked doors, as open wallets, as property that anyone might take unless we’re locked safely away. We know we’re not meant to go outside. Outside might, statistically, be safer, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Margaret Atwood famously told us that “men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” In a world that made sense, men would also be worrying about other men killing them, but that’s not what they are taught to do. We do not expect men to live in fear of what might happen, nor do we expect them to take responsibility simply for being there when it does. After all, men have lives to lead, things to do. It is only women who are taught to experience themselves as walking targets. As Soraya Chemaly notes, “teaching girls to constantly modify their behaviour in order to avoid stranger rape is a form of social control”. The threat of stranger rape – regardless of whether or not we have experienced it – makes us feel smaller, more exposed, less capable of being active agents in the world.

Years ago I was sexually assaulted by a complete stranger in a dark lane – one of those rare “classic” attacks – and the impact has had less to do with the attack itself, more with how it has changed my feeling of entitlement to public space, especially at night. That is, I can’t help feeling, what such an attack was meant to do. Being told that such things are common (when they are not) and that women can control their frequency (by restricting our movements) hardly helps.

Of course, it is not just women who will see posters such as this one. Rapists will, too. And what does this say to a rapist, if not “this is how things happen”? When women get drunk, when they meet strangers, when they wander off alone, this is how things work. Rape is what happens when women “make themselves vulnerable.” As Jill Filipovic points out, research has shown that “cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely”:

In social groups where there is wide acceptance of rape myths – for example, the beliefs that acquaintance rape is a problem of communication or "mixed signals", that rapists simply can't control their sexual urges, that women often lie about rape, or that women invite rape upon themselves by their actions or manner of dressing – rape proclivity is higher. When men internalize rape myths, they are more likely to commit rape or see rape as more acceptable.

A woman can only make herself vulnerable if others have already learned to see her as potential prey.

Unlike Sussex police, I do not think “many sexual assaults could be prevented”. All sexual assaults could be prevented. There’s always a way to avoid sexual assault: just don’t assault anyone. But that’s too simplistic, isn’t it? You can’t just tell rapists not to rape. It’s what they are, what they do. The only people capable of changing their behaviour are potential, mostly female victims. Or so the story goes. I don’t believe it for a moment. It’s just part of that larger narrative in which women are capable of change but men are not. Male behaviour – male aggression, male violence, male sexual entitlement – goes unchallenged, even when the people it harms most are men themselves. It’s women who are expected not to smile too much, not to laugh too loud, not to walk home alone. Our “natural” adaptability means that we’re the ones who must constantly stoop in order not to get in the way. But this is not freedom, not for any of us. We must resist and claim the space that is ours.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Article 50 deadline: Nick Clegg urges Remainers to "defy Brexit bullies and speak up"

The former deputy Prime Minister argued Brexiteers were trying to silence the 48 per cent. 

On Wednesday 29 March, at 12.30pm, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, will hand deliver a letter to the European Council President, Donald Tusk. On that sheet of paper will be the words triggering Article 50. Nine months after Britain voted for Brexit, it will formally begin the process of leaving the EU.

For grieving Remainers, the delivery of the letter abruptly marks the end of the denial stage. But what happens next?

Speaking at an Open Britain event, former Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg had an answer. Responding to the concerns of a scientist in the audience, he declared:

“The most important thing of all is people like you make your voice heard. What the hysterical aggression from the Brexiteers means is they want to silence you.

"That’s why they attack everyone. The Bank of England - how dare you speak about the British economy? How dare judges make a judgement? How dare Remainers still believe they want to be part of the EU? 

"What they systematically try to do is bully and delegitimise anyone who disagrees with their narrow world view.

"It’s a ludicrous thing when 16.1m people - that’s more than have ever voted for a party in a general election - voted for a different future, when 70 per cent of youngsters have voted for a different future.

"It is astonishing these people, how they give themselves the right to say: 'You have no voice, how dare you stick to your views how dare you stick to your dreams and aspirations?'

That’s the most important thing of all. You don’t get bored, you don’t get miserable, you don’t glum, you continue to speak up. What they hope is you’ll just go home, the most important thing is people continue to speak up."

He urged those affected by Brexit to lobby their MPs, and force them to raise the issue in Parliament. 

After Article 50 is triggered, the UK positioning is over, and the EU negotiators will set out their response. As well as the official negotiating team, MEPs and leaders of EU27 countries are likely to give their views - and with elections scheduled in France and Germany, some will be responding to the pressures of domestic politics first. 

For those Remainers who feel politically homeless, there are several groups that have sprung up to campaign against a hard Brexit:

Open Britain is in many ways the successor to the Remain campaign, with a cross-party group of MPs and a focus on retaining access to the single market and holding the government to account. 

Another Europe is Possible was the alternative, left-wing Remain campaign. It continues to organise protests and events.

March for Europe is a cross-Europe Facebook community which also organises events.

The People's Challenge was a crowd-funded campaign which, alongside the more famous Gina Miller, successfully challenged the government in court and forced it to give Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50.

The3million is a pressure group set up to represent EU citizens in the UK.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.