Why do police so often get it wrong with anti-rape campaigns?

Police forces still seem to find it difficult to say that rape might be the fault of the men who decide to rape.

A South Wales Police anti-rape campaign.

Christmas would be nothing without its traditions. The stocking on your bed, the Quality Streets in your stomach ... your local police force’s tips on how not to get yourself raped. "It's Christmas, ladies! Here's a reminder how not to get raped!"

Every year sees anti-rape campaigns and, without fail, every year sees anti-rape campaigns that show no understanding of rape. Nottinghamshire police hit the headlines today for basing their campaign on a re-working of The Nightmare Before Christmas (the line “it happened in a flash” didn’t do much to convey a victim’s ordeal). Compared to some efforts, Nottingham’s “Don’t think you can take what you want because you want it” campaign was almost evolved. It's not that Britain’s police forces like rape. The good news is the majority of this country's police forces know rape is definitely a bad thing. They just haven't all quite worked out who's to blame for it.

It might be the women who aren’t organised. Cumbria police have launched the ‘Keys, Money, Phone, Plans to get home’ campaign for Christmas 2013. They’ve helpfully coloured it pink so ladies know the message is just for us.

Then again, rape might be the fault of women who walk home alone. In a poster that manages to perpetuate rape myths in two languages, South Wales police are very clear that they don’t want us to GO IT ALONE, producing an anti-rape campaign that puts red, blood-tinged wording next to a scantily clad woman stumbling home. This focus is despite the fact women are more likely to be raped by the men they go home to.

Or rape might be the fault of women who drink too much. ‘Go out and enjoy yourself but think before you drink’, West Yorkshire police tell us, in their best impression of your sexist dad. It’s unclear what exactly a woman is meant to think about before she drinks but I imagine it isn’t whether she can afford the next vodka.

There’s often confusion about whether victims of sexual abuse are different than victims of property crime. West Yorkshire police have decided to answer this question once and for all by using exactly the same Christmas campaign for theft and rape – just replacing the man flashing his cash with a woman dancing. A woman having (too much?) fun and then being raped is definitely the equivalent of a man hanging an expensive phone out his pocket and then having it stolen. “Look at her, throwing her appealing body around in plain view of rapists. She should put that away for safe keeping!”

The police service of Northern Ireland, meanwhile, have announced that alcohol is the number one rape drug and ask us how much we’ve taken already. Women are so complicit in our own rape that we’re now actually drugging ourselves.

Or, y’know, rape might be the fault of the men who decide to rape. In a culture where women wearing hairy stockings and chastity pants are genuinely what some humans think are the best ways to stop men from raping, perhaps none of this should be surprising. But it has to be said, it’s particularly depressing when it's the police – those people whose job it is to be trusted to prevent and provide justice for victims of crime – who can’t address sexual violence without perpetuating victim-blaming myths.

It is true that someone who is drunk, alone, and stumbling home can be vulnerable to rape. It’s also true that campaigns that successfully got women to be sober, carry a foghorn, and be in bed by 9pm would not deal with the fact there are men out there who think it’s perfectly OK to rape them (or deal with the majority of circumstances that don’t fit the ‘stranger following a drunk girl home’ model). It does, however, reinforce the idea that plagues women from school to adulthood: it isn’t men’s responsibility not to be a rapist, it’s women’s responsibility to avoid being victims.

West Mercia and Warwickshire’s joint campaign ‘Stop Rape Now’ is a rare example of excellence. ‘Having fun is not a crime,’ their Christmas campaign says. ‘Rape is.’ It’s a message that needs getting out to both survivors and rapists. And alarmingly it seems, many of this country’s police forces.

Everyday Victim-Blaming are asking readers to submit their police force's campaigns. Find out more here.

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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