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.

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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s echoes of New Labour

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through bold policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s strategy was so successful that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness.

But, as some say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh; when you make, as you will, bad decisions; when the list of enemies grows long; when you’ve simply had your time; you’ll fall like all the rest. Only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. The debate on 21 May between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of a sure outcome – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. That is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’être is independence; everything else is just another brick to build the path. And so its education reform cannot be either brave or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions, or parents.

The same goes for the NHS, and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature – is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “It’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs.”

Yet the voters show signs of wearying. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren.

So, during the debate, it was Nicola Sturgeon, not the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, or Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs.

There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use food banks (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster). “I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish government],” Claire Austin told the panel. “You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS.” She delivered the killer line of the evening: “Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you . . . in this election?”

The list of reasonable criticisms of the SNP’s governance is growing. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off. Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried Middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nationalists’ constitution explicitly prohibits SNP elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. Although total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing.

The word “cult” has long dogged the SNP. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning, but this has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage door at times). After the debate, Claire Austin found herself at its mercy as the Nats briefed – wrongly – that she was the wife of a Tory councillor. The SNP branch in Stirling said, Tebbitishly, that if she was having to use food banks, “Maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?”

Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, was forced to apologise for spreading “Twitter rumours” about Austin. The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but it hasn’t gone away – it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated: they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party.

I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall, it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, and its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly exasperate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and many signs that things will get worse.

How then do you arrest your fall? The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed it. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed. 

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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