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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Jess Phillips's Diary: Lazy attacks on “lazy MPs”, and how to tackle the trolls

The Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley takes us through her week.

As parliament kicked us out for the conference recess season on 14 September, several tabloids run the predictable story: “MPs go back on holiday today only NINE days after returning to parliament from a six-week summer break.” I imagine the journalist who churns it out hates doing the same tired “all MPs are lazy baddies” shtick as much as we hate having to rebut the nonsense idea that we are on holiday when we are working full-time in our constituencies.

Legislation is on holiday, not legislators. I have still yet to find an MP who thinks it reasonable that parliament shuts for three weeks for conference season. Why can we not have these conferences at the weekend? Or during the summer recess? Hell, why do we have to have them so regularly at all?

Is the nation screaming out for the politically minded to spend hundreds of pounds sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded Airbnb in a seaside town after a heavy night on warm wine and small food? I’ll wager that you cannot find me a person on the Clapham omnibus – or frankly any omnibus, whatever an omnibus even is – who thinks we should have a week off making laws so that the Lib Dems can do karaoke.

Her Maj

As well as time off for conference, it seems that the Tories will be scurrying home early every Wednesday as well. They appear to be on strike from voting on any opposition day motions as their governing partners, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, play fast and loose with their allegiances. (The DUP backed a Labour motion against raising tuition fees, which the government says is non-binding.)

I and other Labour MPs sat in parliament and watched ministerial cars speed off on 13 September as the whips told the great and good to go home. Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition is a pretty important part of our democracy. If I were Her Maj I might be more than a little peeved that Mrs May cannot be arsed to turn up to fight for what she believes in, whatever that is. Presumably whatever Boris Johnson and his gang say it is this week.

Leave the kids alone

I spent the weekend at a local Labour Party fundraiser, at my surgery, and handing out certificates to hundreds of young people graduating from the National Citizen Service. I sat in front of a lively, wildly diverse group of young people and thought we should hand over managing geopolitics to them for a while. Even the naughty kid at the back (whom I had to scold) gave me more faith than what I see on the news.

Family life

At a debate about the abuse of MPs, the traditional Tory colonel Bob Stewart told the house that his son had been targeted and isolated by his schoolteacher because his father was a Conservative MP.

Now, I’ve had my run-in ins with the colonel in the past, but I was horrified by this – one of my sons is the same age as his. As a parent and an MP I dread the idea that my choices will cause my sons’ grief. I’ve got enough guilt about leaving them half the week without their being targeted and bullied. I once found my son and his mates watching videos about me on YouTube that had been made by men’s rights activists. The vicious content was unsettling enough, but the thought of his teacher joining in the hate is harrowing (and, I’m pleased to say, completely unthinkable at his school). Our families are conscripts to this life – some are conscientious objectors.

Troll detection

So, should we ban internet trolls who abuse MPs online from voting? This is the suggestion floated by the Electoral Commission. I can see the argument for trying to make people treat the electoral system with respect. I also think we have got to have a hard line and a punishment. I’m just not sure how we will decide what is abuse. People say sexist stuff to me all the time. Would a negative comment about my appearance count, or are we talking rape and death threats? (What a time to be alive, when I can give a traffic light system to my sexist online abuse.) To some, the idea of having your vote taken away would only provoke a shrug; but to me it seems too much.

Climb every mountain

I have nearly finished More in Common by my friend Brendan Cox. It is about his late wife, my friend Jo, and is brilliant, but I dip in and out because I want it to last. Reading it makes me feel so tired: maybe because I read it in bed, but also because Jo’s energy and adventures seem exhausting. I like mountains on a screen saver, but I wouldn’t climb one, especially not with a tropical disease or a baby in my belly.

I’m also exhausted because of the ridiculous late nights we seem to be adopting in parliament. Jo’s distaste for the silly hours is covered in the book. She couldn’t understand why we couldn’t start earlier than 11.30am and finish in time for people to see their kids. As I put down the story of her life (and, my god, what a life) I’ll gladly trek for her to the seemingly impassable peak of reforming the voting hours in parliament. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left