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13 February 2015

New government revenge porn campaign blames perpetrators, not victims

Finally, some culprit-blaming as the Ministry of Justice takes an important step forward with the “Be Aware B4 You Share” campaign.

By Eleanor Margolis

With a senior barrister recently suggesting that rape isn’t rape unless the target is sober, stories about high profile victim blaming seem to be blowing up at the moment. So you’d be forgiven for assuming that the Ministry of Justice’s brand new “Be Aware B4 You Share” campaign against revenge porn is geared towards those who are affected by it, ie women.

Revenge porn, for anyone lucky enough to no nothing about it, is a slightly flippant term for the act of sharing, usually online, sexually explicit photos or videos of someone, without their consent. This is often done by ex-boyfriends of the people (usually women) in question, which explains the “revenge” part. The “porn” part makes a lot less sense, seeing as people who appear in real porn have generally consented to showing the world their genitals. Either way, “revenge porn” has just been made illegal under UK law.

Surprisingly though “Be Aware B4 You Share” is targeted at the perpetrators of revenge porn. Rather than attacking women for sharing nude pictures, etc with their boyfriends in the first place, the onus is being placed, rightfully, on men to keep those images private. When police campaigns regularly tell women not to get too drunk, take unlicensed taxis or wear revealing clothes, if they want to avoid getting raped (subtext: if you do, you were asking for it) the MoJ’s anti-revenge porn campaign is a welcome step in the right direction for social attitudes towards sexual assault. Finally, some actual culprit blaming.

According to the MoJ, the campaign aims to “make it clear to potential perpetrators” that revenge porn is a crime and emphasise the impact it can have on victims’ lives, while advising victims to get in touch with the police. A campaign like this could so easily be used to warn women, yet again, against being overly sexual. The fact that it doesn’t, we can only hope, will set a precedent for future rallies against sexual violence.  

So why is it then that, until now, this genre of campaign has focused to heavily on victim rather than perpetrator? There’s something very lazy about waving a finger at women in hot pants, while completely failing to address the root causes of rape: “Women, men will rape you and there’s nothing we can do about that – boys will be boys – so make sure you cover up and keep a close eye on your drink.”

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If anti-rape poster campaigns, TV ads, etc don’t start adopting the same tone as the MoJ’s Be Aware B4 You Share – with or without mildly patronising txt spk – it seems pretty unlikely that we’ll see change anytime soon in the UK’s outrageous statistics on rape and sexual assault. A recent study by Bristol Uni’s School for Policy Studies found that four in ten teenage girls in England have been “coerced into sex acts”. Admittedly, it’s also unlikely that an ad campaign alone will make much of a dent in those grim figures, but it’s vital that, for a start, we never blame anyone apart from the perpetrator. 

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