A judge has caused controversy by suggesting that young women who drink in bars and clubs are putting themselves at risk of sexual attacks.
Worcestershire District Judge Nigel Cadbury made the comments during a case involving a brawl outside a bar but he made reference to the tragic case of 24-year-old student Karen Buckley, whose remains were found on a farm outside Glasgow last week.
Karen was captured on CCTV leaving the city’s Sanctuary nightclub with a man, later identified as 21-year-old Alexander Pacteau, who has been charged with Karen’s murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.
While sentencing 21-year-old Leanne Roberts, who had assaulted someone outside a bar, Judge Cadbury implied that Karen Buckley had been drinking heavily on the night she died, saying: “I find it incredible that young people can get so drunk that they don’t even know who they’re with. One only has to think about the horrible situation in Glasgow to see how serious this could have been. It’s very, very worrying how young girls put themselves in such very, very vulnerable positions.”
His remarks have prompted anger from domestic violence and rape charities and feminist organisations.
Rape Crisis spokesperson Katie Russell told MailOnline: “It was wholly inappropriate, irrelevant and insensitive to make reference to the murder of Karen Buckley in this context and the timing of these comments was particularly distasteful. Of course it’s not unreasonable to advise young people, or indeed people of any age, not to drink alcohol to excess… But for a senior figure within the legal system to talk so specifically about young girls ‘making themselves vulnerable’ in relation to gender-based violence… with specific reference to a recent murder, is unhelpful.”
She added: “This reinforces the false notion that it is ultimately victims and potential victims who have the power and responsibility to prevent violence against women and girls. In fact, only the perpetrators, who are mostly men, are to blame for violence against women and girls… and only they ultimately have the power to end it.”
Katie Russell is spot on. If we talk too much about women keeping themselves safe — and this goes for women of all ages, not just twenty-somethings who go clubbing and drinking on a Saturday night — we take the focus away from those who are to blame for these awful sexual assaults. The evil men who prey on women — and other men, of course, albeit less so — are 100 percent to blame for their actions, regardless of how drunk their victim is.
Having said that I have a young daughter and, while (I hope) it will be at least 14 years before she’s talking to men outside nightclubs after a few drinks, it’s something I think about when these tragic news stories break. Will the situation be any different in 2030? Or will we still be trying to work out exactly how to deal with sexual assault, how to change the mindset and behaviour of perpetrators? Until we’re at a point where we can all go out and drink as much as we want without any fear of being attacked, don’t we all have a responsibility to look out for ourselves? Unquestionably the more we have our wits about us, the more able we are to protect ourselves and avoid dangerous situations.
Karen Buckley’s friends, who were with her in Sanctuary nightclub before she left with Alexander Pacteau, have said that she only had a few drinks and would have been aware of what she was doing and who she was with. What do we take from this? That young women shouldn’t drink at all, or speak to anyone they don’t know, in order to stay safe? They might as well stay at home and lock the door.
Obviously it makes sense to stay in control of your faculties (and that’s something I hope both my daughter and my son will bear in mind whenever they’re out drinking). But targeting women to try to stop rape and sexual assault won’t put an end to it. There will always be a woman somewhere who becomes the victim.
What we need is education about rape and sexual assault, education about consent and ongoing reinforcement of the undiluted message that it doesn’t matter how drunk a woman — or man — is, to take sexual advantage of them is completely unacceptable.