Everyday Victim Blaming, a not-for-profit organisation that challenges “institutional disbelief around domestic and sexual violence and abuse”, has launched a petition
calling for the removal of Essex Police’s new student safety campaign.
The campaign consists of four posters, which are being displayed around student areas in Essex for Freshers’ Week.
At first glance, the posters are offering pretty sound advice:
Don’t give anyone the chance to spike your drink
Don’t walk home alone in the dark
Don’t leave your friend alone on a night out
Don’t get into a taxi if you’re not sure it’s legit
The problem with this campaign — and so many others before it — is that it focuses on the potential victim, not the perpetrator. If a student is the victim of a sexual assault, is it her fault for turning her back on her glass of wine long enough for it to get spiked? Of course not. But that’s the unfortunate message many people take from these posters.
Both men and women can be victims of rape and sexual assault, but the Essex Police campaign is heavily focused on a female victim. Although the advice on their website is gender-neutral, three of the four posters feature women. And while it’s ostensibly about personal property, sexual violence is referenced.
“Conflating advice to prevent acquisitive crime (like locking up your laptop) is entirely different to telling women what they can and cannot do in public spaces”, said Louise Pennington from Everyday Victim Blaming. “We don’t blame the victim of a mugging for being in public spaces, yet we blame rape victims for being in public, wearing short skirts, drinking beer and walking home from work.
“Posters which focus on victims help support rape culture, as they erase the perpetrator’s agency and choices”, continued Pennington. “We need more police campaigns targeted at perpetrators, telling them a lack of consent is rape, that spiking a drink is a criminal offence”.
Earlier this year, Sussex Police were also slammed for victim-blaming by suggesting that many sexual assaults could be prevented if women didn’t leave each other alone on a night out. “Don’t let your friend leave with a stranger or go off on their own,” their poster read.
When will U.K. police forces get it right?