Policing blame: Calls for the immediate withdrawal of West Mercia Police’s anti-rape campaign

wmp__1337180159_Dont_let_a_night_full_of_promi.jpg Another day, another victim-blaming campaign. This time, it comes from West Mercia police, who have created alcohol-related warnings in a campaign called Safe Night Out, featuring a poster aimed at men, and one aimed at women.

Amid an outcry accusing the police force of victim-blaming, Jocelyn Anderson from the West Mercia Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre has come forward to complain about the lack of consultation with any groups who work with survivors of sexual violence. She is angry about the messages the campaign sends out, saying, “it’s just wrong”. What’s more, because WMRSASC are listed on the police website, they fear that people will associate them with the campaign.

The poster aimed at women says, “Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”. The top of the poster has an image of a woman smiling in a nightclub, while on the bottom half she is collapsed in a heap on the floor. The sub heading is, “Drink sensibly. Get home safely”.

On their website, the text which accompanies the poster says, “Did you know, if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex, or even rape?” This is quite an astounding statement! It equates “regretful” sex with rape, suggesting the two are on a continuum. Having sex that you regret when you’re drunk is not fun, but it is not a police matter and it has nothing to do with assault.

Rape, on the other hand, is a crime committed against a person, the full responsibility for which is with the perpetrator. The poster warning against “a morning full of regret” may apply to “regretful sex”, but again this is simply not a police matter and does not relate to assault.

Jocelyn Anderson expressed to me her anger and dismay at the campaign. Its victim-blaming nature and provocative imagery misrepresents what rape actually is and where the blame should lie. Jocelyn explained that she had no idea why West Mercia police had not consulted her organisation, or other similar organisations in the area. They had worked together previously and she is very keen to work closely with them again in order to create a more accurate anti-rape campaign. She used the Scottish campaign, This is Not an Invitation to Rape Me, as an example of one which had been successful and relevant.

wmp__1341499994_men-assault.jpg The poster aimed at men is similarly problematic. While you it is refreshing to see a campaign warning perpetrators not to commit rape, this one is misguided and inaccurate. The caption is the same as on the poster aimed at women: “Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”. West Mercia police warn men that they should not commit sexual assault because they, “could lose [their] job and be placed on the sex offenders register”. Not because it’s wrong. No, you just might lose your job. They also, confusingly, state that “if someone has not given their consent to sex or touching, you could be breaking the law”. As Jocelyn pointed out, if someone has not given their consent you are breaking the law. This should not be a grey area.

Rather than appealing to basic morals, ethics and respect, the campaign aimed at men appears to be focused on safeguarding men’s jobs and avoiding the sex offenders register. It provides no sense of where the responsibility for assault lies.

One of the explanations given to Jocelyn by West Mercia police was that the focus on advising women against drinking too much was, in part, to act as a prompt to police officers so that if they came across a woman who was incapacitated through alcohol, they should try to find her friends or get medical help. As Jocelyn pointed out, this should already happen! If a police officer comes across a woman who has collapsed bought is incapable of looking after herself, they should not need a reminder to do get her to safety. Tagging it on to an anti-rape campaign serves no purpose other than to stigmatise rape victims who were drunk when they were assaulted.

As always, the only responsibility for sexual assault is with the perpetrator. It is possible to do these campaigns well, but this one is a clear example of how damaging they can turn out to be when they are created without proper consultation.

Complaints against the campaign came from every angle when I asked for feedback from our Twitter account.

Jocelyn Anderson is calling for West Mercia police to withdraw this campaign immediately and to work with her and other survivors’ organisations within the area to create a campaign which is ethical, effective and appropriate. I support Jocelyn’s call for the withdrawal of the campaign, and for a new one to take its place which blames nobody other than perpetrators, which removes any suggested link between women regretting sex and women being raped, and which makes clear the very real wrongs – and consequences – of committing sexual assault.

If you want to contact West Mercia police, you can do so here. Comments on this post which offer support for the campaign to be withdrawn and a new one created, with consultation, will also be passed on to West Mercia Police.

Further Information and Support:

Rape Crisis Ireland have created a factsheet on Alcohol consumption and victim blaming.

If you are in the West Mercia area and you need support, you can contact wmrsasc on 01905 724514 (Worcestershire) or 0870 2422230 (Herefordshire). If you are not in that area, you can call the National Helpline on 0808 802 9999.