The Vagenda

‘Don’t Get Raped’ – An important message?

I’m going to wade into a pretty controversial debate here. Definitely more controversial than suggesting that Daily Mail readers should stand public trial for stupidity, and possibly more controversial than an audience member calling Louise Mensch a cunt on Question Time. I realise that I might get a lot of hate for this, but I can’t help feeling that there are some things that need to be said. Here goes.
Yesterday, UK blog the F Word and their followers got very angry about West Mercia Police’s new ‘Safe Night Out‘ campaign that aims to help women protect themselves from rape. I’ll state those words again, just so we’re clear ‘protect themselves‘. As many of the F Word’s followers pointed out, this wasn’t a campaign that was saying ‘don’t rape’, it was a campaign that said: ‘don’t get raped.’ As a result, West Mercia Police were accused of Victim Blaming.
Before I begin my argument, I’d just like to set some things straight so that we’re all on the same page. The rape conviction rate in this country is appalling. I know this. I would even say that the legal system, a system created by men, may have an ingrained bias against women who make rape allegations. Certainly, more needs to be done to ensure that women are treated sensitively and with respect when they alert the police to rape. And yes, the message ‘don’t rape’ is immensely important and is not used enough. Rape culture is alive and well, and needs to be destroyed like the evil fucking beast that it is. I believe all this.
But at the same time I also believe that, in getting really really angry about campaigns such as this, feminism is on the way to shooting itself in the foot.
The campaign is not a sophisticated one. The tag line ‘don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret’, does, in some aspects, put the onus of responsibility on the woman who has been raped. Or it would, if there wasn’t also a male version of the poster, in which a man holds his head in his hands. But let’s just park that for a second and concentrate on the wimmin, seeing as everyone else is.
What worries me about the angry backlash to campaigns such as this is that, in yelling accusations of victim blaming, we actually end up in a position where we ignore some potentially lifesaving advice. According to West Mercia police, here are some things you can do to have a safe night out (not get raped):
Drinking sensibly:
Alternate your alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or low-alcohol ones
Drink more slowly
Consume alcohol with food
Don’t drink when you are stressed
Getting home safely:
Plan how you are going to get home before you get out
Book a licensed taxi or agree to be the designated driver and then don’t drink
Never get into a stranger’s car or with someone who has been drinking
Never walk home alone and don’t let your friends do so
Always dial 999 if you are in immediate danger
This is all good, solid, sensible advice. Yes, the emphasis is on things the potential victim can do to minimise risk, but I will come to that in a moment. Let’s first look at the advice itself, which focuses on a.) how alcohol can make you more vulnerable and less able to defend yourself, and b.) preventative measures that women can take on their way home late and night to ensure they don’t end up in a horrible situation.
Now, in an ideal world, I would like to be able to waltz through Tottenham at 4am without having to worry about some nutcase attacking me. That would be awesome. But unfortunately, we don’t yet live in that world, and until we do, I’ll be taking a cab or walking with an escort, motherfucker.
It’s just basic safety advice. I can understand why it angers women that the onus is so heavily placed on them, of course I do. But until some men stop raping, we all have a duty to protect ourselves the best we can. Now, while it’s important that the message ‘don’t rape’ is as prominent as the message ‘don’t get raped’, if not more so, but in campaigning for that we must not ignore the other message. It’s important.
The role of the police is to protect civilians from harm and apprehend those that break the law. They are not, by any means, a perfect organisation (and at the moment, thanks to the coalition, they are also grossly understaffed.) Perhaps as result of the fact that there is only a certain amount of shit they can do to stop crime, many of their campaigns have placed the victim as the focus for quite a while now.
Let’s take a look at burglary (by the way I am in no way making a direct comparison between the crimes of rape and burglary. This is in many ways self-evident but if there’s anything I’ve learnt about the internet it’s that you guys are amazingly able to find meaning where there is none). Burglary is a crime. We all know this. It is bad to burgle. It would be good if we could eradicate burglary. Certainly the police should be saying ‘don’t burgle’ more. Yet, possibly in the knowledge that there will always, always be burglars in our society, in recent years their focus has been on preventative measures the public can take to minimise risk. So you’ll get posters saying ‘don’t leave your keys by the front door, don’t leave your windows open’ or ‘lock up or lose out’ (West Yorkshire police). Is this victim blaming? No. If some dickhead breaks into your house, it is not your fault. But there are things that you can do to make it less likely. So do them.
Likewise, telling children not to take sweets from strangers doesn’t mean that society is ignoring the problem of paedophilia. Why does it have to be one or the other?
The feminism of the 1980s very much focused on teaching women how to defend themselves against male aggressors. By giving women assertiveness training, and self defence classes, they empowered them to protect themselves in a society that was unsafe. Where has all this gone?
If you are raped, it is absolutely not your fault. I don’t think I need to say this, but again, this is the internet, so it’s best to be explicit. But at the same time shouting VICTIM BLAMING at every police anti-rape campaign can be counter-productive. The more women learn how to protect themselves, the better. Until rape is tackled at its roots, these cunts are out there, and being prepared for an encounter with one of them is a good idea. Which is why I believe that, while people should be going into schools and explaining the legislation surrounding rape to young men, they should also be going into schools to teach young women self defence. A fight on many fronts is better than a fight on one front, and that advice could save your life.
In the 1980s, my mother was involved in the women’s movement and taught self-defence to victims of domestic violence. She also taught me. From a young age, I knew how do hit a male aggressor in the nose and render him temporarily incapacitated so that I could run away. I knew how to trip him up. My mother taught me how to scream, and that advice saved my life.
I was attacked while walking home from a party a few years ago. It took the form of a prolonged attempt at strangulation which could have been a prelude to rape or murder. I don’t know, because I got away. I got away because of the advice my mother gave me. Good, sensible advice.
One of the police officers asked her, ‘what was your daughter doing out on the street at 4am?’
While I do not feel guilty, it is a valid question. What the hell was I doing? I am more careful now.
I do not feel in any way responsible for what happened to me. But there are measures which I take now to prevent the likelihood of it happening again. One of them is the belief that, no matter how skint you are, a taxi fare is never wasted. At no stage in the subsequent proceedings, did I ever feel that the police held me responsible for what had happened. I know I’m one of the lucky ones, though, and that other women are not treated as kindly.
The police should always, absolutely, be held to account. But in terms of this campaign, I think that anger is wasted. If anything, it shows an understanding of the ways in which rape has come to be redefined and the issue of consent has become controversial where alcohol is involved. In this sense, they are categorical: If someone has not given their consent for sex or touching, you are breaking the law and could be arrested.
In a society where people like the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips imply that you deserve it if you’re wearing a short skirt and drunk, I really don’t think West Mercia Police are the biggest problem. If their campaign saves one woman’s life, then it is not wasted. There are people out there who are victim blaming in ways which are infinitely more frightening. All West Mercia police want is to see Shropshire girls get home safely. What is so wrong with that? 

66 thoughts on “‘Don’t Get Raped’ – An important message?

  1. I’m sorry but I disagree.

    Of course, the advice given by the police is good safety advice. It’s important not to get really pissed all the time so you don’t know what way is up. But the issue with this campaign, as far as I’m concerned, is the way they are linking rape to drinking.

    Firstly, as far as i know, there is no evidence to suggest that women are more likely to be raped when they are drunk (although i have heard stats that suggest rapists are more likely to rape when they are drunk). So therefore there isn’t a big, all bells ringing link between women drinking and being a victim of rape. As i say in my post on the subject, the only link between women who are raped is the presence of a rapist.

    Of course telling people not to get so drunk that they can’t move is sensible. It’s sensible because getting really pissed is bad for your health and you might get injured. But, considering everything we KNOW about rape, telling women not to drink in case they are ‘more vulnerable’ to rape doesn’t make sense.

    Most women are raped by people they know. Women can be raped in their homes. Women are raped in schools, in workplaces, in nightclubs, in alleys – drunk and sober. If we are going to run campaigns that tell women that they need to take responsibility in order to ensure that they are not ‘vulnerable’ to rape, then we are asking women to not live their lives.

    And ‘not living a life’ is not a ‘sensible precaution’. It’s not the same as not leaving your mobile phone in view (it’s not the same for loads of reasons but that’s just one).

    And that’s why i believe campaigns to prevent rape need to focus on perpetrators. Rape isn’t caused by women being drunk, there is nothing women can do to prevent this crime except never being in the presence of a rapist. The ‘sensible precautions’ advised are not sensible.

    We’re not the same as wallets. We’re not doors left unlocked (i know you’re not saying we are, but lots of people have been!). We are women, and we are being told all the time not to go out, not to walk home after dark alone, not to drink, not to wear what we want, not to flirt with men, not to live our lives because of the actions of some men who choose to rape.

    These aren’t sensible precautions. These are the removals of our freedoms because of the violent actions of some men.

    I think a lot of people also have issues with WM’s campaign on men – that says you might lose your job if you sexually assault someone. The reason people shouldn’t sexually assault other people is because it’s a vicious and violent and dehumanising crime.

    Finally, in Amnesty’s 2005 survey, 30% of people thought women who were raped when drunk bore some responsibility. That is ‘what is so wrong’ with this campaign. It’s re-enforcing the belief that women bear responsibility to ‘not be raped’, and if they don’t follow the rules then they are culpable.

    Yes, let’s tell everyone to drink more sensibly (i can recommend the alternate wine with water method – if only i followed that rule!) but linking women’s drinking to rape only serves to strengthen the attitudes towards rape that restrict women’s freedoms across the board.

    • “linking women’s drinking to rape only serves to strengthen the attitudes towards rape that restrict women’s freedoms across the board”

      There was a PSA going around a while ago, in which a drunk teenage boy raped a drunk teenage girl, the implication being that it wouldn’t have happened if they’d both been sober (he was too drunk to realise her lack of enthusiasm wasn’t consent, she was too drunk to fight back). Both had their lives ruined. The message? “Don’t binge drink, kids!”

      That PSA could have carried a legitimate message about consent, and what it means, and how you can be sure that the sex you’re having is consensual. It didn’t. It was just “don’t get drunk”, with rape being used as a scare tactic, to put people off drinking.

      It didn’t sit quite right with me at the time, but it’s only in recent years that I’ve worked out quite why.

      Also, the ‘madman jumps out from behind a tree’ myth needs to stop. People need to realise that most rape isn’t like that.

    • Thank you, that was beautifully written. Seriously, thank you so much.

      The only thing that didn’t sit with me well was this: “One of the police officers asked her, ‘what was your daughter doing out on the street at 4am?’ While I do not feel guilty, it is a valid question.”

      I’m male, but if I was with a partner/daughter/friend/mother while this was asked, I’d ask him to not ask questions that simply do NOT help catch the rapist.

  2. Well, some of those advices for women are just impossible. Not everyone can afford a cab if they live far out in the suburbs. I’ve almost always taken the night bus, and a lot of the time that involves some walking alone in the dark. I can’t expect my friends to babysit me and walk me home when they live somewhere else. Plus, what are the chances that I will get raped walking home? Pretty slim. There is a bigger risk of me getting raped visiting my ex boyfriend or just haning around outside the toilets at school. Finally, if someone wants to rape me I’m pretty much fucked drunk or sober.

    • Word. While drinking can be unsafe for a variety of reasons, rape is a not one of the many potential consequences of drinking too much.

      It comes down to being in the proximity of someone who made a decision to be violent, disrespectful and to commit a felony. And YES, it’s scary to think that staying sober won’t protect you. But thinking that not drinking will keep you safe is dangerous and can give you a false sense of security. If a rapist doesn’t care if you say no, he sure as heck doesn’t care what your blood-alcohol level is.

    • But the campaign would have been fine (and much less contentious) had it not brought rape into the picture.

      There are plenty of things that can go wrong on a night out – getting seriously dehydrated, losing your wallet, falling under a car, just plain falling over and injuring yourself, getting lost and hypothermic – all of which and more can be avoided by drinking sensibly, knowing what you’re doing and where you are, and having it in your head to call for help if something does go wrong.

      So with all the things that this inarguably good advice CAN prevent, why would you even mention something it really, really can’t?

  3. I’m just de-lurking here to say I really disagree with this article. I know I don’t really have a right to feel let down or dissapointed as everyone is entitled to their opinion but I do feel quite sad having read this.

  4. I think it’s a valuable campaign, young women should be at least trying to take safety precautions, and it doesn’t have to be at the expense of having fun. Getting drunk and not knowing the danger you might be in has led to rape (and in other cases not) but why not take precautions? What harm is it doing to your night of fun?

    I would rather think a bit because there are aggressors out there than to chance it.

    • I’m a bit confused. You said that:

      ‘Getting drunk and not knowing the danger you might be in has led to rape’

      And i replied that rapists choosing to rape has led to rape. You reply saying ‘And in other cases not’

      When has a rape ever been caused by rapists not choosing to rape? It doesn’t happen by accident.

      No-one is denying that safety advice, telling women and men not to get really pissed all the time isn’t a good idea. My problem is that by telling women that getting drunk will make them vulnerable to rape, this campaign puts the responsibility to not get raped on women and plays into the idea – the widespread idea – that if a woman is raped when she is drunk, she is partly responsible for the rape. And it’s ideas like this that lead to low convictions and prejudiced juries.

      The ‘this is not an invitation to rape me’ campaigns in Scotland are a powerful and good example of how to focus on dissolving rape myths and putting the blame for rape where it belongs – on rapists.

    • I have been told not to walk alone at night, not to go home by myself, not to get too drunk, not to trust a lift from a stranger etc etc etc etc ad nauseam since I was about 8. I’ve got the message that society thinks I should be a good little teetotaller who never gets the night bus alone quite loud and clear, thanks.

      This ad campaign is a total waste of resources, and by reinforcing rape culture tropes – rape is just sex that is “regretted”, there are things you can do to “avoid” rape (other than living in an hermetically sealed box) – it actively hurts the people it purports to try and help.

  5. While I don’t know about the advice of the campaign, I do agree with the gist of this article: not blaming women for rape and advising women to be careful are not mutually exclusive. I think this was an excellent read: thoughtful and considerate. Thank you.

  6. I think this is a fantastic article and I’m kind of annoyed that I’m reading it as I wanted to make a post in a similar vein. But I was too slow and now I can’t write the damn post without just copying this one.

    In terms of ‘here’s an announcement telling you how to minimise the risk of being the victim of a crime’ that policeman saying ‘dressing like sluts’ was not what causes people to get raped was shit advice. Statistics do not appear to show that women showing a little bit of extra cleavage are any more likely to get raped.

    However, getting really wasted and not knowing what’s going on and being alone (as has happened to me and many of my friends countless times) makes you vulnerable.

    And the campaign doesn’t even show a girl getting raped. It shows her passed out in the road. This has happened to people I know, they’ve tried to walk home and have been found sleeping in a hedge. Telling girls not to get so drunk that they fall unconscious is not really the same as victim-blaming girls who get raped.

    • Reminding people not to drink in excess in order to avoid passing out and ending up on the road/in hedge would be a just campaign. Men and women SHOULD avoid drinking to the point of sleeping alongside a road, cars may not see you and you could get injured, this is certainly dangerous. (As are the other potential side effects of excessive drinking…dehydration, alcohol poisoning,etc. But rape is not a consequence or side effect of drinking too much and that’s where the victim-blaming comes in.)

      This is not a ‘avoid passing out in the street’ campaign. You said it “doesn’t even show a girl getting raped” as if we are leaping into an assumption, however at the bottom of the poster it CLEARLY states its a preventative warning against “regretful sex and rape” and implies the women pictured experienced this.
      Don’t get me started on how regretful sex and rape are not even close, its a whole ‘nother problem that they lump together making a bad decision on a sex partner and a being the victim of a felony!

  7. I can see where you’re going with this article, but I’m afraid I agree with @sianandcrookedrib.

    I think that if the police want to tackle rape, they should put out more campaigns like the recent TV one showing young men in boxes watching themselves coerce their girlfriends into sex (and perhaps consider something similar for male-on-male and female-on-male domestic and sexual violence).

    If they want to reduce cases of drunk and disorderly young people, the poster campaign seen around London around the New Year was very relevant and appropriate. But a campaign that conflates heavy drinking + regret + a girl lying on the floor looking distressed and dishevelled is incredibly problematic in my opinion.

    It’s not the worst part of rape culture and it means well, but so does my mother when she asks that I don’t dress a certain way. It’s ill-informed and does little, if any, good.

  8. None of the advice given by the police will prevent women from getting raped. Women are most likely to be raped by someone they know, in their own home. So do we tell women never to invite men into their home? No, because women’s lives and freedom should not be curtailed by the threat of rape.

    Women get raped in taxis. Women get raped by men who walk them home to keep them “safe”. Women get raped by the police. Women get raped when we are stone cold sober.

    So there’s no point focusing on what women should or shouldn’t do to try and avoid rape.

    What we can focus on is tackling sexually violent masculinities, fighting the kind of sexism that says women exist to be sexually conquered and controlled by men, teaching kids about consent… We need to focus on the perpetrator, not the victim.

  9. Tom – “Telling girls not to get so drunk that they fall unconscious is not really the same as victim-blaming girls who get raped.”

    The blurb that goes with this poster says “Did you know, if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”. Don’t be so disingenuous! And you can talk about how fantastic this article is when you’re a woman who will be blamed for being raped if you have been drinking, out partying or wearing a short skirt. Linking rape to going out and drinking – as this campaign does – reinforces these harmful myths.

  10. Rape, i think, is a little bit like cancer. No-one knows what causes it- all we have are statistics and scientific best guesses. I eat my five-a-day because I think it will reduce the *chance* of bowel cancer in the future. When I go out I drink lightly and go home in a group because I think it will reduce the *chance* of assault. Until a definite cause (or causes) is identified, all we have is generalised, best-guess advice. I don’t have a problem with this campaign.

    • That is so offensive! rape is nothing like cancer! Not a little bit or at all.

      Cancer is a disease.

      Rape is a violent crime that one person (mostly a man) commits against another. It isn’t a natural hazard, it isn’t something we can just avoid. It’s a deliberate act, a crime that someone CHOOSES to commit.

      We know what causes rape. Rapists. Rape culture. The belief that rapists will get away with it thanks, in part, to campaigns like this that blame women. The idea that women’s bodies are property, are objects. The undermining of consent. And the choose the rapist makes to rape.

      Jeez louise.

    • Cause of rape: it’s so difficult to even ask the question “What causes rape?” What factors differentiate a man who has committed sexual assault from a man who hasn’t? Are these factors psychological, cultural, both, neither? Are they even identifiable? Do they change over a lifetime, or are they permanent? When I likened rape to cancer and said no-one knows what causes rape, I was not meaning to be flippant, nor to offend. I come from a scientific background, and I feel that until the probably multiple causes of rape, as in, why one man commits this crime when another doesn’t, are identified and dealt with, then I as a woman will not know how to defend myself from it. This scares the beejezus out of me. Perhaps I felt approval of this campaign because it gave me a false sense of security.

      I do apologise for giving offense.

    • The nature/nurture/whatever reasons why a rapist rapes are not actually relevant because no such reasons will excuse the rapist’s actions. I’m sure it would give us all a wonderful sense of security to be able to point to a certain gene, or a certain combination of early experiences, and say, ‘There! That causes rape!’ Because that’s so much easier, isn’t it, than the knowledge that there are human beings out there who choose to rape other human beings.

      When you talk about ‘the causes of rape’ as being these ethereal things that happened in a rapist’s past, as though the rapist has no choice and is programmed, you suggest that nobody is really at fault, nobody really made a choice, and that the rapist him-or-herself is also a victim.

      This, I personally find incredibly offensive. It isn’t relevant what happened to a person in their childhood or what genes they got stuck with. To be an adult means to take responsibility for your problems and find ways to deal with them that don’t damage others. ‘Don’t rape people’ is such an incredibly basic part of that, and to frame it as anything other than a choice is the grossest kind of offense against what it means to be human.

    • Why shouldn’t we humanise the perpetrator? They are humans. Generally angry, frustrated, often lonely humans. Of course that’s not the victim’s fault, but there really are a lot of factors involved and to say that it just happens because rapists are just bad people is really quite aggressively stupid.

      If we really want to prevent rapes from happening then we – all of us – need to focus not on irrelevant things like how much women drink, but on what can be done to prevent men from becoming rapists.

  11. Alanna – in response to your attack on Tom, I am someone who did get date-raped after drinking too much. And I think this poster gives eminently sensible advice. It doesn’t mean that I was to blame for it, but it is certainly true that if I had watched my drink more closely, I would not be a rape victim now.

    That doesn’t mean you have to agree with me, but it should make you think twice about using “you can only have an opinion if you are female” lines, or assuming that only a man could have that point of view.

    • It pains me to see you say if ‘I had watched my drink more closely, I would not be a rape victim now’ and not ‘if he hadn’t put something in my drink and not raped when I was made vulnerable, I would not be a rape victim now.’

      It was the rapist’s fault, not yours and you shouldn’t be shouldering blame. You should be being nice to yourself and recovering. (I know it’s easier said than done. I blamed myself after my drink was spiked too, even though I could feel indignant for other women who had suffered the same.)

      Humans can’t be vigilant 100% of the time. It’s not natural. That’s why hyper-vigilance is actually a sign of mental distress such as PTSD. It’s like being on a diet, everyone relaxes occasionally for a variety of reasons, but this time the consequences are being blamed for being attacked instead of indigestion. By all means lets talk about being sensible but be aware it isn’t a magic bullet.

  12. Sianandcrookedrib is right. The simple fact is that a rape only occurs when a rapist rapes. That no society in the world seems able or willing to grasp and act on this simple fact is extremely significant. All societies put the blame and the onus on the victim of the attack. She must be careful. She must be modest. Her behaviour must change. And we know that no amount of restriction of female behaviour does anything to prevent a rapist from raping. I don’t suppose that any reliable rape statistics exist for the countries in which women’s behaviour is most thoroughly restricted, but I would be very surprised if they weren’t even worse than ours – because the more women are disempowered on the pretext of protecting them from rape, the more vulnerable we become.

    Campaigns of the kind discussed above may appear to be empowering for women, but they are not. It is not empowering to have to change your behaviour to avoid being raped, to have to constantly monitor where you are, what time it is, whether it is now ‘too late’ to move freely. It encourages a climate of fear for women, while doing nothing to stop criminals from carrying out their crimes.

    The only way to change things is to shift media and police attention away from the victims of rape and on to the rapists. Instead of endlessly focusing on what victims were wearing and how many boyfriends they’ve had, as if it was an interview with an aspiring actress, let’s look at the rapists. Who are they? How do their brains work? What makes them think that they can force women to have sex with them? What do they do for a living? What do they look like? And in the process, lay bare the whole ugly concealed world of apparently normal blokes who are prepared to damage a woman for life just to get their end away and for whatever power trip it involves for them. This would be far more effective than issuing vague and sinister warnings aimed to curtail female behaviour and open the door for totally irrelevant questions like ‘why were you on the street at 4am?’

    Basically, until rapists stop raping, women will be raped, whatever we do.

  13. Really sad to find this article here.

    If Mercia Police want to prevent rape, this campaign seems a strange way to go about it. Given the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and that actually being attacked in a dark alley is pretty rare, why are the police targeting the minority of rape victims? (

    Furthermore, the language in the poster ‘regret’ clearly links the consumption of alcohol to the victim’s rape, suggesting blame. There is a huge difference between people not securing their house to burglary and people being raped. Namely, if someone doesn’t properly secure their house to burglary, they are not going to blamed for the burglar’s actions. It might affect their insurance, but in court they’re not going to be told that they were ‘asking for it’, nor are you likely to be made an outcast by your family, friends and community for burglary

    In many ways this advert is hugely damaging because it is a prevailing myth in society that ‘rape only happens in dark alleyway when the woman is drunk/wearing a short skirt.’ These myths serve to give people a false sense of protection ‘I don’t need to worry about being raped because I’ve not drunk too much/worn a short skirt.’ However, given women are more likely to be raped in their own home, than out in the street, a poster campaign bringing awareness to this might be far more useful. A lot of rapes go unreported because the victim believes it was their fault, or because they don’t believe it was ‘real rape’ because it happened in their own home/with someone they know.

    How to look after yourself on a night out is relevant to both women and men – alcohol makes you ill, you might get mugged… Why are there no posters saying ‘don’t drink too much you might get mugged?’ The advice given on this poster could be made relevant to both men and woman, in a way that does not perpetrate rape myths in a highly concerning and damaging way. There are ways to educate men and women on personal safety, without rape blame.

  14. I do hear what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. If men didn’t rape, women wouldn’t have to “protect” themselves, and a woman could do all of the things police advise and still be raped. Saying it’s not OK for a woman to be out at 4am is sexist. It just is. Who would ever ask a man that question?

    I do agree that there are precautions it’s sensible for anyone to take (being too drunk to find one’s way home is never a good idea) but please don’t forget that not everyone is physically able to fight back or to run away.

    Finally, I’m disappointed that you conflated mental illness with being a rapist. Men who rape may or may not be mentally ill, but either way, people with mental illness experience enough stigma without phrases like “nutcase” being thrown around.

  15. Well-meaning article and police campaign, but they both dangerously miss the point, as usual. Maybe we should all move to a part of the world where women wear burqas, never leave the house alone, never consume alcohol…oh no, wait, they still get raped as well. So actually, the only constant in the rape ‘equation’ is the rapist. I’m assuming West Mercia police don’t have endless funds to spend on public safety campaigns…yet they waste their money on the lazy ‘Big bad wolf’ message that we’ve all read a million times before. However well-meaning the advice, that still kind of pisses me off. I don’t want to see a picture of a drunk distressed girl lying on the floor – I want to see a picture of a successfully convicted rapist who is now behind bars. And I want other men to see that picture – over and over again, until they are as sick of looking at rapist mug-shots as I am sick of looking at images of crying, drunk, raped teenage girls.

    • “I want other men to see that picture – over and over again, until they are as sick of looking at rapist mug-shots as I am sick of looking at images of crying, drunk, raped teenage girls.”


  16. All those women who got a taxi home and were consequently raped by taxi driver John Worboys are probably wishing they had walked home at 4am – they’d have been safer. Where does the fact that a taxi driver committed multiple rapes on female passengers fit into this article? Women are raped because rapists raped them; that’s all.

  17. Teabag – “And we know that no amount of restriction of female behaviour does anything to prevent a rapist from raping.”

    You are absolutely right in your assumption that restriciting women does not (and cannot) lead to their increased safety and lower rates of violence against them. Take Middle Eastern societies, for example. They are, in my opinion, the perfect example in this case because in most of those countries alcohol consumption is prohibited by law and women are forced to cover up their bodies from top to toe. But surprise surprise– sexual violence against women still happens in those countries in staggering amounts, regardless.

    To be honest I really fail to see how there can still be any doubts left that it’s the rape culture that encourages rape, not how women dress, how much they drink, or how they behave.

  18. I don’t really want to wade in on the advert discussion as I think there are negatives and positives to it

    But on the subject of self-defence and how victims are treated. My good friend was attacked in broad daylight, stone cold sober near a main road (granted main roads aren’t that busy where we live but yes attacks happen anywhere, any time.) He grabbed her and pulled a knife on her. Luckily she just happens to be a black belt in karate. The guy was caught, went to court, and got off because she beat his ass. How can this happen?? If she hadn’t defended herself god knows what he would have done! And now they let him free to go attack someone else!

    How can we win if by defending ourselves we become the attacker??

  19. Even IF drinking really did decrease your personal odds of getting raped it wouldn’t mean it would decrease the AMOUNT of rapes occurring. And this makes this campaign from the police highly suspect. It would just deflect ‘your’ rape to next person that the rapist thinks is more vulnerable than you. The sort of predators that rape unconscious women (as shown in the poster) are typically looking for targets of least resistance, so its going to be the person who is least likely to put up a fight or easiest to isolate/ manipulate.

    Do the police really have that much time and money to waste on a campaign that does nothing to REDUCE the number of victims? And one that perpetuates rape myths AND equates ‘regretful sex’ and rape as similar (no comparison!!)? What a waste from a community resources perspective.

    There is NO excuse for the police to have not have worked with their local rape crisis center (or other experts in sexual violence prevention) to create a more effective campaign. Especially since they already have an agency they have worked with before and refer out to.

  20. The kind of advice in the campaign is generally sensible, for both men and women, but as previous commenters have pointed out, women won’t stop getting raped until men stop raping them. Suggesting to women that they can avoid getting raped by following some simple precautions is misleading and is focusing on the least likely rape scenario, being attacked by a stranger, when actually it’s much more likely that someone will be raped by their date/friend/neighbour.

    I do think that sometimes people are too quick to shout victim blaming at any suggestion that women should try to keep themselves safe. We all should, it’d be stupid not to. Women get raped in all kinds of situations though, not just drunk and alone at 4am. Instead of banging on about one situation, where a few precautionary measures *might* make a difference, wouldn’t it make more sense to turn our attention to the one person who actually has the power to stop rape from happening?

    How long have police officers and parents and other authority figure types been dishing out advice like this? Have the rape figures plummeted? Doesn’t seem like this advice is actually working…..

  21. This campaign is pretty confusing – when you look at the poster it doesn’t seem immediately clear to me that it is specifically talking about “regretful sex or even rape” but when you look at the website it seems the whole campaign specifically focused on rape and sexual assualt in relation to drinking alcohol.

    There is also a poster which shows a man in a police cell the morning after – which I think is promosing. However, it is somewhat undermined by the video of ‘A rape victims story’ which has the blurb ‘In this video, a rape victim has taken the brave steps to share her ordeal in a bid to encourage other women to cut down on how much they drink on a night out.”

    I know that, if I had been asked to be im that video, I would much rather addresses the potential raptists and talking about the effects that such an attack can have on somebody’s life in order to encourage men to think about the consequences of rape on victims, rather than to ‘encourage women to cut down on how much they drink’. Not that I am saying the victim is wrong to do this, if this is how she feels, I just think surely it could not be hard to find somebody who wanted to ‘share their ordeal’ for this other reason and the failure to include something like this on the campaign site, along with the fact that much of the advice on the site is clearly aimed at the character in the female poster rather than the character in the male poster, just completely undermines any attempt at tackling the behaviour of the potential raptist, rather than the behaviour of the victim.

    While I can accept that saying do not drink to the point of oblivion and sticking with your friends is fairly sensible advice in general, I find it extremely difficult to accept that women changing their behaviour in this way would have any significant effect on the amount of rapes that are committed. And is there any woman who has not been told over and over that she should not be out alone at night? So, if nothing else, what is the point of a public body trotting out this kind of advice? I think the time and money would have been much better spent on expanding the male side of the campaign, instead of just tacking it on in an attempt to avoid criticism of being sexist.

    I have to say, as much as I disagree with the campaign, I am glad to see that vagenda allows and encourages this kind of debate. This topic is far from straightforward, and I enjoyed seeing two sides of the arguement being published on the site.

    • “the blurb ‘In this video, a rape victim has taken the brave steps to share her ordeal in a bid to encourage other women to cut down on how much they drink on a night out.”

      Given the obsession of some parts of the media and society with the positively unladylike amounts of booze women consume ‘these days’, and how it symbolises nothing less than the decline of the west (‘when girls start aping men’) – this makes me wonder whether the whole campaign isn’t actually designed to stop women from drinking by threatening them with rape if they do. This would make much more sense of the campaign’s emphasis on stranger-rape in the face of the statistics.

  22. So very, very sad to see this article on here. I don’t think I can say much more than what other commenter’s already have but the equation of too much alcohol = rape is just lazy and dangerous. Rapists cause rape, not whether the woman has had a drink or not. You can not agree with this campaign or any of them like it because no matter how well-meaning the advice is women who don’t drink, are black belts in karate, are never out alone at night, show not one inch of flesh, still get raped because RAPISTS still exist.

  23. It’s interesting to see how many respondents express sadness at seeing this article here. It’s important to show a range of perspectives so that a debate can occur.

    Both posts were written by writers who have suffered violence and both take a different slant. However, as this one departs from the feminist status quo it has garnered much more attention. The writer of this post talked about how safety advice saved her life, yet that seems to have been forgotten in the discussion. But it did, and that’s important.

    As a respondent up there said, advising people to be careful and victim blaming are not mutually exclusive. All the responses to this (on the blog, at least- the same can’t be said for Twitter) have been thoughtful and well considered.

    However, there is an aspect of ‘you’re doing feminism wrong’ that sometimes emerges which makes us a bit uncomfortable. The response to the commenter up there who said ‘I am someone who did get date-raped after drinking too much. And I think this poster gives eminently sensible advice’ was ‘you SHOULD be thinking this…’ ‘you shouldn’t be thinking this’. The same can be said of the girl who took part in the campaign, and talked about the importance of staying safe. And the same can be said of the author of the article. They have all been violently attacked, and yet their opinion on the matter is seen as ‘doing it wrong’.

    All three of these women suffered violence, and, like anyone, are entitled to an opinion. The debate here has been very well handled, but I’m interested in what commenters think about the issue I’ve just raised.

    Here are women, who are talking about their experiences, and yet are being told (or it is being heavily implied) that they are not drawing the ‘right’ conclusions from those experiences. Is it helpful to tell them that they’re in the wrong? Is there a way that we can look at all the different perspectives without alienating some who may feel that their views don’t toe the party line?

    Just some things to think about.

    • The commenter who said “I am someone who did get date-raped after drinking too much. And I think this poster gives eminently sensible advice” was partly blaming herself for getting raped. I don’t think the response to that can be classed as “you’re doing feminism wrong” – the response was more like, “no one should ever blame herself for getting raped.”

      Sometimes, the way women respond to what has happened to us is heavily conditioned by the dominant culture around us – a culture which says, “you’re not going to go out looking like THAT, are you??” etc. I agree that it is unfair, in a discussion, to “violently attack” women who write/talk about how they were raped, and who have an opinion on what could be done against rape. (And if the twitter discussion did involve violent attacks, then that’s depressing…) But it still has to be possible for us to say, “What happened to you was not your fault! Don’t let anyone tell you that it was!” Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but all of our opinions are influenced by the still-patriarchal system in which we live, and we have to bring that influence to the surface and discuss it directly, rather than just saying, “okay, let’s agree to differ.”

  24. Many thanks to the incredibly brave and articulate blog authors, and the Vagenda Team for bringing us two such excellent and moving articles, and a forum for considered, polite and meaningful discussion. Having read the articles and their comments, and been swayed from one extreme to the other, I thought I’d attempt to sketch out some sort of middle-ground. It’s important to acknowledge, as VT does above, that all the viewpoints posted so far are very relevant.
    As such, it might be that the source of our disagreements arises from something of a false dichotomy. Whilst not universally the case, it seems that many of those arguing in favour of the West Mercian Police poster are focusing on immediate, effective remedies to a specific situation – rape on nights out. They criticise, and are criticised by, the anti-WM poster camp, who are actually looking at a different ‘problem-to-be-solved’, the much wider nature of rape-culture, victim blaming and lazy prosecuting.
    Here’s the thing – neither side is wrong. It seems obvious that we should all both be attempting to minimise de facto rape chances now, As Well As tacking the fecking patriarchy and the cultural problems surrounding gender discourse that permit, ignore or even justify rape. If this is accepted, then our argument over the poster becomes not so much a ‘right vs wrong’ as a discussion of priorities and approaches – was the poster the most effective way to reduce sexual violence rates, and should rape-culture have been a higher-profile target than victim-prevention?

    Nevertheless, there are a number of points on both sides that I’d take issue with.
    Sianandcrookedrib asked early on, “Are women more likely to be raped if drunk?”, to which she answered, ‘No’. Whilst I fully concede that a horrible percentage of rapes do not have alcohol involved, and that alcohol inclusion does not in any way ‘explain’ a rape or put the onus of culpability on the drinker, it seems naive to categorically deny a link. To paint with broad brush strokes, drinking can lower our inhibitions, allowing people to be more flirtatious, more likely to meet people they’re attracted to on nights out, more likely to leave clubs/bars with new people. All of these things Make Rape Easier. They do not Excuse rape in the slightest, but they surely affect the ratio of ‘attempted rape:rape’ – they allow victim isolation without a victim’s friends, or passers-bye, seeing anything out of the ordinary or calls-to-action. If a sober man simply dragged a protesting, sober woman out of a club and around the corner, people are more likely to step in than in a situation where two drunks who’ve been kissing all evening leave together, the girl mumbling something unhappy as she staggers. I repeat, this does not make the rape OK by one iota – but it does show how the situation might unfold.

  25. … So No, keeping sober is not an ironclad way to stay unraped. Neither is it an ironclad way to influence prosecution figures if the unthinkable does happen. BUT it affects your chances, surely, just as self-defence, trusted friends/chaperones, appropriately-trained staff, high policing levels, local economy and culture etc all affect your chances. And I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with WMP helping you (in however patronising a manner) minimise those chances.
    One commenter argued that by Potential Victim X remaining sober and knowing self-defence, she was merely passing on her rape to Victim Y. This is certainly a sad state of affairs, but still seems positive from PVX’s perspective. Moreover, if the potential rapist finds himself in a situation where all victims look ‘difficult’ to rape, it is quite possible that, rather than continuing to search for a victim, he will have a guilty wank and go to bed. That would be nice.
    Sorry to pick on Sian, but her posts really highlight the nature of the dichotomy I’m discussing. She writes, “a lot of people also have issues with WM’s campaign on men – that says you might lose your job if you sexually assault someone. The reason people shouldn’t sexually assault other people is because it’s a vicious and violent and dehumanising crime.”
    Now, I completely agree with her from a moral perspective, but that is beside the point. Do we want people to stop raping, or to know the ‘right reasons’ not to do it but still do it? One would imagine they already know it’s a reprehensible act, given the ‘power’ nature everyone’s been discussing. I want people to stop raping, and am happy for the police to say whatever they want to achieve that. I’m an atheist, but if they identify a religious group perpetrating gender-based crime (which is v possible) I am perfectly happy for the streets to be plastered in stuff saying “X God thinks Rape is wrong, you bastard. Stop it. “ if that will reduce sexual assaults.
    Although that approach is closely linked to “rape-culture”, it need not go against feminist patriarchy-smashing goals. Convincing our whole society towards a more enlightened and consent-respecting position is taking/will take time. In the meanwhile, people will be sexually assaulted, and the police Exist to try to minimise that, by whatever means necessary. So I agree that it is a terrible state of affairs that women should have to consider any precautions to minimise rape chances, but they are the affairs of our society now and as such I’m much happier when my female friends and relatives take them. [Which probably makes me patronising, sorry]
    Kate Griffiths wrote, “The nature/nurture/whatever reasons why a rapist rapes are not actually relevant because no such reasons will excuse the rapist’s actions… It isn’t relevant what happened to a person in their childhood or what genes they got stuck with. To be an adult means to take responsibility for your problems and find ways to deal with them that don’t damage others.“ I disagree, they are absolutely relevant. There are clearly people who, for some reason, are raping. To stop them/convince them/apprehend them, we need to understand how and why. That does not mean that Any blame is shifted onto the victim; it simply means we better understand the mental and societal causation of rape, that we may better counter it. Again, this neither excuses the rapist, nor blames the victim – it simply identifies causes.
    This underlines a different nuance of my ‘false dichotomy’ point, in that this debate seems to be discussing “blame” using wildly diverse definitions. Understanding factors that exist in rape circumstances in no way shifts blame. Everyone seems agreed that the only root ‘cause’ of rape is rapists. True. But that, in itself, gets us nowhere. Exploring multi-channel solutions that both provide pragmatic advice (e.g Hollaback), and attempt to tackle rape-culture (such as the Lambeth website) would seem the most balanced approach.

  26. I don’t think that this is necessarily bad advice, but it is general advice. Most of this is common sense. I think that if the police wants to help woman they should, instead, be explaining what rape is. Due to the media, most women see rape as a stranger attacking you as you walk down a dark alley, but that isn’t the case. Most women are raped by people they know, but they don’t think of it as rape. Women need to understand that whether it your best friend, you boyfriend, your relative, your brother’s friend, or even your husband, if they have sex with you and you are uncomfortable with it in any way and let them know that, it is rape. It doesn’t matter if you are drunk or high, if you’ve know them since you were little or you are married to them. All that matters is that they violated you.

  27. Drinking alcohol does make you vulnerable, but when you’re out with good friends who you trust, you may be forgiven for relaxing and letting go – and getting drunk. You assume you will be safe with your friends whatever happens, because you’ll all look out for each other. So when one of said friends decides to sexually assault you, in their house, when you’ve all gone back there from the pub, in what way could this have been prevented by not drinking? This happened to me, and I resent the idea that not drinking that night would have changed things one bit. Getting wasted among strangers is a bad idea, I agree, for all sorts of reasons, but is this campaign saying to women that they shouldn’t drink when out with their mates? When a male friend offers to buy us a drink, should we say actually no, I don’t trust you, you might rape me? Should we sit there sober in the pub while all our friends are drinking, vigilantly watching each man for signs that he might do something bad?

    I think by all means, remind everyone, male or female, that alcohol impairs their judgement. But don’t make it look like the drink is the cause of the rape or the assault.

  28. I agree with the article, and I think that Vivid Beige made the most sensible and intelligent response. If it were possible to change potential rapists’ attitudes overnight then that would be marvellous but quite obviously that isn’t going to happen. So until it does – and I can only hope that it eventually will – we need to do what we can to protect ourselves individually. As the original article says, breaking down the rape culture is one thing, but self-protection is another, and the two are mutually exclusive.

    It may be a fact that most women are raped by people they know, but this campaign isn’t focussing on that element. This article isn’t saying “You will *only* get raped by a strange man you don’t know whilst walking home drunk at 4am”. I think that the comment about a taxi fare never being a waste of money is an excellent one. It’s only a small mention, but it’s important. When I am drinking I’ll freely spend a tenner on a cocktail, but when it comes to getting home, I resent paying the equivalent on a cab, and I’ll stoically wait at the bus stop for 40mins. I have been assaulted on more than one occasion, flashed, touched inappropriately, and had various misogynistic and abusive comments hurled at me simply for being a lone woman at 4am. It’s horrible, and I hate it, I don’t think it’s ok and I say as much, but does that mean it’s going to stop just like that? Am I going to drink less, go home earlier, or always stay at a friend’s house just to avoid this situation? No, but I might have one fewer drink and then spend the money I’ve saved on a taxi. Such an action won’t lessen the number of rapists in the world but chances are it’ll get me home safer and how is that a bad thing? How is me not getting raped negatively impacting the campaign to change the culture of rape?

    FYI I say all of this as a woman who was the victim of a sexual assault which may well have become rape had I not managed to escape due to my own retaliation. I was 15 years old, sober, in broad daylight, and in the presence of a friend. None of this advice from WMP would have helped me get away, yet I stand by it as vital information. The original writer is correct in saying that we are shooting ourselves in the foot otherwise. “No, rape is wrong, therefore I will do nothing to protect myself” is insane. We can but hope that the instances of rape will lessen, consequences worsened and convictions increase, but as depressing as it may be, we don’t live in Utopia and we share our world with damaged individuals: there will always be rapists, no matter how much we change the culture, just as there will always be murderers. I don’t want to get stabbed on my way home either. Maybe I’m protecting myself against that possibility too?

  29. Why are these campaigns never addressed to men?!
    ‘do not let a good night out turn into a night of regret by assaulting someone?’. As others have pointed out here, the onus should be on the attacker. Alcohol makes you vulnerable (men or women) but it also makes you do things you would not. Many road safety campaigns focus on the issue of guilt when killing a pedestrian out of careless driving after all, not exactly particularly complicated or expensive.
    I also agree that there should be more focus on rape legislation to counter the feelings of impunity which are an integral part of the prevailing rape culture.

  30. Why are these campaigns never addressed to men?!
    ‘do not let a good night out turn into a night of regret by assaulting someone?’. As others have pointed out here, the onus should be on the attacker. Alcohol makes you vulnerable (men or women) but it also makes you do things you would not. Many road safety campaigns focus on the issue of guilt when killing a pedestrian out of careless driving after all, not exactly particularly complicated or expensive.
    I also agree that there should be more focus on rape legislation to counter the feelings of impunity which are an integral part of the prevailing rape culture.

  31. Why are these campaigns never addressed to men?!
    ‘do not let a good night out turn into a night of regret by assaulting someone?’. As others have pointed out here, the onus should be on the attacker. Alcohol makes you vulnerable (men or women) but it also makes you do things you would not. Many road safety campaigns focus on the issue of guilt when killing a pedestrian out of careless driving after all, not exactly particularly complicated or expensive.
    I also agree that there should be more focus on rape legislation to counter the feelings of impunity which are an integral part of the prevailing rape culture.

  32. There is one thing, and one thing only, that anyone can do which will help (not guarantee of course, but help) avoid rape: be absolutely clear with people about who you want to have sex with and whether or not you want to have sex with them at that time. That’s it.

    Preferably in words, because many men just don’t know how to read the other signals. And preferably at some point BEFORE he makes a move, because there is a danger of ‘freezing’ and going along with something you don’t want, but most men won’t even know that’s what’s happening. It might be slightly socially awkward, or you might get less drinks bought for you. But hey, maybe let’s just buy our own drinks.

    Nothing else (how much they drink, what they wear, etc) is the victim’s responsibility. Just be clear what you want and call the police if anyone makes you do anything you’ve said you don’t want.

  33. Firstly: it’s good advice. Sure, you should be able to get as drunk and you like and it not make you vulnerable, but currently, that’s unrealistic.

    Secondly: to everyone saying “more promotion of the DON’T RAPE message would be better” – do you honestly think the horrible human beings who rape people are likely to listen to government promoted messages telling them not to?

  34. I am mouth-open-gaping stunned that anyone could be ‘offended’ by a poster that reminds people to apply common sense. People,women included, get drunk in the very hope that it will dull their senses and cloud their judgement. Drinking to the point of being drunk, is in itself, quite stupid. Entirely normal, though. Another entirely normal thing is that a well known and well documented ‘type of man’ (opportunist and/or predator) will see a girl on her own at night and hope she can’t put up a fight fast enough- for her wallet or her body- because she’s pissed. Accept one normality and the other, or employ a total lack of common sense. Don’t get drunk and wander home by yourself, thereby taking an obvious risk, and ask everyone else why they’re judging you. You choose to get drunk and wander home by yourself when you could have taken a cab or walked with a mate. The women who are raped by family members/neighbours/partners in school/home/wherever in broad daylight did not take the obvious risk. The poor girl walking home or getting into a strangers car did,and her crappy friends let her. Have should have sense enough not to. We should be making the ‘work’ of rapists as impossible as we can.

  35. A rapist raping a drunk woman should be presumed guilty, because how can anyone who’s drunk be capable of giving consent?! It’s even more despicable.
    And can all these morons who go on about drinking please shut up for just one minute (a big ask, I realize!) and think about why rape also happens in countries where women cover up and don’t drink alcohol?

  36. After reading this article and many of the comments, I’m glad that this debate has raised lots of issues concerning victim blaming and nights out. Though I don’t agree with the way some of these campaigns have been executed, I think there is advice to be taken just for general safety. I don’t think I believe in the whole being drunk makes you more of a target for rapists but I know for a fact (and I don’t this is a crazy new discovery) that too much alcohol clouds your judgement and if you’re on your own, trying to get home, it’s better to have your wits about you. As the author of the article wrote, she was attacked by someone but she was able to fight that person off but would she have been able to do that if she was pissed? I’m not victim blaming because from the anecdote, we know that she was attacked anyway but knowing self defense and not being too sloshed gave her a chance to fend off the attacker.

    I think we should all strive to stamp out victim blaming and penalties should be harsher for rapists since they are the sole cause of rape. These are goals that we, as a society should prioritise.

    Unfortunately, this is not the reality of it. I’m a 19 year old woman, I go to university, I go out at night. There is a danger to that, I hate that there is, we should all hate that there is. We should change that but until that change takes place, I’m going to try to the best of my capacity to not get into a vulnerable situation. This is not a prelude to victim blaming, I repeat, it is not.

    I am wholeheartedly for men and women having fun nights out and being able to get home safely whilst being intoxicated but this is not the world we live in at the moment and completely berating campaigns that state that isn’t going to change it.

    I’m not saying that being a little more sober is going to prevent rape, no way do I believe that.

    Everyone knows what a night out is, sometimes when you get drunk you make rash decisions or become clumsy. You decide to go to a place where you don’t feel all that comfortable. You lose track of how much you spend. You lose your wallet. You can’t find your friends.

    I think the campaign would have worked better if they had just talked about safety on nights out and that’s what it does. Mostly. There is, I admit not a good picture to go along with the advice. Perhaps someone having to walk back alone because they have lost their wallet when they are tired and feeling pukey or falling asleep in a hedge.

    As far as victim blaming goes, this campaign is not the worst offender, it’s misguided, Steubenville is on a whole other level, that should take the brunt of the vitriol.

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