Typified by Laura Bates:
“Women warned after Gainsborough assault.”
“Police warn women walking alone after riverside incident.”
“Serial sex attacker strikes again as ninth victim is assaulted and police warn women to be on their guard.”
“Police issue warning to women not to walk or travel alone after woman grabbed in latest incident.”
“Fugitive rapist: women urged not to walk alone as chilling footage at Manchester airport released.”
These headlines represent five cases in the past month alone where UK police have reportedly warned women to adjust their routines or behaviour because of crime in a particular area.
Many people reading these articles would nod approvingly and suggest that this is simply a common sense measure, given the risk. Of course the police are also doing all they can to catch the perpetrator in each case – they aren’t suggesting women should take sole responsibility for dealing with the problem.
Of course. So, what’s the outrage?
And yet, how absurd it would seem if we were to apply similar logic to any other type of crime …
“Police warn motorists not to drive after speeding drivers cause crashes in local area.”
“Police warn residents not to have garden sheds made out of wood after spate of arson cases.”
No, cupcake, it wouldn’t, because we already bloody do this!
As pointed out on my own blog, warnings that thieves operate in an area or that you shouldn’t leave valuables in your car on display are quite commonplace, and few people turn a hair.
The idea of advising women not to walk or travel alone in an area where there has been a sexual assault might seem straightforward at first glance, but not everybody has the luxury of a car. Many people are dependent on walking, whether for their whole journey or to the nearest bus stop. As simple as it might sound to suggest travelling with a friend or family member, the reality of women’s daily lives means that it would be near-impossible for most to arrange this and keep to their own busy schedules.
So what? Are the police supposed to keep quiet about a known predator in the area?
Well, amazingly enough, it seems that the answer is ‘Yes’:
So what is the impact of issuing such advice? It starts to suggest to the general public that, specifically in cases of sexual assault, victims should be taking responsibility for their own safety and, implicitly, may be partly to blame if they are attacked.
God forbid anyone asks a modern woman to take responsibility, eh, Laura?
For anything from being aware that there’s a sexual predator operating in the area to accessing and obtaining (if necessary, purchasing) contraception, FFS!
The notion of telling women to take responsibility for their own safety from sexual violence is as old as it is ridiculous; from women-only train carriages (which suggest male violence is inevitable and so women’s behaviour and freedom must be altered and constrained to accommodate it), to police campaigns suggesting it is a victim’s job to try to avoid being raped.
It sends an insidious message, reinforcing attitudes that blame victims and allow perpetrators (cast as a blurry, inevitable evil rather than determined, deliberate criminals) off the hook.
This is a desperate situation, and demands active measures such as training at all levels to counteract rape myths and victim-blaming attitudes among those on the frontline of law enforcement.
The police have no time for your bonkers suggestion that they need more feminist indoctrination, Laura – they are too busy trying to catch predators, not assuage feminist crackpots.