West Mercia police apologised for their video and poster campaign which urged women not to drink too much on nights out in order to not “leave yourself vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape.” The force also released a video featuring a female rape victim. During the video the victim says she wishes to make others aware of the dangers of drinking too much, which she believes played a part in her attack. Her account ends with her saying that she has now learnt to drink less and stay in control.
Another poster aimed at men only says they “could” be breaking the law if someone hasn’t given them consent for sex. Police chiefs were forced to apologise after anti-rape campaigners expressed outrage. Jocelyn Anderson, chief officer at Worcestershire Rape and Sexual Assault Support Centre (WRSASC), said: “There is no could be about it – that’s rape – and to put regretful sex and rape together is appalling…the poster put the blame on to alcohol and women who are raped, suggesting if they didn’t drink they could avoid rape.”
Let’s unpack that a little more. The police are putting all of the blame and responsibility for rape onto the victim, instead of telling men not to rape or to watch how much they drink in case they rape. This is a clear case of victim-blaming. They also seem to think that only women can be victims of rape and that only men can be the perpetrators – an opinion which flies in the face of reality. The campaign appears to posit that most rapes are perpetrated by strangers, when actually most are committed by someone known to the victim. The police also seem to believe that rape usually occurs outside at night or that women going home from a night out are especially vulnerable. In actual fact, women are far more likely to be attacked in their own home by their partner, an acquaintance, friend or family member than outdoors by a stranger.
The phrase “a night full of regrets” seems to be putting the blame on the victim yet again, saying she has something to regret or maybe regrets ‘causing’ the rape. Words like fear, distress, horror or pain seem more apt than mere ‘regret’ – a word often used to signify that the regretter has done something wrong and so regrets their actions.
In addition, drinking doesn’t make you more vulnerable to rape. It might make you less able to physically fight back against an attacker (because your motor reflexes and hand-eye coordination would be affected) but this applies to your ability to defend against bullying, physical assault and murder as well as rape. And drink would only affect your ability to fight against rape if your attacker used physical violence – if they’re using a knife, blackmail, coercion or misrepresentation (lying about their intentions up until the last moment when they assault you) then drinking isn’t going to affect the outcome. And, given that we all are born with varying degrees of physical strentgh, agility and coordination, and that some of us learn martial arts, whether or not you’ve been drinking may actually not make that much of a difference as your genetics, fitness, health, diet and any martial arts skills. Personality attributes such as fearlessness and determination are important, too. Or anything lying around that you can use as a weapon. Or what you’re wearing (punching someone while wearing large rings can hurt, a brooch pin could be used as a weapon, while high heels could limit your running speed). Or your ability to trick the rapist and run away. Or your use of tactics in a physical fight. Or your height relative to the rapist’s. Or sheer blind luck. Or…
Furthermore, regretful sex and rape couldn’t be further apart from each other. I would add another category, coercive sex, which is ‘morally’ rape but not legally punishable. Regretful sex is just sex that you later regret – maybe he’s fatter than you usually go for, or ugly, or now won’t stop following you around, or says he loves you…there’s no connection to rape. Confusing the two lessens the stigma of rape and portrays women as making bad choices and being vulnerable to being hurt emotionally by consensual sex.
Lastly, rape is always the rapist’s fault. Not alcohol’s – not even if the rapist was drunk. All alcohol does is lower your inhibitions; it doesn’t turn you into a rapist or a different person. Rape isn’t like murder. With murder, there can be provocation and mitigating circumstances. You can plead it was self-defence or manslaughter. Not so with rape. Rape is either rape or it’s not. That is how the law sees it. You can’t be provoked to rape. You can’t rape in self-defence. If coercion falls short of rape, it isn’t rape and the victim has to deal with it without legal redress.
And as always with any rape story, the commenters draw analogies between commodities and the female body, blaming victims for wearing revealing clothing or not being careful enough ot to get raped. This view is disturbing. It sees sex as something women have that men get. It places all the blame for sexual assault on women. It sees the female body as a precious commodity that any ‘good’ woman would guard jealously. The links between such attitudes and slut shaming, sexual double standards, strict gender roles and male sexual dominance are obvious. And instead of telling men not to rape, the comments are focused on telling women how not to get raped. Read these comments and you might as well have journeyed back in time before the 1970’s feminism, before women’s roles in WW2, before women got the vote. When we were sexual objects, divided into the virgins and the whores, when going out of your kitchen was controversial and dangerous.
A. Myhill and J. Allen
Rape and Sexual Assault of Women: Findings from the British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Findings No. 159 (Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110218135832/http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r159.pdf) (Site accessed: 04/01/2012)