Written for The Bournemouth Rock newspaper.
Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault.
Unless you’re a final year student stuck in limbo between the library and your semi-detached in Winton you will have seen the yellow triangles plastered around Bournemouth town centre. They are warning signs reminding us women to keep safe at night. Operation Protect, a campaign ran by Dorset Police, has been linked to the 50% drop in alcohol fuelled sex offences in Bournemouth, as well as winning a national policing award. Maybe there’s no denying that fall in rates and the campaign are linked, but there are still major drawbacks to its methods.
At first glance the main message is neither revolutionary nor controversial. Most of the posters emphasise the importance of getting home safely and knowing your limits – sound advice for everyday living. Two posters however, are misinformed and scaremongering. One of them shows cartoon stick figures captioned, “we met, he bought me a drink, we danced, he raped me”. It suggests that every man a woman ‘dares’ to dance with or accepts a drink from will sexually assault her. Both posters then state, “In most rape cases women know their attacker.” This is true, but Dorset Police have failed to put this in the right context. Most victims know their attackers because almost half of all rapes occur within relationships.
According to statistics by the Home Office about victim and perpetrator relationships, in the majority of all rapes reported the perpetrator and victim are partners at the time of attack. Ex-partners, dates and ‘other intimates’, meaning family members and close friends, commit a further 40%. Strangers account for 11% of attacks and 16% of rapes reported are perpetrated by acquaintances.
Nothing is factually wrong with what the posters are saying. But thanks to skewed media reporting the general public has an idea that rapes are committed by strangers hiding in bushes. Now the police are telling us that most of our male friends are waiting for their opportunity to attack. So us women have to now look out for strangers in bushes and male friends, acquaintances, doctors, lecturers, our hairdressers, that bloke we met at that party once and thought was alright – anyone who we already know. By saying that most rape victims know their attackers without explaining why is irresponsible. Not to mention that it paints all men out to be sexually violent.
The thing that angers me the most is that they had a chance to do something different. The whole campaign focuses on women making the right choices to prevent themselves from being raped and barely touches on telling rapists not to rape. Only in sexually violent crimes do people blame the victim. I could cover up head to foot in a bin liner, stop drinking alcohol and even stop flirting with men unless I wanted to have sex with them within the next half an hour and if I was raped someone, somewhere would still say it was my fault. That’s the kind of attitude rape victims have to deal with everyday and the police should be the first people to try and stop this, not fuel it.