Dorset police rape campaign totally misses the mark

One of the scaremongering campaign posters

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.

Original article in the Bournemouth Rock page 11

Dorries’ bill is dangerously misguided

Mean girls sums up the ridiculousness perfectly

Today a bill will have its second reading in Parliament. A bill which would see girls aged 13-16 have extra sex education lessons as well as compulsory lessons stressing abstinence. Abstinence as in “just say no” to sex. Nadine Dorries is proposing no such education for the boys.

This is the political equivalent of debating whether we should make otters wear top hats on a Tuesday. It’s all scarily vicTORYan. Not only is this one of the most insulting bills to have ever been put forward but MPs are actually bothering to give it a second look. This has been written by a woman who said, “If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse… if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse”. Yes she actually said that. Apparently child sex abuse takes two and this is the kind of twisted logic she applies in this proposal.

What I can see from the bill is that I, as a woman, should have more “self respect” and say no when men want to have sex with me – even if I want it too. I have also learned that boys have uncontrollable sexual desires and can take no responsibility if I get pregnant. I’m a 20-year-old woman and I know this is ridiculous. At 16, 15, 14 and 13 I would know that was ridiculous too.

Even if it’s not meant to be an assault on morals it feels like it. She is trying to turn slut shaming into legislation. The bill is offensive to both men and women. It pays men a disservice by saying they are slaves to their hormones and it implies that women have no sexual desires of our own, that we simply put up with it. I do agree with her on one thing though, sex education needs a shake up.

Ms Dorries argues that in a highly sexualized culture abstinence is the way forward so women can become “empowered”. Right now young women are living in a Britain where the majority learn more about sex from pornography than anywhere else. In porn, contraception is rare, women are submissive and the stars are fake.

To truly empower these girls to be able to say yes when they genuinely want to instead of when they think they should, they need more details. They need to know the ins and out of it before they chose whether or not to. Making an informed choice is at the heart of empowerment.

When I was 13 we had one sex education lesson in a year, our nurse told us a bit about contraception then we all got the chance to put questions in a box and she would answer them. I put in two; “What is the pill?” and “do men have orgasms?”. She answered the first – it wasn’t even included in the contraception talk. The second she threw in the bin. She read it out but said she wouldn’t answer it. I’m still not sure whether this was because she thought it was a joke question or she was too embarrassed.

This is the kind of sex education we have in the UK. It’s vague and the information that is given has gaping holes. Homosexuality was never even touched upon during my time at school. It’s not enough when the basics aren’t explained or teachers are too embarrassed to answer the questions students really want to know.

It’s been proven that abstinence education does not work. So why even go there? There are ALWAYS going to be teenage pregnancies because teenagers have sex. But how about teaching girls that they can do anything, that motherhood isn’t the be all and end all of a woman’s life? Also let them develop a healthy, informed and equal attitude to sex. Only then will teenage pregnancy rates fall.

Shaming girls who are of age into saying no when they want to and will be safe about it is wrong. I think Dorries needs a lesson on sex education from this young woman. Even at 13 she knew that a woman’s sex life has nothing to do with who she is as a person. Now that is empowerment.

UPDATE: The bill has just been withdrawn!

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.