Here’s the context: rape and sexual violence is a problem. Men and women both experience it, however the most recent stats from the Northern Ireland Crime Survey show that twice as many women as men report having been attacked in this way. The figure is 1/4 of all women who took part in the survey, which is consistent with stats from similar surveys in the UK and USA.
Rape prevention strategies tend to focus on telling women to be more vigilant against attacks by watching how much they drink and not going off with strangers etc. This is partly shaped by the reality of the need to be aware of your personal safety but is unfortunately heavily influenced by a deep rooted belief that women who are raped when drunk or flirting with men are partly to blame. This is seen at all levels of the process involved in dealing with rape from men who assume the right to take advantage of a woman who isn’t able to protest or defend herself, to police officers who do not investigate these rapes consistent with how other violent crimes are investigated, to lawyers, jurors and judges who turn courts into circuses where women endure character assassination, humiliation and judgement if they haven’t behaved like the perfect victim should.
It’s a mess. It is a system that is failing women so terribly that finally the UK govt has had to call an independent review in the shape of the Stern Review to find out where it has gone so badly wrong. It is often messy for men too; any man who has ever been falsely accused of rape will have suffered all the same frustration, pain and trauma as the women who are raped and not believed. Except that those women are dealing with that while also trying to heal from a devastating sexual assault. It’s an issue that divides men and women who choose to see only one set of injustices. I would be incensed if either happened to someone I loved but I make no apology for the fact that my priority is challenging the deep sexism that makes it so difficult for women who have been raped to see their attackers brought to justice. Reporting rates for rape stand at around 27% according to the NICS stats, conviction rates in the UK as a whole are worse than they were in the 1970s and the public are still not convinced that all women have the right to prosecute men who mistakenly believe they have a right to sex with or without consent.
Here’s the plan: All of this mess just described means that what passes for rape prevention is extremely inadequate, sexist and only serves to reinforce the idea that a drunk/provocative/flirtatious woman is a victim of her own bad/stupid behaviour. Flyers that warn women of stranger danger and have nothing to say to men to challenge their own attitudes not only let men off the hook but ignore the fact that over 80% of serious sexual assaults are not carried out by strangers but rather by someone the victim knows. A partner or ex, a date, friend of a friend, a bloke they’ve been drinking with who seems like a pretty good guy… There are numerous ways that women might find themselves in the company of someone who goes on to rape them but the common demoninator is this: it’s never their own fault. It is the fault of the person doing the raping and that is where truly effective rape prevention strategies need to focus.
So having written to the DHSSPS to ask them to consider this possibility and gotten a dismissive response, the next step seems to be to give it a go ourselves. The flyer below is one that we’ve created and hope to distribute as widely as possible by leaving it in pubs/clubs/cafes/gyms… It’s pretty simple, its message hasn’t been focus-grouped or signed off by the soisaytoher public policy department but it seems to make sense. Please print as many as you can, take them with you when you’re out and about and leave a few behind when you go. I’d recommend printing 4 to a page so they’re postcard size. And I’m going to print mine on red paper.
We haven’t abandoned the idea of a collective flyering expedition but having discussed it with a few peeps it seems it will be easier to do it on a saturday night sometime in the new year. Maybe the one after January pay day so we can make a proper night of it! I’ll create an event on Facebook so email me if you’re not on there but would like to be kept in the loop.
And please post any interesting experiences you have while distributing flyers in the comments section below!
Many thanks to Stu who designed this. Clicking on the image should open the full size jpg in another window.