Under pressure from feminist groups who viewed it as ‘victim blaming’ and Twitter users who said it made them ‘uncomfortable’, last week Sussex Police reportedly removed posters warning young women who might go drinking together not to leave a friend behind or allow an inebriated friend to go off with a stranger (see Gazette story, page 18 this week).
I certainly understand the objection to ‘victim blaming’ in rape cases. An attractive woman is not ‘asking for it’ because she does not hide her beauty.
But I greatly fear a misunderstanding of the clear police motives has compelled the withdrawal of a poster that ought not be offensive to anyone and might well prevent heinous crimes and even save lives.
Assume for the moment that a city had a serious crime problem after dark, and that hotels frequented by tourists (who might be oblivious to local safety issues) posted warning signs not to travel alone around the city after dark – to protect their guests from muggings, robberies, or worse.
Would tourists seeing the signs indignantly shout ‘Your crime problem is not my fault!’? Presumably not. They would most likely be grateful for the sage advice.
The poster in question clearly had the same intent. It was not in the slightest ‘victim blaming’, but rather alerting young women that there are at least some predators out there who seek to prey upon young women who appear vulnerable because they are alone, and all the more so if they are alone and clearly intoxicated.
Sometimes, they prey in groups or carry knives or other weapons, so even the most fit target will be unable to resist. The police were clearly seeking to alert women to ‘be careful’ in the hope of protecting them and perhaps saving their lives.
One of our undergraduate students last year went out drinking with friends and wound up very inebriated and walking alone after midnight, when an apparent predator came up to her and apparently offered his ‘assistance’.
They found her remains weeks later, after an extensive search. The accused predator has reportedly been tied by DNA evidence to several unsolved rapes.
Urging women (and men) to take common sense measures to protect themselves is not ‘victim blaming’, it is trying desperately to save the lives of potential victims.
One might well agree that getting drunk and wandering the streets after midnight did not make our student ‘responsible’ for her rape and murder. But it did make the job of her attacker a lot easier.
Pressuring the police to withdraw a poster designed to protect potential rape victims does them no service, but no doubt delights the men who lie in wait to find their next victim.
Prof Robert F. Turner
University of Virginia
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