Content Warning: discussions of sexual violence and victim blaming
By Jo Swo
Just like how a teacher is expected to have a clear understanding of the subject their teaching, police should have a clear understanding of the crimes they are fighting. How else can you identify the crime and help the victim? This is a very simple analogy to a very complicated issue: rape and sexual assault. The factors that protect rape and rapists are the same that perpetuate rape culture; victim blaming, lack of education, and the fallibility of consent. Over the last year I have been troubled with the Norfolk Constabulary’s attitudes towards consent and their continual victim blaming. During Fresher’s week a police officer took a photo of an incapacitated student who was slumped on Price of Wales Road, covered in vomit and unconscious, which was then uploaded onto Twitter with the hashtag ‘KnowYourLimits’ and @ing UEA and the Student’s Union.
We, and the officer, have no idea what caused this student to be in this state. Due to welfare cuts, the police are taking on much more than they are able to, as they have to pick up the slack of the NHS barely able to keep its head above water. I am sympathetic to this. However, I am not sympathetic to an officer deciding to shame a student in the bid to ‘raise awareness’ for other young people. This student was unable to give consent to the photo being taken, and subsequently unable to ask the officer not to upload it to social media.
I am not sympathetic to an officer deciding to shame a student in the bid to ‘raise awareness’
It is not an officer’s place to judge how or why a person became incapacitated, it is their job to make sure they are not a threat to themselves or to others. We have no idea what happened to this student. They could have been a Fresher who was left alone after a few too many, have a serious physical or mental health condition that makes them more vulnerable to alcohol, have been spiked or drugged, or have drank too heavily because clubs are offering incredible high spirited drinks for low prices. Either way, shaming young people who are passed out and in your care on social media is not professional or appropriate. It does not make me trust or want to seek help from the Norfolk Constabulary.
I asked them to take down the original photo on twitter and they refused. They instead offered me an invite to join them on the beat to which I accepted. I once again a asked if he would take down the aforementioned photo but he still didn’t see it as victim blaming and said that even if he wanted to take it down, his superiors wouldn’t allow it. I love having a police force who are open with what they do on social media – it’s a rare thing and I think it’s important, but problems arise when social media becomes a tool for humiliation rather than document the ongoing of the job. I’m not saying that police don’t have an incredibly difficult job, especially in light of the cuts across the sector, but I don’t think there’s any room for victim blaming in the 21st century.
You cannot prevent crime by victim blaming.
Norfolk Constabulary’s latest anti-rape campaign ‘Time to Stop’ has a very misguiding title, as it suggests that the campaign is targeted towards stopping rapists from raping. In actuality, what this initiative does is wag a finger at women on a night out from not being permanently glued to their friends, having a too many drinks and not planning every possible way of getting home. Therefore, it targets women who are most likely to be victims and puts the responsibility on them to prevent attacks. We forget that the people who have the most power to prevent rape and sexual assault from happening are not victims, friends or bystanders but the perpetrators of the crime – the rapists.
People will often attest that campaigns focused in this way are simply promoting the common sense that is needed to reduce the risk of an individual experiencing a sexual assault. It is common sense, but it’s also common sense not to rape people. Why are we repeating the use of tactics previously used which even though they have made no difference to the issues at hand? In an earlier joint campaign with the Suffolk Constabulary, they showed black and white photographs of a naked male torso and female legs with the title ‘Would You?’, sexualising what is supposed to be an anti-rape campaign.
But it’s not all bad news! It’s not impossible to run a campaign that targets the criminals instead of victims, using preventative tactics like education instead of humiliation and blame. At the Union of UEA Students, our Never OK campaign is rooted in challenging behavioural norms and transforming the culture that surrounds and protects rapists and assaulters. The Union has had a zero tolerance approach in its policy since 2003 and over the last two years, we’ve ensured that 98% of our bar staff have received training in identifying and reporting sexual assault. We display posters in all our venues, with the key aims of educating people on what sexual harassment is, sign posting to where people can report, and making it clear to possible perpetrators that our venues do not tolerate such crimes.
The Union has a zero tolerance approach in its policy since 2003
Having signs up that through subtext blame women only, signal that it’s up to them and them alone to prevent rape, and that if anything does happen, it is their fault. Should Norfolk Constabulary wish to work to eradicate sexual violence from the streets of Norwich, they will need to take an approach that focuses on changing the culture and behaviour, attitudes and actions of perpetrators, not seeking to push guilt onto the victim. Without this, the scourge of sexual violence will continue to plague our city and we will never begin to eliminate the causes of sexual violence.