Nottinghamshire Police have launched a new anti rape campaign in time for Christmas, a reworded version of the well known story which now features a rhyming rape narrative.
The BBC news reads:
Helen Chamberlain, from Nottinghamshire Police, said she did not believe the poem was misguided at all.
“We have been heavily criticised in the past for focusing on victims and giving out persistent warnings to victims about keeping safe.
“This year we decided to try a different tactic and target the perpetrator.
And indeed, other Christmas time anti-rape posters (of which there are many examples) by the police have featured the ‘let your hair down not your guard’ and featured news articles telling women to ‘not become a rape victim this Christmas’
These ads have been (rightly) criticized for the emphasis they place on women to avoid rape, so while the Nottingham police posters present rape in a way that is deeply problematic, trivializing and probably extremely triggering there is merit to some parts of the message which reinforce that survivors are not responsible and perpetrators are to blame. Nevertheless, there are significant problems with the image overall, apart from the fact that 70% of people only look at the visual in the ad so for most people it will make no sense whatsoever, the image and the text reinforce worn out tropes of all women as potential victims and all men as potential perpetrators, something that rape prevention theory has shown to be ineffective (as well as being generally offensive to men and women). Furthermore, the tag line ‘don’t think you can take what you want because you want it’ is a terrible way to represent the violation of survivors’ freedom, self determination and bodies through rape, reinforcing a discourse which says women and sex are something that are merely objects, an ‘it’ according to the poster.
Finally, while it is reassuring in a sense that the poster aims to highlight that the police take rape seriously and prosecute sexual offences this is not really the case. Statistics show that one survivor in 30 will see their rapist convicted, and this is out of a pool of only 15% of survivors who report in the UK. If this image is aimed at perpetrators and wants to deter people from raping it won’t because consistent with other behaviour change campaigns (drink driving, etc) deterrence appeals only work if perpetrators think there is a real possibility of being caught, convicted and facing a substantial penalty. Which there isn’t.
The most disappointing aspect for me is that Cathy Saunders, of Midlands Women’s Aid, said: “I personally think it should be withdrawn and replaced with something that has a little bit more insight and advice for women on how to keep themselves safe.” This is depressing advice from a specialist service, particularly because that message is always given to women, it does not work and strategies that focus on women work to depolitcise sexual violence, obscuring women’s understanding of rape as a social issue with structural causes and collective solutions (Vetten, 2011).