A Response to Liverpool Hope’s Victim Blaming Safety Advice

Posted on 24 October 2013 by

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*Trigger Warning – mentions of rape, sexual harassment and explanations of victim blaming & survivor shaming*
 
The following quote is what the dean of students felt the need to tell all current Liverpool Hope students presumably in light of recent news that Martin Smith (aka ‘Comrade Delta’) has been given a funded PhD at the university despite being accused of two counts of rape and other accusations of sexual harassment . I believe that it is safe to assume that this email is referring to sexual harassment and rape considering that the email was sent only a few days after the ‘Socialist Wanker’ posters appeared on Hope Park campus. The email vaguely refers to incidents yet Penny can’t bring herself to openly say that this email is in reference to sexual assault and is primarily directed at women.
 
“The Student Safety – A message from Dr Penny Haughan, Dean of Students
 
I would urge you all to think carefully about staying safe and looking after each other. It is really important that if you go into town in the evening that you do not leave your group of friends so that you end up on your own
Liverpool is statistically a safe city but regrettable incidents still occur and I want you to do everything you can to avoid being involved in them. I want you to enjoy your time at Hope and the experience of being in Liverpool as much as possible.
Please would you bear the following points in mind whenever you are out in the city at night:
Always leave a club or pub with a friend or a group of friends. Do not leave that group of friends and go off on your own.
Know how you will get home – plan ahead, particularly if you’re going to a part of town you don’t know.
Ensure your mobile phone is charged and is in credit. Keep the money you need to get home separate, so that you don’t spend it.
Watch how much you drink. It is much easier to do something risky or foolish when you’re drunk; and you’re much more likely to lose your keys, cash or phone when you’ve had too much to drink.
Walking may not be the best option, but if you have to, do not walk home alone in the dark. Keep to well-lit, busy streets, main roads and footpaths. Avoid badly lit areas, parks, alleyways and underpasses.
Carry a personal alarm with you.
If you use public transport to get home, sit near the driver on a bus or a tram, and in an occupied carriage on a train.
Pre-book a licensed taxi, or know the locations of official taxi ranks. Do not get into taxis alone.
If anything which is a cause of concern happens to you, particularly when you are out at night, please will you tell someone in authority. This could be your hall tutor, Fr Pritchard, myself or another member of staff. We are all concerned for your safety.
Many thanks
Penny Haughan”
 
Firstly, Penny seems to assume that the measures in which she has given in the email will ensure the safety of students. Instead however she has partaken in victim blaming and survivor shaming. She has failed to acknowledge that the vast majority of rapes which (disproportionately) happen to women are perpetrated by men whom they know and even trust, only 9% of rapes are perpetrated by a stranger. Her opening statement places importance upon the potential victim being held responsible for their own abuse (if abuse should occur) if these guidelines are not met. There is also an assumption that the guidelines would not have been met if a person suffers from sexual assault and/or harassment. Whichever way you look at this opening statement the onus is on the victim / survivor instead of the perpetrator. Being left alone because you have become separated from friends is easily done and does not mean that this lone person is endangering themselves by virtue of being alone, this is victim blaming. If something was to happen to this lone person it would not be their fault – it would be the fault of the attacker.
 
Penny falls into the classic victim blaming trap of ‘how much did you drink’. She asks students not drink too much, because alcohol causes rape and sexual harassment apparently. No, no it does not, guess what does? Rapists and harassers. You what else doesn’t cause rape and sexual harassment? Ally ways, bad lighting, mobile phones (whether charged or not or in credit or not), not having a ‘personal alarm’, pre-booking or not pre-booking a taxi or walking. Again, the victim blaming and survivor shaming is rife. 
 
The next bit puzzled me, Penny recommends sitting by the driver if you get public transport home from a night out. Apart from continuing her thread of victim blaming and survivor shaming, what guarantees the reliability of a bus driver to not be a rapist / harasser? Apparently she is assuming that they just aren’t, same with her ‘pre-booked taxi’ remark. 
 
Onto the last paragraph, in which Penny advises the students to ‘tell someone in authority’ if one of these “regrettable incidents” should happen to them. These authority figures surprisingly do not include the police which is quite unusual. I am not in anyway suggesting that the police should be told for for very many reasons but nonetheless, Penny seems keen for a member of university staff to be informed first and foremost, and in the case of rape – even before a rape crisis team. Penny expresses concern for the safety of all students, while I do not doubt that she does have concern for them, she has a strange way of showing it what with the victim blaming / survivor shaming and that whole employing a man who has been accused of rape and sexual assault thing.
 
To conclude, instead of blaming victims and survivors of rape and sexual harassment – why not stop perpetuating the culture which accepts this by not by employing a man who has a history of complaints pertaining to rape and sexual assault made against him? Maybe refraining from rewarding a man accused of these heinous acts with a paid PhD and teaching post would be a start. The above email is symptomatic of rape culture as it perpetuates the rape culture trope that rapists and harassers are these strangers hiding in ally ways and in parks waiting to attack us – this is statistically not true. It is utterly offensive to send such an email to students of which many are likely to be victims / survivors of sexual harassment and rape themselves, they have been invalidated, blamed and shamed. It could even be assumed that this email is the university’s way of technically washing their hands of any complicity they may have if a student was to be raped and/or harassed, ‘but we emailed them and warned them’ therefore job done. No. If they can find the time to email students to tell women not to endanger themselves by being alone/breathing/existing then presumably they have the time to email male students (and staff) and tell them the difference between yes and no, between enthusiastic consent and coercion. 
 
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